Let me begin by doing away with any pretense of critical distance or objectivity. I am an unapologetic, frothing-at-the-mouth, dyed-in-the-pink-cashmere Prince fan. My little two-bedroom apartment has no fewer than four pieces of framed Prince-related art–including the fold-out shower poster from the original 1981 Controversy LP, which I have hanging in the bathroom across from my actual shower. So when I heard late last week that Prince was burying the hatchet with Warner Bros., the label under which he released all of his best work, and planning a series of expanded reissues beginning with 1984’s Purple Rain, I reacted pretty much the way you might expect: with sheer, unbridled, childlike glee.
But I’m also a realist. There’s a reason why I am this damn excited about a reissue project: a record-industry practice that has become so habitual for virtually every other catalogue artist of note that it’s now officially tedious. Because Prince isn’t a normal catalogue artist. This, after all, is the guy who stuffed his long-promised 1998 outtakes collection Crystal Ball with a bunch of patently inessential remixes of ’90s-era album cuts like “The Continental.” This is the guy who, as recently as 2006, made Warner revise the track list of the hits/rarities collection Ultimate Prince to remove the 12″ version of “Erotic City” because, presumably, it had naughty words. So as thrilled as I am to see his catalogue maybe finally getting the, ahem, royal treatment it deserves, I still feel the need to accompany my initial reaction of fist-pumping ecstasy with that second of totally natural fan responses: a list of demands.
So, Prince, if you’re reading this–and I know you’re not, because the Internet is over–here are fourteen rarities that need to be in consideration as bonus tracks for your upcoming reissue project. And really, man, I’m going easy on you: I’m only listing stuff from the Purple Rain era of 1983-85, because I know you need to concentrate on that album to make its 30th Anniversary this year. We can talk about the expanded editions of Dirty Mind, 1999, and of course the eight-disc blow-out mega-set covering Sign “O“ the Times/Crystal Ball/Dream Factory later, when you’re ready. But for now, pay attention. This is your chance to make history; don’t blow it.
(P.S., to my non-Prince readers: I mention a lot of awesome unreleased shit in this article. I won’t, however, provide any links, because this is only my second post for this blog and I don’t want to get my ass sued this early in the game. So sorry, you’re on your own if you want to actually hear any of this stuff…which is just another reason why it needs to see an official release.)
14. Dez Dickerson’s “Modernaire”
This one is about justice more than anything. Dickerson was Prince’s co-lead guitarist from 1979-1983, and a major influence on his more rock-oriented material–including, most significantly, breakthrough hit “Little Red Corvette,” for which he wrote and performed the classic guitar solo. By the conclusion of the “Triple Threat” tour promoting 1999, however, he was no longer able to reconcile his born-again Christian faith with his boss’s ribald public persona. In a rare moment of graciousness, the notoriously vindictive Prince not only gave Dickerson his blessing to leave, but also gave a spot in the upcoming film to Dez and his new backing band, the Modernaires.
The resulting song, appropriately titled “Modernaire,” isn’t really anything special: just a typically funky slice of Minneapolis-style electro-rock, best suited for exactly the kind of club-scene background noise it provides in the movie. It deserves to see a wide release, however, because like so many of the side projects in Prince’s orbit during the mid-’80s, it never really got the shot at commercial success it was promised. The song showed up on movie screens in Purple Rain, but not on vinyl; Dickerson and the Modernaires sank quickly out of sight, not even achieving the visibility of second-string Prince projects like Jill Jones and The Family. So let’s throw Dez a bone, and some royalties. And in the meantime, support the song’s independent release by Citinite, complete with awesome remixes by Hot Persuasion, Complexxion, DMX Krew, Faceless Mind, and even L.A. electro-hop godfather/noted Prince devotee Egyptian Lover.
13. Vanity 6’s Version of “Sex Shooter”
Experienced Princeologists know that Apollonia Kotero, whose boobs costarred as Prince’s romantic leads in the Purple Rain movie, wasn’t the first pair of breasts to front his cheesecakey girl-group side project, Apollonia 6. In fact, Purple Rain was already nearing the end of pre-production, and its accompanying soundtrack had already begun recording, when Prince’s original protégée Denise “Vanity” Matthews was dismissed from the project. As far as Apollonia 6’s solitary featured track in the movie is concerned, that’s a shame: because like everything else in the Vanity-to-Apollonia transition (except, arguably, the aforementioned boobs), the original was superior.
The Vanity 6 version of “Sex Shooter” has a grittier sound, with more prominent guitar (played, presumably, by the man himself); more importantly, though, the eternal bad girl Vanity makes a much more convincing “Sex Shooter” than Apollonia ever did. No matter how many black lace teddies and fishnets Prince and Purple Rain director Albert Magnoli would make her wear, Apollonia could never not come across as the wide-eyed girl next door. But Vanity was all too convincing as the steely-eyed madame of the group Prince originally wanted to dub “the Hookers”; and when she suggestively smirks “blow me away” toward the end of this outtake, she sells it. In fact, one almost wonders how different–and how much better–Purple Rain the movie might have been had Vanity stayed in the leading-actress role. One thing’s for sure: if the Kid had told Vanity to purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, he would have taken a stiletto boot heel to the scrotum.
12. Prince’s Versions of Songs from The Time’s Ice Cream Castle
At this point, it’s pretty much common knowledge that, at least until their 1990 New Jack-flavored comeback album Pandemonium, the Time existed as an actual, functioning band only on stage (where, to be fair, they often blew Prince and his band out of the water) and in promotional materials. Their first three albums were ghostwritten and, indeed, ghost-recorded by Prince himself, who even laid down guide vocals–often still audible on the final release–and required frontman Morris Day to replicate them with near-mechanical precision. (He also effectively invented the “Morris Day” persona. Seriously, find a copy of Crystal Ball and listen to “Cloreen Bacon Skin”: it’s fifteen minutes of Prince in character as “Morris Day,” with the real Morris on drums.) So why not let us hear the original tracks from 1984’s Purple Rain tie-in Ice Cream Castle, before Morris overdubbed his vocals? If nothing else, it would be a wonderfully surreal experience to hear the Purple Rain-inspired slow jam “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come” as crooned by the Kid himself.
Okay, now that the extended-family stuff is out of the way, let’s get serious. This one is a long shot for at least two reasons. First, it’s actually already seen an official release: in 2011, Prince quietly issued a toothless re-recording as a Canada-only online single, sanding down the music’s rough edges, scrubbing away all traces of outré lyrics, and adding a truly execrable rap by his short-lived Cameroonian actress/model protégée Andy Allo. For Prince fans who had never heard the original 1983 outtake, it was probably 21st century Prince-as-usual; maybe even a little funkier than most of his latter-day material. But for people like me, who stumbled randomly upon “Extraloveable” while surfing Spotify and promptly lost their shit because they never thought they’d hear an official version in their lifetimes, it was nothing short of a tragedy.
Now here’s the second obstacle: the song is downright offensive, and not in Prince’s usual “not suitable for Jehovah’s Witnesses” sense of the word. After about six minutes of typically slippery come-ons over a vintage Linn LM-1 drum loop (“Don’t U wanna, don’t U wanna take a bath with me?”), Prince abandons any pretense of romance, grunts “I’m on the verge of rape,” and then throws up his hands in a menacing kind of resignation: “I’m sorry, but I’m just going to have to rape U. Now are U going 2 get into the tub, or do I have 2 drag U? Don’t make me drag U.” Even in 1983, this just would not have flown; can you imagine what Andrea Dworkin, or for that matter Tipper Gore, would have had to say? And these days, when social media outrage can last for months over a Robin Thicke song that kinda sounds like it’s about rape, it’s a recipe for P.R. disaster.
Which is kind of a damn shame, because “Extraloveable” is among the weirdest and most wonderful of Prince’s early-’80s electro-funk workouts: a jam so effortless that many of its lyrics, notably “baby I know my rap is hard / but not as hard as what’s behind door…door number pants,” appear to have been written literally without any effort. Then there’s the mid-song one-man jam punctuated with callouts to band members who probably weren’t even in the studio at the time, and capped off with a searing guitar solo cheekily dedicated to the recently-departed Dez Dickerson (“Hey Dez…don’t U like my band?”). And, while I certainly don’t mean to make light of an issue as grave as sexual violence, it’s tough to take Prince’s rape talk seriously when it’s delivered in the melodramatic tones of a sexually ambiguous automaton. Let’s say include this one, but with a trigger warning.
10. “All Day, All Night”/”The Dance Electric”
I include these two tracks as a single entry because they have a lot in common. Both are extended, electro-inspired pieces written by Prince for other artists and recorded in 1984: “All Day, All Night” showed up in remixed form on the Prince-produced 1987 debut by Jill Jones, while “The Dance Electric” was overdubbed by childhood friend and pre-Controversy bass player André Cymone for his 1985 album AC. And I guess if it came down to it, only one would have to see the light of day (like I said, I’m going easy on you, Prince). But both are really good: the last gasps of Prince’s flirtations with hardcore electronic music before he moved toward the more organic, psychedelia-influenced sounds of the Revolution era.
In fact, seen from that perspective, there’s almost a before/after narrative to be read here. “All Day, All Night” is the closest Prince had come at that point to pure techno: a hypnotic synthesizer throb overlaid with cryptic, disassociative lyrics that could equally be about sex or MDMA (though, given Prince’s noted teetotaling tendencies, are probably just about sex). It’s also noteworthy for the immortal opening line, “Oh, what a beautiful morning…oh, what a beautiful ass.” “The Dance Electric,” meanwhile, starts from a similarly urgent LN-1 pulse but then builds with layers upon layers of neo-psychedelic guitars and chanted vocals by Prince and his Revolution cohorts/water temperature testers Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman. In fact, the more I think about it, fuck it, put ’em both on the reissue. Sorry, P. Deal with it.
9. “When Doves Cry” with Bass
By now, I would think that most people still reading this article would have heard the story behind the absence of a bass track on what is arguably Prince’s most popular and recognizable single (short version: while mixing the track he was dissatisfied, asked engineer Susan Rogers to turn the bass all the way down, and liked the way it sounded). It’s one of the more famous legends in a career with more famous legends than most. So why not give us the chance to hear the original mix, bass line and all, for ourselves? This is definitely treading into novelty curio territory, as “When Doves Cry” in its released version is as perfect a song as it can possibly be. But let’s be real here, anybody in the market for an expanded reissue of Purple Rain probably has the interest to check out at least one novelty curio.
8. The Complete August 3, 1983 First Avenue Concert
This, I write with an admittedly sinking heart, is probably the likeliest bonus material to be included on the reissue: after all, three songs from the show–“I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby I’m a Star,” and yes, even the masterful title track–already made it in studio-polished form to the original Purple Rain album, and filling out the second disc of a reissue with a period-appropriate live show seems like the new thing to do when an artist is squeamish about releasing studio outtakes (see, for example, the 2010 expanded edition of David Bowie‘s Station to Station). But it’s really only a weak choice compared to the wonders we could be receiving otherwise. This isn’t just a great show–as evidenced by the fact that some of its basic tracks have been passing for studio recordings for the last thirty years–it’s also a historically significant one: the August 3 First Avenue concert marked the debut of guitarist Wendy Melvoin in Prince’s newly-rechristened backing band, the Revolution. Between the raw live versions of the Purple Rain material–played for the first time in front of an audience–and the inclusions of oddball tracks like outtake “Electric Intercourse” (more on that later) and a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” this could make for fascinating companion listening to the album (because, you know, there’s absolutely no way to hear it now). Hell, make it Disc 3 after a full disc of studio outtakes and I for one will be cheesin’. And not to push my luck, but hear me out about a possible Disc 4…
Another thing all the cool kids seem to be doing in the deluxe-reissue market these days is releasing a disc of video content to round out the set (and, let’s face it, jack up the price). In the case of Purple Rain, Prince and Warner Bros. have it pretty easy: there already was an official release of Purple Rain-era live video by Prince and the Revolution, and it happens to be amazing. Prince and the Revolution: Live captures a typically blistering set from Syracuse, NY in March 1985, including the to-date only officially released version of classic outtake “Possessed” (again, more on this later) and an eighteen-minute (!) version of “Purple Rain” itself. And all W.B. has to do is clean up the footage that was originally transferred to VHS and slap it onto a Blu-ray disc. Yes, I realize video restoration is a costly and time-consuming process, so I’m being facetious when I say that’s “all” they have to do. But that just means they’d better get crackin’; 2014 is already almost half over.
Seriously, though, it will be a missed opportunity if this set comes and goes without a re-release of Prince and the Revolution: Live. It’s too perfect a document, especially if my list of demands does come true and we’re also getting the First Avenue show. Hearing (/seeing) both of these shows alongside one another would truly give us the full picture of the era: from small club to stadium, from before anyone had ever heard “Purple Rain” to after the song, movie, and album had made Prince a megastar (an exhausted megastar: just weeks after this show, he would infamously announce his retirement from live performance). Even if it’s not packaged with the Purple Rain reissue, I still think it’s high time for Live to be remastered; perhaps they could do what the Stones did with their most recent Exile on Main St. reissue and their 1974 concert film Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones, and release the two projects separately but timed for synergy.
6. “Electric Intercourse”
One thing worth noting about Prince is, while I have been referring to unreleased studio tracks as “outtakes” for the sake of convenience, he’s not really an artist with a lot of “outtakes” in the traditional sense of the word. Unlike most artists, who enter the studio only when it’s time to record a new project and will literally “take out” tracks that don’t come together or won’t fit into the album’s running length, Prince by all accounts spends inordinate amounts of time in the studio recording just for the sake of it: sometimes for a specific project, sometimes for other artists, and often for his own personal entertainment. So while all of the studio tracks being discussed here were recorded during what might loosely be dubbed the “Purple Rain era,” beginning after the conclusion of the Triple Threat tour and through the release of the album itself, it’s unlikely that any of them were actually meant to be included on the Purple Rain album.
“Electric Intercourse,” however, is a relatively rare exception. A sensual, electric piano-driven piece with a soulful vocal performance by Prince, the backing tracks came from the same aforementioned August 3, 1983 live show that yielded “I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby, I’m a Star,” and “Purple Rain.” The following month, Prince recorded overdubs at Sunset Sound in Hollywood; just a few days later, however, he also recorded “The Beautiful Ones,” another slow, piano-heavy number that quickly took the place of “Electric Intercourse” on Purple Rain‘s track list. And really, it was the right call; “The Beautiful Ones” is a stone classic, one of the best ballads in the whole Prince corpus. But “Electric Intercourse” is no slouch, either, and hearing it for the first time in its studio-polished form would be a real thrill. Of course, if the reissue were to include the First Avenue show in its entirety, the original live performance would at least be exposed to a wider audience; an acceptable compromise. But still, the pedant in me wants to hear exactly what changed between the live performance and the studio session. Plus, having a version without audience noise would make it way easier to put this on mix CDs for the ladies. Do it for my sex life, Prince.
5. The Extended Version of “Computer Blue”
Remember the scene in Purple Rain where an emotionally disturbed Kid performs “Computer Blue,” bare-chested and oiled up with his eyes covered by a black lace mask, while Wendy mimes fellatio on his guitar? Now remember how you wished that scene was ten minutes longer, with more Wendy and Lisa sexbot voices and some bizarre, Jim Morrison-esque spoken-word poetry? Oh, and also more guitar solos and dirty electro-funk-rock grooves? I don’t know about you, but that’s one of my favorite parts of the movie, and I love “Computer Blue” even if it is basically just a weirder rewrite of 1999‘s “Automatic.” And while on the original album it comes across as an extended introduction to “Darling Nikki,” the unreleased full-length version gives it much more of an opportunity to let its freak flag fly.
4. “We Can Fuck” (“We Can Funk”)
Another long shot, because for better or for worse our beloved former “Rude Boy” seems averse to dropping “F”-bombs these days. But if he could find it in his heart to look the other way, this could be a much-needed salvaging of one of Prince’s most mistreated songs. “We Can Fuck” is, of course, the original version of the song eventually released on 1990’s Graffiti Bridge as “We Can Funk,” and like most things related to Graffiti Bridge, it was a missed opportunity of the highest order. Prince resurrected his 1983 backing track for the remake, but used it as a showcase for P-Funk godfather and recent Paisley Park signee George Clinton; while this might sound like a good idea on paper (“Funk” is right there in the title!), and while Clinton did his best with the material–the recurring chant “I’m testing positive for the funk/I’d gladly pee in anybody’s cup” is vintage Brother George–the darkly sexy groove is engineered for Prince’s sultry croon, not Clinton’s stoned-cartoon rasp. And while there is a transfer circulating of “We Can Fuck” in its original 1983 incarnation, it’s both incomplete and terrible quality. So please, Prince, throw us a bone; let us pretend, even for a few glorious minutes, that Graffiti Bridge never happened. We won’t even mind if you change the title again.
The real crime when it comes to this song is that it technically already was in Purple Rain: listen carefully during a scene between Morris Day and Apollonia in First Avenue (I’m pretty sure it’s the one where Morris is boasting about his brass waterbed), and you can hear an instrumental re-recording of “Possessed” playing in the background. The instrumental version is interesting–a synth and sequencer experiment that demonstrates Prince’s broadening sonic palette in 1984 and points the way toward the future explorations of 1985’s Around the World in a Day and 1986’s Parade–but it’s also seven minutes long, has no vocals aside from a classic Prince groan at the beginning, and doesn’t really go anywhere. The original 1983 version is where it’s at: almost nine minutes long, but boy does it go places, with another great LN-1 beat, some muted funk guitar, strategic synthesizer stabs, and one of the Purple One’s most seductive vocal performances.
It’s also among his most frankly sexual lyrics of the ’80s, which makes the cynical side of me wonder if an unexpurgated version will see the light of day in 2014: toward the end of the song, Prince doesn’t just assure a lady that if he doesn’t give into his temptations her “pussy puts up quite an awful fuss”; he then proceeds to spell out exactly what he means by “putting up a fuss,” making it less a double entendre than a delayed single one. There’s also an instrumental breakdown proceeded by the callout “me and the boys would like to jam,” which, considering the fact that two of the six members of the Revolution were women, I’m pretty sure is actually meant to be a reference to Prince’s royal jewels. So yeah, it’s dirty. But if Prince can bear to release it without offending his own increasingly delicate sensibilities, we will finally have a definitive version of one of his most essential lost gems.
2. “Erotic City (‘make love not war Erotic City come alive’)”
I know what you’re thinking: “Erotic City” isn’t a rarity. It’s one of Prince’s most famous B-sides (hell, one of the most famous B-sides, full stop), George Clinton covered it in P.C.U., why waste valuable reissue space on something everyone’s already heard? Well, here’s my argument: the real “Erotic City,” the 12″ version that stretches like elastic to a glorious seven and a half minutes, hasn’t seen official release since its original issue in 1984; and the fact that a whole generation has now theoretically grown up, can in fact now go to war and die for their country, while hearing only the weak-ass three-minute version included on The Hits collection, makes me sick. It’s hard to clarify in words what makes the long version of “Erotic City” so much better than the edit. The edit hits all the highlights, it doesn’t sound awkward or remove any major elements, but the 12″ mix just feels right; it builds at the perfect pace, its subtle rhythmic variations a masterclass in modular groove construction. Put another and perhaps more àpropos way, “Erotic City” is better at seven and a half minutes than three minutes in the same way that actual sex is better at seven and a half minutes…or, you know, longer.
1. Something We’ve Never Even Heard About
Yeah, I’m kind of cheating on this one. But the fact is, this list is being assembled from scraps. Prince is one of the most heavily bootlegged artists out there–right up there with the Beatles and Bob Dylan–and it’s a testament to the obsessiveness and tenacity of his fans that we know as much about his unreleased material as we do. But the whole reason why the idea of Prince “opening the Vault” has been such a tantalizing one for the last thirty years is because we don’t know what else there is to hear. If any artist has the capability to surprise us with something completely out of left field, some unreleased masterpiece we’ve never heard about, Prince is the one. And now he finally has the chance to do that.
Of course, like I said before, I am under no illusions that any of this is actually going to happen. I have fully prepared myself for the fact that whatever reissue of Purple Rain makes it to stores this year will probably be a disappointment; in a way, it couldn’t possibly live up to thirty years of bootleg- and speculation-fueled anticipation. This will, almost certainly, end in tears. But at least Prince had the foresight to give us the perfect soundtrack.