Around the World in a Day (1985)
Around the World in a Day is a window to other lands. It’s the window through which we’re offered an outstretched hand and asked to climb aboard Prince’s magic carpet. It’s the window a Big Friendly Giant will pluck us from our bed. It’s the departure point for Neverland. Its panes are Alice’s looking glass and its frame made of driftwood washed up from undiscovered continents. A wonderful trip through all time, and laughter is all u pay. The draftsman of this portal was Lisa Coleman’s brother David who Prince had just gifted two days studio time as a birthday present. He penned this carousel of cello, oud and darbuka, and recorded it with Wendy Melvoin’s brother Jonathan. Prince, never one to pass up an opportunity, pulled it into his orbit, changed the lyrics, added some Minneapolis Sound fairy dust and used it as a peacock-feathered springboard to launch his post-Purple Rain trajectory. Coupled with the album’s cover art the lazy references to The Beatles and psychedelia poured in but this wasn’t some Summer of Love cosplay – it was a celebration of the whole carnival of human being. Open your heart, open your mind…
Graffiti Bridge (1990)
Like Computer Blue, the album edit of The Question of U ditches the lyrics after a single verse/chorus and spends the remaining two thirds of its duration wigging out in an instrumental trance. But unfortunately, unlike the Purple Rain track, there aren’t thought to be a missing ten minutes awaiting our discovery. Just a paltry 60 seconds remain in the can. Is it just me who fantasises over this swamp-funk groove being spun out to symphonic lengths with layers of melody unfolding like an operatic rose? I’ve no need for additional verses as we’ve heard similar on Under the Cherry Moon but there’s so much going on in the music it’s cruel to confine it to such cramped quarters. We need a free-range option – somewhere that can house Clare Fischer’s orchestral input that didn’t make the final cut. A fully instrumental version was later recorded with Eric Leeds and Sheila E, titled 12 keys, but lacked all the elements that make Prince’s solo composition so intriguing – squelchy bass, harpsichord synths, sultry guitar solo, cavernous handclaps from the edge of a growing void. In other words, all the elements that make The Question of U sound like an eerie ballet where Prince attempts to raise an undead army from the Seven Corners mists. I can now see why he didn’t keep the tape rolling – that would made Graffiti Bridge a very different film.
Purple Rain (1984) / Purple Rain Deluxe (2017)
Purple Rain’s fourth track never registered much on my radar – it was a mere transition from the dizzying heights of The Beautiful Ones into the profane depths of Nikki’s castle. This may be blasphemous considering the sublime guitar solo, but with a confusing title and only one verse and chorus (all the lyrics are in the first 90 seconds) there wasn’t much to form a memory around. Especially as any trains of thought were always derailed by Darling Nikki’s subsequent lobby activities. Later I discovered the album version of Computer Blue was just the beginning and end of a much longer track. A cut n’ shut. A Mad magazine fold-in that in its original state has all kinds of interesting, crazy shenanigans happening in its middle section. An unedited version exists over three times the length and is an Aladdin’s cave of Prince tropes and ideas. Therein we find his first mention of The Dawn (assuming it pre-dates 17 Days’ full length title). There’s a mini morality play about the difference between love and lust (à la Temptation). The computer metaphor is fleshed out (the meaning I couldn’t glean from the album’s scant lyrics is that human are computers and Prince is sad due to his faulty, chauvinistic programming). There’s the infamous ‘hallway speech’, named as such in early bootlegs and officially canon after Warner Bros reused the title for their 2017 Purple Rain Deluxe release. We also hear a guitar rendition of Father’s Song – the composition the Kid’s dad plays on the piano in Purple Rain and co-credited to Prince’s real life father. And that’s not to mention the two missing verses which are the least interesting thing about the full length jam. You can see why they were sacrificed, it’s just a shame some of the various interludes didn’t make the album otherwise my memory would have been a bit more than robot Wendy & Lisa bathe each other… some music happens… then the origin story of parental advisory stickers begins.
Art Official Age (2014)
Time’s intro may be all touch tone beeps, but the beat sounds programmed on an old rotary phone. A lumbering, mechanical rhythm that pauses while the dial resets after each digit. It’s just one of the contradictions that makes us feel we’re at the point in the album’s story where the concept of time breaks down and Mr Nelson experiences every moment at once. Previous Prince songs bubble up (I count twelve references, including three obvious ones from this album) and everything that ever was, is, and will be, flood the senses as the doors of perception explode open. You thought that was a funky bass solo you heard? It’s the sound of spacetime being rent asunder. Of course these metaphysical trappings come parcelled up with the album. On any other release this song would just be a dirty phone call between a lonely Prince in his hotel room and Andy Allo, the “animal half his age”. Here it’s Prince passing on the secrets of time learnt from The Greatest Romance Ever Sold and Chelsea Rodgers.
The Black Album (1987/1994)
Axing the Black Album was a masterstroke by Prince. It meant Lovesexy was then presented on a pillow of redemption and cleansing spirituality while the album it replaced became forbidden fruit – a party record which, like all the best parties, had an air of illicitness about it. I bought my copy of the Black Album at a record fair and initially thought it had the wrong record in the sleeve as the label listed different track titles and gave the name of the artist as Morris Ashbey. The thrill I got on playing when I realised it was Prince’s Black Album made me love this lp even more. I’d beaten the man; discovered the speakeasy; received the rave’s location by ringing the number on the flyer. This was unsanctioned by the label and even the artist himself. It felt faintly subversive like listening to pirate radio. Never mind at this point the album already had an official release and I could have easily bought the CD on the high street. I wasn’t interested in killjoy logic. Le Grind then is the perfect opener to this illicit party. It has the unpredictability of a live jam feeding on the energy of the crowd – Prince corrects his backing singer (“not yet Boni… now!”); Cat inexplicably gives shout-outs to house legend Frankie Knuckles; there’s a hilarious Cockney call and response section – you’d never know that the horn and backing vocals were overdubbed almost a year later, it feels so spontaneous. But what makes Le Grind the perfect opener are the welcoming words “so, you found me, good, I’m glad, this is Prince…” A barely audible message to let you know the album’s recall was a ploy to screen out critics, the incurious and those of a weak mind susceptible to subliminal messages in the Alphabet St video. Greetings. You passed the test. You’re one of us. Now let’s la chantez all night long!
André Cymone says he wrote Do Me, Baby and put a version to tape in 1979, during a recording session with Pepe Willie who backs up his claim. Without hearing this early version it’s impossible to know how much Prince took (if any) for his Do Me, Baby but regardless of origin it’s a Prince song through and through – his ur-ballad that spawned a dozen sequels and marked the arrival of the scream. There were screams pre-Controversy but buried low in the mix and easily missed. Sexuality is the first track that brings his cries to the fore but they’re more like James Brown vocal stabs – warm up exercises for The Unleashing that occurs next. When Do Me Baby starts, anybody familiar with Prince’s later output know where it’s heading, but back then there were no clues to the tumult ahead. The first sign you get is at 2:45 where he holds a note and feels the power surge within. Thirty seconds later he takes practice swings at an “ooooh”, each one increasing in intensity. Then at 3:54 comes the first bona fide scream. It’s his “power of Grayskull” moment. What starts out as the word “yeah” ends as a sonic boom of primal pain and desire. At 4:18 he gives it another go – all that he’s got – and it breaks both him and the song. The final three minutes are spent shivering and asking for help. It wipes him out but there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. He’s now able to break the sound barrier of anguish at will and just past the half way point on the album’s next track he’s ready to go again.
2001’s Supercute felt like the final chapter in a subset of Prince songs where he lusts after a dancing girl. The way he hid behind a third person perspective (“she comes to see him, him as in me”) you sensed he no longer felt comfortable playing the role of a voyeur of women half his age. He even sung about not wanting to see you dance in The Dance three years later. Then, in the year Sexy Dancer entered her fourth decade, Hot Thing became older than its girl of barely 21 and Sexy MF reached the age of consent in Minnesota, Prince once again pens an ode to a sexy dancer, telling her she gets him hot. The old urges are still there. But unlike on his self titled album where he loses the power of speech and heavy breathes over a simple raw groove, here he retains his faculties to describe the subject of his gaze and her attire in detail while the music gets increasingly more baroque. The power dynamic has changed. He’s not a relatively unknown youngster in thrall of a force of nature beyond his control, he’s a king looking down at a courtesan cavorting for him. It’s the tension between this situation and his latter day beliefs that make Dance 4 Me one of his greatest songs of the 2000s. The Camille voice is a sure sign he wants to distance himself from the lyrics and he can throw in as many hallelujahs as he likes but it only serves to highlight the funky nastiness that gushes out when Prince overrides the better angels of his nature.
Vanity 6 (1982)
Nasty Girl was kept out of the billboard top 100 as it was considered too raunchy for radio, as was Grace Jones’ euphemism-laden Pull up to my Bumper the year before. Yet in 1977 Stephen Tyler was free to sing about masturbation, threesomes and going “down on a muffin” on Walk This Way. You used to be given a lot more license for explicitness if you were a man. Or if you were submissive. Donna Summer’s orgasmic moans or Jane Birkin purring filth in French to Serge were deemed fine for the airwaves but a woman singing about looking for a one night stand? Absolutely not. Or was it the “seven inches or more” line that threatened radio controllers’ manhood? Despite the pearl clutches, Nasty Girl still reached number 1 in the dance charts. The lyrics are tame by today’s standards and the gyrations and lingerie on show seem positively prudish compared to the softcore porn of your modern pop video but its impact in the early 80s ripped up the rule book and set the stage for Madonna’s chart domination later that decade. Everything from Janet’s Nasty to Beyoncé’s Naughty Girl can trace its roots back to Vanity 6’s only hit. It spawned a thousand covers and became Pharrell’s go-to sample for both Britney and Janelle. You could call it a feminist anthem but just don’t linger on the meaning behind the band name. It takes the shine off.
Art Official Age (2014)
Prince’s screams aren’t the armour-piercing pitch they once were, but he doesn’t shy away from unleashing them in this lasers-and-strings-filled Empty Room reboot. Not since The Beautiful Ones have we seen anything as brutal and beautifully cathartic. Brutalful. Repentant for his past behaviour Mr Nelson beats himself up, allowing everything to land on the one like a punch to the gut. It wasn’t the first song recorded for Art Official Age but I’ll bet it’s the one the album concept and sound grew around. I’ll explain my reading of the album when we get to Way Back Home but I believe Breakdown is the protagonist hitting rock bottom – a necessary low point so something new can be born within him. His screams are a chrysalis, protecting his body as it breaks down and crystallises into a new form. The birth of a new ego-less being. Just your standard third-track ballad then.
Prince’s brief rockabilly fascination started, according to Dez Dickerson, with them seeing the Stray Cats in London and being so in awe of the band they both started styling their hair like them. It ended a year or two later with Prince’s ultimate take on the genre: Delirious. Along the way he churned out several lesser attempts – with B-side Horny Toad and Controversy’s Jack U Off the only two he saw fit to release – but with Delirious he found his sound and could hang up his blue suede shoes (although not his pompadour which would make several later appearances) for good. It’s little wonder why a genre initially deemed too black for country radio and too white for R’n’B stations would appeal to someone trying to escape radio segregation himself. And this may be another reason why he abandoned the genre post 1983. Little Red Corvette proved to be his skeleton key to unlock the pop, rock and R&B charts but if Delirious had bridged the divide instead would Purple Rain have been an album of synthy 8 bar blues and Elvis impressions? I shudder to think. Luckily, in this universe’s timeline Delirious remains the culmination of a flirtation. A quirky counterweight to the scary techno future that’s unfolding around it. The rest of the album casts its hooks deep into your psyche, activating dark, unexplored areas you have no name for. Delirious aims for the big red button in your sternum marked ”goofing off’. Listen to the Indigo Nights rendition and it has the same effect. Break glass in case of dangerous levels of seriousness. You can see why Eddie Murphy borrowed the title.
Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
It gave its name to an album, tour and a pair of dancers but there’s always been something immutable about the song Diamonds and Pearls. Can you even imagine a remixed version? Sacrilege! The downside is it will always sound the same. Repeated listens won’t unearth any surprises because its diamond-like transparency has already revealed its depths. There’s no mysteries to be unlocked here except how a world containing famine, war and reality TV can also house something as crystal pure as this song. So I keep it in a box for safekeeping. Glad it exists but rarely take it out to play with. Its immaculate, completely smooth exterior allows no space for the terrestrial grime of life. Others may be able to enclose it like an oyster and make a pearl by coating it with layers of meaning, but to me it will always remain an exquisite glass bead.
They say comparison is the thief of joy but I can’t help measuring Under the Cherry Moon against the similar-sounding Question of U. Which do you prefer? I used to think the peak-Prince aura of the 80s surrounded the first, while the second wore the millstone of the 90s. But that’s a mirage as both were written in 1985. Over the years I’ve grown to prefer the Graffiti Bridge track as the patchwork quality of that album makes me latch on to the peaks with an iron grip. In contrast there’s not a single bad track on Parade so Under the Cherry Moon blends in against a backdrop of consistent excellence. Setting is important. It’s why I’ve only watched the Under the Cherry Moon motion picture once. It was part of a perfect after-hours moment, cherished due to many reasons not involving the film that I don’t want to rewatch it lest I pollute the memory. I’ve read enough reviews since that suggest a critical eye wouldn’t be kind. This was almost two decades ago so I can’t recall how well the title song was utilised but as it waltzes with an air of the French Riviera and death it sounds thematically on point. Or perhaps the song has slowly supplanted the film in my mind. There’s enough space in the composition to fill with an accumulation of black and white Gallic daydreams over the years. Have I filed them under a plot of a film I daren’t watch back? Maybe I do prefer this Parade track. It could be the closest I’ve come to being a Hollywood director.
Unreleased (1983) / Crystal Ball (1998)
My first listen of the Crystal Ball album took me back to being five years old again. I’m a kid staring at a mound of birthday presents. There’s some I’d hoped for, some less so, and one weird-looking, confusing gift three times the size of the others. Naturally this is the one I fixate on. Since then mates with more experience of band practise have dismissed Cloreen Bacon Skin as a jam session – nothing special, they’ve heard loads. But nah I know it’s more than that. It may only be a drum kit and bass guitar but the way it builds is straight out the techno playbook, years before the Belleville Three came along. Plus techno has always been too four to the floor for my tastes. This beat spoke to me in my first language of boom-bap hip hop. And the vocals. It was my first exposure to Jamie Starr. His old-man voice in full extempore flow is my spirit animal and last year’s release of Cold Coffee & Cocaine may awaken the same fascination in a new generation of Prince fans. To anybody’s protestations that Cloreen Bacon Skin is not a song, I’ll concede that point. It’s not. It’s molten funk, fresh from the forge prior to being hammered into the rough shape of a song. Listen to Soulpsychodelicide or The Time’s Tricky if you want to hear it sculpted into a familiar form. I prefer the red hot rawness. The liquid, untempered spontaneity. As the Crystal Ball liner notes reveal even the title was thought up a split second before you hear it. It’s rough, and even chaotic at times but like Nietzsche once wrote, you need chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. And that dancing star is Cloreen’s finest daughter: Irresistible Bitch. Hearing her conception isn’t the greatest moment on Crystal Ball but it comes a close second.
I’ll be honest, any attempt to pin this ethereal track down with words is futile. There’s no combination of letters that can paint an adequate picture of its majesty. I offer only a well-worn cliche. The Kawa model in occupational theory uses the metaphor of a river to describe the stages of life. At first it is a babbling brook, lively and energetic yet shallow. Further along the river gains depth with maturity and settles into a steady flow. With old age, before the point it joins the next realm of the ocean, it’s calm and slow-moving but has broadened and contains a powerful vastness beneath the surface. When We’re Dancing Close and Slow was written while Prince was in the shallow river stage of life but the song has a calm deepness that belies his years. The title is borrowed from one of his idols, Joni Mitchell, but the music is taken from a deep reservoir of introverted world-building. Why try to analyse it? In the words of Lennon: let’s turn off our minds, relax and float downstream.
Following a headliner is always tricky. When an album puts its best foot forward on track 1 should the following track step off and allow a less lofty peak to build? Or is it better to grab that momentum and ride the coattails in a glow of reflected glory? Sexuality chooses the latter and starts with the jolt of a licked battery. This energy can only last so long though and two thirds of the way in there’s nothing left in the tank. The synths have nowhere to go and the lyrics become a live reading of a teen activist’s button badges. Like most attempted revolutions it peters out with a whimper but for two and a half minutes Sexuality is a battle cry for a sexually-liberated future. Uptown with less clothes. Two decades later Prince would change the lyrics and rename the track Spirituality In live performances. He also appropriated the chorus chant for his religious song Rainbow Children. As his spiritual views became more orthodox I imagine he felt he had to airbrush out his youthful depiction of the Second Coming as an orgy. Luckily it wasn’t possible to alter his back catalogue too otherwise he’d have to change the album title to No Longer Controversial.
Around the World in a Day (1985)
Speaking of the T word, one temptation for Prince in 1985 would have been to end Around the World in a Day with the lighters-in-the-air, anthemic The Ladder. It’s the natural closer. But that would have exacerbated comparisons to his previous album so he sequenced this squalling piece of Kabuki theatre as the finale instead. Of course he’s not talking about any old kind of temptation though. He’s talking about… he’s talking about… sexual temptation. Out of all his songs marrying the carnal with the spiritual, Temptation is the most on the nose. Five minutes of grunts, screams and lyrics about hot animal lust are then followed by a three minute beat poem where Prince converses with God, dies and realises the error of his ways. There was only one man in the mid-80s with the balls to pull this off. Seriously, who else could perform, let alone conceive of, such medallion-swinging blues rock which tows the line between cocksure swagger and preposterous pantomime? Even if you roll your eyes at the final three minutes (a section cribbed from his live shows) you have to salivate at the previous five minutes of guitar which has enough delay piled on that the original sound waves must still be reverberating somewhere in our galaxy. I don’t mind the ending but it’s a little like a New Testament morality play stuck on the end of some Old Testament fire and fury. “Rococo of the soul” in the words of Nietzsche. Give me the lusty Prince over the repentant one any day of the week.
Romance 1600 (1985)
In this 80s pop masterpiece, Sheila E and Prince ride a silver swan through the night sky, leaving behind contrails of purple ice crystals as a thousand narwhals carve your name amongst the stars. The album version is over 12 minutes long and whispers messages which can’t be grasped by transient minds. Clear your head of all thoughts and let the saxophone rewrite your genetic code while you unlock new levels of euphoric bliss. It’s the kind of track that could have landed anywhere in 1985: Around The World in a Day; The Family; An early configuration of Parade; The Krush Groove soundtrack. But A Love Bizarre was gifted to Sheila E to rescue her sophomore album from mediocrity. I’m a fan of Romance 1600 but it would be infinitely more listenable if they also gave Dear Michaelangelo this extended treatment and ditched all the other songs to create a Fela Kuti-style two-track album symphony.
I am writing this four days before the winter solstice, the shortest, darkest day of the year. It’s Monday, I have a head full of cold and I’m commuting into work. The conditions then are perfect to unleash Dark on my earphones. Yes, it’s another of Prince’s hurty slow jams and lyrically if I Hate U is the anger stage of grief then Dark is the depression, but the luscious backing vocals and full band performance are like hot lemon drink to my ears. Thematically it’s Ain’t No Sunshine and like the Bill Withers classic you can feel the pain and loneliness in the words but also the warmth in the music. In the interlude, where Prince sings about sunshine and dark clouds, the key change lifts the mood like shafts of sunlight piercing an overcast sky. We may be in the depths of Winter (and Dark was recorded on the second day of January) but there’s sunny days ahead. Unfortunately, I’m so enraptured I forget to stop the album before it progresses to the next track – the maudlin wallow-fest Solo. Spring has now never seemed further away.
Purple Rain (1984)
We finally get to Purple Rain – the only album residing wholly in this list’s top 100. Take Me With U was the album’s final single and the film’s romantic duet between the lead and love interest during the most memorable scene in the film, but its upbringing could have been very different. Initially it was the opening track on Apollonia 6 before Prince stripped the album of potential hits (Manic Monday and G-Spot were also removed). With unabashed pop swagger and a suggestive wink it would have fitted in well, easily becoming the stand out track. But who would have heard it? Getting the call up to return us to earth after Let’s Go Crazy’s stratospheric “take me away” scream and to lighten the mood before the ultimatums start in The Beautiful Ones is one hell of a promotion. Luckily Take Me With U has an ace up her sleeve: two drum fills that hit you like the pounding of your heart. These bookend the track, cocooning the soft and fluffy pop in a hard, protective layer. With that intro announcing its arrival nobody’s counting the times Apollonia sings off key afterwards.
Rave In2 the Joy Fantastic (2001)
Shed any memories you may have of Beautiful Strange’s home video namesake. The song exists on a much higher plain than anything containing awkward footage of Prince and Mel B in a child’s playground. Here we plunge into a languid ocean of ethereal rock with vapour clouds of Jimi’s ghost forming overhead. A Lotusflow3r highlight a decade too early and the greatest song of his Rave Un2 era despite not featuring on the original album. We’ve set Charon’s boat adrift and are dragging our fingers through the moonlit Styx without a care in the world. It won’t end well but while we’re wrapped in this guitar fuzz duvet we’re untouchable gods.
The Gold Experience (1995)
More golden than a dictator’s bathroom – or a Klimt painting during magic hour – Gold was written for the stadium and is armed to the teeth with power chords and pyrotechnics. It’s a Stairway to Heaven remix of Purple Rain, with even Prince promoting it to reporters as the sequel to his 1984 rock classic (is this why he sings “everybody wants to sell what’s already been sold”?). If Purple Rain was his swan-dive into the mainstream then Gold was his swan-song out. In the UK the only top 10 single he had afterwards was Warner Bros’ re-release of 1999 in its namesake year. The public moved on. Gold’s fireworks display then is a fitting lighters-in-the-air finale. Welcome to The Dawn, have a safe trip home. Triple-disc albums awaited those who stuck around for the aftershow.
Unreleased (1993) / Crystal Ball (1998)
In Britain, reggae created by someone with no connection to the West Indies is called cod reggae (cod meaning faux or lying). It’s a pejorative thrown at usually-white bandwagon-jumpers mimicking a culture they have little experience of. This was certainly true at the start of reggae’s rise when Paul McCartney penned the Desmond Dekker-influenced Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da or when 10cc released the (admittedly-great) Dreadlock Holiday but as time went on and new generations grew up embedded in sound-system culture, authenticity became less clear cut and the term began to die out. I’m reminded of the phrase listening to Ripipgodazippa – a fillet of ethically sourced cod reggae at its finest. Splash and Blue Light were just the run-up; it’s on the Crystal Ball album where Prince makes the genre his own, even though the song’s only home for three years was in the stripper-flick Showgirls. The lyrics are pure filth but as they were written in the year of his name change they also contain one of his stock answers to the question of what people call him: “If you’re always with me you’ll never have to call me. Touché.” Just be thankful his vocals, while containing a slight Jamaican lilt, aren’t the full-on sham-aican heard in The Sun, the Moon and the Stars. That would have been an unsustainable level of cod.
Unreleased (1985) / Crystal Ball (1998)
Although its title suggests a fantastical place where dreams are made, the lyrics to Dream Factory don’t give off the same Disneyland vibe. We’re told in Crystal Ball‘s liner notes the song was “written 4 a turncoat, who after a quick brush with success, lost themselves in a haze of wine, women and pills…” It was kept in quarantine until the late 90s for being too pointed and personal to release into the mainstream, much like that other diss-track he wrote in 1985, Old Friends For Sale. In Dream Factory Prince is a ringleader scorned and distorts his voice into a variety of spiky shapes to claw out the imagined dagger in his back. And who was this turncoat? If the line “a saint… quitting my friends much 2 their surprise” was a subtle clue, then the time Prince roused a crowd to chant “Paul, punk of the month” during a Dream Factory / Mutiny medley offered a more explicit hint. Susannah Melvoin (who provides backing vocals on this song) has said Prince never begrudged St Paul leaving The Family, but the turncoat reference written over a decade later suggests otherwise. Either Prince truly felt betrayed when his protégés no longer bent to his will, or he enjoyed using the drama as a creative spark. The intro to Dream Factory did make a brief appearance on 1995’s Exodus album, before the DJ playing it gets beaten up and New Power Soul takes its place (Tora Tora was such a Prince tease) but by the time of its big reveal on Crystal Ball, the outtake had to compete for attention amid three discs of unreleased material so never really got the kudos it deserved. In it are the germs of Camille and the Dream Factory Revolution album that never was. If he had thrown this seed bomb at the right moment who knows what forests would have grown within its blast radius.
Love 2 the 9s is an inverse of The Continental. It starts with light and airy Caribbean vibes but midway it switches into something The Bomb Squad would be proud of. We receive a pummelling of record scratches and a siren-like bassline, somebody arrives toting a glockenspiel and Tony M “machine gun[s]” Mayte, here on her Prince debut, with a rapid fire questionnaire which she interrupts by breaking out her Streetfighter special move, the “Booty Boom”. We don’t hear all 37 questions on this questionnaire (maybe the other half were on Love Machine) but what starts out as Tony M jotting down her name, age and interests, ends with Prince firing off challenges which range from public displays of affection to lying on a bed of thorns while he drinks your ocean dry. As we’ve already seen in Love Machine and If I Was Your Girlfriend, the longer any interview progresses on a Prince record the probability of him asking to drink you approaches 1. It’s like some kind of cunnilingus Godwin’s law.
Crystal Ball (1998)
Concert recordings always sound diminished, neutered of their live power. Even with iconic instances such as the final third of the Purple Rain album, you know it’s a cerebral pleasure compared with the visceral thrill of being there. You may get chills listening back to a gig you were at (the only track guaranteed to give me literal goosebumps is a recording of a White Stripes gig I once saw) but an aide-mémoire is a poor substitute for the real thing. You can never truly bottle the moment. What live recordings can do however is add another dimension to an otherwise flat composition. There’s a reason why the studio version of anti-gangsta anthem Days of Wild hasn’t been released while several live renditions have. It’s a song that demands the symbiotic feedback loop of the crowd. I wanna hear it played at the type of gig where you stash your key and bar money in your shoe, then sacrifice full control to the Brownian motion of the mob. A crowd so packed that you can lurch huge distances in one direction, then another, without your feet ever touching the floor. Elbows kept by your side because if you throw them in the air you lose the space to retrieve them and end up dancing like one of those inflatable tube men. If Days of Wild sounds as good as it does on Crystal Ball with a reserved Paisley Park audience struggling to get on board with the free the slave chants, imagine how much better it could be performed in front of a pullulating mosh pit of party freaks. Dizzy Gillespie’s Caravan riff surfing a primal scream of Dionysian frenzy. That recording would need to sound diminished otherwise it would chew you up and spit you out before you could shout “hold on to your wig”.