Romance 1600 (1985)
Sheila E gets the official writer’s credit but they’re fooling no-one, this is a Prince composition from root to branch. Created on the road during the Purple Rain tour, Dear Michaelangelo (sic) is a masterpiece marred only by the abrupt ending (which was possibly lost in a land-grab by the gargantuan A Love Bizarre). I always feel sad when the sax solo finishes as I know the plug is about to be pulled. Maybe it was the only way they knew how to stop this snowballing behemoth of dreamy pop, penned by a 20th Century Renaissance man but crafted by Sheila into one of her finest moments. It’s questionable why it was the B-side on the album’s second single, instead of the A-side though. It’s like if a Vatican City tourist brochure decided to lead with photos of the Sistine Chapel floor.
Unreleased (1984) / Different Light (1986)
The mid-eighties were such a Midas period for Prince that even his cast-offs proved to be worldwide top-10 hits. Manic Monday was pulled from the Apollonia 6 album and only given to The Bangles two years later because, according to Wendy, he thought the lead singer, Susanna Hoffs, looked cute. However, it is possible Prince always sensed the song’s mainstream appeal and jettisoned it from his side-project, along with 17 Days and The Glamorous Life, to be given the chance to germinate on more fertile ground. He didn’t have the utmost confidence in Apollonia Kotero’s singing ability and although he also appears on the original demo, the vocals pale when compared to Susanna’s rendition. It’s like a room lit by tubular lighting-strips suddenly being flooded with daylight. Manic Monday may have been written by somebody to whom rat-race commutes and 9 to 5 drudgery are an exotic novelty but beneath the occasionally hollow-sounding lyrics and 1999 melody run a “crystal blue Italian stream” of sparkling, innocent pop.
Vanity 6 (1982)
A woman sits at her vanity mirror lost in her own reflection as an electrical storm, pregnant with the future seeds of Detroit Techno and Chicago House, growls malevolently outside. My answer to André 3000’s question of ‘what’s cooler than being cool?’ would be this ice cold beat which shivers with a detached intensity and the equally robotic-in-delivery lyrics are asinine yet strangely menacing when anti-sung over the ahead-of-its-time techno rumblings. It’s Weird Science meets Bladerunner. A YouTube make-up tutorial given by the Kraftwerk shop dummies. The album’s high-point Nasty Girl may have reinvented Janet Jackson but Make-up inspired whole genres, making it an icy crucible of dance music worlds.
Unreleased (1982) / Jill Jones (1987)
Written in another moment, in another mindset, these thoughts on the closing track from Jill Jones’ self-titled album would be a jaunt through hyperbolic praise, musing on the 1999 callbacks, orchestral flair and lyrics which conceivably describe a chronic celebrity crush. But today my mosquito net is torn by the dark winds outside and my utensils are unsterilised. A pestilent cloud infests my critical faculties like black smoke from a burning, hurting world and this pop ode to unrequited love becomes a duvet exoskeleton. An upholstered tortoiseshell in which to retreat from the circling hawks of radicalised ignorance and co-opted fear, turning and turning in Yeats’ widening gyre. Music can be escapism or heightened revelry in the now. Today Baby, You’re a Trip is the former. Solace in the Apollonian. Tomorrow the mosquito net will be repaired and further posts will again be coloured only by the climate of temperament, instead of the weather of emotion.
Unreleased (1976/1978) / Taja Sevelle (1987)
One of Prince’s first demo tracks, written for protégé number one, Sue Ann Carwell, and released eleven years later by Taja Sevelle. Various versions are in circulation but the high water mark is the five minute home studio recording from 1978 which has an indelible bassline so perfect you’d want it as a tattoo. This iteration is gentle but insistent, like a cat nudging your leg for attention, and the rubber-soled beat is a lot more resilient than Prince’s hushed vocals, which may be low in the mix because they’re a guide track or possibly because they predate the time he learnt how to project. Prince’s pre-For You producer Chris Moon has a story where he describes how the teen’s singing voice was initially so soft that to coax anything audible out he had the singer lie down on the floor in a dark room with only a microphone placed in his mouth for company. Seemingly a far cry from Do Me Baby‘s histrionics, although maybe, just maybe, the “empty room” sung about in that song was because this vocal-enhancing safe space was still on his mind. I’m now looking at perennial sound-check favourite Empty Room in a new light too. Anyway, back on topic. In 1986 Michael Jackson wanted to shun his wholesome, nice-guy image and sent the song, Bad to Prince, asking if his frenemy wanted to duet on it. Prince took offence at the opening words “your butt is mine” and instead offered him Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me in return. Michael turned it down, unsurprisingly considering the effeminate lyrics and his loss was Taja Sevelle’s and obscurity’s gain.
The Glamorous Life (1984)
Officially this list doesn’t take into account the rabbit warren of Prince’s live output so this charting is for Sheila E’s track on The Glamorous Life, the only studio recording in circulation. However, try as I might to assess it in vacuo, once you hear Prince’s sumptuous 1984 performances of this co-written song the released version becomes transformed. Enriched. An added tonality appears, altering it forever. Ghost memories of Prince’s Santana-infused guitar flood in, swathing the track in animating vapours whilst the “sitting in this cafe, waiting for my baby” mantra loops around your head like a phantom Ouroboros. Sheila’s guitar-free Noon Rendezvous is too sterile and way too short to carry Prince’s Purple Rain vibes and off its own steam fails to uproot many trees, but in lieu of the real deal it’s a worthwhile methadone substitute.