57: Rebirth of the Flesh

Unreleased (1986)
In one of the Greek legends, a god impregnated a woman and told her their child would be born a god if she kept quiet about the affair, otherwise the child would be born a mortal. Similarly, I like to think Prince wanted to retain Rebirth of the Flesh‘s divinity by keeping it under wraps. Okay, so it’s never been completely secret. Bootleggers gonna bootleg. But Prince thought highly enough of it to place it as the opening track on both the aborted Camille and Crystal Ball albums, and then decided to rehouse every single track apart from that one. Why else, other than to keep the song elevated above the mortal world? Remaining shtum about such funk finesse is hard though and Prince several times almost gave the game away. He recycled the opening couplet on Escape, and the la-la-las on Walk Don’t Walk. The “we are here, where are you?” line became a common refrain at concerts around the start of the millennium, teasing the hardcore fam who thought they would get to see this unicorn in the wild. They never did. The closest he came to buckling was in 2001 when he made a rehearsal version available via the NPG Music Club. What effect this live version has had on the track’s celestial status is unclear but in his pantheon of unreleased studio songs Rebirth of the Flesh reigns supreme at the top. Unless, of course, there’s better we don’t know about.

104: I’ll Never B Another Fool

Unreleased (1995) / Come 2 My House (1998)
When Sandra St Victor gave Prince a tape of her songs for a possible collaboration she wasn’t expecting him to rework, rename and release them without her consent. That’s how her I’ll Never Open My Legs Again was laundered into Chaka Khan’s Eye’ll Never B Another Fool. Other than sharing certain lyrics the two releases bear little relation to each other but the gold is found in the space between. The version left abandoned on the alchemist’s workbench. Prince’s unreleased demo is a simpler version of the one Khan put out, yet is harder, faster, better, stronger and possibly the wrong speed (such are the pitfalls of the bootleg market) but sounding more energetic for it if so. It has a purity unconcerned by market demands. If Prince giving it the big diva vocals over a sampled Sonny T and Michael B loop is your kind of thing (and why wouldn’t it be?) then you need this leaked track in your life. Any moral doubts can easily be sidestepped by changing its title. Hey Presto it’s your track now. And it’s better than the alternative of speeding up Khan’s version and squinting your ears a bit.

107: The Sex of It

Unreleased (1987) / Private Waters in the Great Divide (1990)
I’ve not listened to my Kid Creole 7″ of The Sex of It since the day it came home from a charity shop in 2003. My narrow expectation of a Stool Pigeon part 2 wasn’t met so the record was relegated to the back of the cupboard where all my vinyl rejectamenta end up. Only recently, when researching this list, I discover the song is a Prince composition and regret not paying closer attention but what need is there for official versions when the Prince-sung original exists? His demos tend to get diluted the further they wander from the purple source. This may be one of his strongest outtakes he gave away – Eric Leeds horn riff is fire, the bass addictive and the hook catchy, but its most interesting element was the one that got replaced. The vocals. Prince starts off normally enough, singing lyrics that accuse his lover of only being interested in sex. It’s a premise that could easily furnish a three verse rebuke but after the second verse, things get weird. His voice fractures into a deranged simultaneous low and high pitch, as an alter-ego climbs through a window he begged you not to open. Is this Camille or another member of his internal cast? Was he singing to a succubus within and has now let the demon out? Later a warning about a cage is similarly ignored, causing the track to end amid a raw torrent of unleashed guitar. Like Data Bank and Cindy C before it, there’s an excitement about the track’s careening loss of control. You feel anything could happen. Musically, the best version of this song is probably heard in a Sign O’ the Times rehearsal where for 30 minutes you can hear its funk muscle strengthen in real-time. But you begin to lose the element which Prince refers to in that rehearsal as “stupid storytelling stuff”. An abundance of songs have a tight horn section but how many paint a frighteningly vivid picture of the creator’s fragmented mind?

133: Desire

Unreleased (1984) / The Family (1985)
Prince often used his satellite projects to experiment with new ideas and directions before incorporating them into his own work. Saxophonist Eric Leeds and composer Clare Fischer made sizeable contributions to the purple catalogue over the years but both debuted on The Family album where they (Fischer especially) are played with like a new toy. A year later with Parade Prince would practise more restraint, leaving the majority of the orchestral overdubs on the cutting room floor – a ruthless fate that should have befallen The Family’s Desire. Their album closer is a beautiful, jazzy, late-night seduction of a soldier’s wife. Dreamlike and highly polished but lacks the fire and rough-cut robustness of the unreleased demo. Prince’s early take is less a song and more a container for Leeds’ saxophone that squeals and claws at the walls like caged desire. There’s a fight in there which gets refined away into coloured sand when later subdued by strings and good taste. It’s raw and messy but so’s life. The fact Prince provides the vocals only helps to enshrine it in my eyes as the definitive version.

138: Come Elektra Tuesday

Unreleased (1985)
This posthumous leak showed us the vault’s gold hadn’t all been mined and whets the appetite for what further delights lie within. Come Elektra Tuesday is prime perv pop in the Shockadelica mould and if recorded a year later would almost certainly have been sung by Camille. I’m not sure whether Tuesday is Electra’s surname (Ruby’s sister perhaps?) or whether that’s solely the day on offer to hook up. When my mom started dating my dad they only met on Tuesdays before he promoted her to his Saturday Girl. That’s when she knew things were serious. Maybe things with Elektra hadn’t got to that stage yet and she was behind Darling Nicki, Bambi, Scarlet Pussy and Dorothy Parker in Prince’s weekly rota. He probably ditched Elektra for the next girl that put him in a trance, the aforementioned Shockadelica, but as Tara Leigh Patrick will tell you he never forgot her name.

140: Lust U Always

Unreleased (1982)
It’s easy to see why Lust U Always never got released. Its hydraulic synth-funk more than justifies an album call-up but the lyrics go darkside quick. It feels like an exorcism. Or a fun ouija game gone wrong. Prince taps into his libido’s vast reservoir but dark forces pull him under, causing what should be a low-status character rendered helpless by desire to become something much more threatening. The first line warns “touch me at your own risk, I’m not responsible for anything I do” and the helter-skelter ride into psychopathy begins. Surprisingly it was offered to Robert Palmer to record in the late 80s but was obviously too monomaniacal for Mr Addicted To Love to consider. Instead, it’s doomed to linger in the darker recesses of the vault. An exorcised demon shocking newcomers with its poisonous, lascivious tongue.

143: G-Spot

Unreleased (1983) / Jill Jones (1987)
In 1982 a new word entered the common lexicon with widespread publication of a book called The G Spot and Other Recent Discoveries About Human Sexuality. Predictably it was only a matter of months before it became the title of a Prince song. G-spot is cold, robotic funk in the 1999 mould. The lyrics describe the singer searching for this newly-popularised erogenous zone as the exploration dispassionately spells out the word F.I.N.A.L.L.Y. The song was on Purple Rain before Darling Nikki replaced it (which should give a clue to its high quality) and was considered but ultimately rejected for Apollonia 6 (which should not). Eventually, Jill Jones released a reworked version but the hypnotic, mechanical vibe had been lost. It’s certainly not the greatest track on her self-titled album – Mia Bocca wins that accolade – but if her lp was to be made up of all the original demos instead, G-Spot would rule them all.

153: All My Dreams

Unreleased (1985)
Hear ye! Hear ye! One and all. The double speed playhouse is making a call. This unreleased epic – a common vault favourite – is an ambitious dream sequence with shifting and slipping walls. Prince, with megaphone pressed to lips, plays the role of the man in the moon or King of Toy Town. Amid fanfares and music hall pizazz he rains down marriage proposals and cereal recommendations (Cap’n Crunch will get another shoutout on his similarly epic Joint 2 Joint). And that’s one of the more lucid moments. To document all the twists and turns would be exhausting and make as much cohesive sense as an actual dream… so it was about a submarine but we were on a train… which was also a sailboat… so I’ll just say if you’ve not heard All My Dreams, find a copy and dive in. When the vocals slow to half-speed and the bassline becomes quicksand it may seem there’s no way back but the planets never fail to realign. You’ll always wake to the rousing chorus on the opposite shoreline, remembering only fragments of what just happened.

156: The Dance Electric

Unreleased (1984) / Purple Rain Deluxe (2017)
This site is a hodgepodge of critique, history and anecdote. For every entry, I begin by reeling in the song’s fishing line and see which sea creatures get plucked from the depths of memory. Afterwards I’ll research further to plug any holes or corroborate my fickle recollections and then I’ll write a paragraph on whatever I find the more interesting. With The Dance Electric, I’m pulling the line up but all I can think about is the present. I’m currently listening to it on a busy commuter train – one of those without inter-carriage doors – and I stand with one foot in one compartment, and one foot in the other. Both train carriages are jerking me in different directions, trying to knock me off balance. But I retain my core and fill it with this song. I feel I’m dancing the dance electric. Pulled by sporadic forces I have no control over. Vague memories swirl up of a rumour André Cymone has his mom to thank for Prince giving him this song. But I can’t even recall what his version sounds like. Nor the version with Wendy and Lisa on backing vocals. The Prince solo recording, the one released on Purple Rain Deluxe, is all there is in the world right now and I’m living in it like I’m trapped in an 80s Tron computer soundscape.

160: Empty Room

Unreleased (1985) / C-Note (2004)
Empty Room is a colossus of brooding loneliness. Written shortly before Prince was due to leave his girlfriend Susannah to film in France, it takes a moment of private inner-turmoil and scales it up to fill the void of an empty concert hall. A soundcheck staple of amplified anguish. It was considered for many projects over the years before finding a home on an otherwise forgettable album of instrumental jazz, proving once again there’s a purple diamond in every rough. Surprisingly this official version, recorded on the One Nite Alone tour, holds its own against the 80’s original. The guitar no longer thrashes around like a downed power-line but there’s no escaping the devastating gamma rays of long-distance relationship pain. His Montreaux performance in 2009 is a different beast and has a guitar solo that sounds like a polar wind has snapped away the tent fabric, exposing us to the icy elements of an unforgiving universe. Not your usual crowd-pleaser but I envy every single person at that concert with an inhuman intensity. That’s one room I’d trade my aura to be in.

163: Wonderful Ass

Unreleased (1982/1984) / Purple Rain Deluxe (2017)
Wonderful Ass brings all the boys to the yard with a gait that shimmies more than a catwalk queen. If ever a song could sashay then it’s this one. It struts with the confidence of the song’s muse (Vanity?) if they only paid attention to the chorus. Listen to the verses and it’s clear Prince hasn’t built a totem to these unattributed buttocks of intrigue. He believes they are the subject’s single redeeming feature; a counterweight to balance out her many faults which he details in a long litany. Less of a tribute and more of an over-zealous negging bonanza. At least I think that’s the gist. To be honest I’m usually too distracted by those curvy synths to notice. I can see why they call that drum a snare, amirite fellas!?

165: Moonbeam Levels

Unreleased (1982) / 4Ever (2016)
Prince’s first vault item to be released posthumously was 1982’s Moonbeam Levels, a much-loved song used to hoodwink fans into buying yet another greatest hits compilation. Although picking a popular bootleg already illicitly owned by many may not be the effective dangled carrot Warner Bros envisaged. Written during Prince’s 1999 era, the lyrics are naturally concerned with death, destruction, and nuclear fallout. They describe a Cold War Chicken Little wanting to be beamed out of this life and into “a better place to die”. Sounds depressing but the music is anything but. The only thing that could beat it is if the moon goddess Selene herself descended from the heavens with her silver chariot’s tape deck blasting out the soundtrack to a dream Elliott Smith once had.

167: Eternity

Unreleased (1985) / No Sound But a Heart (1987)
Turn the number 8 on its side and you get an infinity sign. Is this why Eternity, a track Prince wrote while working on his eighth album Parade, also appeared on both Sheena Easton’s and Chaka Khan’s eighth albums? The latter was even released in ’88. The universe is playing us. But forget the released versions – Prince’s touch has been polished away and they’re too of their time to merit anything more than a nod of recognition. Go to the source. The raw demo in the vault. The beat is rudimentary and the lyrics are full of ellipses which sound like half-formed thoughts colliding together, but that melody will lure your feet off the floor like Pepe le Pew’s vapours. A purple pick-me-up from the Pied Piper of Paisley Park.

181: Electric Intercourse

Unreleased (1983) / Purple Rain Deluxe (2017)
In 2017, folk began to reappraise Electric Intercourse’s history after the previously assumed to be non-existent studio version made a surprise appearance. For years a live bootleg had been kicking around and was thought to be the final version intended for the Purple Rain album, taken from the same concert as I Would Die 4 U, Baby I’m A Star and Purple Rain (and like that closing trio overdubbed shortly after). Was the newly-released studio mix recorded before or after that performance? Was it intended as a demo or a replacement? I would have thought it’s an early draft as it’s a nice curio but the live performance is where the spine tingles are. The question is moot anyway. Does it matter which version ultimately got replaced by The Beautiful Ones? The real question is how the hell did Prince write 180 better songs than this?

188: The Ride

Unreleased (1993) / Crystal Ball (1998)
The Ride appears on a multitude of live merch but the only official audio release was on Crystal Ball’s third disc – a fierce squall of live guitar realness amid a sea of Pro Tools tinkerings. It’s half the length of The Undertaker’s ur-recording but crams in the same amount of cocksure swag at double the intensity. Prince rides in on his Purple Rain motorbike, offers to take you to Lake Minnetonka, showboats with a few wheelies and then zooms off in a cloud of dirt and blues. In The Ride’s own words, if you like it real slow, the Undertaker version’s got days. But if you want to take the short cut, Crystal Ball knows the way.

190: Big Tall Wall

Unreleased (1986)
There’s not much adorning this big tall wall but its foundations are dug deep. Real deep. The music may consist of little more than a drumbeat and vocals; the lyrics, especially in their first draft, may be possessive, dark and even psychopathic. But once that hook is in your head it’s there for life. One of the reasons the song never saw the light of day was down to its personal and negative lyrics. They describe a polygamous Prince wanting to build a wall around then-girlfriend Susannah Melvoin so she can’t leave him. A rewrite the following year portrayed a slightly healthier relationship but there’s no altering the main premise of imprisonment – it’s baked in. Isaac Newton once wrote “we build too many walls, and not enough bridges”: a quote Prince may have had in mind when he originally planned for this song to start the Graffiti Bridge album, sitting next but one to the title track. Isolation to connection within the opening triplet. It would have done wonders for The Kid’s character arc but I guess the motivational, sloganeering Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got was more in keeping with the film’s final direction. You may prefer Prince’s high-energy cheerleading, but give me him on his mountaintop every time, banging his drum and plotting against the villagers down below like an angry witch.

192: Chocolate

Unreleased (1983) / Pandemonium (1990)
In nature, there are foods high in fat, and foods high in sugar, but one of the only substances that’s high in both is breast milk. That’s why chocolate and other manufactured concoctions are so addictive – our bodies crave that sweet mother’s milk. Prince’s Chocolate is also insanely addictive but for the exact opposite reason. The funk is tight and lean. And his Jamie Starr persona (an “old nasty” James Brown impersonator asking us if we want to see his tootsie roll) is saltiness personified. Chocolate’s official release was by The Time in 1990 but the only band input is Morris on vocals. Everyone else you hear is either Prince, Wendy, Lisa or Jill. My cassette tape of Pandemonium has been lost to time so I often forget a version other than the Prince-sung demo exists. Yet regardless of lead vocalist, the song is double-dipped funk on a stick. Luxury confectionary without the sickly aftertaste of his later Chocolate Box.

196: Me Touch Myself

Unreleased (1989)
A fascinating outtake that occupies the space between Fever, Minnie The Moocher and Wade in the Water, yet with the self-love sentiment of stripper staple I Touch Myself. The weaving together of carnal desire and spiritual escape is strong in Me Touch Myself and not only in the hallelujah-peppered lyrics. The sultry beat and bassline are as seductive as Circe’s beckoning finger – or Ripopgodazippa performing the dance of the seven veils – but if you ignore the words the chorus could be an old African-American spiritual. There are not many songs that could sound at home in both a church and a strip joint.

198: 100 MPH

Unreleased (1984) / Mazarati (1986)
Mazarati’s 100 MPH is overcooked. The real flavour is in Prince’s cookie dough. His original demo has a stately intro that could serve as the national anthem to the city they built on Rock and Roll, but then the guitar gets ditched for a pop work-out consisting of a heavyweight bassline, a five-note keyboard riff and lyrics that sound written in slumber (forgive him if it goes astray). It all sounds so effortless. Prince on cruise control. After the song was casually tossed towards Mazarati for their only hit single, their initial reaction was to ask what else was on offer. This resulted in the band getting Kiss and then not getting Kiss but a lesson in gift horses and mouths instead. Oops. When you’re allowed to touch the hem of greatness you don’t get to pick the garment.

216: In a Large Room With No Light

Unreleased (1986)
One of his more catchy outtakes. In a Large Room With No Light is so hummable you can be on your seventh listen before snippets of the bleak lyrics bleed through: “a child with no eyes… babies blown to kingdom come…” He isn’t joking when he sings about the lack of light. This is dark. And once you’re aware, the chorus turns from cute allegory into something more dystopian. Like a Hanson video directed by Marylyn Manson. Luckily, The Revolution and Sheila E’s band are on fire here and the backing vocals bubble up like pink champagne. I just wish I can go back to a more innocent time when I sang along with the sha-la-las in blissful ignorance.

225: Purple Music

Unreleased (1982)
Prince gets high on his own supply as he writes a ten-minute dissertation on The Funk and the narcotic qualities of his music. It’s the base ingredient from any rumpshaker in his repertoire, distilled and served uncut. Naked, other than a smattering of Controversy-style rhythm guitar, tantric bass and an intriguing sketch at 8:20 where Prince’s unheard answer to the question “what would you like to bathe in this morning?” disturbs his computer valet to the point of malfunction. It’s a section that only lasts 20 seconds but in just a few words he paints a thousand pictures. All of them NSFW.

227: Fuchsia Light

Unreleased (1988)
I imagine after creating the psychedelic and intricately programmed Lovesexy, Prince unwound by churning out something much blunter and single-minded: like this six-minute industrial funk beat with an array of horns fighting for breathing space. It’s sledgehammer stuff but it does the job. In the words of Le Grind, it shows you what your hips are made for, whilst simultaneously pounding you in the face with unrelenting ardour. The track was recorded for use on Tony LeMans’ album and the story goes that Prince pulled it after returning from the Lovesexy Tour to find Tony having an affair with Ingrid Chavez. If true, the line about fuchsia light being a ”symbol of monogamy and trust” suddenly got a lot more relevant.

230: Others Here With Us

Unreleased (1985)
A Parade outtake where Prince wrings every last ounce of blood-curdling horror from his Fairlight synthesiser. Howls, screams, sobs and Psycho string-stabs accompany creepy Sixth Sense lyrics. There are very few Prince tunes you could describe as genuinely chilling but Others Here With Us cuts to the bone. In the right frame of mind it’s more unsettling than a Victorian doll’s head outside your window on a stormy night. But the Prince of Darkness is a gentleman: this was kept in the vault with every other that delved too far into scary waters. An alternate version exists with added orchestration but that just distracts from the acid-washed terror and like Mavis Staples once said: “the devil ain’t got no music” – just a backing-track made up of the screaming souls of the innocent. If you’ve never heard the original then do yourself a favour and listen to it once. Alone. With the lights off. And then never ever sleep again.

232: Teacher, Teacher

Unreleased (1982 / 1986)
Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, for your delectation and delight the dashing damsels Wendy and Lisa will perform inimitable feats of derring-do on a harpsichord-powered carousel spinning at 78rpm. Watch the Purple Maestro join them atop his fabulous array of galloping horses for a three-minute ride through pop perfection. Gawp at the gumption. Hyperventilate at the hypnotising harmonies. Marvel at the magnificent monkeys – the only primate solo in town! A cyclone of fun for old and young. You’ll leave filled with mirth and merriment or your money back.

234: Neon Telephone

Unreleased (1985) / Vermillion (1988)
Before the turn of the millennium, my only dalliance with Prince bootlegs was a purchase of the Chocolate Box lp I chanced upon in my local wrecka stow. I felt like I’d discovered the New World but was all too aware that its ten songs (half of which were alternate versions of album tracks I already owned) were barely the tip of the iceberg. I’d read about fabled outcasts with evocative titles like Electric Intercourse and Rebirth of the Flesh but they were just sailors’ tales from distant continents. Unicorns and mermaids. Then Napster arrived and it promised the keys to the vault. I typed in all the unreleased titles I could think of – magic passwords that could beam mythical beasts into my computer – and waited to see if any would materialise. Neon Telephone was the first to arrive. To anyone growing up in today’s fibre-optic age of instant gratification, it’s difficult to relay the anticipation that a night of downloading a single song on a dial-up modem could generate. Especially when a call to your landline is all it would take to land you back at square one. So when the status bar reached 100% my excitement was at fever pitch. I tentatively pressed play. I may have been underwhelmed by the sweet slice of pop psychedelia at first – no song could have matched all the bright colours my imagination had filled it in with over the years – but it had Revolution charm and seemed like a grower. Then a minute from the end, with no warning the song slows down into a slew of phone rings, dial-up noise, and cross talk. I thought the file was corrupt, that an incoming call had not disconnected me but insinuated itself into the audio. Or maybe what I was doing was against the laws of physics and I was being transmitted alien warnings or an admonishment from Prince himself. I still toy with this idea sometimes and like to believe I’m listening to a glitched copy, but this means having to ignore Three o’Clock’s release in 1988, which attempts the same ending. If I could gouge out the part of my brain that holds the memory of their version I happily would. Prince’s first demo is the only true Neon Telephone and it’s experimentation instantly transports me back to those early explorative days in the filesharing Wild West. A morally dubious but infinitely exhilarating time. On one hand, I was participating in the destruction of the music industry, but on the other, I had found my very own unicorn-making machine.