Right, so in the interest of TAC, I've been doing some background research into Prince, obviously, specifically, in relation to this, the first of his 4 albums. My findings may surprise, but my research was thorough and thus,beyond question.
In fairness to @Lili Marlene, the historical account he gave is very loyal to the commonly preached 'Prince-story'. And its even quite correct for the most part, in fairness. And he was quite correct to discuss the album in the context of Prince's history, right back to those early days.
But its those early days where the inaccuracies begin. Prince was one of 3 siblings. He was the middle child, and had an older brother, and younger sister. His older brother was 6 years older. What isn't know is whether they are half-siblings, or whether they share parentage. It is thought that the siblings themselves, don't know.
Prince and his family do not hail from Minnesota. They are from Harlem in New York. This information was deliberately surpressed for years, for reasons which will become clear. Duane, as mentioned, six years Prince's senior, was very musically gifted. He spend the latter half of his teens playing cabaret theatres around uptown New York, in those maroon, velur-lined, smoky underground clubs I'm sure we've all seen in movies.
The story goes that he would appear 3rd on the bill every night, behind the headliners, The Drifters, and Robert "Dwayne" Bobby Womack. The show would rotate between 3 different theatres for the most part, but interest soon grew and the show was soon being booked in some midtown soul clubs.
It was in one of these soul clubs where everything would change for Duane, and by extension, younger brother Prince. Duane, still a teenager, was standing by the stage after his set watching Bobby Womack in action. Not recognised by a doorman, he was challenged about his age. When he told the doorman he was a teenager, the doorman attempted to eject him. Duane resisted, but in the physical exchange that followed, ended up becoming hurt. The altercation was spotted by Drifters member Clyde McPhatter (his real name, I shit you not), who intervened on the youngster's behalf.
Duane was visibily upset and told McPhatter of his intention to quit playing music, so disillusioned had he become. McPhatter, who was a fan of Duane's, informed him of the impending departure of Ben E King to pursue a solo career, and extended an invitation to Duane to join once King left.
There was one condition. Duane would have to change his name, to avoid confusion with Dwayne Bobby Womack, who, as it turned out, also dropped the 'Dwayne' from his name for the same reasons.
The name Duane chose was Louis Price. A quick scan of his wikipedia page will show how prolific and important
he would become in soul music, also becoming a member of the Temptations.
(Louis Price is to the far right, quite similar looking to his younger brother).
So, 16-year old Louis was now a member of one of the biggest soul bands in the world. Meanwhile, back in Harlem, 10-year-old Prince looked on both proud, and envious, of his older brother.
Prince wasn't academically inclined so his route out of Harlem was going to have to be via one of his 2 emerging talents. Like his brother Louis, Prince was also a gifted musician. But, he was also an exceptional basketball player. Comments are often made about Prince's height, how short he is, etc, but this is nonsense. There is only one photograph taken ever, where Prince is standing in line, right next to other people, and it is from this photograph that this misinformation eminates.
This is the photo;
and it was taken when Prince and a high-school basketball teammate had the good fortune to meet some of their idols from their favourite basketball team, the Harlem Globetrotters. Also in that photo are Jerry West and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Prince looks tiny in the photo, admittedly, but he's a solid 6ft 2inches in his stocking feet.
Basketball soon took a back-seat though and music became his chosen outlet. But, in a world where its so difficult to get noticed, he had to figure out how to make it. To this end he sought Louis' advice. Louis gave him 2 pieces of information. They were;
- do not let people know about your famous musical sibling as this will work against you. In face, erase all knowledge of said sibling from existence.
- move somewhere white. Its hard for a soul or RnB musician to stand out in Harlem where they're 10-a-penny, but, move to a white area, you could not but be noticed. So he did. He moved to Minnesota.
From this point on the story converges with much of @Lili Marlene's account. There is one other point worth noting though. It was another incident involving Louis that would have an impact on the younger Prince. Having not seen his older brother for quite some time, Prince decided to travel to Detroit to a Drifters gig. Of course he would be incognito, despite still being unknown at the time. Hidden in a sea of people, the Drifters came on stage. But, Louis was nowhere to be seen. Nor, for that matter, was McPhatter. This was hugely confusing to, a still young, Prince, who had built up such a level of excitement and expectation at the propects of seeing his brother, and idol, after such a long time.
Partly through worry for his sibling's wellbeing, he decided to risk blowing his cover to find out where Louis was. He managed to locate the band's manager who informed them that, on that particular night, the Drifters were playing 27 different venues at the same time. Bilocation, he called it, but in actuality, there were 27 different bands called the Drifters, each playing a different venue.
Initially this devastated Prince. Over time he began to see merit in the practice of Bilocation, and, driven by his love and knowledge of the works of William Shakespeare, decided that Prince should become a 'they', rather than a 'he'. 2 of his closest friends, songwriters that he rated highly, and trusted with his life, would become part of the Prince legend. Prince became 3. Songwriting responsibilites would be shared equally, as would performance, and, if you listen closely to some of the recordings, looking past the auto-tune employed, you can detect slight
differences in the vocals. Subtle, yet definitely there.
Donning funny costumes, and employing a distraction technique of 'only having young girls in his backing band' Prince were able to play simultaneous gigs in different venues (its reported that there were up to 17 Prince shows running concurrently at one point).
By the time Prince would release his 4th, and final album (the one that was free with the newspaper), he was back to being a 'he' rather than a 'they', having parted ways with his 2 friends (both of who were sworn to secrecy).
There is one other funny episode worth recalling. In the late 90s there was a hip-hop duo called Kriss-Kross (RIP Kriss, or is it Kross?). Prince went, and they tried to pull a This-Is-Your-Life stunt on him. They brought him up on stage, and out came his parents and lots of 'close' friends. Prince was not impressed. This picture tells more than words ever could;
Thats his father with the microphone, and his mother in the red dress behind.
Prince's sister (whom he did not erase from his personal history) would go on to release this song
can invent a fictional brother for Prince then I feel it is my right to invent a fictional back-story for his fictional brother. And thats what I did there. No idea why. I sat down to post some thoughts on the album and thats what came out.
I've listened to the album 5 times since I bought it on saturday. Theres only 1 song on it that I'd say I actively dislike. That was the one @Lili Marlene mentioned is probably everyone's least favorite - Free.
I like the rest of it but in all honesty, apart from 2 or 3 songs (not including the 2 I knew before) they haven't gained a whole heap of traction with me. I put the album on, think to myself, this is nice. Its pleasant. Nice, if very simple, synths. Nice drums (yes, thats nice drums). Vocals sound decent. But, once done listening to the album, I can't remember much about a lot of it.
Thats after 5 listens. After 3 I was absolutely nowhere. Not that it strikes me as a difficult album by any means (though I do acknowledge that there probably are layers to be peeled away - and I've not yet listened on headphones). It might be more to do with how I listened to it. It need to be just me, the album, and no distractions.
Theres enough there to make me want to do that. And I shall do that, in time.
I find Prince a little overwhelming though. Just the sheer scale of stuff thats out there - and I've only half an idea of the amount of unreleased stuff that exists. But, hes one of the few artists out there today thats its possible for people to become passionate about their music. And whether you're one of those passionate people or not, as a music fan, that fact alone should command respect. And Prince very much does have my respect, if not necessarily my full attention.
Is it fair to call Prince's output of the 80s/early-90s his 'golden era'? (if such a thing exists). In my ignorance I'm thinking that it was, purely because of the mainstream exposure his songs would have gotten back then. He had actual 'hits' in mainstream charts. Not that mainstream charts are even a thing anymore, but when is the last time he had a 'hit'?
I recall MTV arriving in Ireland (initially from midnight to 8am every day, eventually 24 hour), back when they still played music videos. Sign o'the Times was played A LOT. I think I even have vague memories of Purple Rain on MT USA of a sunday afternoon.
The point being, Prince has always been there, and I've always been aware of him. But I never actually bought, downloaded, or owned a Prince album until the last 2 years (Purple Rain and Sign O'The Times). And I can't explain that. Its not like I ever recall actively disliking Prince. Maybe it was because, in an era when you'd be lucky to get 10 new albums a year you really had to pick and choose which 10 you got. When I was 10 I was more into U2 and Bryan Adams (shudder).
Listening to those old songs now, with fresh 40-something ears, they do sound different. Theres lots there that was missed back in the day.
1999 is a great song. And its a great idea for a song that the only people I know of did, were Pulp and Prince. You can imagine in 1982 that 1999 must have felt so long away. In a way I think maybe we can partly blame Prince for the big disappointment that new-years 1999 became. The prick has us build up our hopes like that.
And the synths are very simple. And yes, Phil Collins probably did 'borrow' them for Sussudio, but they work. If you tried that kind of a synth line in a song today I could not see it working at all. There is an element of its being 'of-its-time' and maybe an element of nostalgia that has us like it so, but regardless, its great.
Likewise Little Red Corvette. We didn't really know what a corvette was in Ireland (unless you watched the A-Team, which I'm not sure many Prince fans did). America was a world away back then and this was something very American. I recall as a kid listening to songs that would mention things that were distinctly American, being fascinated by the mystery of that country that we only got to see on telly.
There were 2 dissenting(ish) voices for that DMSR song. That was actually one of the stand-out songs for me. Maybe its a little catchier. I dunno. But lay off it, will you.
Delirious too. That was nice and catchy and I thought was instantly likeable, if a bit repetitive.
I haven't much to say about side 3 of the album (Automatic and Something in the Water anyway). I really like side 4 though. In particular 'Internation Lover'. And I get that its a bit of a jokey song, but its sounds good to me.
I'll give this a 3.5, rounded up to 4. I wrote this while listening to Purple Rain (one album I actually have on digital media) but regardless, I don't feel the need to rank this relative to other Prince albums (cos I don't know other Prince albums that well either). I can see it becoming a proper 4 to 4.5 with a few more listens though.
It's fair to call the 80's a golden era, the early 90's are dodgy as hell but with some hits. Diamonds and Pearls was precision engineered to sell as many copies as possible, and it's second only to Purple Rain in his album sales. It's like his Michael Jackson album or something.
Oh, i didn't even get to mention that Prince apparently wrote Little Red Corvette inbetween naps IN a Corvette. Madness.
When I first got Prince's 1999 album, it was 1982. I was 11, newly in charge of my own record-buying habits. And I couldn't resist the cover, with its purple field of stars, Prince's name, the numbers, and all the hidden-meaning illustrations (is that a football or a smile? How phallic was that "1," anyway?). My parents didn't agree. They were born-again Christians at that point, and Prince — with his overt sexuality and profanity — was a bridge too far. Plus, when you turned the album cover upside down, the 999 went to 666, the mark of the beast.
Think of 1999 again — or rather 1982. It was such a banner year for the use of drum machines, from Arthur Baker to Afrika Bambaataa. Prince's programming work on 1999 was beyond anything I had ever heard, just as innovative as the best hip-hop producers in the years to come: the Bomb Squad, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Dr. Dre, A Tribe Called Quest, J Dilla.
I have always felt that the true mark of a genius is to look beyond the hits on their records to what people uncharitably call "the filler." 1999, like Thriller, was all killer, no filler, but it was on the second side where the album really took wing. A song like "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)" told me that Prince was not a regular person, or a regular musician. He had removed the bass from the original demo (at the time forbidden in black music, an innovation that would pay off even more powerfully on "When Doves Cry"), added a dizzying snare/hi-hat combination and delivered his vocals in a kind of ice-cold, almost robotic manner. It wasn't just one new idea — it was several, all together; you knew from that song and the album tracks around it ("Automatic," "Lady Cab Driver") that he was going to be the new breed leader.