The Cocoa Diaries managed to listen to the first stream of the posthumous Prince “Originals” release…here’s what Sam Bleazard heard…
June 7th would have been Prince’s 61st birthday, and his now famous vault of recordings continues to give an insight, into both his creative process and – with new release “Originals” – the hit songs he had to gave away to others (such was his output).
Mining gems mainly from the coal face of his eighties heyday, this is interesting for (if nothing else), songs you’ve been used to hearing in a female voice – sung in Prince’s bass or falsetto.
Some work better than others, for instance Sex Shooter and Jungle Love (originally hits for Apollonia 6 and The Time, and both key set pieces from the Purple Rain movie), are stripped of their context and in the case of the latter, its humour. It feels like an interesting sketch, waiting for new life to be breathed into it, similarly with Manic Monday (originally intended as a duet between Prince and Apollonia a la Take Me With U). Fascinating as it is to hear Manic Monday in Prince’s guide vocal, it makes you want to hear The Bangles Susannah Hoffs voice straight afterwards.
Again the debate will be, would Prince have released these. Probably not, but such is the nature of a legacy. He needn’t worry however, because whichever purple celestial realm he’s now composing in, there are several sublime moments here, which delight and add yet again to an already lavish body of work.
The first of these is Noon Rendezvous – a song more than likely completely unknown to most (outside of fans of Sheila E’s solo work). He wrote the song for his former drummer, who he was dating at the time, and it’s one of his most achingly tender ballads. Written from the female perspective, it is an inner monologue about an upcoming liaison and what to wear. If that sounds throwaway, the melody is anything but and has hidden depths. So much so that he would use the song to jam on for 20mins at a time, in rehearsals with his band The Revolution. On originals you get a pared back version of the song, almost in acapella.
Just as you’re processing that one, you’re thrown into a full on early 80s blast of the Kraftwerk influenced electro “Make Up”. Most casual fans of Prince will also be blissfully unaware of this curio, but it is well worth a listen for his take on the female dressing room. More than likely that of Vanity, another girlfriend, who was meant to play the leading love interest in Purple Rain originally.
Next up is 100mph, recorded for bass player Mark Brown’s Minneapolis funk-rock band Mazerati – “hundred miles an hour baby, is what it’s all about”.
The only slightly perplexing and disappointing inclusion (given the wealth of options available), is a particularly slushy balled called You’re My Love, written for Country legend Kenny Rogers. It shows Prince’s great diversity, but we certainly didn’t need more than 4mins on this set (or any other for that matter).
Holly Rock, another track Sheila E was the beneficiary of, brings the fun back. It reminded this listener of the days when the Breakdance craze – and throwing down a sheet of cardboard – was all the rage. The Purple one’s take on the Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash era is the Minneapolis sound in Uptown party mode. Almost sounds like a live cut.
Another one of the best moments is “Baby You’re A Trip”, yet another underground classic from the cannon. The message being that his lover is an ocean too wide to cross and is a star that’s too far away, but he’s prepared to take that trip anyway. It possesses a fair amount of longing, and some intense screams to boot. The song was written for on-off girlfriend Jill Jones, who plays a small part in the Purple Rain movie – and who eventually recorded a very similar version of the song on her 1987 album. If you find the rest distracting, this is essential, and yet another example of the artist’s ability to write well for both male and female voices.
He may have nailed his female id on Sign O The Times with If I Was Your Girlfriend via alter ego Camille, but Noon Rendezvous, Make Up and Baby You’re A Trip, show the process and experimentation with various female personas and perspectives.
This continues with The Glamorous Life, one of Sheila E’s biggest hits stateside. The story is of a girl with big dreams who wears “a long fur coat of mink, even in the summer time” but realises it’s a vacuous existence, and without love “it ain’t much”.
Gigolos Get Lonely Too, given to rivals The Time, is down tempo funk – almost in the vein of Cameo’s Hangin’ Downtown. Almost certainly written from the male perspective this one, but not one that will linger in the memory possibly. Nice though it is, it has a generic feel in large parts.
A song which many may have forgotten from the 1980s will be Love Thy Will Be Done, a hit for singer Martika. This is a great example of the kind of spiritual esoteric pop music Prince could craft seemingly at will in his more reflective moments. An excellent addition, and will come as a “did you know he wrote that song?” style surprise.
Dear Michaelangelo is another pretty bonkers inclusion – one too many from the 80s sax-led pop-funk Sheila E cannon possibly. But what an imagination. And you’ll wonder where he found the time.
Originals also contains the very demo-ish Wouldn’t You Love To Love Me. Given that endless versions of this song exist already, this is definitely one for the hardcore fans still out there. It almost sounds like it could be a b-side for one of his Dirty Mind songs from the new wave punk he was exporting in 1980. One thing’s for sure this is a long way from the version that Minneapolis female vocalist Taja Sevelle released in 1987.
And to close out, Nothing Compares 2 U.
As hard as it might be for anyone who’s ever contemplated writers block, this diverse 15 song collection (which provided hits for multiple artists in multiple genres), is just a fraction of what could have been included.
Prince also wrote for Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder and has been covered and sampled by everyone from Alicia Keys, D’Angelo, Tom Jones, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, OutKast, TLC and Beyoncé. Not to mention the solo career, films, legendary live shows…
RIP U Original.