Following Sam Bleazard’s examination of Prince’s creative output in the 90s, here is part two of his findings. Click here to read the first part.
After the relative production excesses of the 1988 Lovesexy tour, Prince’s more stripped back ’90/91 “Nude” world tour was no doubt much more commercially successful. And with a new band in play – The New Power Generation – he had now found a vehicle which could start generating hits at his Minnesota music factory (Paisley Park) once more.
In the summer of ’91, Gett Off was the first single release credited to Prince and the New Power Generation, significant as none of his bands had received a credit since Prince and the Revolution had been broken up in 1986.
And like Sexy M.F. would be in 1993, the song more than likely emanated from a jam session with the band, the chorus is a shout out and the whole track is anchored by a rumbling and hypnotic bass motif. Leaked to DJs on Prince’s 33rd birthday on June 7th 1991 (at a point when the Diamonds & Pearls album was pretty much configured and waiting to be pressed), it was yet another spontaneous move that no doubt caught record label Warner Bros slightly off guard.
Prince was so taken with the reaction to the track by DJs and radio stations he not only asked for it to be included on the album at the last minute, but also made it the lead single. And rumour has it he asked a number of local strippers in Minneapolis to appear in the video (which seems extremely likely given the content!). It went on to become one of the anthems of the summer.
The salaciousness of Gett Off aside, Prince had been working hard with his NPG band to create a slick, funky but commercial sound for a new record. New recruits Rosie Gaines and Tommy Elm (renamed Tommy Barbarella for the band), both recall being asked to help Prince get his vision down on tape for what became the title song, during early studio assignments. Those sessions also produced hit tracks such as Cream and Money Don’t Matter 2Nite.
If not as well received by the critics as some of his 80s releases, Diamonds and Pearls went on to be his most well-received release amongst the general public since Purple Rain. Prince continued to work the NPG hard producing the Symbol album in 1992, containing the singles The Morning Papers, My Name is Prince, Sexy M.F. and 7.
At its heart the Symbol album contains a great band record, but unfortunately, this is lost in over engineered and chaotic sequencing, voice segues (including a bizarre interview with Cheers actress Kirstie Alley), a middle eastern rock opera and album filler. It all served to distract, even his most ardent fans, from the 7-8 great songs in there. In hindsight, the emphasis on rap now seems both out of kilter and out of place in his music of that period (several songs on the album suffer – tender soul ballad Love 2 the 9s is not what it might have been without it). His band members have also subsequently expressed their disappointment that the screeching braggadocio of My Name is Prince ended up being the lead single (some going so far as to say they think it damaged the album’s chances and checked the momentum built up by Diamonds and Pearls).
True or not, Prince was continuing to ask for more from his paymasters at Warner Bros and rumours began circulating, which were neither confirmed or denied by publicists (go figure), that he had begun negotiating a $100m multi-media deal. This was not unusual in the 90s as artists such as Madonna and both Michael and Janet Jackson were doing so, but the reality of Prince’s deal was no doubt complex and unlikely to have added up to this amount.
In his personal life, his head was being turned by former Baywatch starlet Carmen Electra, who he was pouring considerable effort into recording songs and videos for (even taking her out on tour as a support act briefly). Such decisions seemed misguided when he had greater talents such as Rosie Gaines in tow, she eventually had to leave the fold to release her debut album Closer than Close on Motown in the mid 90s. Prince also met eventual wife Mayte during the early 90s when her mother sent him a tape of her belly dancing, she would soon join the band, remaining onstage with Prince through much of the 90s configurations of the NPG.
In 1993 – perhaps as part of the renegotiated commercial deal - Prince agreed (surprisingly, given his self-protective image as a restless innovator) to put out a greatest hits compilation. This allowed Warners the chance to maximise their recent investment, recoup some of the losses on early 90s projects like the movie Graffiti Bridge, but also allowed Prince to put some new and unreleased tracks out as part of the package. The Hits / B Sides triple album contained new songs Peach, The Pope and Pink Cashmere (the latter was sonically close to his Scandalous Sex Suite, recorded with Kim Basinger and allegedly written for a new girlfriend at that time). The triple album (also available as two single CDs, the Hits 1 & 2) included some Prince and the Revolution out-takes, such as the haunting Power Fantastic, and the song recorded for the “We Are The World” Ethiopia famine relief album, 4 The Tears in Your Eyes.
In the live arena Prince was better than ever and audiences were treated to the Act II tour, with Mayte as the ring-leader in hot pants and the band in “Godfather III meets Barbarella” garb – having unleashed Act I stateside they took Europe by storm. The concerts, featuring songs from the Symbol album but mainly with reworked greatest hits, often ended with funk and rock songs like Come, Endorphinemachine Johnny and Deuce and a Quarter, which were unreleased at that point. Some eventually going on to appear on various NPG albums 2-3 years later.
UK listeners were treated to the sound of possibly one of his greatest live performances ever, when Prince and the band unleashed a twenty minute set of blistering high energy funk one summer lunchtime on BBC Radio 1. Various members of the public had been able to win tickets to the “gig-ette” in London’s broadcasting house, and the high tempo set comprising 1999, Baby I’m A Star, D.M.S.R., Pope (check out Sonny Ts bass popping style), America and Peach, crackled with energy and showcased the NPG at their tight, rhythmic and dynamic best.
The main arena shows that year were also significant for speeches and monologues near the end of concerts in which Prince would eulogise and preach that some felt he was releasing too much music, but that he felt he made “just enough”. It was surely tension with his label that he was expressing, to more than slightly bemused fans, and this was to be the start of one his most troubled periods, both in the music industry and later in the decade, his personal life.
Join us in part 3 where we look at the underground music, and Prince’s ‘punk’ attitude of the mid to late 1990s.