For You (1978)
For You/In Love/Soft And Wet/Crazy You/Just As Long As We’re Together/Baby/My Love Is Forever/So Blue/I’m Yours
This was Prince’s unheralded, overlooked debut album from 1978 that went well under the radar, what with all that punk, new wave and conventional disco around. Dig into it deeper, though, and you can hear how it would influence much eighties soul/dance music. He hadn’t really developed an image as yet, however, with none of that purple stuff having materialised. Only Soft And Wet hinted at his later-to-be trademark sexual sauciness. Songwriting-wise it was mainly rather standard fare at this point.
For You is a brief vocal harmony opener that leads into the electro-funk of In Love. This sort of thing was actually quite ahead of its time in 1978, updating disco rhythms to include synthesisers and a bit of a jazzy influence. Prince was a studio one-man band, playing all the instruments himself, Stevie Wonder-style, something that would become de rigeur by the mid-eighties, when Prince-style programmed electro pop/funk was all over the place. In that way, this was quite a revolutionary album.
Soft And Wet was his first single and was what we would come to expect from early Prince - infectious falsetto vocals over an insistent electrically funky, pounding mid-pace disco-ish beat. Prince-funk was quite a unique thing at the time, but it became hugely influential.
Crazy You is a short, acoustic Latin-ish groove that showed Prince’s innate ability to diversify when you weren’t expecting it. It always kept his albums fresh and interesting. The brassy disco funk returns on the energetic Just As Long As We’re Together. It is an attractive, catchy number with some intoxicating percussion half way through. The track has an impressive, extended disco-esque instrumental ending.
Baby is a pleasant enough slow, romantic soulful number with a laid-back groove to it. My Love Is Forever is very late seventies easy-going disco in its vibe. This sort of thing would be all over the airwaves by the mid-eighties as artists like Chaka Khan caught on to the electro/synth soul thing. It features some Prince guitar more than most of the album’s tracks do. So Blue is an acoustic guitar-driven slow and gently soulful number. I quite like it, after a few listens, it does the trick. It exemplifies versatility once again. The upbeat guitar funk of I’m Yours immediately brings to mind Santana from the same period as Prince finally shows us that he really can play a mean guitar. It finishes the album on a real high note.
Look, this was pleasant enough stuff, quite a varied album, but it didn’t really hint at the innovative material that would to come. It is not an album that ever particularly gets me thinking that I will dig it out.
I Wanna Be Your Lover/Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?/Sexy Dancer/When We're Dancing Close And Slow/With You/Bambi/Still Waiting/I Feel For You/It's Gonna Be Lonely
Recorded and released three or four years before Prince seriously broke big, this is actually one of my favourite albums of his. Firstly, despite not being remastered (as is the case with most of his albums, unfortunately) the sound quality is excellent - good stereo, nice warm bass sound, no overwhelming tinniness.
The album, his second, is an appealing collection of disco-funk tracks, characterised, of course, by Prince's unique vocal style and, as was to be his thing, some searing electric guitar parts in amongst the disco/funk rhythms. Check out the guitar on Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? for evidence. Great stuff. I Wanna Be Your Lover is an excellent, catchy song that was a hit in the USA but nowhere else, surprisingly, as it is a good one. I guess it didn't fit in the UK at the time, with all the new wave/ska/post punk material dominating the charts. Disco had been and gone and funk was not hitting the charts yet. In many ways, the material on this album was several years ahead of its time. Songs like this would have been hits by 1983-84. Sexy Dancer is an infectious and lively funk number, while When We're Dancing Close And Slow is a slow-tempo, piano-driven smoocher. "I want to come inside of you...I want to hold you when we're through...". Saucy old Prince starting early as he meant to continue. He always got away with it too, even in those far more draconian times, censorship-wise.
With You is another ballad, with Prince sounding for all he's worth like Michael Jackson from the same era. Bambi has Prince strapping on his guitar again for some excellent, buzzsaw riffs on the intro. One thing I never understood about Prince was that many people in the eighties and nineties and beyond who were into him would never listen to electric guitar-driven rock music at all, yet they loved Prince, and, at times, he seriously rocked out. They probably didn't listen to this album, however, as it went under the radar, even for those who latched on to him when he became massive. For me, there is a edgy rawness to it, showing an artist who had no idea whether he would make it truly big or not.
Still Waiting is a mini-masterpiece of sensual seductiveness wrapped up in seventies-style soulful melody. A bit of jazzy piano floats around in it too. I Feel For You is a slice of the effortless funk lite that he would have such success with in a few times. There is a great trumpet interjection in it at one point. Heaven only knows why this wasn't a success in 1979, I guess it just didn't fit at the time. Of course, five years later Chaka Khan had a huge number one hit with it, once Prince-style electro-funk was everywhere. It's Gonna Be Lonely is a sublime piece of laid-back sweet soul. Good album. It needs more credit.
Dirty Mind (1980)
Dirty Mind/When You Were Mine/Do It All Night/Gotta Broken Heart Again/Uptown/Head/Sister/Party Up
This was Prince’s third album and once again he played all the instruments himself, resulting in an attractive mix of funk, pop, soul, rock and new wave. It is a short album, at less than thirty minutes, but it was one that started to get Prince properly noticed and it was here that he really started to go full on with the blatantly sexual lyrics. No double entendres for him, he said what was on his “dirty mind”. Also, he poses shamelessly in his skimpy undies on the cover.
Dirty Mind is a big thumping piece of early eighties disco/pop/funk, driven along by synthesiser riffs so typical of the time and pounding drums. Prince’s vocals are seductive and insistent, despite their falsetto tones. Van Halen surely used the riff on Jump three years later. When You Were Mine is irresistibly catchy, loaded to the brim with poppy hooks. The drum sound is reassuringly “proper” and the organ breaks are very new wave (think Blondie or Elvis Costello & The Attractions). Do It All Night is very much of the period but once again it is in possession of a catchy, funky attractiveness that makes it still eminently listenable all these years later. It certainly doesn’t sound as if it is forty years old (as I write).
Gotta Broken Heart Again is a lovely, slow tempo seductive groove with a sumptuous bass line and some excellent guitar backing up Prince’s naturally melodic vocals. It comes to a bit of an abrupt end, however. Next up is the lively pop funk of Uptown, with its addictive backing beat and confident, funky guitar. Its funky pace never lets up. This stuff was quite ahead of its time, but, strangely, it still didn’t take off as it should have done at the time. I have to admit that at the time I was in my early twenties and I did not take proper notice of Prince until 1982’s 1999 album. I had noticed his albums while trawling through record shops, I think, but that was as far as it went. That was a shame because just check out that superb guitar on this track. It was worthy of my attention.
Head is another intoxicating, sexy number with generous helpings of funk. Talking Heads were surely hugely influenced by the merging of funky rhythms and rock guitar on this one. It lyrics are gloriously lascivious. Sister (with its dodgy tale of sex with the song’s character’s elder sister) finds Prince using a frantic punky, rock ‘n’ roll beat that takes in some of the contemporary sounds of the day. It serves to remind us that Prince could rock out with the best of them. For all his r’n’b stylings he was always a rock guitarist at heart. The track neatly segues into the enjoyable good time funk of Party Up.
Although this was a short offering, there was something about its poppy conciseness which held great appeal. Good as though 1999 undoubtedly was, there was a certain amount of indulgence in it that doesn’t occur on this free-spirited, enthusiastic little gem of an album. Unusually for a Prince album, the sound on it is great too, nice and warm with a good deep bass.
Controversy/Sexuality/Do Me Baby/Private Joy/Ronnie Talk To Russia/Let's Work/Annie Christian/Jack U Off
Building on the saucy, sexualised new-wave influenced funk from 1980, Dirty Mind, Prince returned the following year with what was pretty much more of the same, to an extent. It was also the first album to fully feature Prince's muse Lisa Coleman on keyboards. In comparison to the previous album, though, Prince seems to concentrating more on the groove of the songs than on their inventiveness, which sort of initially laid the foundations for 1999, although it is not as hook-laden as that album. There is also nothing as blatantly taboo-challenging as Sister or Head on here either. If anything, Prince ditches the no-holds-barred controversial eroticism for a political conscience, certainly on some tracks.
Controversy is a seven-minute plus funky jam of an opener that utilised what was becoming a trademark sound by now. The funky guitar throughout the track is compelling. He introduces some religious "controversy" by curiously narrating The Lord's Prayer half way through before launching in to a rap - "people call me rude, I wish that we were nude...". Not the most convincing of raps ever laid down. The track gets into its groove, though, and never lets up, but it also suffers from being a bit one-paced and uninventive.
The tempo is upped, however, on the keyboard and funky guitar-powered falsetto fun of Sexuality. The production isn't great on this one, but its vibrancy overshadows that. Do Me Baby is a piece of intuitive seduction for those late night moments. It is full of squeaking sexual noises and a necessary "bump and grind" slow rhythm. He hasn't lost as his lust, then. Its extended running time is fine if you're between the sheets, but as a listening experience it could do with losing a few minutes.
The old "side two" is completely different to the lengthy funk/late night groove of "side one", being populated with short, fast pace numbers.
Private Joy is a bouncy piece of synthy pop funk, pleasant enough, but not particularly memorable. The "get up" exhortation bit, with its fine bass and drums is the song's best moment, followed by some searing electric guitar. You can always trust Prince to add something to an ordinary-ish song to enhance it considerably. Ronnie Talk To Russia is Prince's attempt to reach out to President Ronald Reagan. It is a breathless Blondie meets The Attractions organ-driven romp, complete with Clem Burke drum rolls and Steve Nieve parping organ. It is Prince at his most punk and ends just under two minutes. The upbeat grind of Let's Work adopts contemporary dance/funk rhythms to great effect with lots of slap-bass and funky keyboards.
Annie Christian is a hard-hitting Velvet Underground-ish diatribe against gun crime semi-spoken against a quirky, programmed drum/keyboard backing. It is a most unusual track. Jack U Off was a frantic, organ-powered slightly rock'n'roll end to the album. It sexual message was somewhat lost under its breakneck rock beat. It was also the first to use the infuriating "u" spelling too.
For some reason, this album has never done it for me in the way that Dirty Mind has. If I want some early eighties Prince I turn to that album as opposed to this one. This one sort of treads water. Prince was due a change now, and he duly delivered accordingly with several different and diverse albums over the next seven or eight years.
1999/Little Red Corvette/Delirious/Let's Pretend We're Married/D.M.S.R./Automatic/Something In The Water/Free/Lady Cab Driver/All The Critics Love U In New York/International Lover
After two electric funk/disco albums in For You and Prince, followed by two more funk/rock/electro/soul fusion offerings in the impressive, underrated Dirty Mind and Controversy, Prince finally made it huge with this double album of only eleven (not many for a double album) extended tracks of synthesiser-driven "computer rock". Neither in late 1982, or now, can I describe myself as a proper Prince fan. I have a whole load of his albums, because I feel I ought to experience them as opposed to them actually floating my boat. I have never truly got the purple one, despite seemingly everyone else around me acknowledging his genius. So, that is the position I am writing from. I could never quite get, how, in those eighties years, people who didn't like rock music as a rule seemed to love Prince's often lengthy electric guitar noodling. I still don't. They love contemporary r'n'b yet they also love the extended indulgence of Purple Rain.
The other couple of problems I have had with Prince's output is firstly that he built a lot of his sound, particularly on this album, around synthesisers, an instrument I had trouble enjoying throughout the eighties and secondly, that the sound on his albums was pretty much awful. On this album it is muddy, indistinct and set far too low. It is just mushy to my ears. The 2019 remaster seems to have merely made it louder and slightly clearer, while at the same time rendering it incredibly tinny. I actually stick with the original CD recording, amazingly, and that still sounds bad. Maybe I need to re-listen to these, however, and, on doing so, find that if I turn down the 2019 one it probably does sound better - more clarity. Anyway, enough of that as I am certainly no audiophile, thank God.
Personally, I find this album somewhat robotic, distant and cold, difficult to properly enjoy, despite its bountiful supply of killer hooks. I have always seen it as music that was packed full of potential but never quite made it for me. That is obviously my problem, because 99% of the population who bought the album treat it as a work of genius. All this electro/drum machine computer-generated gadgetry was not really to my taste, preferring straight-up traditional rock or indeed funk/soul formats on the whole. The album went on to influence decades of house, electro and techno and all that dance stuff that I could never really relate to. Eighties pop and r'n'b were also drenched in synthesisers and programmed drums as a result of this album, among others. I was raised on sixties pop, seventies rock, soul, punk, new wave and reggae so I am sure some can understand my reticence to accept this.
The album kicks off with a run of hit singles, beginning with the eminently catchy, singalong pre-millennial pop funk of 1999. I remember when it came out thinking just what a long time away 1999 was. Now it is thirty-eight years since 1982. The track is based on an infectious synthesiser riff that, much as I am not a synth man, cannot help but get into. The extended version has a great funky guitar bit right near the end that comes to an end a little to soon for my liking. Then the track fades straight into the pop of Little Red Corvette, another song with an irresistible chorus hook that was literally floating in the air everywhere in 1982-83. Prince inserts a fine guitar solo into the programmed beats that appeals to the likes of myself. The whole track suffers from bad sound, however, which negates its attraction somewhat for me, especially on its over-quiet intro.
Delirious is a frantic, programmed drum-driven but slightly rockabilly romp that has a hooky addictiveness once again. The same applies to the lively Let's Pretend We're Married. Prince interjects a few of his trademark sexual comments into the song in places, getting lustier as it progresses. The more I hear this track the more I like it. D.M.S.R. was omitted from the original CD release but is part of the album. It is a solid electro funker that stood for "Dance, Music, Sex, Romance" and has a good groove to it with hints of funk from previous eras. I actually quite like it. It brings to mind Talking Heads' output from their Speaking In Tongues era in 1983. That album was far better produced, however.
Automatic is a dense, industrial piece of rhythmic intensity that sounds as if it were recorded in a sheet metal foundry. Something In The Water has some cute, cymbal-imitating percussion sounds and Prince goes all Sly Stone as he semi-yodels at one point. It is a bit indulgent but I have to admit it has an attraction. Free has an anthemic, majestic vibe to it. Its guitar almost sounds like Queen too. What is never in doubt is that Prince had an innate ability to innovate.
Lady Cab Driver is one of my favourites, strangely. It has a beguiling, Tom Tom Club-style rhythm and vocal to it, great guitar soloing plus some chunky guitar riffs. It also has one of the better sound qualities on the album. Actually, I'll go so far as to saying this is the best cut on here. Yes, I love the sexy noises in the middle too. Naughty me. All The Critics Love U In New York is another good one too. It is odd how these slightly lesser-known tracks are the ones that I like the best. The guitar on here is very Adrian Belew (of Talking Heads and David Bowie fame). It is a clever, intoxicating track. I find myself loving the keyboard parts on this one. The album ends with the soulful International Lover, which I also like. Finally there is a nice bassy sound in places. For many, it is the first half of this album they prefer all day long, whereas for me it is the last three tracks. Maybe that is the reaction of a part-time Prince listener.
By the end of the album, though, I feel exhausted. It is certainly not one to sit through in one sitting although, as you've realised by now, that is just me. Having said that I listened to it twice through and appreciated it far more the second time, so there you go. Anyway, there is no disputing its creativity and massive influence, is there.
The non-album extras that have surfaced are manifold, but I will mention quite a few of them. A lot of them are more vibrant and funkier than the material than eventually appeared on the album and less electronic. The sound quality is often superior to the album too, oddly.
Feel U Up is a saucy extended groove with a warmth of sound to it that feels superior to the album's sonics, strangely. Irresistible Bitch ploughs a similar furrow. Both these tracks just get into their groove and stay there and just are as enjoyable as anything on the album, if not more so than some of them. They both have nice, deep bass lines on them too.
Money Don't Grow On Trees is Prince at his most soulful with an addictive guitar and drum sound. I love this track. It should have been on the album. Again, the sound is impressive. Horny Toad is a short, thumping programmed and organ romp, with Prince delivering an Elvis-style rock'n'roll sound. Then there is the provocatively-titled Vagina with its vibrant rock guitar riffs and strange lyrics about a hermaphrodite - "half boy, half girl - best of both worlds".
Rearrange is a lively poppy piece of solid electric dance funk featuring some excellent fuzzy guitar breaks together with some funky guitar bits too. Bold Generation is also a catchy number that would have brought some breezy relief had it been included on the album. It has a great bit of piano near the end, together with more funky guitar. Colleen is a staccato, jerky instrumental that is packed full of funk and killer bass. Turn It Up is a synth-driven rock/funk number and You're All I Want continues down the same jaunty, enjoyable path with another rock'n'roll-ish vibe. How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore was the b side to the 1999 single and is a late night, piano-powered jazzy, soulful ballad.
If It'll Make U Happy sees Prince dabbling in dub-influenced reggae skanking rhythms to good effect on an appealing track. Purple Music is ten minutes of intoxicating bass runs, percussion, funky guitar and a relatively low-key but consistent vocal. It is a track full of pure, innate rhythm. It has a lovely bass solo at about 4.30 and some jazzy keyboards too. Check out the big, rumbling bass after that too and the funky guitar breaks, once again. Yah You Know is a singalong, synth-powered piece of dance pop. Moonbeam Levels is a somewhat sombre, grandiose piano ballad, while No Call U is an energetic prototype of Let's Go Crazy on Purple Rain featuring a Farfisa organ backing. Can't Stop This Feeling I Got is a marvellous little bit of Elvis Costello & The Attractions new wave style fun.
Do Yourself A Favor was not a Prince song, it was written by Pepé Willie and Jesse Johnson. It is delivered by Prince here in a nine-minute slice of laid-back, mid-pace soul. It is a bit of a lost Prince classic. It ends with a superb bit of rolling drum rhythm. Don't Let Him Fool Ya is typical Prince dance-ish funk fare. Once more it has a good sound quality to it often lacking on the album. Finally, Teacher, Teacher is an unusually commercial piece of pop, almost glammy at times, with some sumptuous bass.
Purple Rain (1984)
Let’s Go Crazy/Take Me With U/The Beautiful Ones/Computer Blue/Darling Nikki/When Doves Cry/I Would Die 4 U/Baby I’m A Star/Purple Rain
Following on from the programmed electro funk, synthesised, innovative but indulgent 1999, Prince changed his approach considerably in firstly employing a full band, The Revolution, and secondly by diversifying his sound to include rock, heavy metal, electric guitars, pounding "proper" drums, acoustic guitars and psychedelia all mixed together in a cornucopia that was far more poppy than his output thus far. It was a more varied and consequently more attractive album than 1999.
It was his rockiest album to date and, as I mentioned in the review for 1999, I found it mystifying (and still do) how people who listened to a daily diet of r'n'b-style soul and chart pop were suddenly claiming that Purple Rain, with its lengthy, extended rock guitar ending, was their favourite song of all time. Bizarre. I never understood that.
Regarding its sound, all Prince albums are poorly produced, if you ask me, but this one's latest remaster gets away with it a bit and it is not as bad as many have claimed it to be, in my opinion (which is often in a minority, though, I have to admit).
Let’s Go Crazy is a frantic merging of gospel and upbeat soul with some almost Rolling Stones-like rock stylings that results in an infectious song that sticks in your head. It reminds me vaguely of The Clash's The Sound Of The Sinners. Like so many Prince songs, though, it unfortunately suffers from a muddy sound. Just think how much better the tracks 1999, Little Red Corvette and this one could have sounded with a clearer, sharper production.
Take Me With U is a jaunty, acoustic-backed but poppy number, leaving behind heavy electro funk for breezy pop. It has a pleasant, understated backing that utilises some sweeping string sounds. All quite different from the industrial, computerised funk of 1999. The Beautiful Ones brings back to mind Prince’s debut album with its slow, falsetto-voiced tones. It is quite a beguilingly winsome song. Once more, it is totally different to anything on 1999. Prince vocally improvises inventively at the end, going all gritty in his delivery, as opposed to his usual mellifluous tone.
Robotic, insistent electro funk and that old computer obsession returns on the programmed groove of Computer Blue, which is enhanced by some fuzzy, screeching guitar swirling all around. It has a nice bass line too. The track has some interesting instrumentation in its changes of pace. It is one of those with hidden depths. It is a good one. The song segues into the controversial Darling Nikki, with its sexual-themed lyrics and odd, slightly waltz-like staccato beat. It is an odd song all around, actually, impossible to describe or categorise. It once more features some heavy metal interjections making it very much a rock song. By the end though, it has degenerated into a mess of noise and distorted tape loops. Those r'n'b and pop fans still loved it, however, incomprehensibly.
When Doves Cry was a big hit single and it is often described as being "bass-less" which I have always found perplexing as, although it famously features no bass guitar it is driven along by a thumping, deep programmed bassy drum sound. To me, it has a clear bass sound, so there you go, maybe I am missing something. Either way it makes my sub woofer-driven speakers shake.
I Would Die 4 U has a programmed cymbal replicate sound that is totally infectious and the whole song is pretty irresistible. I blame Prince for popularising the use of "u" instead of "you", however. He should never be exonerated for that. With barely a pause for breath we are launched into the breakneck pop/soul/rock/dance romp of Baby I'm A Star. All sorts of sounds and rhythms are on this one. Again, Prince has created something commercially nailed on. Check out that madcap keyboard solo half way through. Great stuff. Then there is Purple Rain, Prince's Free Bird. It is a rock song, isn't it? No funk anyway near it. The drums, strings, keyboards, Prince's vocals and finally that electric guitar are full-on rock. The bit at 3.54 gets an old rock fan like me on his feet. Prince could play guitar, couldn't he? Then the wailing vocals come in. Lordy. Like nothing else he ever did.
This was a fine album of infinite creativity and variety, and stakes a solid claim for being Prince's best offering. If only it had better sound.
The non-album extras include several extended numbers. I have detailed only the "new" tracks, i.e. not remixes of those already on the album.
Dance Electric is a bit of a throwback to 1999, and is an infectious ten-minute electro funk dance number. Listen to those bassy synth drums at 7.50. Love And Sex reproduces the "sha-la-la" hook from Let's Pretend We're Married from 1999 on a frantic poppy funk workout. Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden starts with female vocals before Prince arrives and it develops into a sort of Euro Pop meets soul number made quite attractive by some distinctive New Romantic-style keyboards and a warm bassy beat.
Possessed has some infectious programmed drum sounds and a killer Prince vocal. It is an excellent, extended groove. It has hints of Talking Heads' Remain In Light period, for me. Wonderful Ass is a slow-pace sensual and lascivious piece of typical eighties Prince funk. Velvet Kitty Cat is a short and catchy, rhythmic song with an unusually good sound quality on it for a Prince song. Katrina's Paper Dolls is another relatively short, lyrically quirky song with another winning melody and good sound. The funk returns on the ten minute workout of We Can Fuck, with its unsurprisingly seductive lyrics and insistent, rhythmically sensual beat. A good soundtrack choice I would say.
Father's Song is a sparse, piano and keyboard instrumental that is full of atmosphere. Then there are the b sides to three of the album's singles - 17 Days, a chugging but fetching number, the attractive electro dance groove of Erotic City and the mysterious, ethereal God.
Around The World In A DaY (1985)
Around The World In A Day/Paisley Park/Condition Of The Heart/Raspberry Beret/Tambourine/America/Pop Life/The Ladder/Temptation
By 1985, having been so inventive and ground-breaking on his previous albums, Prince, true to form I guess, surprised everyone by going back to 1967 and releasing a somewhat derivative album highly influenced by sixties psychedelia even down to the Beatles/Satanic Majesties influenced cover. Prince himself denied the direct influence, but that has to remain questionable.
The tracks are all much shorter, and all that lusty sex has been replaced by mysticism and quasi-religious imagery and the music is nothing like the pounding electro funk of previous albums. This time it is full of acoustic guitars, dreamy strings, bright keyboards, psychedelic guitars and those archetypal sixties Eastern sounds. Because this had all been done before the album can attract accusations of a lack of authenticity, but, on the other hand, it was a very unusual offering that challenged its listeners. Like David Bowie, Prince could never be accused of standing still, often changing his approach. It is from this album onwards, however, that the perception of Prince changed for many people, from his being a lovable, horny so-and-so to a bit of a weirdo.
Around The World In A Day is a pleasant mix of George Harrison/ Brian Jones-esque Eastern and acoustic sounds together with a catchy hook but it is hardly original. I have to say, though, that I like it a lot - there is an attractiveness to its hippyish vibe and clever instrumentation.
Paisley Park is a sixties-influenced tuneful psychedelic-ish number that sounds like something from The Kinks or The Small Faces in their hippy periods. Its introduction sounds strangely like The Lion Sleeps Tonight too. The line "Paisley Park is in your heart" was so Penny Lane, wasn't it, with a bit of Itchycoo Park thrown in. All very 1966-67. Condition Of The Heart has nearly three minutes of gentle, ambient instrumental noodling before Prince’s laid-back vocals arrive. It is attractive in its own understated. beguiling way, but is very low-key. It grows on you, though, and was definitely like nothing he had done before.
The poppy Raspberry Beret was the album's big hit single and is full of hooks, especially on its chorus which you find yourself singing all day. It has some fetching violin sounds swirling around in the background. It suffers from a bit of a murky, muffled sound, I feel.
Tambourine is a return to the shuffling, deep funky rhythms of earlier material and is the first track on the album that people would be able to properly recognise as Prince. America begins with the sort of fuzzy guitar U2 would come to use so much and is a vibrant funky workout of a song. Steven Van Zandt's work over the next few years would be hugely influenced by this. Pop Life is an appealing, melodic diatribe against celebrity culture. It is smoothly soulful. These last three tracks have been more what you would have expected from Prince, to an extent and the next two can be similarly categorised. So, it is probably only the first three that really fit in with the hippy/Eastern/psychedelic thing as Raspberry Beret is too poppy, but they have helped give the album its over-riding reputation.
The Ladder begins very much in semi-dramatic, heavily orchestrated Purple Rain style and has a slow semi-spoke vocal that is both mournful and uplifting simultaneously. Some saxophone arrives too, an instrumental not often utilised by Prince. Some more fuzzy, scratchy guitar introduces Temptation, a song which sees Prince mentioning sex (and his favourite wetness) for probably the first time. It is a muscular, chugging piece of slow, heavyish rock with a bizarre ending with Prince being admonished by God. It is at eight minutes plus, by far the album's longest track.
Actually, the album is not quite as impenetrable as many have deemed it to be. Given a chance it has its appeal, for sure.
Sign O' The Times (1987)
Sign O’ The Times/Play In The Sunshine/Housequake/The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker/It/Starfish And Coffee/Slow Love/Hot Thing/Forever In My Life/U Got The Look/If I Was Your Girlfriend/Strange Relationship/I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man/The Cross/It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night/Adore
This, for many, was Prince’s crowning achievement - his London Calling, White Album, Songs In The Key Of Life or Exile On Main Street, a sprawling, diverse double album that spanned genres and influences. As usual with Prince by now, it merged funk, soul, gospel, rap with rock, psychedelia, blues and folk to great effect. Personally, I have always found a little too eclectic and find that I prefer other albums of his, but there is no doubting its influence, both contemporary and in later years. It was recorded without The Revolution for the first time since 1982’s 1999 album, with Prince playing most instruments himself. There are still a fair few musicians involved, however, it is not all one man band stuff.
Regarding the tracks, I will deal with them in the four x four tracks sections of the original double album.
Sign O’ The Times is a triumph of a track to open with, overflowing with brooding atmosphere, chilling apocalyptic warnings and an insistent but low-key beat. It was one of Prince’s most mature, thoughtful and quality tracks released thus far. Play In The Sunshine is one of those upbeat, if slightly muffled rock ‘n’ roll-ish numbers Prince came out with, full of madcap kitchen sink instrumentation and female backing vocals. It also has some searing lead guitar and would you believe, a brief, infectious drum solo. Everything is in there. Housequake mines a rap/hip-hop seam both in its beat and vocals. It is very contemporary to 1987. Its vibrancy never lets up. The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker (or "Dor-thy") is a laid-back, appealing soulfully funky ballad in the 1987 “r’n’b” style, featuring a nice, deep, melodic bass sound.
It is a chugging, industrial piece of electronic pop with synths swirling, new romantic-style all over the place around a huge, programmed drum beat. Starfish And Coffee is a short, but quirkily attractive little number that strangely sticks in the mind. Slow Love is a typical slow, staccato Prince love song, the first on the album thus far. It sort of morphs into the jumpy sax-powered funk of Hot Thing.
Then we get the most obvious sex/relationships section. Forever In My Life has a catchy but brooding understated appeal. It is a track that is pretty impossible to categorise, though. U Got The Look is more typical Prince fare, commercial and instantly recognisable as him. The same applies to the intuitively seductive If I Was Your Girlfriend, while Strange Relationship is a thumping piece of lyrical paranoia.
I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man revisits the breezy, melodic pop of the Around The World In A Day album. It is the catchiest number on the album. It features some excellent guitar in its final part too. Cross is possibly the album’s most beguiling track, with its haunting backbeat and U2-style dramatic build up. Prince’s vocal is decidedly Bono. It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night is an extended live jazzy, funky rave up with The Revolution and Adore is a late night smoocher to end this perplexing, interesting but, for me, ultimately a little underwhelming album on. I know I am in a minority but I could never perceive this as a work of genius - it sprawls here and there too much and there are far too few stand out moments. That is just me though, but there are several Prince albums I prefer over this one.
No matter how many times I listen to the album it doesn't really get into my system, so it fails to make the cut for "work of genius", as I said. None of the tracks come close to the brilliance of the title track either.
Eye No/Alphabet Street/Glam Slam/Anna Stesia/Dance On/Lovesexy/When 2 R In Love/I Wish U Heaven/Positivity
After the vast soundscape of Sign O' The Times, Prince returned in 1988 with a genuine oddity - an album with no distinction between tracks. I have listed the tracks as nine distinct entities, which is in effect what they are, but they are not separated otherwise and flow into each other, playing as one whole. It replaced the hastily-binned Black Album for reasons that nobody ever really knew. It is pretty much played by Prince with help from various musicians from track to track.
Eye No is a brassy, funky and lively introduction to the album and Alphabet Street was the album's most obviously poppy section. It was a single. It is driven along by infectious, funky percussion and I have to say at this point as well that there is clear improvement in sound quality from earlier albums. It does go on a bit too long, though. Glam Slam is sort of psychedelic, with sounds swirling all over the place. Its production is frustratingly muffled compared to the previous track.
Anna Stesia is a seductive, soulful number with hints of hip-hop in it plus some freaky guitar. Dance On features a programmed, synthesised, frantic dance beat and a lazy-sounding vocal from Prince at times. It is full of staccato, machine gun type rhythms and an irresistible vitality to it. Lovesexy is an appealing, but heavily synthesised call to be positive (and sexy, of course). It contains some guitar riffs of the type that Michael Jackson would use a lot around this time. It is the best part of the album, for me.
The upbeat mood changes for the smooth, late night vibe of When 2 R In Love which is a delicious piece of instinctive Prince romance. I Wish U Heaven is a catchy, once more guitar-powered number that displays Prince's innate instinct for poppy hooks. Positivity is a pleasant enough groove to end on, but nothing about it particularly memorable, apart from Prince's guitar part.
I have to say that I rarely play this album. The inability to select tracks and having to listen to it all should not be a factor, but it does seem to be. Sometimes I might just want to listen to Dance On, for example. It is more than that, though, it all seems a bit disorganised and hurried and if I am going to choose some eighties Prince, there are many other albums I would choose in preference.