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Sep 21 2018

Prince – Piano & A Microphone 1983

Prince - Nothing Compares 2 U (single) (princevault.com)

Prince – Nothing Compares 2 U (single)

Introduction

After last year’s re-release of Purple Rain, the common assumption was that new releases would be announced soon. This turned out differently.

Arguments within the family, unclear and (eventually deemed to be) illegal contracts and changing lawyers and representation were the most newsworthy elements.

Completely out of the blue, Prince’s 1984 version of Nothing Compares 2 U was released on April 19th. On June 7th this year finally more news was made public…

June 7th, 2018

Prince - Piano & A Microphone 1983 - Warner Bros announcement (twitter.com/wbr)

Prince – Piano & A Microphone 1983 – Warner Bros announcement

On the 7th of June Prince Rogers Nelson, the musical genius hailing from Minneapolis, should have turned 60 years old. On that day the Prince Estate, led by (half)brothers and (half)sisters, announced that an album from the famed Prince vault would be released on September 21st.

On behalf of the Estate, advisor Troy Carter stated:

This raw, intimate recording, which took place at the start of Prince’s career right before he achieved international stardom, is similar in format to the Piano & A Microphone Tour that he ended his career with in 2016. The Estate is excited to be able to give fans a glimpse of his evolution and show how his career ultimately came full circle with just him and his piano.

The album is released by record company Warner Bros. They announced the news on the same day using their Twitter channel.

The release is also available as limited CD + vinyl LP deluxe edition, which contains a 12-inch booklet with liner notes, written by Lisa Coleman, Jill Jones and the engineer present at the recordings.

Bootleg recordings

Prince - Piano & A Microphone 1983 - Bootleg releases (discogs.com/apoplife.nl)

Prince – Piano & A Microphone 1983 – Bootleg releases

On September 21st, 1991 (exactly 27 years ago today, there’s no such thing as coincidence…) I bought the bootlegs Eavesdropped In Intimate Moments and Just 4 U, Vol.2. The first contained complete recordings of a Prince solo piano rehearsal. The recordings were made in 1983. The sound quality was not too great, but the performance was impressive. The other bootleg contained 2 songs of the same recordings. In 2000 I bought Intimate Moments, containing the same piano rehearsal recordings, which was a minor improvement quality wise. Two years later I bought Purple Rush 2 (part of the fantastic Purple Rush series), which contained the piano rehearsal once more.

Given the overall availability of the recordings, and particularly the number of years, the choice for releasing these recordings seems somewhat odd. On the other hand, it is fully understandable the Prince Estate doesn’t take bootlegs into account. But still, other recordings with more artistic merit surely do exist. On top of that, the recording only lasts just over 34 minutes.

Prince – Piano & A Microphone 1983

Prince - Piano & A Microphone 1983 (superdeluxeedition.com)

Prince – Piano & A Microphone 1983

But, is the rehearsal worthy of release in itself? Absolutely! It is great to hear Prince being so relaxed, despite all the pressure of activities behind the scenes.

The 1999 tour had only recently ended. Prince was working on a film script, that would eventually result in Purple Rain. Vanity still was he intended love interest for the movie. The most important concert of his entire career (August 3rd, 1983) was in the near future. Guitar player Wendy Melvoin hadn’t made her debut in the band yet. The Revolution wasn’t a known entity yet in the world. But Prince was on the rise, particularly in the United States.

Despite it all, Prince takes his time playing the piano and singing. A great number of the songs would become public in some form or another, be it in concert or in recording.

17 Days would appear as a B-side to When Doves Cry and is widely regarded as one his very best songs of all time, Purple Rain would turn into Prince’s signature song.

A Case Of You was a regular part of concert setlists (the first appearance was at August 3rd, 1983) and would be released on the 2002 album One Nite Alone… Solo piano and voice by Prince.

Prince 1983 by Allen Beaulieu (tiscali.it)

Prince 1983 by Allen Beaulieu

Mary Don’t You Weep would also be played live regularly, particularly around 1994. Strange Relationship would be released on the fantastic 1987 double album Sign O’ The Times. International Lover was released earlier as the closing song to the 1982 double album 1999. Wednesday has been part of earlier configurations of Purple Rain, but remains unreleased to this date.

The loose atmosphere of the recordings and performances show Prince, who is at ease and concentrates on the (strength of the) songs. At times he gives his all vocally, including his impassioned screams. The recordings stem from a time that Prince wasn’t surrounded by the madness of fame and fortune. Within a year Prince was launched to super star status.

I do suspect Prince never meant for these recordings to be released. Prince recorded songs all the time in the studio, usually in one long recording session finishing songs completely. The recordings on this album were done in between other work. Prince played with the music, lyrics and feel. The recordings aren’t professionally taped, but were recorded directly onto cassette.

N.B.: In the impressive Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 book by Duane Tudahl this piano rehearsal is dated around October 1983. In the liner notes Lisa Coleman states this rehearsal contains songs Prince was still working on at the time (which seems to suggest that the date of this rehearsal lies before August 3rd, 1983). Jill Jones even states that Why the Butterflies stems from Winter 1982/1983.

Songs

Prince home & home studio Kiowa Trail, Chanhassen, Minneapolis (pinterest.com)

Prince home & home studio Kiowa Trail, Chanhassen, Minneapolis

All songs written by Prince, except A Case Of You (Joni Mitchell) and Mary Don’t You Weep (trad.).

  • 17 Days
  • Purple Rain
  • A Case Of You
  • Mary Don’t You Weep
  • Strange Relationship
  • International Lover
  • Wednesday
  • Cold Coffee & Cocaine
  • Why The Butterflies?

All the songs were recorded in 1983 at Prince’s home studio located at Kiowa Trail in Minneapolis. Don Batts engineered the recordings.

N.B.: Mary Don’t You Weep is a ‘traditional negro spiritual’ that stems from the American Civil War. The first known recording of the song is from 1915.

Prior to the release

BlacKKKlansman - Movie (imdb.com)

BlacKKKlansman – Movie

Mary Don’t You Weep was made available on June 7th, 2018, as a download and on streaming services like Spotify. 17 Days became available on September 6th as download for everyone who pre-ordered the upcoming cd/lp release. The song will be physically released as a vinyl single with the German Rolling Stone magazine at the end of September. Finally, Why The Butterflies was made available on September 13th.

Mary Don’t You Weep is played when the credits roll in the latest Spike Lee movie, BlackKKKlansman. During a private viewing for Troy Carter, who works for the Prince Estate regarding the (contents of the) Paisley Park Vault, Carter proposed using Mary Don’t You Weep for the movie. Lee, who was granted use of Prince’s music before, was psyched. On August 22nd a long trailer for the movie was published. The background music for the trailer was Mary Don’t You Weep.

Liner notes

The liner notes accompanying the deluxe edition are written by (former Revolution keyboard player) Lisa Coleman, (singer) Jill Jones and (former engineer) Don Batts. Do these provide new insights?

Batts is factual and admiring, as well as Lisa Coleman but she definitely adds some warmth. Jill Jones adds a personal story and touch. All contributions provide new insight into Prince’s modus operandi around that time. Added value? Absolutely.

Prince - Piano & A Microphone 1983 - Limited Edition Deluxe Set (superdeluxeedition.com)

Prince – Piano & A Microphone 1983 – Limited Edition Deluxe Set

Packaging

I bought the Limited Edition Deluxe Set, which is perfectly packaged, containing great photo’s. The sound quality is great overall, especially considering the fact it was recorded on a cassette tape 35 years ago. It’s most definitely a giant leap forward in comparison to my original bootleg recordings. This release is essential for Prince fans.

In closing

Is this release aimed at general music lovers or just at Prince fans? I suspect the first, but I think it will turn out to be the latter. Despite the impressive playing and the high quality of what’s offered, the majority of the buyers will be Prince fans, regardless of whether they have had the recordings for years or not.

 

4 comments

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  1. Emma

    He didn’t want us to hear unfinished work.

    1. A Pop Life (Erwin Barendregt)

      In this case I agree, since this is a working tape. Have you listened to it yet?

  2. Eric

    Makes me curious, thanks!

    1. A Pop Life (Erwin Barendregt)

      Have fun listening!

Compliments/remarks? I´d love to hear them!