«

»

Dec 07 2017

The Black Album: Prince gets funky

 

So U found me / Good, I’m glad / This is Prince / The cool of cools
Some of U may not know this / But some of U may know / Some of U may not want 2 know
We r here 2 do service / Please don’t try 2 stop us
4 we come regardless / 4 we r strong as we r intelligent

So come vibe with us
Welcome to the Funk Bible
The new testament

 

Introduction

Part 4 of the series Prince in 1987. The earlier articles this year have proven to be popular. They are read intensively, something for which I truly am grateful. I hope this story can live up to the expectations. The story on an album which was supposed to be released, but was retracted on the very last moment, only to be released quietly 7 years later.

1987

As stated in previous articles, 1987 was a highly productive year for Prince. A total of 53 Prince-composed songs were released during the course of that year. Next to his own Sign O’ The Times, two Madhouse albums and the Jill Jones album were released. Specifics surrounding those releases can be found in the previous Prince in 1987 articles:

This article is dedicated to the mysterious album with the black cover, on which no single piece of information regarding the performer(s) could be found. Its title became The Black Album, an analogy on the famous, completely white covered, album by The Beatles from 1968.

The story surrounding The Black Album

Prince - The Black Album era (1) (pinterest.com)

Prince – The Black Album era

In the article Prince is victorious (once again) with Sign O’ The Times the route to Sign O’ The Times is outlined, including all of the recording sessions of and for the album. After the album was done, Prince prepared for a tour (the spectacular Sign O’ The Times Tour) with a completely new band. Consequently he went on tour. After the European trek was done he canceled the American leg of the tour and released the concert movie Sign O’ The Times instead in November 1987.

Meanwhile Prince kept on recording new songs. Of 39 songs it has been established that recordings exist. Lyrics have been found, hinting to the fact there are more than 39 songs available in the Paisley Park Vault from the period between Sign O’ The Times and The Black Album, but it can’t be ascertained with 100% certainty that recordings actually exist. The aforementioned 39 are confirmed. So, between the release of Sign O’ The Times and The Black Album (approximately 8 months), a period in which Prince also did a European tour and made a movie, Prince recorded at least 39 completely new songs, once again largely done by himself. Among these recordings was the second Madhouse album 16, which was released on November 18th, 1987.

Realization process

Prince - The Black Album era (2) (prince.org)

Prince – The Black Album era

Somewhere near the end of the Sign O’ The Times Tour in Europe, Prince decided to not take the tour to the USA. In part because of the fact he was done with the project and wanted to move on, but it also seemed to be a reaction to the underwhelming sales figures of the Sign O’ The Times album in the USA. Added to that was the growing critique that Prince’s music was too pop and rock oriented. He had alienated his, originally predominantly, black audience and supposedly turned his back to the black music and funk.

Prince would show them. Black music? Dance music? Funk?

As a surprise for Sheila E (and consequently for his own personal use), Prince had recorded three dance songs for Sheila E’s birthday party on December 11th, 1986: Le Grind, Bob George and 2 Nigs United 4 West Compton. Earlier on he had recorded Rockhard In A Funky Place (originally part of the configurations for the proposed Camille and Crystal Ball albums) and Superfunkycaligrafisexy.

In March of 1987, just days away from the release of Sign O’ The Times recordings commenced for Cindy C. and Dead On It. This could turn into some bold statement!

In October of 1987 Prince recorded the song When 2 R In Love. The only ballad on The Black Album. The Black Album was compiled and the album was commissioned for release on December 7th, 1987. The conditions were that the album was to be released without the usual promotion and that no information regarding its title and/or performer was to be printed on the cover. The cover had to be completely black with just peach colored information on the album’s catalog number. The vinyl’s labels only contained the song titles.

Sunset Sound Recording Studio Logo (fourplayjazz.com)

Prince home & home studio Galpin Boulevard (twistermc.com)

Prince home & home studio Galpin Boulevard

The songs were recorded in three studios. The Sheila E birthday songs were recorded in Prince’s favorite non-Prince studio Sunset Sound.

Paisley Park Records logo (apoplife.nl)

The last song to be recorded for the album, When 2 R In Love, was recorded at the, at the time recently opened, Paisley Park Studios.

The remaining songs were recorded in Prince’s home studio, which was located at Galpin Boulevard in Minneapolis.

On most of the songs the Camille like voice-distortion is utilized.

The complete route to The Black Album

Based on the data, the route to The Black Album looks as follows:

Prince the route to The Black Album (apoplife.nl)

Prince the route to The Black Album

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. Records Logo (warnerbrosrecords.com)

Warner Bros. Records Logo

From record company Warner Bros.’s point of view The Black Album was the primary example of their concerns for Prince’s career. After his refusal to promote Sign O’ The Times with a tour in the US, reservations towards Prince’s decisions regarding his releases, grew within Warner Bros. In Europe his fame and reputation were at an all time high, but in his home country sales kept on fading with every release. Every decision he made seemed to alienate the American public even further.

Meanwhile Prince created more and more music, which became less accessible. The artistic level was sky-high, but Warner Bros. was increasingly at a loss as how to sell ‘Prince the product’. The company longed for the times where Prince wrote infectious hits and wanted nothing more than return to the Purple Rain level of success. But what did Warner Bros. get? The Black Album.

Despite all of the objections, Warner Bros. still agreed with the release. Hundreds of thousands vinyl albums, cassettes and compact-discs were pressed and were ready to be shipped to record stores.

December 1st, 1987

As Prince oftentimes did with new material, Prince went to a nightclub to play his new music and watch the audience’s response. On December 1st, 1987, he went to Rupert’s, a dance club in Minneapolis.

Prince - The Black Album era (3) (pinterest.com)

Prince – The Black Album era

As the music was being played Prince mingled and met 22-year-old singer-songwriter and poet Ingrid Chavez. Chavez had moved to Minneapolis a few years before to work on music. Just like Prince, she came from a strict religious family and was looking for answers beyond the limitations of religious dogma’s.

Heavy discussions ensued between the two. They ended up in the recently opened Paisley Park studio complex, where they continued their discussions on religion, love, fate, etc.

What happened next is somewhat unclear. According to several sources Prince used the drug Ecstasy that evening. His dancer, Cat Glover, claimed he had asked her for it. He wanted to try it. She brought the (by Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis supplied) pills over and told him to try just half the dose, because of his small stature. He ignored the advice and took the whole dose and left for the nightclub. According to Glover he called her again when he was on his way back to Paisley Park with Ingrid Chavez. Glover was asked to come over and she did.

At 01:30 AM Karen Krattinger, Prince’s assistant, received a strange phone call. Prince was emotional (which seemed highly ‘out of character’) and offered his apologies for his, at times, difficult behavior and told her he had trouble showing how he really felt. He told her he loved her.

Prince - The Black Album era (4) (pinterest.com)

Prince – The Black Album era

Around the same time Susan Rogers also received a phone call. Rogers had recently quit Prince’s employ (after finishing The Black Album) as engineer. Prince asked her if she wanted to come over to Paisley Park. When she arrived the place was dark and she heard a female voice (Chavez) asking “Are you looking for Prince?”. Out of nowhere Prince appeared. Rogers felt uncomfortable; Prince looked like she had never seen him before. “His pupils were really dilated. He looked like he was tripping”.. He asked “I just want to know one thing. Do you still love me?”. Rogers said she did. When Prince asked her if she would stay, she said “No, I won’t” and left Paisley Park. “It was really scary” she commented later.

Keyboard player Matt Fink confirmed the events: “He had a bad trip, and felt that The Black Album was the devil working through him”.

The evening/night was extremely meaningful and important to Prince. He called it Blue Tuesday, the day he repented. Cat, who was about to record a solo-album, wrote a song on that particular day, titled: December 1st, 1987. The album was ultimately scrapped and the song was never released..

Withdrawal

Prince & Mo Ostin 1978 (billboard.com)

Prince & Mo Ostin 1978

During the course of the evening/night Prince concluded that The Black Album was indeed a work of ‘evil’. Prince believed he had experienced a spiritual and moral epiphany. As his guide, Chavez had shown him the way to get closer to God and other people. The Black Album reflected the anger and excess he had to leave behind.

Some time later Prince contacted Warner Bros. president Mo Ostin. He insisted that The Black Album, which was just days from being released, was retracted. Ostin ultimately agreed. The result being that Warner Bros. faced an almost impossible task. 500.000 LP’s, thousands of cassettes and compact-discs were already pressed. All of these had to be destroyed. Many of them were already packed for shipment. Despite all of Warner Bros.’s efforts, some originals escaped destruction. The album was out there, in very, very small numbers, but still.

Prince never gave a really clear explanation as to why he withdrew the album, but in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 1990 he stated: “I suddenly realized that we can die at any moment, and we’d be judged by the last thing we left behind. I didn’t want that angry bitter thing to be the last thing. […] That doesn’t mean I don’t like the music, but I don’t want the people to feel that kind of depression coming through in my music”.

Lovesexy

The Lovesexy Tour book contained a rather cryptic description of Prince’s reasoning behind his decision. Some fragments:

Prince - Lovesexy Tour book (princevault.com)

Prince – Lovesexy Tour book

Camille set out to silence his critics. “No longer daring” – his enemies laughed. “No longer glam, his funk is half-assed… one leg is much shorter than the other one is weak. His strokes are tepid, his colors are meek.”

So Camille found a new color. The color black: strongest hue of them all.

Stroke after stroke callin’ all others a joke.

Tuesday came. Blue Tuesday.
His canvas full, and lying on the table, Camille mustered all the hate that he was able. Hate 4 the ones who ever doubted his game. Hate 4 the ones who ever doubted his name.

“Tis nobody funkier — let the Black Album fly.” Spooky Electric was talking, Camille started 2 cry. Tricked.

A fool he had been. In the lowest utmostest. He had allowed the dark side of him 2 create something evil. 2 Nigs United 4 West Compton. Camille and his ego. Bob George. Why?

Spooky Electric must die. Die in the hearts of all who want love. Die in the hearts of men who want change.

© 1988 Prince

Camille probably stands for Prince, Blue Tuesday is December 1st, 1987 and Spooky Electric stands for the devil or the devil side of Prince.

Prince - Alphabet St (Don't Buy The Black Album, I'm Sorry) (feelnumb.com/apoplife.nl)

Prince – Alphabet St (Don’t Buy The Black Album, I’m Sorry)

Immediately following his decision to halt The Black Album Prince’s creativity overflowed. In December of 1987 an enormous amount of new songs was recorded. Prince felt reborn and his next album was to reflect his spiritual awakening. He called the new feeling lovesexy: “the feeling u get when u fall in love, not with a girl or boy but with the heavens above”.

Ingrid Chavez, who played such a crucial role on Blue Tuesday was called the “spirit child” of the new album.

The first single off the album was the fabulous Alphabet St.. The accompanying video contained the (more or less hidden) message “Dont buy The Black Album, I’m sorry”. It passes by real quickly around 27 seconds into the video.

More on Lovesexy the album, the tour and the subsequent concert recording on May 10th, 2018: 30 years after the release of the last genius album by Prince, made in his prime.

Bootleg

Prince - The Black Album - My first bootleg (pitchfork.com)

Prince – The Black Album – My first bootleg

The (almost immediate) consequence of The Black Album‘s withdrawal and the fact that some items escaped destruction, was that the album was soon made available on the black markets. The ultimate result being that The Black Album became the most sold bootleg of all time.

June 18th, 1988, I bought my first The Black Album bootleg, on vinyl. I bought two more after that, including a cd-release which, soundquality-wise, can compete with the official release. At that time not too many Prince bootlegs were available. A few live recordings and some (home-made) mixes, that was it.

Given the pace with which Lovesexy was made and released, the first indication of Prince’s work ethic went public to the outside world. Work hard and fast and flushing out song after songs after song. For the first time it dawned on people that Prince produced far more material than was officially being released. The first bootlegs containing non released material were starting to come out. Hundreds and hundreds of songs the public never got to hear, were released through bootlegs. The almost unbelievable thing to fathom is that the unreleased material was also stunningly good.

Reviews

Prince - The Black Album - Original auction price (eil.com)

Prince – The Black Album – Original auction price

Despite the fact that the release of The Black Album was retracted, ‘regular’ reviews of the album appeared in the music-magazines. The album was oftentimes compared to its successor Lovesexy, resulting in many reviewers favoring The Black Album over the new album.

The Black Album was part of several end of year lists of 1988. And not just among reviewers. U2’s Bono and The Edge both called The Black Album one of the best albums of 1988.

Particularly in Europe, songs off the album were broadcast through various radio stations (some even broadcast the entire album). Warner Bros., of course, wasn’t too happy about this and threatened to withhold the entire Warner Bros. catalog to the radio stations, should it happen again.

Some of the originals that had escaped from Warner Bros.’ destruction, were being sold. Collectors paid exorbitant amounts of money for an original. Varying from hundreds to even thousands of dollars.

1994

Prince - The Black Album (princevault.com)

The Black Album (album), 1994 release

And then it was October 25th, 1994. The Black Album was released anyway. Under the moniker The Legendary Black Album – Limited Edition the original album was finally released. Prince received $ 1,000,000 for it. The album was to be available for a limited time only: 2 months.

In 1991 the release of The Black Album was seriously considered. It would have been a bonus disc for a greatest hits project. However, when Prince delivered Diamonds And Pearls, that idea vanished.

Funnily enough, Warner Bros. offered “amnesty” to the owners of a bootleg version of The Black Album. The first 1,000 people that returned their “counterfeit” items, received the original CD or cassette for free: “To participate, send your contraband album to Amnesty Offer, Warner Bros. Records, Box 6868, Burbank, Calif. 91505”.

A pop Life Logo (apoplife.nl)

 

This article is translated from Dutch into English.
Want to read this article in Dutch? Click the button below.
Wil je het artikel in het Nederlands lezen? Klik hieronder.

 

The Black Album

Was the name for the album The Black Album? Officially the album is title-less. In the opening (mixed into the background) the text, with which this article opens, is declared. Was it the original intention to call it The Funk Bible? Whatever the case, Prince himself called it The Black Album in the video to the song Alphabet St., so it turned out to be called The Black Album.

All of this info is nice and all, but how was The Black Album? Was it worthy of all its hype?

The album, song by song.

Prince - The Black Album - CD (pinterest.com)

Prince – The Black Album – CD

Le Grind

The first song. The voice-over thats start off the song (see the opening text of this article) was most likely recorded at a later time.

Funny lyrics, with Prince playing the macho:

Hey pretty mama, with the long hair
Is that your boyfriend?
Ha, I don’t care
Cuz’ I can do, said I can do
tricks he can never do
When I get naked, we’ll see the real u
Am I getting thru?

He even, avant la lettre, got into the current gender discussion:

All the boys say “Yeah Yeah”
All the girls say “Oh Yeah”
Now all u others say “Hell Yeah”

One of the three songs Prince recorded for a birthday party for Sheila E in 1986.

Cindy C.

Recorded in 1987. The title refers to supermodel Cindy Crawford.

Prince is attracted to Cindy C.:

Girl, if I have 2 beg
I’m gonna see u in your birthday suit tonight
I’m sure you’re quite intelligent
A whiz at math and all that shit
But I’m, I’m a tad more interested
in flyin’ your kite tonight
Cindy, is that alright?
Oohhh Cindy C, will u play with me?
I’ll pay the usual fee

The song was broadcast, by Prince himself, on December 9th, 1989, as part of The New Power Generation Radio Show, which was presented by Prince, among others.

Dead On It

Just as Cindy C., recordings for this song were done in March of 1987. The song samples the lyric “badder than a wicked witch” from Sheila E’s song Holly Rock (written by Prince). Prince raps. The song’s subject is rapping/rappers:

See the rapper’s problem usually stem from being tone deaf Pack the house then try 2 sing, there won’t be no one left

Prince struggled with the rise of rap. He failed to understand its significance and reacted like a lot of arrived artists at the time reacted to it. ‘This is not music, they can’t sing, they brag and steal (music)’. From 1991 onwards Prince incorporated rap more and more into his music. On the albums Diamonds And Pearls and O(+> he chose the wrong way, unfortunately, using the inferior rapper Tony M. Later on he did it himself, often resulting in great songs (like Now off The Gold Experience album).

Prince could also brag:

I got a gold tooth, costs more than your house
I got a diamond ring on four fingers, each one the size of a mouse

During the Diamonds And Pearls Tour in 1992, Tony M. sometimes rapped parts of Dead On It as an introduction to Jughead (which, by the way, is one the, if not the, worst Prince songs ever recorded).

When 2 R In Love

The last song to be recorded for The Black Album. The only ballad on the album. It sounds a bit off, in part because of the sound. The song was the only The Black Album song that became a part of the next album, Lovesexy.

A romantic song.

Come bathe with me
Let’s drown each other in each others emotions
Bathe with me
Let’s cover each other with perfume and lotion
Bathe with me
Let me touch your body ’til your river’s an ocean
Bathe with me
Let’s kiss with one synonymous notion
That nothing’s forbidden and nothing’s taboo
When the 2 r in love

Prince - Bob George (Lovesexy Tour 1988) (yourlisten.com)

Prince – Bob George (Lovesexy Tour 1988)

Bob George

Hilarious song. Utterly unique in Prince’s body of work. Prince portrays a pimp, who curses and is very violent. He suspects his girlfriend of cheating on him with Bob, a wealthy man.

New coat, huh?
That’s nice
Did u buy it?
Yeah, right
U seeing that rich motherfucker again
U know who I’m talking about
That slicked back paddy with all the gold in his mouth
Don’t try to play me 4 yesterday’s fool
Cuz I’ll slap your ass into the middle of next week
I’m sorry baby, that’s the rules

I pay the rent in this raggedy motherfucker
And all u do is suck up food and heat
Say what? Oh yeah?
4 someone who can’t stand them T.V. dinners
U sure eat enough of them motherfuckers
Who bought u that diamond ring?
Yeah, right
Since when did u have a job?
U seeing that rich motherfucker again
What’s his name? Bob?
Bob, ain’t that a bitch?

Subsequently Prince asks what Bob does for a living:

What’s he do for a living?
Manage rock stars?
Who?
Prince?
Ain’t that a bitch!
That skinny motherfucker with the high voice!

Followed by:

Please, who do I look like baby?
Yesterday’s fool?
Don’t u know I will kill u now?
U’re fuckin’ right
I gotta gun
U think I don’t?
Then what’s this?
Oh, u quiet now
uh uh!
Little? Yeah, right. It might be little but it’s loud

And then all hell breaks loose. Machine gun sounds, a phone call with Bob, police and more machine guns.

Prince never again recorded anything like this. Repetitive electronic drums, that serve as bass also.

The song was played live at the Lovesexy ’88/’89 Tour. It fulfilled a crucial part in the story Prince wanted to tell. At the concert the pimp is shot, but not before he repents and finds God.

Also released as part of the Lovesexy Live video, which was recorded for TV on September 9th, 1988.

One of the three songs Prince recorded for a birthday party for Sheila E in 1986.

Superfunkycalifragisexy

The undisputed highlight of the album. A superb funk song (part of my Prince song top 50, number 42).

This beat is on time, all of the time
So refined, specially designed
2 make u do the do

The oldest song on the album. Recordings took place as early as September of 1986. The title is partially a mock-up of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, a song in the 1964 movie Mary Poppins.

Funny lyrics:

This chair goes round and round, I feel like a clown
Cuz I’m stripped down, It’s all fun and games
Til the very next day, til, damn, u don’t remember my name
Maybe I’ll see u next Thursday night, maybe I won’t

But that’s alright, cuz in my possession, there’s a signed confession
that says, I was the best u ever had

2 bad

The song was played live on the Lovesexy ’88/’89 Tour as part of a medley which also contained Controversy and Dirty Mind. In 2001 an instrumental version of the song was part of the NPG Ahdio Show # 3.

2 Nigs United 4 West Compton

Instrumental song. Jazzy, nervous song, preceded by a kind of sketch where (dancer) Cat is at a party and she feels out of place:

I want U 2 meet some friends of mine
No, no – U’ll like them
They’re, they’re musicians

2 Nigs United 4 West Compton is also the title of an instrumental song on One Nite Alone… The Aftershow: It Ain’t Over, but doesn’t resemble the song with the same title on The Black Album at all.

One of the three songs Prince recorded for a birthday party for Sheila E in 1986.

Rockhard In A Funky Place

Rockhard In A Funky Place is built up around a horn riff. The song was part of the configurations for the Camille and Crystal Ball albums, which both didn’t get released.

The lyrics are sexually explicit:

I just hate 2 see an erection go 2 waste

Conclusion

Prince - The Black Album (apoplife.nl)

Prince – The Black Album

What did I think of it when I heard it for the first time? I seem to remember I had heard the album before I owned it (as a bootleg), so before June of 1988. I thought it was fantastic! A glorious ‘loose’ album with lots of funk and fun. The album made (and still makes) me very happy. The album has a lot of humor as well. I think Bog George is extremely funny. The distorted, slowed-down voice make the song a real pleasure to listen to. The opening trio of songs are very strong indeed and are solid as a rock.

I categorize the album as being part of the golden sequence of brilliant albums by Prince. From 1980 up to 1988 Prince could do no wrong. Almost everything he recorded was different, innovative and pure genius. Even if it didn’t get released. The Black Album is no exception to that rule.

If I were to grade this album, it would be a 9.0 (2 Nigs United 4 West Compton doesn’t get the 100% score…).

After The Black Album

Live

As stated, two songs off The Black Album were played live during the Lovesexy ’88/’89 Tour. At the Diamonds And Pearls Tour some lines were used. The horn-riff from Rockhard In A Funky Place was part of the song I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man during the Sign O’ The Times Tour.

On January 23rd, 2016, Le Grind was played as part of the so-called sampler-set at a show in Paisley Park.

Ingrid Chavez - Paisley Park - Promo sheet (alchetron.com)

Ingrid Chavez – Paisley Park – Promo sheet

Ingrid Chavez

Ingrid Chavez, the woman who played such a pivotal role on Blue Tuesday, remained in close contact with Prince for some time. She played a part in the movie Graffiti Bridge (which flopped) as Prince’s girlfriend.

In 1991 she released her debut album, May 19, 1992 on the Paisley Park label. A very nice album, on which Prince’s music meets up with Ingrid Chavez’s poetry, often resulting in interesting and rewarding moments. The album’s title refers to the date on which the photography for the album took place, but then one year later.

In 1992 Chavez married David Sylvian. They had two daughters. The marriage ended in 2006.

I OWN THE BLACK ALBUM

I Own The Black Album sticker (apoplife.nl)

In 1989 The Black Album got its first official release. However, it’s a cover of the original Prince album, played by a number of session musicians, produced by record label TNT Records, which was established in Frankfurt, Germany. The idea was that they would release a legal version of the record, as a service to the general public. The album cover is black and contains a sticker: “I OWN THE BLACK ALBUM”. The song Rockard In A Funky Place is spelled wrong.

On May 24th, 1989, I bought it. Such horror, embarrassingly awful.

In closing

Newsclip Chicago Tribune (Chicago Tribune 1988)

Newsclip Chicago Tribune early 1988

The audacity Prince displayed, by following the masterful (double)album Sign O’ The Times with such an uncompromising album, speaks volumes. The subsequent withdrawal, just days before the actual release date, does the same thing.

Reputation-wise, it turned out to be a two-edged sword. For the first time it became abundantly clear just how hard Prince worked and how much music he produced. It cemented his status of pure genius forever.

The downside to Prince was that the Prince bootleg market exploded after The Black Album. Unreleased recordings were released in great volumes and quantities. Fans around the world bought the recordings (which oftentimes had near perfect sound quality) by the dozens.

Nice detail: when Susan Rogers was in The Netherlands on May 26th and 27th of this year, giving two lectures, she told the story that one of the major sources for the bootleg recordings was Prince’s car. After he had finished yet another song, he would often make a copy for personal use in his car, so he could listen to his latest creations while driving. After listening to them, he tossed them on the back-seat. Once in a while the car was cleaned. The cleaners/garage responsible for the cleaning, collected the tapes on the backseat and sold them to bootleggers.

The Black Album is another work of genius, one who acted on the top of his abilities.

What do you think of The Black Album? Let me know; it is highly appreciated!

 

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