At the start of the 1990s Prince’s star was fading. Despite the (temporary) rise in sales due to his affiliation to the Batman franchise, the press was more negative. The process that had started a few years earlier in the US, was now also taking place in Europe. Prince retaliated with an album and a movie. Was it enough?
A number of the subjects mentioned in this article are elaborated and interpreted some more in sub-articles. These have all been published prior to this article:
- Prince’s second Rolling Stone interview, 1990
- Prince – Graffiti Bridge – The reviews
- Prince – Theatrical trailer for the movie Graffiti Bridge
The links above are also mentioned in the paragraphs containing the respective subjects.
Prior to Graffiti Bridge
The story of Graffiti Bridge started way back in September 1986 when Prince was working on a movie script for The Dawn, a musical about two rival bands (one of them called ‘Coco Boys’). That script was never finished. In September 1987 a first draft of a script was made using the moniker Graffiti Bridge, another musical about rivaling bands. The projected actors were members of Prince’s band and Prince wanted to enlist Madonna in the role of ‘Ruthie Washington’. When Madonna travelled to Minneapolis in October 1987, she took one look at the script, said it was ‘shit’ and said she had no intention whatsoever to participate in the project, got up and left, leaving Prince flabbergasted. According to Madonna, the truth was slightly more subtle. In an interview in the March 23rd, 1989, edition of Rolling Stone she said: “I went to his studio in Minnesota and worked on some stuff, just to get the feel of what it would be like to collaborate. Prince and I didn’t really finish anything, though. We worked for a few days; then I had to leave to do some other things. I decided that I didn’t want to do a musical with him at that time.”. It sounds a lot more friendly than the other story. Their contact did inspire something else. Cooperation on the song Love Song, which would be released in 1989 on Madonna’s Like A Prayer album.
The Graffiti Bridge project was parked for The Black Album and Lovesexy, even though Prince did work on songs that would eventually end up on Graffiti Bridge. In September 1988 a first configuration for Graffiti Bridge was compiled. The album consisted of the songs Big Tall Wall, Stimulation, Graffiti Bridge, Bloody Mouth, The Question Of U, Beat Town, Pink Cashmere, Melody Cool, The Grand Progression and God Is Alive, of which three ended up on the released album. Simultaneously Prince was working on yet another project, Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic, resulting in several configurations as well. In 1999 Prince released an album using that name, which had little in common with the 1988 version. In 1988 the Graffiti Bridge project was shelved once more for the Lovesexy Tour and the following Batman project. Starting in September of 1989, Prince was finally able to focus on the Graffiti Bridge project.
In the meantime Graffiti Bridge had cost Prince a lot already. Late 1988 he had fired his management team Cavallo, Ruffalo & Fargnoli, primarily because of their skepticism surrounding the Graffiti Bridge project. They didn’t believe in it and weren’t prepared to negotiate with parties about its funding. Early 1989 Albert Magnoli had taken over their duties, but he was fired during the second half of 1989. He too, wasn’t impressed with the story and wasn’t convinced this was the right move at the right time, especially not in the way Prince envisioned it, a low-budget film that could be easily (read: fast) marketed.
So Prince was in search of a new management team again. Stiefel & Philips achieved what no one else could, the deal that Warner Bros. would invest money in the project. Prince was impressed, so the management issue was solved. In order to get Warner Bros. to sign off on the deal they had sold Graffiti Bridge as the sequel to Purple Rain. The end result: Prince got his way (once again). A movie and an accompanying soundtrack were scheduled for a summer 1990 release.
Following the release of Batman Prince had a brief affair with Kim Basinger and Prince wanted to cast her as a replacement for Madonna in a changed script. When the relationship abruptly ended the script was changed once again. Ingrid Chavez, who had played a crucial role in Prince’s spiritual journey that started late 1987, with the pulling of The Black Album, until the release of Lovesexy in 1988, was asked to play a part in the movie. On February 7th, 1990, the last revised version of the movie script was finalized.
Eight days later, on February 15th, filming for the movie commenced. Filming took place in Prince’s own Paisley Park Studios and a rented space in Minneapolis. March 23rd, 1990, was the last day of shooting. One month later, on April 19th, 1990, a first version was presented to Warner Bros.
Late 1989 Prince had committed himself to a tour of Europe and Japan. The Nude Tour would kick off in May 1990, but was postponed. The first test results of the movie, after being shown to a selected audience, were disastrous. A lot of effort had to be made to regain even the slightest hope of success for the movie. Prince even contemplated cancelling the tour, but the amount of money involved was too high a price. See the story on the Nude Tour in Prince live in 1990, the story of the Nude tour.
The extra time was used for re-ordering the images in the hopes to make the (rather thin) story understandable for the average viewer. Midway through the Nude Tour Prince flew back to the US for four days of frantic editing. The planned release date of August 7th was pushed back. After finishing the Nude Tour some extra days of shooting were done. On October 24th, 1990, all work on the movie was done and the premiere date was set to November 2nd, 1990, some four months after the initial schedule date and almost four months after the release of the Graffiti Bridge album.
The album is the soundtrack to the movie. Contrary to Purple Rain, songs performed by others were placed on the soundtrack.
On August 21st, 1990, the 12th Prince studio album was released in the US, the 20th in the UK, and in The Netherlands the album was available on the 17th. On July 23rd, 1990, I bought the album’s first single, Thieves In The Temple
The album was released as a double album (vinyl) and single compact disc.
Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got stems from 1981 when it was first recorded. It was re-recorded in 1986 with The Revolution. This version was readily available on bootlegs and, as far as I’m concerned, is superior to the 1989 version that found its way onto this album. Nevertheless, a great song, that really hits its groove in the middle section.
At the time I assumed that New Power Generation was a recent song, until the 2019 release of the 1999 Super Deluxe Edition. The song Bold Generation was first recorded as far back as 1982; it would evolve into New Power Generation. A nice, funky song.
Release It is the first song on the album that isn’t primarily performed by Prince, but by The Time. A great funky song that is rhythmically built around a sample of Tower Of Power’s Squib Cakes. Glorious song, originally intended for the scrapped Corporate World album by The Time (also see What Time Is It? The story of The Time).
Side A’s highlight comes in the form of The Question Of U (position 32 in my Prince song top 50), which was premiered during the Nude Tour. A truly phenomenal song, beautiful melody, originally structured and sincerely moving, almost fragile, lyrics.
So what is the answer 2 the question of u
what do I look 4, what shall I do?
Which way do I turn when I’m feeling lost?
if I sell my soul, now what will it cost?
Must I become naked? No image at all?
Shall I remain upright? Or get down and crawl?
All of the questions in my life will be answered
when I decide which road 2 choose
what is the answer 2 the question of u?
© 1990 Prince
This song had been around for quite some time, as it was recorded in 1985 for the very first time.
Elephants & Flowers stems from October 1988 and had some additional work done before ending up on this album. An ok song, no favorite. Each time I hear the phrase “There will be peace for those who love god a lot” I get annoyed. I can handle Prince’s god obsession perfectly on Lovesexy and The Rainbow Children, but this gets on my nerves more than both entire albums.
Round And Round is next, an unnecessary non-descript song sung by Tevin Campbell, mixed by Junior Vasquez (house producer), making the song the real sonical deviation on the album.
We Can Funk was first recorded at the end of 1982 as We Can Fuck. This version of the song, which was released in 2017 on the Purple Rain Deluxe Expanded, was re-used for the Graffiti Bridge project. At the time, a 1986 version, recorded with The Revolution, circulated on bootleg, which I still regard to be the ultimate version of the song. After Prince had altered the recording to his wishes, he invited George Clinton to do overdubs on the song.
And, again, the last song on the record side is the best song (by far). Joy In Repetition (position 10 in my Prince song top 50) is the rarest of all beauties. Recorded in 1986 and part of the Crystal Ball configuration that would eventually turn into Sign O’ The Times, the song tells the tale of a visitor to a (night)club where a woman is performing a song (the already mentioned Soul Psychodelicide), which runs for a year; she’s been playing it for months now. At 01:10 minutes into the song the following lyrics are uttered. The way in which these words are woven into the song, is pure genius.
Up on the mic repeating 2 words, over and over again
was this woman he had never noticed before he lost himself in the articulated manner in which she said them
These 2 words, a little bit behind the beat
I mean just enough 2 turn u on
4 everytime she said the words another one of his doubts were gone
© 1990 Prince
The woman keeps on repeating the two words, until the visitor can not take it anymore and leaves the club with the woman. The song ends with the conclusion that “holding someone is truly believing there’s joy in repetition”. The words that were on endless repeat? “Love me”. Stunning!
Tick, Tick, Bang was originally a rockabilly-song stemming from 1981. It was re-recorded in 1989 with a sample of Jimi Hendrix’ Little Miss Lover‘s drum track (using an inferior source). The original is great, but the version that ended up on the album is bad, very bad to be exact…
The second song by The Time on this side is Shake!, a rather bland pop song.
Once again the side is closed with a phenomenally good song: Thieves In The Temple. Loud drums, great melody and an impassioned Prince sounding angry and hurt. The song contains a harmonica sample of I Can’t Stand It by The Chambers Brothers. The song was the last one to be recorded for the album, on February 11th, 1990.
The Latest Fashion is the fourth song by The Time on the album, as a duet with Prince. On the album Pandemonium by The Time, which was released in the same year as Graffiti Bridge, the song was released with different lyrics and titled My Summertime Thang.
Melody Cool was recorded for the first time on July 9th, 1987, indicating that Prince had the idea for the character (played by Mavis Staples in the movie) even then. Around 1989/1990 vocals by Mavis Staples were added to the song. A delightful pop song I love to hear.
Still Would Stand All Time debuted at the famous Paard Van Troje aftershow in The Hague in the night of August 18th/19th, 1988. It was recorded in October 1988 and was turned into a kind of gospel song. The song is great, and keeps on building and building towards an impressive climax.
Graffiti Bridge, the title song, which usually makes for the strongest songs on any Prince album, is a monster of a song. A musical song, originally recorded in 1987. In its genre it suffices, but I hate the genre and this song.
The album is closed by a reprise of the second song off the album, New Power Generation (Pt. II). It doesn’t add much, but i like it anyway (and yes, I don’t mind to the rapping so much as well).
All songs written by Prince, with the exception of Release It written by Prince and Levi Seacer Jr., Love Machine written by Prince, Levi Seacer Jr. and Morris Day and Shake! written by Prince and Morris Day.
All instruments and vocals performed by Prince, with help by:
- Morris Day – drums on New Power Generation, New Power Generation, Pt. II and vocals on Release It, Shake!, Love Machine, The Latest Fashion
- Joseph “Amp” Fiddler – additional keyboards and background vocals on We Can Funk
- Boni Boyer – organ and background vocals on Graffiti Bridge
- Levi Seacer, Jr. – samples on New Power Generation, bass and background vocals on Graffiti Bridge
- Sheila E. – drums and background vocals on Graffiti Bridge
- Candy Dulfer – saxophone on Release It, Love Machine, The Latest Fashion
- Eric Leeds – saxophone on We Can Funk
- Atlanta Bliss – trumpet on We Can Funk
- Tevin Campbell – vocals on Round And Round and background vocals on Graffiti Bridge, New Power Generation, Pt. II
- George Clinton – vocals on We Can Funk, including background vocals my several p-funkateers
- Elisa Fiorillo – vocals on Love Machine (credited as Elisa)
- Mavis Staples – vocals on Melody Cool, background vocals on Graffiti Bridge, New Power Generation, Pt. II
- Michael “Clip” Payne – extra drums and background vocals on We Can Funk
- T.C. Ellis – rap on New Power Generation, Pt. II
- Jerome Benton, Robin Power, Jana Anderson, Paul Hill, Tom Garneau, Michael Koppelman, Rosie Gaines, The Steeles – background vocals and background noises
- Clare Fischer – orchestration on Graffiti Bridge
- Harmonica on Thieves In The Temple by Lester Chambers, sample of I Can’t Stand It by The Chambers Brothers (1967)
- Drums on Release It by David Garibaldi, sample of Squib Cakes by Tower of Power (1974)
- Drums on Tick, Tick, Bang by Mitch Mitchell, sample of Little Miss Lover by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)
Cover design by Steven Parke.
“May U live 2 see the Dawn”
Relatively speaking, little extra songs were released for Graffiti Bridge. The release of unreleased music as single’s B-sides was minimal. Prince relied more on remixes. On the New Power Generation maxi-single two songs can be regarded as a B-side, The Lubricated Lady and Loveleft, Loveright. Both songs are ok, but nothing really special.
Five singles were culled off the album. Two by Prince:
- Thieves In The Temple
(released on July 23rd, 1990)
- New Power Generation
(released on October 22nd, 1990)
And three by other performers:
- Round And Round (Tevin Campbell)
(released on September 25th, 1990)
- Melody Cool (Mavis Staples)
(released on December 4th, 1990 in de VS, on August 10th, 1990 in The Netherlands)
- Shake! (The Time)
(released on January 8th, 1991)
The extended version of Thieves In The Temple has to be mentioned separately. The version contains extra lyrics and music. Even more beautiful than on the original. One of the best extended versions Prince has ever released.
The reactions to the album were surprisingly positive, probably die to the general feeling of relief it was all so much better than Batman. The remarks that stood out were:
Graffiti Bridge will undoubtedly be the tantalizing masterpiece of this hot summer.
(Parool, Dutch paper, 08/04/1990)
Like his merger of sensuality and spirituality, Prince accomplishes a similar stretch between artistry and commercialism.
(St. Paul Pioneer Press, 08/05/1990)
Graffiti Bridge is yet another great, adventurous and exciting compact disc by all-rounder Prince.
(Algemeen Dagblad, Dutch paper, 08/16/1990)
Prince, maligned by sourpusses for his commercial Batman-adventure last year, may be using Graffiti Bridge as a vehicle for his protégés, he still manages to steal the artistic show.
(Alkmaarsche Courant, Dutch paper, 08/16/1990)
Soul, jazz, funk, rock and rap seamlessly blend and the record contains a number of songs which will undoubtedly grow out to be classics in the Prince-canon.
(Haagse Post, Dutch paper, 08/18/1990)
Prince is far less conventional now than in 1984, and “Graffiti Bridge” takes chances that didn’t even exist for him with “Purple Rain.”
(New York Times, 08/19/1990)
Prince’s new, powerful, minimalist approach reduces his past innovations to passing (but often pivotal) references, trashes the notion that a song must address only one subject and obliterates barriers between musical styles.
(Philadelphia Inquirer, 08/19/1990)
Rather, it’s a creative and commercially accessible master stroke for Prince, a seminal work that should be a pop reference point well into the ’90s.
(Detroit Free Press, 08/20/1990)
That kind of innovation gives Prince’s music a range all its own. One so wide, in fact, that even on his 12th release in as many years, Prince is still sending a pointed message to all other mainstream musicians: U can’t touch this.
(Philadelphia Daily News, 08/21/1990)
Prince reasserts his originality – and does it with the ease of a conqueror.
(Rolling Stone, 08/23/1990)
Prince used to inhabit an orbit of his own but what once seemed timeless now seems out of time.
(Melody Maker, 08/25/1990)
‘Music From Graffiti Bridge‘ manages to be a major hit pop album, a functional soundtrack for a movie, a compilation of most post-war pop styles, an advert for Paisley Park and a good record with no crap songs on it.
Prince dreams his childlike utopia, but wraps it up in music that, by and large, belongs to the most colorful, exciting and strong in his body of work.
(OOR 17, Dutch magazine, 08/25/1990)
A record with remarkably little experiments; Prince treads common ground, he used all of his creative energy into the material itself. That has so much power, that the lack of innovation will not bother anyone.
(de Volkskrant, Dutch paper, 08/31/1990)
…, because ‘Graffiti Bridge’ is a record that can be played many, many times over. It’s an intense record that can only be made by an exceptional figure like Prince.
(De Stem, Dutch paper, 09/12/1990)
All in all, Graffiti Bridge is a groovable feast of an album (17 songs), loaded with exotic dishes, not all of them suitable to all palates (avoid the operatic title track), but it sure is filling.
There are some powerful moments to be found here, but too little to turn the 17 songs into a masterpiece.
(Trouw, Dutch paper, 09/20/1990)
But the unexpected, at times impressive quality of the songs is a godsend.
(Leeuwarder Courant, Dutch paper, 10/12/1990)
For me ‘Graffiti Bridge’ is the best the genius all-rounder made until now.
(Nieuwe Revu, Dutch magazine, 08/1990)
…, but it’s practically impossible to choose anything that doesn’t deserve to be there. How long is it since that can honestly be said about a Prince album?
But now he’s back with a double album that seems like a masterpiece.
(Entertainment Weekly, 09/1990)
Read the full reviews in the article Prince – Graffiti Bridge – The reviews.
Despite the positive reviews album sales were lagging. It sold even worse than Lovesexy. In Europe in particular Prince’s momentum fell vastly behind. The singles from the album fared poorly as well.
After the shock of the ‘plainness’ of Batman, Graffiti Bridge was a great relief. However, the choice to turn the album into a soundtrack, thus including (6 !) songs by others is an unfortunate decision.
The songs by The Time are nice (Release It is fantastic even), but are all less than the album the group released under its own name in 1990, the fabulous Pandemonium. The song performed by Tevin Campbell needs to be forgotten as quickly as possible. Only Mavis Staples convinces with the great poppy Melody Cool. The duet with George Clinton is wonderful, by the way!
This raises the question whether or not Graffiti Bridge would have been better as a ‘pure’ Prince album. I’m inclined to think it most certainly would have been. The tracklist for Graffiti Bridge, consisting of songs on which Prince provides lead vocals, would have been:
- Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got
- New Power Generation
- The Question Of U
- Elephants & Flowers
- We Can Funk
- Joy In Repetition
- Tick, Tick, Bang
- Thieves In The Temple
- The Latest Fashion
- Still Would Stand All Time
- Graffiti Bridge
- New Power Generation (Pt. II)
I think it would have made for a far more balanced album, which only contains one true skip moment (the monstrous title song), instead of several. A great improvement compared to Batman one year earlier.
After Prince’s passing in April 2016 I compiled my top 50 Prince songs. Two songs in the top 50 stem from this album. Three more were part of the first 100. So 30% of the Graffiti Bridge album is part of the Prince I hold in the highest esteem.
And yet, I rarely play the album. The four Prince classics on the album, The Question Of U, We Can Funk, Joy In Repetition and Thieves In The Temple still get regular airplay in my house.
If I were to grade the album it would be a 7.0 (out of 10). To me the album is too fragmentary (is that an English word?), mainly due to the large input by other artists.
Also, Graffiti Bridge is the first album on which Prince clearly harks back at the past, and particularly into his vault. A great number of the songs go way back. After the release of 1999 Super Deluxe Edition in 2019, which included Bold Generation, a precursor to New Power Generation, Questlove was puzzled about an eventual writer’s block in 1990. I must admit the thought had crossed my mind as well, but I suspect Prince seized the opportunity to focus on the movie and the Nude Tour, without losing too much time recording new music. The songs he did write in that period, like the stunning Thieves In The Temple, were great. In conclusion, Graffiti Bridge is no ‘must-have’, but most certainly a ‘should-have’.
But what did Prince think? Going by the number of times he played songs from the album live, he must have not been very happy. The Question Of U was played daily during the Nude Tour and was regularly played after the tour, often just as an instrumental coda, as well as Joy In Repetition which was oftentimes played at aftershows. Thieves In The Temple was a regular part of the setlist during the Diamonds And Pearls tour. But, as a rule the album was more or less ignored during live shows.
Prince hadn’t forgotten about his first Rolling Stone interview with Neal Karlen. He was pleased with the results and they got along great. In 1990 Prince had something to sell: his image, which had been questioned in the US for quite some time, but started to show some cracks in Europe as well. He was getting sidelined.
Luckily, the success of Batman had put Prince on the map again, especially in the US, but that seemed to be a temporary situation. Prince had new plans. During the Nude Tour in Europe, Neal Karlen was invited to come along. Prince talked about the tour, but also about his new project, Graffiti Bridge. The result was published on October 18th, 1990, again in Rolling Stone, after the album’s release, but before the movie première.
Read the complete interview in the story Prince’s second Rolling Stone interview.
Graffiti Bridge was a soundtrack album for a movie. The movie premiered on November 2nd, 1990, and two weeks later it had already vanished from movie theaters. The movie had ‘only’ cost $ 7 million, but the movie couldn’t even make that amount. In Europe the movie didn’t even make movie theaters and went straight to home video. Understandably so, it truly is a monstrosity of a movie.
The story was blurry, unclear and all over the place and seemed to confirm Prince saw himself as a modern day Jesus like figure. The images were cheap, the sets amateurish and the ‘actors’ far below par. Even Morris Day, who shone in Purple Rain, didn’t convince. Luckily the music was good, at times even brilliant.
The story shows Prince, once again assuming the role of ‘The Kid’. He is co-owner of a club, Glam Slam. Alone and lonely he writes music and letters to his deceased father. The other owner is (of course) Morris Day, who also owns his own club named Pandemonium. Morris Day wants total control over all clubs in Seven Corners (the place where all clubs all situated).
And then there’s Aura, an angel sent by Heaven in order to try and make Prince and Morris Day lead more pious lives. In the end a large ‘battle’ ensues about the ownership of Glam Slam, Morris Day sees the light and gives in, and truth (god) is found by all.
Unfortunately it’s all so badly filmed, edited and performed that there’s truly very little to enjoy here. Therefore, the movie was nominated in no less than 5 categories (worst movie, worst actor, worst director, worst screenplay and worst new star) for the 1991 Razzie Awards, the Oscars for the worst movies of the previous year.
Should you still want to see the trailer, see Prince – Theatrical trailer for the movie Graffiti Bridge.
Graffiti Bridge was an important project to Prince. He has always defended it and later said:
“(It was) one of the purest, most spiritual, uplifting things I’ve ever done. It was non-violent, positive and had no blatant sex scenes. Maybe it will take people 30 years to get it. They trashed ‘The Wizard of Oz’ at first, too.”
Now, 30 years later, we can undeniably conclude his hope has been in vain. The movie has been forgotten and is only mentioned as proof that musicians are incapable of making movies.
Time has been nicer to the soundtrack, the album. Although it does contain too many songs performed by others, which could have been released in another way, the Prince songs are almost all good to very good (except the title song). Even more, the album contains no less than 4 Prince classics.
What do you think about Graffiti Bridge and this phase in Prince’s career? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Prince and the failed movie adventure, the story of Graffiti Bridge. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Prince – Graffiti Bridge – Steven Parke painting & Prince – Graffiti Bridge – Film premiere images: icollector.com
Prince – Letter to Madonna & Prince – The Rolling Stone interview 1990 images: facebook.com
Prince – Joy In Repetition ‘Love Me’ – Cufflinks, Prince – Graffiti Bridge – Movie script & Prince – Graffiti Bridge – Gold record images: rrauction.com
Nude Tour image: princevault.com
Prince – Graffiti Bridge image: last.fm
Prince – Graffiti Bridge – Side A,B,C,D & Prince – Graffiti Bridge – Booklet images: discogs.com
Prince – Graffiti Bridge – Singles image: amazon.com/discogs.com
Graffiti Bridge – Movie opening sequence image: fthismovie.net
Prince – Graffiti Bridge – Logo image: fanart.tv