In 1978 Prince had released his debut album For You. A fine start, but it wasn’t a big seller. Prince did things differently for his new album. Faster, more intuitive and consciously commercial.
After Warner Bros. didn’t sign off on a For You Tour, Prince went to work on his second album. He wrote over 20 songs and entered the Alpha Studios at the end of April, 1979. All recordings were done by June 13th, some six weeks after the recordings had started. Overdubs and the final mix were done at the Hollywood Sound Recorders.
The recording process was a whole lot more efficient that it had been when For You was recorded. It was partly born out of necessity, because Warner Bros. had granted Prince the total sum of $ 180,000 for his first three albums. His debut alone had cost $ 170,000.
Consequentially, Prince worked faster resulting in more organic sounding music than on his debut. And, Prince had grown as a composer as well, turning in songs that were on a higher level. On For You the role of producer was relegated to an outside person, but for the second album Prince had secured the right to produces his own music.
The engineer present at the recordings was impressed with Prince’s drive and know-how:
He already had everything in his head. He knew where the parts were going so it was just basically getting it onto tape.
Gary Brandt, engineer
Prince – the album
Prince is Prince’s second studio album and was released on October 19th, 1979 as part of the three-deal contract Prince had signed with Warner Bros. Just like on his debut album For You Prince composed, performed and arranged it all (barring some extra background vocals on Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?).
The single I Wanna Be Your Lover, which was released two months ahead of the album’s release, was Prince’s first ever hit and showed (especially to Warner Bros.) that Prince wasn’t just the special talent they were convinced he was, but he was a talent capable of creating good selling hit records.
I Wanna Be Your Lover
The album starts off with I Wanna Be Your Lover, a classic song in Prince’s body of work, which he played live often. It’s emblematic for much of Prince’s later output and is regarded as a precursor to the Minneapolis sound, using drum machines and the synthesizer is utilized as a replacement for the horn section. It was Prince’s first ever hit, turning gold and platinum. Two video’s were made for the song. The first one brought the wonder boy message even further home, by showing Prince in a band setting, playing every instrument. The second video was a regular band performance.
The song contains a lot of sexual innuendo:
I want to be your lover
I want to be the only one that makes you come running
I want to be your lover
I want to turn you on, turn you out
All night long, make you shout
Oh, lover, yeah!
I want to be the only one you come for
© 1979 Prince
Next up is Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? which shows Prince in all his guitar glory, particularly in the prolonged outro. Also a top song in his body of work and released as a single. Sexy Dancer is his first outing on record of pure funk. A great song that truly is funky as hell. The next When We’re Dancing Close And Slow closes the first side of the original vinyl release and is a nice ballad.
Side 2 opens with With You, a somewhat cliché ballad. Okay, nothing more. And then it’s time for Bambi, a fan favorite, that served its purpose at many aftershows. A rock song, with Prince playing a perfect riff. The song’s subject is rather sketchy. It is about the love for a gitl/woman who herself is into girls/women. Prince wants to change her mind:
It’s so hard to believe
Maybe it’s because you’re so young
Or maybe I’m just too naive
Who’s to say, maybe you’re really having fun
Bambi, can’t you understand?
Bambi, it’s better with a man
© 1979 Prince
The phrase Bambi, maybe you need to bleed was deemed too graphic and was left off the lyric sheet that came with the album. Still Waiting is another ballad, also somewhat cliché. I Feel For You is another great song, even though Chaka Khan’s 1984 version is superior to this one. Yet, it’s a killer song, that would prove to be important for his career some years later. It’s Gonna Be Lonely closes the album. A beautiful end to an album that varies in quality.
Five singles were culled from Prince:
- I Wanna Be Your Lover
(released: August 24th, 1979)
- Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?
(released: January 23rd, 1980)
- Still Waiting
(released: March 25th, 1980)
- Sexy Dancer (UK & Japan)
(released: April 11th, 1980)
- Bambi (Belgium & Netherlands only)
(released: September 19th, 1980)
Even though Prince isn’t a real classic Prince album like the following eight albums would be, it does contain a number of elements that points towards his upcoming music. Songs like I Wanna Be Your Lover, Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?, Sexy Dancer and Bambi in particular, are really great songs, that represent a multitude of different musical styles. Soul, funk, pop, rock and hard rock pass by in those 4 songs. Prince’s masterly guitar playing really stands out for the first time as well.
As a whole, the album isn’t genius, yet is is an improvement when compared to its predecessor For You. Also, the album shows Prince has something that can lead to many great things. He definitely has great potential, even though it doesn’t shine in every song… yet. I know there are some fans that really dig the first two albums. But to me they are sketches that show that Prince can become big, very big indeed.
In 1982, Prince himself said:
The second album… was for radio rather than for me, and it got a lot of people interested in my music. But it wasn’t the kind of audience you really want.
They only come around to check you out when you have another hit. They won’t come to see you when you change directions and try something new.
That’s the kind of audience I wanted.
In other words, Prince is an album intended to be a hit. It’s rather impressive that the album indeed became a hit.
In reviews published around that time, Prince is oftentimes compared to black artists like Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson. It’s not bad company for sure, but it wasn’t what Prince wanted. He hadn’t pleaded for nothing with Warner Bros.’ Larry Waronker: “Don’t make me black”, yet he was categorized and labeled and compared to black artists. That had to change.
Prince was the first Prince album to be certified in the US:
- On February 15th, 1980, the album was certified gold (meaning sales of at least 500,000 copies)
- On February 21st, 1980 (6 days later!), the album was certified platinum, for sales of over 1,000,000 copies
All songs written by Prince.
- I Wanna Be Your Lover
- Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?
- Sexy Dancer
- When We’re Dancing Close and Slow
- With You
- Still Waiting
- I Feel For You
- It’s Gonna Be Lonely
Prince – all vocals and instruments, with help from André Cymone on Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? (doing background vocals). André Cymone and Bobby Z. are thanked in the liner notes for being heaven-sent helpers.
Both the album and the singles were heavily promoted. Prince could be seen in several TV shows. One of those shows was American Bandstand, presented by Dick Clark. Prince was to do two songs: I Wanna Be Your Lover and Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?. Between both performances Prince would be interviewed.
Immediately after the first ‘performance’ (Prince and band didn’t play live, they mimed to the backing track) Dick Clark went up to Prince and started his interview. His opening question was how on earth it was possible to do what he did “in Minneapolis, of all places. This is not the kind of music that comes from Minneapolis, Minnesota”. Prince smiled and seemed to agree. The band is introduced and the interview starts. Prince answers in one syllable words and at times he just uses hand signals. Dick Clark has stated that the Prince interview was the hardest he ever did in his entire career.
Theories abound as to why this went down the way it did. Prince was annoyed by the Minneapolis remarks. Prince was caught off guard and his shyness got the better of him. The third theory states that it was all premeditated. Prince had concocted a plan to cooperate as little as humanly possible. It’s striking that every theory is substantiated by various people inside the Prince camp. But, the third option has the most credibility, as it is backed up by two of his band members.
Anyway, the mystification of Prince the person and the artist, originated here.
Contrary to what happened after the release of the For You album, by now the time was deemed right for a tour. At last, the band could really get to work:
- Prince – vocals and guitar
- André Cymone – bass
- Dez Dickerson – guitar
- Dr. Fink – keyboards
- Gayle Chapman – keyboards
- Bobby Z. – drums
The first Prince tour started on November 26th, 1979 at the sold out The Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles. A great start, but the next shows weren’t that successful. The band wasn’t booked at the right venues. On top of that, the band’s image was shocking. Band members hadn’t found their persona yet, but the fact that the lead singer and guitar player was in bikini briefs on stage didn’t help. After just six shows the tour was shortened already. The Prince Tour ended on February 17th, 1980.
However, the album and the single I Wanna Be Your Lover were selling very well and were certified gold. What next? Maybe playing as a support act wasn’t such a bad idea? Enter Rick James. Prince was added to the line-up for Rick James’ Fire It Up Tour, which was quickly dubbed The Battle Of Funk. The tour lasted from February 22nd to May 3rd, 1980. It laid the foundation for Rick James’ lifelong hatred of Prince. According to James protégé Teena Marie, James was to blame, for the full 100%: “It wasn’t really Prince. It was more Rick than anything. In private, [he dug Prince’s music] although he would never admit it”.
In his (auto)biography Glow James writes:
The eighties had arrived. I felt like I was racing a souped-up Ferrari with no one challenging my front position. But then I looked into my rearview mirror and saw this one sports car gaining on me. The driver was so small I could barely see his head above the steering wheel. Strange thing is that, on the advice of others, I had invited him to the race. He didn’t catch me – and he wouldn’t for a long time to come – but I never liked his fuckin’ attitude. He called himself Prince.
James had never heard of Prince, but after listeneing to the album and single he was prepared to give the upcoming artist a shot. Things went sour very quickly. James was annoyed by Prince and his (‘alleged’ according to James) shyness. The fact that Prince watched James’ show every night was frowned upon as well, quickly turning into accusations of Prince stealing from James (moves and/or music). During the tour it became ever more obvious that Prince had considerable talent and he started to win over the audience with his showmanship, soul, funk and new wave. Bobby Z.: “We were young and hungry and we started kicking his ass”. The band wanted to learn, were hungry and worked fast. The show ran smoothly by now and there were nights the support act met with more enthusiasm than the headliner.
Long story short: Rick James would diss and ridicule Prince for the rest of his career. Prince has never said a word about Rick James and/or his music.
Around this period of time three more remarkable events took place, influencing Prince’s future career:
- The first satellite act
- The purchase of a bass
- Gayle Chapman leaving
After recording Prince, Prince still had some material he wanted to record, with a band. The concept was that Prince was part of the band and one of its composers. The Prince live band was used in the recordings. Assuming the name The Rebels nine songs were recorded at the Mountain Ears Sound Studio in Boulder, Colorado, from July 10th to 21st, 1979: Too Long, Disco Away, Thrill You Or Kill You, You, If I Love You Tonight, The Loser, Hard To Get, supplemented with two instrumentals.
Nothing has ever been officially released of these particular recordings. Some songs were later released by Paula Abdul (You as U), Mica Paris (If I Love You Tonight as If I Love U 2 Nite) and Mayte (If I Love You Tonight as If Love U 2night).
In the video to Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? André Cymone plays the so-called ‘cloud bass’. Its design is emblematic for the many ‘cloud’ guitars, that have become synonymous with Prince. The first time that guitar was used was in the Purple Rain movie, painted white.
Two stories are in circulation as to how the bass came into the possession of Prince. The first is André Cymone’s claim that Prince bought the bass at André’s request while working on For You. The other stems from the owner of the Sardonyx bass, who had it on sale at a shop in New York and he sold it to Prince at the end of the 1970s.
Apart from its première in the Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? video, the bass can also be seen in two other videos: My Name Is Prince and The Most Beautiful Girl In The World. The bass was on display as part of the My Name Is Prince Exhibition in London and Amsterdam and was an entry in the Prince Guitar & Bass book, published by Paisley Park Archives as an exhibition series tour book.
Exit Gayle Chapman/Enter…
In between the end of the Prince Tours and recording the next album Dirty Mind, Gayle Chapman decided to quit Prince’s employ. The musical, especially the lyrical content, direction in which Prince was headed was not what she wanted. She was also increasingly uncomfortable with her stage attire (lingerie) and her French-kissing Prince act.
Gayle Chapman was replaced by a young musician from Los Angeles, Lisa Coleman, who would become a big influence on Prince’s musical development.
On October 17th, 2019, the Youtube channel Prince released a video with music by a 20 year old Prince, playing an acoustic demo of I Feel For You. A beautiful and unexpected piece of Prince history. The song has been made available for purchase on vinyl for a period of 7 days, as well as releasing it on various streaming services.
Prince’s second album was a huge success and assured Warner Bros. that their artist was bankable. Against his wishes, Prince was cast as a black artist, who focused on the black market. Something had to change. Starting with album three, Prince would drastically change his direction and would only do whatever it was he wanted to do. It would signal the beginning of a dizzying journey that started with Dirty Mind and culminated in Lovesexy.
What do you think of the Prince album? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Prince releases his second album, the first real hint of what’s to come?. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Prince – Prince – Billboard ad & Gayle Chapman & Prince 1979 images: pinterest.com
Prince – Working at Alpha Studios 1979 & Prince – American Bandstand images: twitter.com
Prince – Prince & Prince – I Feel For You – Single images: prince.com
Prince – Prince – Singles image: discogs.com
Prince – Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? – Video image: youtube.com
Prince – Prince – Platinum image: julienslive.com
Prince – Prince – Back cover image: amazon.com
Prince – Live – The Roxy 11/26/1979 image: billboard.com
Prince Tour & Rick James’ Fire It Up Tour images: princevault.com
Prince – Support act Rick James bill image: theundefeated.com
Prince – The Rebels (partial bootleg cover) image: soundcloud.com
Prince – Sardonyx Cloud Bass image: apollo-magazine.com
Prince 1979 image: grouchymuffin.com