Review: Prince’s ‘Purple Rain – Deluxe Collector’s Edition’ – Is It Worth It?

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Like most white, suburban kids coming of age in the early 80s I was blissfully unaware of who Prince was. All of that changed my freshman year in college. Mid-year I transferred colleges for the oldest and stupidest of reasons, a girlfriend. I spent the back half of my freshman year at the University of Kansas in what I now refer to as “The Dark Semester.” No mystery, the girlfriend and I broke up, we were kids, it was stupid of me to transfer colleges. I was fucking miserable at KU surrounded by “frat bros” and douche bags. My dearest friend Doug and a whole lot of rum got me through those horrid months. The notable exception to my misery were the two black guys who lived across the hall from my dorm room. As my relationship with my girlfriend and my roommate slowly dissipated (my roomy was dating my ex’s best friend), I found myself spending more and more time across the hall with Brian and Robert.

Those guys were always listening to this brightly colored purple record. It was a giant double album full of some of the most inventive music I’d ever heard. The artist was marrying funk/soul and a Hendrix-like guitar style. I can still remember the first time I picked up the purple album cover and read the name – Prince. The album of course, was ‘1999’ and I was hooked. Perhaps it was the misery I was going through at the time, but the music was dirty and fun and it was just a great way to escape. Many a time people would glance in the room to see Brian, Robert and I dancing around the room to “DMSR” my new favorite song. I’m sure I looked slightly out of place, as I should never dance in public (and the Rock Chick would add, I should never dance in private either). The only reason that I mention I was a white suburban kid and the guys across the hall from me were black, which doesn’t and shouldn’t matter, is to illustrate how segregated music was in the 80s. Until Michael Jackson came along with ‘Thriller’ and all those iconic videos black artists didn’t even get played on MTV, the then new music channel, let alone rock radio. David Bowie even called MTV out for it in an interview, which is just another reason to love David Bowie.

My sophomore year, back at Kansas State, the fact that I’d play ‘1999’ raised a few eye brows. I had bought the album while still at KU. Then, in 1984 along came ‘Purple Rain.’ I bought the album before I’d even seen the movie, because I’d heard and immediately dug “When Doves Cry” and hey, I’d been listening to Prince for years folks, catch up… or at least that was my attitude. I actually bought ‘Purple Rain’ the day it came out, and listened to side one on my way out to a “drink and drowned” at a local bar. Since I only had the chance to listen to side one, I actually heard “Purple Rain,” the title track, for the first time ever that night in the bar, since it was the closing track on side two. That song hadn’t even been played on the radio and here it was on the day of it’s release being played in a bar full of beer soaked white kids. A barrier had come down. I remember thinking, “I’ve gotta get home and turn that fucking record over…”

Prince was a giant artistic talent and simply a pure genius. The overwhelming popularity of ‘Purple Rain’ stunned even him, I’d guess. It’s hard to follow up that kind of success… just ask Fleetwood Mac about ‘Rumors.’ So like most people, I was an intense fan of Prince’s music, but only from 1982 to 1986. He’d put out the occasional single I’d like. I bought his ‘Hits and B-Sides’ but ‘Purple Rain’ ended up being my last Prince LP purchase. Well, that’s not entirely true, I bought ‘Around the World In A Day’ on the day it came out and sold it about a month later. It was too out there for me…

All these years later Prince has released a deluxe repackaging of ‘Purple Rain.’ When my pal Erica told me it was coming out June 23rd it dawned on me that I’d never purchased ‘Purple Rain’ on CD… I quickly ordered my copy of this Ultimate Collector’s Edition. The question is, is it worth it? The original is remastered in this package. There are also additional discs of B-sides and the dreaded 7″ dance mixes. The real gold in the mine for me is the CD of unreleased tracks from Prince’s mysterious vaults. And, also there is a DVD (not a blu-ray) of a 1985 concert in Syracuse.

Let me pause for a moment to say, I’m a huge fan of archival releases. I love anything that an artist recorded and for whatever reason chose not to release. They put the tapes in the vault and finally, years later decide to release it. Dylan has released a lot of material that is so good one has to wonder why he didn’t release the songs on some of his lesser 80s albums. Springsteen is notorious for writing way more songs than he needs for each of his album projects and he finally cleared a lot of that backlog out in the excellent ‘Tracks’ box set. Van Morrison released two great discs of unreleased stuff on ‘The Philosopher’s Stone.’ All of those archival releases should be checked out by any fan of those artists. It tells a unique, different story than the officially released stuff. Sometimes it augments what you’ve already heard. Sometimes it shows an entirely different creative direction the artist could have gone in. Vault releases always bring out the musical spelunker in me…

Which leads me to ‘Purple Rain.’ Yes, it was long overdue for me to purchase the original album on CD. The remastering on this version is spectacular. I read somewhere that Prince himself, before his untimely, tragic death oversaw the remastering. And, yes, ‘Purple Rain’ is his masterpiece. It’s one of the most brilliant albums ever. Everyone should own this album. However, in this case, it’s the bonus stuff that interested me in this deluxe set.

The B-sides and 7″-singles disc is mostly filler. Does anyone really need “Let’s Go Crazy (Special Dance Mix)?” The answer for me, is no. However there are a couple of choice B-sides here. “Erotic City” is naturally here but that’s been available on greatest hits packages for a while. “17 Days” and “Another Lonely Christmas” are both superb songs. I’m surprised he waited this long to put those out. Less successful was the B-side “God.” An entire disc and only three songs of listenable music… hmmm this is trending bad.

The disc I was most excited about was the unreleased stuff. I have to say, I was a little disappointed. There is a lot I just can’t connect with here. “The Dance Electric” is an eleven and half minute exercise in repetition. There’s another superfluous version of “Computer Blue” here which could have stayed in the vaults. “Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden” is baffling. About half this stuff left me decidedly cold. However about half this material is superb. “Love and Sex” is a great Prince rocker. “Electric Intercourse,” “Wonderful Ass” (which I dedicated to the Rock Chick in what can only be described as a “smooth move”), and “Velvet Pussy Cat” are all great songs. “We Can Fuck” is Prince at his delightfully vulgar best… Overall I’d say the Vault/Unreleased stuff here is, well, meh. Frankly I’d recommend purchasing selectively off iTunes or where ever you buy music. Listen and decide for yourself which tunes are worth having.

Finally, the other piece that led me to this deluxe edition was the DVD. It’s an amazing, inspired performance. The Revolution were a great band. I know Prince played most every instrument in the studio, but on stage he lets the Revolution jam. His guitarist, Wendy, is who really shines for me during the concert footage. Prince is amazing as a performer. It’s like Little Richard and James Brown had a baby. He’s all over the stage, grinding, sliding down a stripper pole and dancing. There are more costume changes than my wife getting ready for a fancy dinner. When Prince comes out at the end, to play the most epic version of “Purple Rain” ever, he’s dressed in a hooded robe, like some sexy, mystic monk from the Church of Purple. It’ll give you goose bumps. If you ever doubt Prince’s ability with a guitar, check out this footage or the YouTube of him playing “My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the RnR Hall of Fame… He was an amazing shredder. That all said, however, there are flaws here. The footage is grainy. For reasons possibly only understood by Prince himself, he refuses to use a main spotlight. For most of the show he’s shrouded in shadow or purple backlighting. It’s hard to see him play some of the magical solos he lays down. There are long musical interludes that stretch on too long to give him a chance to change clothes, which got annoying pretty quick. “When Doves Cry” is filmed like the video, with the left side of the screen mirroring the right side of the screen which only made me dizzy. I enjoyed the show, but with the horrid lighting, I’m not sure it’s a video I’m going to go back to and watch again.

Overall, while I love Prince and ‘Purple Rain’ particularly, I have to say this ‘Ultimate Collector’s Edition’ is for completists and true fans only. There’s some interesting stuff here, but you have to dig to find it.

Happy Summer, folks! Stay cool and stay hydrated… there’s bourbon to drink later…

Prince “Moonbeam Levels, ” The First Song From the Famous Prince Archives

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It’s been a tough year for classic rock and roll fans. From Lemmy and Bowie to more recent losses of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, we’ve lost some really great talents. No more surprisingly than perhaps Prince, who at such a young age succumbed to prescription drug addiction.

I became a Prince fan during the Dark Semester I spent at the University of Kansas. The guys across the hall turned me onto the record “1999” and I was hooked. I could tell the guy was a genius. When “Purple Rain” came out, I don’t think even Prince was prepared for the universal reaction. That album stayed at number one for months. I liked Prince’s music but I have to admit, I always liked his more “Hendrix-y” stuff, when he played his guitar. His guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” during George Harrison’s Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony stands out in my mind as one of his singularly greatest guitar moments. After “Purple Rain” it was rare I heard that blistering guitar and I lost interest. The Rock Chick was into that New Power Generation era stuff but even she lost interest after that.

All during his career Prince was a workaholic. His work ethic was the thing of legend. I can remember hearing him interviewed in the early 90s and he was talking about how much stuff he had in the “vaults.” He had jammed with Miles Davis, “those tapes were in the vaults.” He said the best of the Revolution, his “Purple Rain” era band “was still in the vaults.” Unfortunately he passed away before he could curate this vast amount of material he left in his archives. Now I sporadically read about all the people who were related or pretending to be related to Prince suing each other over his massive estate. To me the biggest part of that estate is all those tapes down in the archives.

Today sees the arrival of his first posthumously released greatest hits package, “Prince4ever”. It collects all the usual hits, although this is the first package I can recall that contains one of his track from the Batman movie, “Batdance.” This is the first release that finally cracks into the vaunted Prince archives. “Moonbeam Levels” is the first song that was unreleased by Prince that his estate has finally released. It was recorded in 1982 during the “1999” sessions and it does sound akin to that time period. There’s also a non-album single, “Gotta Stop Messin’ About” that I’d never heard. That one didn’t impress me.

“Moonbeam Levels” is a decent Prince song, if you like Prince. It does take me back to those “1999” days. It’s a strong vocal over a key board. It’s poppy and catchy. The lyrics are the typically spacey, odd lyrics that he wrote back then. There is no guitar here, which is usually what drew me to Prince’s songs in the first place. There is a touch of guitar at the end but not enough to really draw me in.

This is an interesting peak into the archives but in the end all it does is whet my appetite for more. There’s got to be amazing outtakes down there with that awesome lead guitar. I think it’s going to be an interesting series of archival releases, perhaps greater even than the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series.

I can’t say I recommend “Moonbeam Levels” to anybody but the true Prince fans out there, but it was a big moment that they actually opened the archives and I felt compelled to comment. Fingers crossed for more to come!

Cheers!

“City Lights” – Single From The White Stripes/Jack White “Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016”

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As anybody whose read B&V before knows, I’m a huge fan of archival releases. If an artist has anything in the vault, I’m typically interested. Be it Bob Dylan’s official “Bootleg” releases, Springsteen’s “Tracks” or Van Morrison’s “Philosopher’s Stone,” count me in. Sometimes there’s a hidden gem in there, something the artist for whatever odd reason decided not to release. Maybe it didn’t fit the album it was recorded for. Musicians, what are you gonna do? If there’s a rare B-side tucked away in there, count me in…”what? there’s an acoustic demo with a saxophone… shit I’ve gotta have that.” I think the thing that draws me in the most when an artist opens up the vaults and releases stuff from their archives is that it many times provides an insight into their creative process. Of course, the Rock Chick says I’m just a obsessive compulsive “completist.” Which, sadly, may also be true.

With that as a backdrop, it probably comes as no surprise that when I heard Jack White was releasing something called “Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016” that I’d be forced to investigate. I’m a huge Jack White fan. I think of the White Stripes as one of the really great bands of all time. Their fusion of punk and blues was something I didn’t think was possible. I was lucky enough to see them on the “Elephant” tour (and several others) and Jack White simply amazed me with his energy and his lead guitar/keyboards/vocals. I had a buddy who saw him on his last solo tour and he compared it to seeing Hendrix (not that my buddy ever saw Hendrix, but he was that impressed with Jack’s guitar playing)… high praise indeed. I even followed Jack to the Raconteurs but I was only really interested in the tracks where he was the lead singer. “Steady As She Goes,” and “Blue Veins” from the first album and “Carolina Drama” from their second record stand out amongst his best. The Rock Chick dug the Dead Weather where Jack supposedly only played drums, and did some limited vocals, and I liked those tunes too. Jack is so charismatic that he’s going to pull the focus in any band he’s in.

With all that guitar hero talk it’s often easy to forget that the White Stripes and Jack’s solo stuff also has a strong acoustic element. “Hotel Yorba” and “We’re Going to Be Friends” immediately spring to minds as Stripes’ classics. “Love Interruption” has some nice acoustic work over some groovy keyboards. After thinking about those tunes, the whole “Acoustic Recordings” concept started to make sense to me.

The album isn’t released until September 9th but I’ve perused the song list. Unless these are all “alternative” versions, the songs on disc one mostly look like previously released songs. Meaning this is just a way of packaging up the acoustic stuff, no revelations to be found. The second disc looks like it has more acoustic demo/alternative mix stuff on it. We’ll just have to wait and see when the disc comes out.

However, until that time, we do have one song, billed to The White Stripes and Jack White that has been released, “City Lights.” I didn’t recognize the song but Jack was kind enough to add “Previously Unreleased” to the title to help tip me off it was something from the vaults. It’s all acoustic guitar and Jack singing in a minor falsetto. There is some light percussion, but I don’t know (based on the dual billing White Stripes/Jack White) if that is the mysterious Meg White playing the shaker? Call it my Sunday night mood, but there is something about Jack’s acoustic strumming on this song that recalls Led Zeppelin III but that may be the wine talking… It’s a quiet number that finds Jack in a somber mood. It is heavy on their folksy side, perhaps that’s what made me think of the acoustic side of Zeppelin… I almost wonder if this is a plea to Meg to return to the band when he sings, “every move suspends an action, any attempt to engage will push away, what you want becomes a magnet, opposing poles, never meeting.”  I love the imagery of the singer being on a plane headed toward someone… powerful stuff.

“City Lights” is a very good song from Jack White. It makes me hope there are some more alternative mixes/versions on “Acoustic Recordings” to explore. I certainly have something to look forward to on September 9th now…

Cheers!