Box Set Review: Prince, ‘1999 (Super Deluxe)’ – A Tour De Force, Must Have

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You might not know it from looking at me, but I am a funky motherfucker. Oh yes, I dig the funk. I couldn’t say that to you if it weren’t for one man’s music I stumbled upon haphazardly during the early months of 1983… Prince and (of course) his landmark LP, 1999. I’m on the record as a Prince fan, Another Giant Gone, RIP Prince. All of us down here at B&V are still bereaved at his loss. I feel I have a very special relationship with the original LP, 1999. To think there was a time before Prince, before I knew his music…like many things, it was a lifetime ago.

Life has a strange rhythm of its own, speaking of funk. We’re all born and then when we’re around five they march us off to elementary school. You progress from grade to grade until finally you’re a senior. When you’re a senior, you’re on top the world, it is indeed your oyster as the saying goes. Then you graduate… you either get a job or you become a freshman in college or join the Army… but whatever you do you go back to the bottom rung on the ladder. From first to worst so to speak.

I hated high school. I was the classic rebel without a clue. I got good grades so my parents left me alone. I would speed home from school every day, do my homework, and then go to work, wherever that was. I gravitated toward the food service industry as you could drink on the job… whoever is serving you that Big Mac is probably fucked up, folks. All I wanted to do was to get away from high school. Most the people in my high school went to a college 45 minutes away… Shawnee Mission Lawrence we jokingly called it since that particular college seemed like a mere extension of our school district. I chose a college two hours away. My parents didn’t want to spring for out of state tuition and the whole “college application” apparatus hadn’t sprung up yet. My parents were like, fill out the forms, get into a state school and get out of our hair. Felicity Huffman, they weren’t. Naturally with my instincts to flee, and Karma being a bitch, I fell I love with someone in a class behind me. It was indeed the cliche’d, teenage affair… But suddenly I went from wanting to get away from home to thinking, hey, I could stick around for this for a while. I always seemed to be swimming against the tide.

It’s hard for some some of us to move on. It’s hard to acknowledge that a stage in our life is over and that it’s time to face forward. Fear of the unknown, I suppose. I guess I’m in that group. Maybe I was just never good at going from first to worst. Suddenly, I was a young adult facing college and all the responsibility that goes with it, like say, laundry. The pressure to succeed was immense…”Don’t flunk out” was the advice I seem to remember from my father… which ranks up there with, “get her pregnant and we’re throwing you out,” in the pantheon of advice I got. I saw people react in all kinds of crazy ways to that first taste of college life and freedom. I saw kids turn to booze and drugs to cope… not my style, I was already a hardened alcoholic by the time I got to college. I knew a guy who found Jesus…”men go crazy in congregations, they only get better one by one.” I felt completely out of place in this new phase of life. Admittedly I was wildly immature (as I remain today), and so subconsciously decided to go backwards. I put everything I had into the relationship I was still inexplicably in… never do long distance in college, people. It wasn’t about her, I was just looking for a lifeline. I shudder when I think what immense pressure that must have put on the young lady in question.

Eventually, at the semester break that freshman year, the man who wanted to get away from home, transferred to Shawnee Mission Lawrence, a school I despised, because I wanted to make the grand romantic gesture, save a failing relationship and also to be closer to, yes, home. “What fools these mortals be…” I moved into the dorms with a buddy of mine, apparently intent on ruining another relationship forever – never live with friends, people. Thankfully the young woman at the, ahem, “heart” of this story put me out of my misery and broke up with me on April Fool’s Day. I remember pathetically saying, “April Fool’s, right?” No.

I was crushed. Probably more because I was being forced to face up to the fact that it was time to move forward into… life… the great beyond. The only way I could see forward at that point was lots and lots of sweet Bacardi rum. My friend Doug and I drank enough 151 proof rum to float a fucking battle ship. These two groovy black guys lived across the hall – Brian and Rob. I had gotten to know those guys and would drop by their room every now and then to avoid my roommate. Things had gone south with my buddy too. I awoke one afternoon, hungover as usual and I heard blaring from across the hall…”Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?” Now, again, I only mention that the guys across the hall were black because I want to underscore how segregated music was back in those days. Despite the fact that those guys did borrow a weird Pat Benetar album someone had given me and kept it all semester, you really didn’t hear black artists like Prince on predominantly white, rock n’ roll radio. I remember standing in those guys room, in a rum haze, and doing what passed for dancing for me – my feet rooted to the ground, white man’s overbite, arms pulled up to my chest while I gyrated my torso in what looked like a grand maul seizure. I was really mesmerized by Prince and his breakthrough track “1999.”

Sadly though, I didn’t stick around even for the entirety of side one… It wasn’t until I was in a bar with MTV when I saw the video for “Little Red Corvette” – iconic now, but stunning when I first saw it – and realized I had to check out the rest of this album. The next time those guys were around, and Doug and I were loaded on rum, I asked if they’d put it on. Wow, what an album. 1999 was the sound of an artist, nay a genius, bursting into a supernova. The “hits” were on side one, “1999,” “Little Red Corvette” (which I found particularly alluring as a spurned man), and of course “Delirious” (which my neighbors told me was a song about a blow job). But the rest of that album was amazing. It’s a double vinyl album… with only 11 songs. Prince finds a groove and just keeps it going. “Delirious” is the shortest song on the album at 4 minutes and it seems to go on forever unlike well, most blowjobs. I can still remember dancing around Brian and Rob’s room to the funky romp, “DMSR.” “Dance, music, sex, romance,” hell yes! That album pulled me out of a dark, dark place I was in… that album and a lot of rum. When the semester ended and I finally “moved on,” I went out and bought that album. I was a little scandalized by the inner sleeve album art… In one provocative pic, Prince is laying on his stomach with his ass in the air… That Prince, he’s a character, is what I was thinking at the time.

Now, all these years later, the vaunted Prince vaults have opened up again with a Super Deluxe version of the album. I’m a huge fan of vault releases – as long time readers know – but I have to admit I was underwhelmed with the Purple Rain deluxe box, Review: Prince’s ‘Purple Rain – Deluxe Collector’s Edition’ – Is It Worth It? . There were moments of brilliance but only moments. There have been a couple other releases featuring demos that Prince recorded… actually one whole album of tracks he gave to other artists. Neither of those really grabbed me. This box set for 1999 has grabbed me completely.

The box starts with the original album remastered. Disc 2 is probably the most disappointing as it has a bunch of those “7-inch stereo edit” kind of tracks. There are three great B-sides on disc 2: The ballad, “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore,” “Irresistible Bitch,” and my favorite “Horny Toad,” a funky track that sounds like a cousin of “Delirious.” After you get past that second disc, there are two more additional discs of unreleased music. There are twenty-four tracks here. Usually on a box like this you get a bunch of different takes on songs from the original album. There is an extended version of “Delirious” here and a few stray instrumentals which I usually consider fillers, but most of these tracks are fully realized.

Prince was quoted at the time 1999 was released that he had enough material to release the follow up and it’d be more popular. Who releases a double-LP and has another double LP in the can? Prince, that’s who. These tracks sound like that 1982-83 period – synths, drums, drum machines and long grooves. The opening track could have easily fit onto the original album both in sound and spirit – “Feel You Up.” Prince is at his most libidinous on this material. “Money Don’t Grow On Trees” would have been a huge hit, it’s catchy as hell. The rather unfortunately titled “Vagina,” a song about a hermaphrodite, sports a punky guitar. Likewise, for those who like Prince’s more “Hendrix-y” guitar driven stuff, “Rearrange” is a great track. I can’t stop listening to the happy funk of “Bold Generation.” “If It’ll Make You Happy” could have almost qualified for the B&V playlist, B&V Playlist: Rockers Playing Reggae: It’s Not Just For Vacation Any More. “Possessed” is an almost 9 minute funk work out. “Yah, You Know” is another synth/guitar marriage that works. The first five minutes of “Do Yourself A Favor” maybe qualify as amongst Prince’s best… although the last few minutes are weird…editing would have helped. “Don’t Let Him Fool You” is funky wonderful with a great Prince falsetto. “Teacher, Teacher,” is another example of Prince singing about someone he wants to sleep with.

There’s a stray instrumental “Colleen” that did nothing for me. “Purple Music” is a 10 minute track that felt like filler. “Moonbeam Levels” was previously released on a greatest hits package. Other than those tracks there is sooo much here to like. I’ve been listening to these tracks almost non stop.

Disc 5 is a concert from 1982 in Detroit and it’s great… Prince should have considered releasing that as a live album. The final disc is a Blu-ray of another show and I’m embarrassed to admit, I haven’t seen it yet. Even the live stuff works. Prince plays all the instruments in the studio but he plays the live stuff with an early version of the Revolution: Dez Dickerson (guitar), Lisa Coleman (keyboards), Bobby Z (drums), Mark Brown (bass), Dr. Fink (keyboards). They bring it live.

This is the rare, perfect box set. Any Prince fan or any fan of the album 1999 should seek this music out immediately. Maybe if you been nice Santa will put it in your stocking? Although… Prince would have probably preferred it if you were naughty!

Happy Holidays!

 

 

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!

Artists Who Changed Their Music to Escape Fame

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*Photo shamelessly borrowed from the Internet, gettyimages, Paul Bergen

I just love this photograph of Pearl Jam from their early days. The only guy who looks happy is the drummer, in the middle, and they fired him. Likely on the HR form it read something like: Reason for Dismissal: Cheerfulness or Enjoying the Fame.

My corporate overlords are asking me to travel quite a bit more and I haven’t been able to write as often as I’d like, my apologies. It has given me a lot more time to think about music… and lately I’ve been thinking about fame. Ah, Fame, it’s such a cruel, fickle beast. Bands often form, write music, tour and work hard to achieve financial stability and yes, fame. But once it happens many bands/artists don’t know how to deal with it. There are certain levels of fame that nobody is ready for. Not everybody can be the Beatles, who not only embraced their fame, seemed energized by it. Well, McCartney anyway, Lennon seemed somewhat unnerved by it all.

Fame has all kinds of effects on an artist and not always good ones. Many artists, feeling the pressure to repeat earlier heights of record sales crumble under the pressure. Many artists turn to drugs, alcohol or just plain break up the band. Or sometimes the effects of fame are even worse…bad juju indeed. There are as many reactions to fame as there are artists, I suppose.

Lately, I find myself thinking about those artists/bands who decided to take control, take the bull by the horns as they say, and purposely change the trajectory of their artistic arc. The artists who, commercially speaking, tried to take a dive. The goal seemed to be to thin the herd of rabid fans, hanging on every word. These acts literally altered their art (in my opinion) to reduce their fame…

Bob Dylan: After a two year period that saw Dylan “go electric” and record three classic masterpieces: “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisted,” and “Blonde On Blonde” Dylan retreated to upstate New York to Woodstock (pre-festival fame Woodstock). This creative burst is beautifully documented on the box set, “The Cutting Edge” reviewed earlier in B&V. Dylan just wanted to get away, rest and spend some time with his wife and new family. Then, he had a motorcycle accident. Or did he? I’m not usually a “second shooter on the grassy knoll” guy, but I wonder if Dylan faked the whole thing to get a break in his crazy schedule. The guy was being touted as the “voice” of his generation. He was the appointed leader of the Hippy movement… heavy responsibility for a guy who is really just a singer… or a poet, depending on your outlook. After secluding himself in upstate NY and hanging out in a basement for a year with the Band, recording some pretty amazing music, but not really sharing it, Dylan emerged with a quiet, acoustic based “John Wesley Harding.” While considered a classic by critics, it was quite a dramatic departure from his three prior albums. It’s like Dylan rewrote the book on a career in music. He went on to record a country album, “Nashville Skyline.” He really didn’t recover commercially until “Blood On the Tracks” by which time his rabid audience had diminished and mellowed out.

Neil Young: Neil Young’s trajectory was similar to Dylan’s, perhaps without the messianic overtones… the 70’s were a more cynical decade after all. Young released “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” and then “After the Gold Rush” and joined CSNY. He was poised to explode. I don’t think he realized how big he was going to get when he delivered the mellow, extremely popular “Harvest.” You couldn’t get away from “Heart of Gold.” Neil said, on the liner notes of the excellent greatest hits package “Decade,” that he found himself in the middle of the road after “Harvest” and decided to steer his career into the ditch…he said he’d meet more interesting people there. He dismantled his following by delivering the live LP, “Time Fades Away,” which oddly seemed to declare war on his fans. Young was exorcising demons, but his fans were left to exorcise Neil.

Bruce Springsteen: Springsteen’s career has been a study in the art of controlling your fame. He released “Born To Run” and ended up on the cover of Time and Newsweek… after a 4 year absence due to legal issues with his management, he delivered the grim classic “Darkness On the Edge of Town.” Punk was prevalent and so he probably rode that wave, plus he was pissed about the court stuff and the four year absence. Finally, in 1979 he released “The River” which gave him his biggest seller to date… rather than capitalize on that success he retrenched with “Nebraska” an album I still struggle to listen to without being put on suicide watch. He finally reached his peak potential when he released “Born In the USA” but quickly retrenched to “Tunnel of Love.” Release something that makes you huge, follow up with a quiet personal album to make the crowds go away…it’s the best of both worlds.

Fleetwood Mac: Nobody saw the huge success of “Rumors” coming. Lindsey Buckingham, fueled by the punk movement took control of their next album and drove the band in experimental, weird directions. Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie apparently didn’t get the memo and continued to record solid mid tempo rock songs causing a very disjointed approach.”Tusk” is a masterpiece in my mind but it was heralded as a huge disappointment upon it’s release. I see it for what it was – Buckingham responding to the pressure of repeating “Rumors” by taking the band in a less commercial, artsy direction. When the LP doesn’t sell as much as the last one, you just say the audience didn’t “understand your creative vision.” It’s a great strategy really. Although Mick Fleetwood did drive out to Lindsey’s house after the reviews were in to say, “you blew it, mate.”

Prince: “1999” was such a breakthrough record for Prince. He, along with Michael Jackson, were one of the first black artists to breakthrough to a broad white audience. He followed up with the movie/LP “Purple Rain.” Prince, a control freak, whose goal had always been world domination, and who actually accomplished it, responded with the quirky, artsy “Around the World In a Day,” an album I bought the day it was released and sold a week later. Yeah, I was one of the fans Prince exiled from his fan base with that record. Prince never really regained his commercial/artistic mojo. That’s the risk when you purposely try to kill off your fame… sometimes you’re successful.

Nirvana: Kurt Cobain, almost 30 years after Dylan, was also tagged with that “voice of his generation” tag. Based on Dylan’s response to that in the 60s and what happened to Kurt, you might want to avoid that tag. After “Nevermind” seemingly destroyed everything that came before it and revolutionized music in a way that punk only dreamed of, Cobain felt painted into a corner. He had wanted to only be as big as say, Sonic Youth, not bigger than the Beatles. In response to the world-wide worship, Cobain and Nirvana delivered the abrasive album “In Utero” an album that was such an obvious attempt to drive fans away and yet it was still wildly popular. “Heart Shaped Box” is still my favorite Nirvana tune. Sadly Kurt never reconciled his fame and for a myriad of reasons ended up sadly ending his own life… the most tragic tale I’m gonna tell.

Pearl Jam: I read an interview with Eddie Vedder once, and he said they were playing a bar that had a free hamburgers in the parking lot while they were set to play. He got on stage in front of an empty room (everyone was eating outside), closed his eyes and when he opened them, the entire bar was full of enthusiastic fans. He went on to say that was how Pearl Jam’s world wide fame happened, seemingly in the blink of an eye. “Ten” was such a huge album and it’s follow up “Vs” despite the “us vs you” implied by the title, was just as popular. Finally PJ put out “Vitalogy” which I consider a classic but like “In Utero” it was a clear attempt to “thin the herd.” You only have to take one look at the picture above and you can tell these guys were uncomfortable with the fame that had resulted from their music. Eddie took these guys down a path that saw them stay a solid live draw, but their music has never sold like it did early in their career and I think that’s how Eddie wants it… Vedder’s only proper solo album was a ukele album…clearly not a guy looking for wide commercial success or additional attention…

That’s it for now folks. Did I miss anybody on this list? Please add your thoughts in the comments if you’re so inclined.

Have a great weekend! Cheers!

Another Giant Gone, RIP Prince

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“It was a pretty good year for fashion, a lousy year for rock and roll” – Don Henley, “The Garden of Allah”

Wow, not again.

It appears the music world has once again been turned upside down when Prince was found dead in his home earlier today. I had heard he was ill last week, but I don’t think anybody had an idea that it was this bad. What a shitty year it’s been for rock stars. And have no doubt about it, Prince was a Rock Star in capital letters.

So much can be said about Prince. I’m sure the obits will have these words: enigmatic, genius, prolific, ground breaking, mercurial, androgynous, eccentric, influential… the list goes on. And all of these things are correct.

In the spring of 1983 I was finishing up the 2nd half of my freshman year of college. At Christmas break I had left my beloved Kansas State University for the University of Kansas in what is a very sordid story. I consider that “the dark semester” in my college career. I changed schools for the worst reason anybody can change schools – a girlfriend. Love is fickle people. Luckily the girl did me a favor and broke up with me in time for me to return to KSU my sophomore year, but as usual, I digress. I was living in the dorms with a guy from my high school who it turns out was a sociopath and my girlfriend broke up with me. It was a rather low point. Except for the two gents who lived across he hall from me.

My neighbors across the hall, Brian and Robert were two very cool guys from St. Louis with a stereo with enormous speakers. They played this album I had never heard before, over and over again… that album was entitled “1999” by a guy named Prince. I can’t count the hours I spent hanging with those two guys listening to that momentous double album (I’d have done anything to avoid my roomie, thank God these guys had great musical taste). It literally got me through the last six weeks of my freshman year. I still can’t hear “Little Red Corvette” without thinking about sitting in that dorm room, but that doesn’t make it any less a classic tune. “DMSR”, the title track, “Lady Cab Driver,” even the obscure song “Free” are amazing. Prince was able to blend funk, dance music, sex and a Hendrix-like guitar that was like nothing I had ever heard before. Michael Jackson ruled the music world in those days, but I liked Prince infinitely more because he seemed dangerous. Maybe it was the androgyny thing. I mean, you could see the guy’s ass crack on the inside sleeve. Despite that, I bought the album as soon as I got home that summer.

By summer of 1984 Prince had returned in a movie, of all things. Everybody was talking about how kick ass this Prince guy was… I hadn’t seen the movie, I eventually did, but knowing “1999” had blown my mind, and having already heard “When Doves Cry” I bought the album “Purple Rain” immediately after I got my first paycheck from my summer construction job. I was going out drinking with my buddies WW and Matthew that night and I only had time to hear the first side (ah, vinyl). We were in the bar when the DJ played “Purple Rain” and I couldn’t wait to go home and turn the vinyl over to make sure that song was on this new album. I was pretty obsessed with that song for a very, very long time… And I think I’m safe in saying I’m not the only one who was. The album was so huge it kept Springsteen’s “Born In the USA” from the number 1 spot. It’s a true masterpiece. It’s hard to conceive, today, how huge he really was in the mid-80s…

I hadn’t realized until today that Prince would have only been 25 when “Purple Rain” blew up. I can’t imagine having that kind of fame, power, money and well, women at the age of 25. I would probably be dead now, but man the stories my friends would be able to tell about me. Anyway, I think at that tender age, the success freaked Prince out a bit. I’ve seen it happen countless times – an artist hits it big and then faced with the daunting task of outdoing themselves, the artist retreats into a different “more artistic direction.” Fleetwood Mac went from “Rumors” to “Tusk,” the aforementioned Springsteen went from “Born In the USA” to the scaled down “Tunnel of Love.” I remember being shocked when I bought the follow up to “Purple Rain,” “Around the World In A Day” the day it was released at how wildly experimental and different that album was. I was so disappointed I sold it at the used record store. I wasn’t as musically broad minded in those days. It didn’t completely sour me on Prince, but I was a much less enthusiastic fan.

Over the next decade or so, there were still the occasional great song by Prince. “Kiss” was ubiquitous. I did really like the title track to “Sign O the Times” although I didn’t think the album was the masterpiece the critics heralded it as. I was slightly disappointed with Prince’s work on the original “Batman” movie soundtrack but he kept me interested. “Thieves In the Temple” was another standout. I wasn’t buying his albums any more but I always kept an ear on what he was doing. He was always doing something new. Like everybody else I bought the “Hits/B-Sides” package later in his career, which is one of the better curated greatest hits packages out there.

A buddy of mine turned me onto a clip on YouTube of Prince performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony with Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne on George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Prince owns the stage – not only was he visually captivating – his guitar work on that song makes Clapton’s work on the original seem tame. You can actually buy that tune on iTunes and I strongly urge that purchase.

Now the genius is gone at a frightfully young age. He was such a prolific artist, it seemed like he put out an album every 90 days, that the rumors about what he’s got in his vaults are the thing of legend. I saw him in a rare interview, long ago, where he said the best of the Revolution (his backing band in the “Purple Rain” days) and tapes of him jamming with Miles Davis were all in the vault. He went on to say those tapes would come out some day. Sadly if there is anything positive we can take away from his passing maybe this man’s amazing unreleased music might finally see the light of day, although losing him was a huge price to pay for that reward.

That’s the one thing we’ll always have from Prince – the amazing music. I’m shuffling all my Prince as I sit typing this and I’m still awed by his talent. Tonight, I pour a dark and murky tumbler full of bourbon and head to the turntable… I still have that vinyl copy of “1999,” and I will not mourn, I will celebrate the genius of the man known to the world as Prince.

My heart goes out to Prince’s family, fans and friends. It’s a dark ride people, enjoy it while it lasts.

Cheers!