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!

 

 

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!