Monday, August 8, 2016

Christina Celebrates Unsung Gems from Prince's Discography

Rock N' Roll Was Alive And it Lived In Minneapolis.

I have come to the conclusion that I am in the Denial stage of grief. As a person still in mourning I suppose I am still looking for ways to process my sadness. Nothing that anyone wouldn't be doing when dealt a crushing blow, and many out there still haven't accepted the loss of this man either. After all, Prince Rogers Nelson was supposed to outlive us all. With his death came a new fan in the form of my six year old. Granted, I have only allowed her to listen to the songs that are appropriate for her age, but as a result it has brought out some songs in our stereo that I hadn't heard in years. In an effort to pull together CDs worth of material that she was clear to listen to I dug through the entire Prince catalogue at my disposal. In the process it allowed me the chance to listen to some of the songs that I always loved, but that many people never appreciated as they should have.

Today, I plan to pay tribute to the hidden gems and underappreciated tunes from the vault and mind of Prince.

As a side note before I begin. I will not be linking any music or videos to this article out of respect to Prince. He didn't like his work being freely distributed online as he was very protective of it; only one album is currently streaming online and that was on Tidal, and only one song on Spotify. Most of what I feature in this article you can YouTube on your own and if you choose and buy on Amazon or iTunes, however I will not link the direct YouTube information out of respect for him. Thank you for understanding.

When the Sign O' The Times album was released, Prince was not happy with the finished product.  He stated that it was not his favorite piece for various reasons; he had wanted it to be a solo project rather than a full band album, for starters.  Plus, he had wanted it to be a three disc piece titled Crystal Ball, but the WB execs refuse, citing such a project to be too large with too much material.  This was one of many reasons he grew to despise the business side of the industry and working with the executives in it.  So it was no surprise to die-hard fans when years later Prince released a three-disc album of previously unreleased, from-the-vault material titled Crystal Ball.  The album has so many songs to choose from that it is impossible to pick from the best.  Two of my four personal favorites, however, are the title track, Crystal Ball, and Movie Star.

Written for his longtime friend Morris Day, Prince recorded a demo of the song Movie Star and included it on the Crystal Ball album.  If you picture Morris singing this song you will laugh, because it makes sense coming from his goofy mouth.  The song is about an arrogant actor going to a club and flaunting his cash, body, and fame to get girls, but failing miserably.  Funny enough to think of The Time doing it, but hearing Prince sing this song just makes it hysterical.  The music itself is full of synth tones and beats that leave you in a state of whimsy just from listening; the strains of the song almost have that goofy, Teletubby kind of silliness that you strangely can't help but love.  Then you throw in Prince and it just gets better.  The song isn't rhythmic and the lyrics have no rhyme scheme save for the main verse.  It is told from the perspective of the cocky movie star trying to score a date and flaunt himself around the club to everyone he meets.  Prince screws with his voice to make it sound as ridiculous as possible and make the song even funnier as he repeatedly fails every pick-up line he throws.  You just can't help but love the song.   Crystal Ball, the album’s title track, is the complete opposite.  From the very beginning the song is haunting, frightening, and beautiful.  Over a minute of the song's opening is nothing flutes and base drums keeping a beat, luring you in like a siren with a quiet and haunting undertone.  It isn't until the song is nearly over that it picks up to have any serious pop beat, but that is what makes it gorgeous.  A song that preaches about how the only thing that save an obviously dying world is love while begging Jesus to save the us all from the madness that is threatening to swallow everyone can that kind of song be anything other than gorgeous and borderline terrifying?  The words and the quiet, slow melody blend together and give us a brilliant and highly underrated piece of Prince's genius to forever appreciate.

Most know that Prince straddled the line between inappropriate and Godly.  Between a man of God and a man of sensuality.  Not many people realize just how deep his love for God and his faith in Him ran, especially in his later years.  The last three years of his life were lived in self-imposed celibacy.  He refused entry to his Paisley Park parties for anyone who smoked or tried to bring alcohol or illegal drugs on to the property.  He even kept swear jars at Paisley Park, and not one dollar jars either; you put five to twenty dollars in those things if Prince caught you cursing.  The man even showed up to Church every Sunday in a regular three piece suit and tie and also tracted like a missionary for his Church.  Dead serious, people.  On the first album he release on his independent (though still Warner Brothers linked) label, Paisley Park records, Prince released one of his dozens of spiritual songs and probably one of his most underappreciated.  The album was Around the World in a Day, and the song was The Ladder.  The melody is very simple and beautiful; that of a slow and gorgeous ballad with the undertones of a slow gospel uplift.  The lyrics tell a small story with a large lesson at the beginning of a King who ignores the advances of one of his subjects because he is bent on discovering his own personal Tower of Babel.  Determined to find a direct way to Heaven to find the answers to all of life's questions he misses out on the journey God put us on and the rewards that we will get in the afterlife for enduring to the end.  Even the rewards we get here in their small and scattered findings.  The point of the song is to stop looking for the direct and easy route, because God isn't trying to make a super highway for us straight to the top.  The point of this life is a journey, and it isn't easy.  But for those that fight the good fight and keep going to the very end, buddy, you're in for the ride of your life and a heck of a reward at the end.  The passion in his voice as he sings any song tells you he felt every lyric that he wrote and sang, but when he performs any spiritual song that he wrote such as The Ladder you feel it even more.  Prince lived a life of enduring to the end so he lived what he wrote and what he sang.  That in and of itself is telling of the quality of this song as well as the singer and the life he led.

Screenshot from Gansta Glam video.

Are you looking for a song that screams "fun in the summer" while at the same time quietly whispering "take off all your clothes?"  I have one for you then.  When the Diamonds and Pearls album was released a compilation of music videos was released to accompany it, titled Nothing Can Stop Prince And The NPG:  Get Off.  On this compilation were remixes and unreleased tracks set to music video that many had never heard before.  This included a light and fun song titled Gansta Glam.  Featuring Prince, Rosie Gaines, and my favorite member of the New Power Generation, the band's rapper Tony, the song was a cascade of air and light and absolute fun.  Tony is the showcase of this tune, looking just as sexy as his rhymes sound, with Rosie and Prince providing the backup on the chorus.  The music and the lyrics scream summer fun, relaxing and doing nothing or everything, and simply chillin' with your crew.  And the video is the best I have seen.  You would almost swear that Prince and The NPG simply said "Let's just let the film crew follow us around and see what we do when we are bored or just hanging out and playing.  You see pool side push-ups, the band playing on roller skates outside of Paisley Park, Prince goofing on a band-mate who swears he saw a UFO, and the rarest thing of all...Prince laughing so hard that he hits his knees in hysteria.  I swear.  It really exists!

Screenshot from Love Bizarre video.
When a person loves what they do it shows.  You see it in their face and in the dedication that they put into their work.  They know (and you know) that God put them on this earth to do what they are doing.  It was never more evident to me that Prince was made for music than when I saw the ten minute live performance of Love Bizarre.  A duet he did with band-mate and best friend Sheila E., the song has a very pop-synth vibe to it and screams of Sheila's 80's work, specifically reminding me of her song The Glamorous Life, which Prince coincidentally produced for her.  The song is upbeat and lively with a tone that makes you smile no matter how you try to fight it, especially if the synth style of the 80's is a big draw for you.  The lyrics are blunt; sex.  It gets no more plain than that.  But the way the song is performed doesn’t make it raunchy and raw; the music makes everything lively.  You drown out everything else and find yourself dancing when you hear the tune.  And the video is a tribute to Prince's dedication to music; it shows how much he loved the stage.  The video even  has Jerome Benton dancing in it, people.  You can't go wrong there.

At one time Prince was willing to give the Internet a try.  So much so that he declared all of his music was to be distributed online only.  He never cared about the money; only the music.  As he once said in an interview for the Rave Un2 The Year 2000 concert, "Money and art don't mix."  This led to some great underground classics that are highly underappreciated.  The album MPLSound, which was part of a three album set including Elixir and LotusFlow3r, contains one of my all-time favorite Prince songs to date and in my opinion a song that is the truest statement in history in regard to the Purple One:  (There'll Never B) Another Like Me.  The song starts out ready-to-dance and in your face and it stays that way until the end.  Lively and upbeat, the sound is vintage Prince in every form.  The lyrics just make you laugh and smile.  The lyrics are about nothing but partying; getting up and getting funky and realizing that the man singing is the one that is going to bring the party forever and always…and he knows it.  The title of the song is the truest statement that I know and the song makes you feel it.  It is happy, it is full of life and makes you want to dance even if you don’t know how.  There will never will be another like him.

Two of the last albums of Prince’s career held two of the best songs that, in my opinion, he ever recorded.  On the HitNRun Phase One album Prince included a song titled Fallinlove2nite.  This song’s information I will include in the article because you can find it on Netflix legally.  It was featured on the show New Girl when they did an episode titled “Prince.”  The tune starts out a bit more commercial than one would expect from the Purple One:  Horns blaring set off the beat and the New Girl lead actress Zoey Deschanel singing backup with him.  But as the song goes on it is the most dance-able and upbeat piece of music you could ever hope to listen to.  Full of many musical interludes and bridges, the song is programed to get you up and grooving as a dance tune and one that makes you full of happy-happy joy-joy.  And this episode of the show gives the best description of Prince ever: 

Coach:  Jess, how did you know the words?
Jess:  I think Prince is magic…

Yes, Jess.  We all think Prince was magic

On the HitNRun Phase Two album Prince included a song titled Xtraloveable.  Is it a love song or a “I love your body” song?  Well, either way, I love it.  A man who is grooving on a woman- her curves, her “talents,” her perfume- and telling her that anytime she wants someone to take a shower/bath with she can call him.  The beat is vintage Prince, several synth whines and a vibing Hip Hop throb that gets you squirming in your seat.  But not as much as the lyrics.  I mean come on…Prince is talking to you people.  He just wants to take a bath.  With you.  Sigh….

Minnesota is famous for its plethora of lakes and Minneapolis is no different.  A large lake exists just down the road from Paisley Park.  Prince would often take the newest demo of whatever song he was working on, toss it in his car, and drive to give it a listen.  His standing rule was that if he reached this particular lake and didn’t dig what he heard, he would take it out of the player and chuck it in that lake.  There are dozens if not hundreds of Prince’s unused demo’s in this unnamed lake, people.  It became such a theme that when he stormed from the studio in a huff over a song and people wanted to know what was wrong, someone would gesture toward the studio and just say, “The song’s ‘in the lake.’”  We can all be thankful that these songs didn’t wind up in the lake.  How awful would the world have been without them?  I hope you check out these tunes if you haven’t.  Your world will be better with a healthy dose of purple.  To paraphrase a line from another of his underappreciated gems, Violet The Organ Grinder, he died, but he will not go away.  

Christina Sizemore is trained in only four things:  writing, fighting, paranormal investigating, and being a mom.  At this point in her life she truly feels that she is not qualified to attempt to learn any new field.  A twenty year martial artist, mother of three, and writer who is working on the publication of her first book titled “Finding Your Way: A Guide To Your Path In The Martial Arts,” she spends her days working out, writing, making fanvids, going to DragonCon, and playing board games/video games/out in the yard with her kids and husband who are just as geeky as she is.  She is convinced that one day her skills will be of assistance in the Zombie Apocalypse and that while she is of no use in the kitchen, she can Buffy that zombie for ya or teach you the best way to get the blood stains out of your clothes (Psst…the secret is mixing Crown Cleaner and Shout.  Just sayin’.)

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