Prince’s Christmas in August

My buddy Tyson texted me this link on Friday morning.  If you’re interested in learning a lot more about it, check out this link.  Now I’ll attempt to sum it up.  From 1995 until 2010 Prince released a lot of music that hardly saw the light of day.  Much of it was for his various subscription websites like NPGMusicClub.com and Lotusflow3r.com.  I was a proud Lotusflow3r.com subscriber.  Still have the t-shirt to prove it.  Some of his music from this era was never released on physical media.  Long before the days of Spotify, iTunes, or even Napster, Prince was selling his music online.  Imagine the shock and horror of a musician releasing his music exclusively on *gasp* THE INTERNET!  Even the music from this era that made it to a CD is difficult to find now.  You can’t just walk in to your local record store and find copies of Crystal Ball or N.E.W.S. in the Prince section next to Purple Rain and 1999.

If you weren’t smart enough to download the NPG Music Club stuff 20 years ago or you didn’t get your hands on one of the CD’s when they were released, you’re mostly out of luck if you’re trying to find some of a lot of this music.  I did purchase a few of these albums when they came out, and I’ve been on a personal mission to find the rest of them in used CD stores since.  I don’t have anywher near all of it, though.  Much of it has been available on Tidal, but I’m not a Tidal subsciber.  You might ask, “If you’re such a Prince fan, why not subscribe to Tidal?”  Fair point.  However, I’ve been an Apple user since I got my first Apple IIGS in junior high.  My entire music library moved over to iTunes a long time ago, and I pay for Apple Music now so I can keep my streaming library and the music I own in one place.  As much as I love Prince, I’m not paying a bunch of money for a second streaming service just to listen to his obscure stuff.  I decided I’d wait.  Something had to give.

On Friday, my stubbornness paid off.

23 Prince albums from 1995-2010 were released on streaming services, including Apple Music.  There’s certainly a discussion to be had over what Prince’s estate is doing with his music now that he’s gone.  Is what they’re doing right?  Not sure.  Is it cool to just release everything and make money off of music that Prince had worked so hard to keep private?  Probably not.  Is it going to stop me from purchasing and listening to all of it?  Hell no!  Friday was like Christmas morning for this Prince fan.

A lot of the music from this era was experimental, and some of it was forgettable.  There are also several serious gems from this semi-lost 15-year stretch of Prince’s discography.  I’m going to give you my first impressions of this music now that I’ve had a few days with it.  I will confess that I have not had the time to hear all of it yet, so these are just my early thoughts.  I started out thinking I was going to be disciplined and listen carefully to each album in chronological order.  That lasted about 20 minutes.  Again, I was like a kid on Christmas morning with 23 new toys.  I couldn’t just play with one at a time.  I kept jumping from one to the next.  Here are my thoughts:

3121

Fortunately I’ve had access to this album since the day it was released in 2006 because I bought the CD.  This is not new to me.  However, I believe any conversation about Prince’s post-Warner music begins with this album.  If you just received access to this album for the first time via your streaming service and you want to “skip to the good stuff” this is where I recommend you go.  I love this album.  I’ll go as far as to say this is in my personal Prince Top 5.  It’s easily his best album top to bottom since the 1980’s.  No, it didn’t have recognizable hits like some of his New Power Generation stuff from the early-90’s, but it’s a better album.  It’s got all the swag (damn it, I hate that word, but I can’t think of another) of his 80’s music.  Look no further than “Black Sweat” which may as well be the sequel to “Kiss”.  It’s got cool shit (“3121”).  It’s got insane guitar solos (“Fury”).  It’s got sexy shit (“Te Amo Corazon” and “Incense and Candles”).  It’s got fun shit (“Lolita” and “Love).  It’s got beautiful, inspirational shit (“Beautiful, Loved, and Blessed”).  It’s got Maceo fucking Parker for God’s sake (“Get on the Boat”).  Did I mention he was 48 when he released this album?!?!!

Musicology

Musicology was the precursor to 3121.  It felt like Prince’s reintroduction to the world after spending several years releasing his music on the Internet.  While I don’t believe the album is as complete as 3121, it has some great music, starting with the funky ass title track.  Another highlight on the album is “Call My Name” which is arguably his best slow jam of this century.  There’s also a laid back funk jam called “Dear Mr. Man” which is appropriate for our current times.  There’s a lot to love on this album.

Cloreen Bacon Skin

Here’s what I know about “Cloreen Bacon Skin”: It’s the 8th track on the 2nd disc of the Crystal Ball triple-album from 1998.  It was recorded in 1983 and features only Prince on bass and vocals and Morris Day on drums.  It’s 15 minutes and 37 seconds long and every second of it is pure fire.  Prince’s vocals sound like a shit-talking love child of James Brown and Redd Foxx.  Morris Day puts on a funk drumming clinic.  Prince’s bass is understated for much of the track, and at other times he’ll unleash his otherworldly talent.  Don’t ask me what the hell he’s talking about or who Alfred is.  I don’t care.  It’s actually laugh out loud funny in some parts and the music is fantastic.

The Everlasting Now

One of the first albums I jumped in to on Friday was The Rainbow Children. I had only heard it once many years ago, but I recalled liking it.  I’ve also read a lot of different things about it.  A forgotten classic.  Prince’s jazz album?  I was curious, and honestly, I was mildly disappointed in the first half of the album.  Then midway through it picks up and delivers in the second half.  My favorite track is a ray of positive sunshine called “The Everlasting Now”.  This album has a hint of a Christian rock vibe and that comes across in the message of this song.  It’s also got an infectious hook, high-hat, and horn section (excuse my unintentional alliteration).  I couldn’t help but love this song immediately.  It will forever be a track that I go to when I’m in a shitty mood and need something to pick me up.

Rock Steady (Live)

Among the great newly re-released music are three live records.  I listened to each of them and actually felt angry that I only got to see Prince in person once while he was here with us.  For the record, it was the best concert I’ve ever seen and I can’t imagine anything topping it.  There’s so much great live music on the Indigo Nights album, but I love his cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady”.  Prince isn’t even the vocalist (that would be Beverley Knight), but he opens the track with the line, “I specialize in funk just to keep you satisfied.”  Then he delivers on that boast.  I hope it made Aretha proud.

Dreamer

When the Lotusflow3r and MPLSound combo were released together in 2009 they were viewed as a disappointment.  Like so many albums over the second half of Prince’s career, even the disappointments had their amazing moments.  On Lotusflow3r one of those moments is “Dreamer”.  This song sounds so much like Jimi Hendrix I had to scour the Internet one more time to make sure it wasn’t a Hendrix cover before I typed this.  It’s not.  The entire song is a scorching guitar solo.  The track was nominated for a Grammy for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance that year and it wasn’t even a single.  Most of the music I’ve added to this list are what I’d call funk, but this song is a straight up rock ‘n roll headbanger.

I’m sure this list will grow for me as I get more familiar with these new albums, but these are my first impressions.  Even though he never reached the popularity he had in the 80’s and early-90’s, I’m still a big fan of Prince’s last 20 years.  He and his music didn’t get the headlines they did when he was younger, but I still love it.  I’m thrilled that these albums get to see the light of day for the second time now that they’re available to everyone with a streaming account.  I strongly recommend that you check it out.

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