I have a sincere question for Prince fans out there: Where do you hear vault tracks? I don’t frequent message boards or whatever the hell people are using to communicate. Maybe I should. I would probably learn more. I’d probably also end up with a lot of misinformation. What I do see on the rare occasion I find myself on a site like prince.org is a lot of people dropping the names of vault tracks I’ve never heard of and acting like they’re part of Prince’s regular catalog. Where are people hearing this stuff?
I’ve stumbled across mixes like this one on youtube that have unreleased stuff with varying recording quality and I have taken the time to listen to a few of them. The problem is, if I can’t download them and add them to my library, I usually just don’t take the time. I do have a part of me that thinks if it wasn’t released I have no business listening to it. Of course, that makes me a hypocrite because I’ve gobbled up everything the Prince Estate has released posthumously. Prince didn’t release it. I just feel guilty listening to something unreleased and/or unfinished.
So, when it was announced that the 4Ever compilation was going to be released seven months after Prince’s death and it was going to include “Moonbeam Levels” I felt anticipation among Prince’s loyal followers like I’ve rarely felt before. The consensus seemed to be, “Oh shit! We’re finally gonna hear the legendary ‘Moonbeam Levels’ officially!” Personally, I was like, “I’ve never heard of it,” but again, I’m not big on bootlegs or unreleased vault stuff for the most part. The Prince community had me fired up for a song I’d never heard of. They had me feeling like “Moonbeam Levels” was Prince’s greatest work and finally our ears were going to be blessed with music the likes of which they’d never heard.
Here’s a little background. “Moonbeam Levels” was recorded in July of 1982 and was considered for 1999. Then in 1983 Prince did a little more work on it and considered it for inclusion on Purple Rain. Then Around the World in a Day. Then Parade. Then Crystal Ball, which became Sign ‘O’ the Times. Then he considered it for an early version of Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic that never materialized. After years and years of consideration “Moonbeam Levels” somehow never saw the light of day.
When Prince passed away in 2016 and the estate created a two-disc compilation the one unreleased track they decided to include was “Moonbeam Levels.” After nearly 35 years it was finally getting a proper release. It’s like the Rudy of Prince songs. Like the hundreds of other Prince vault tracks got together and went to the coach and said, “If you don’t include ‘Moonbeam Levels’ on this album, don’t include any of us, either.”
So, after 35 years in the vault, how is it? Did it live up to the hype? I don’t know how to answer that. It’s cool. It’s a good Prince song. I don’t put it on a pedestal with his best stuff, but I like it a lot. Musically I’m not sure where it fits on his 80’s albums, so I can understand why Prince just couldn’t find a spot for it. It’s not nasty or funky enough for 1999. I really think it fits best musically on the Purple Rain soundtrack, but where? That album is perfect. He couldn’t bump another song for it, so where would it fit on that album? Would he then have to fit it in the movie as well? Not sure how that would work. It’s not bohemian enough for Around the World in a Day. By the time Parade rolled around I don’t think “Moonbeam Levels” fit the way Prince’s music sounded anymore. Thematically it works on Sign ‘O’ the Times but the sound doesn’t fit.
Could he have given it to someone else? Maybe The Family, Sheila E., or Jill Jones could’ve done something with it? It seems he wanted to keep it for himself. Like a girl that he wasn’t sure he wanted to date, but he didn’t want anyone else dating her either just in case. Why not a B-side, then? It could easily sit in Prince B-side lore alongside legends like “17 Days,” “She’s Always in My Hair,” and “Erotic City.” I suppose if Prince had bigger plans for it he didn’t want to just bury it on a B-side. He just kept thinking it’d fit on the next album.
I think I have the answer for what should’ve happened to “Moonbeam Levels.” Prince should’ve given this song up for a movie soundtrack. I know he wasn’t contributing songs to anybody’s movies but his own, but this song should’ve been playing on radios in the mid-80’s, not rotting in a vault for 35 years. It could’ve been the perfect theme song for a down-on-his-luck character in a classic 80’s coming of age movie. A good 80’s movie. Not some silly shit like Goonies or License to Drive. How about The Breakfast Club? I’m not saying it should’ve replaced that iconic Simple Minds song. It could’ve been a part of the movie along with it. Again, Prince had his own movies and did the entire Batman soundtrack, but he never had that one song that you hear in a classic 80’s movie. “Moonbeam Levels” could’ve been that song.
So, for all the hype I heard before 4Ever was released, “Moonbeam Levels” turned out to be exactly what I thought it was after all. I can see how it got stuck in the vault. It’s a great song – too good to give away – but it didn’t fit any of the projects he was working on at that time. I’m giving it a lower score than it probably deserves, but if Prince had released it in the 80’s I have a feeling I’d be calling it a 4 or 4.5 and I’d have a lot of nostalgia and great memories attached to it.
Before I go, I’d like to send out condolences to the family and friends of Congressman John Lewis. A true civil rights pioneer and real life hero. Someone we should all learn from and look up to. The world lost a great one. Rest in peace, John Lewis.