Another installment of deep cuts, this time we take a look at the dearly beloved ~ Prince.
His Royal Badness. The High Priest of Pop. The Artist Formerly Known As. The Purple One. Or our favorite, Skipper.
Where to begin with the enigma that is Prince?
The iconic artist redefined pop music, working out all of its soulful and funky facets in an infinite range of genres, from new wave and synth-pop to classical and jazz. He did so while creating an image of himself based on his lyrical approach to the emotional and taboo themes of love and sexuality. He accumulated a groundbreaking catalog that ventured into risque territory that no other mainstream artist explored at the time — or, really, since. He was not only a prodigal musician, recording full complex albums as a teenager, but a virtuoso on innumerable instruments. A notorious studio addict, Prince recorded almost everything himself, which resulted in the artist releasing 39 official full-length records in his lifetime — and that excludes the infinite well that is the “Prince Vault.” Which is to say, a comprehensive “deep cuts” list would include more than 200 songs.
Here are a few of our favorites <3
The Ballad of Dorothy Parker, 1987
The first song Prince recorded in his now famed Studio B (which wasn’t even finished yet before he recorded this, the console had no high end giving the track a very “underwater” feel) is also our favorite album cut. All of the ingredients in “Ballad” are just so confoundingly good — a perfect example of his talents in the storytelling motif, with lyrics that are equal parts humorous and impactfully contemplative.
Bubble baths with pants on, a five-second Joni Mitchell cover, “Let me get a fruit cocktail, I ain’t too hungry”: wisecracks and lines full of wit that Dorothy Parker herself would undoubtedly appreciate. The keyboard takes a Sly Stone approach, with sustains and quick funky hammer-ons, while two bass lines create a fat groove. The key ingredient to the song’s magic is the incredible percussion and Linn Drum programming. Prince set up a funky two-bar loop and recorded all the live rolls and snares in a single take. The result is a quintessential album cut, and Prince at his most brilliant.
Just as Long As We’re Together (Unreleased Version), 1976-77
“Just as Long” was the fifth track on his debut, For You, and the B-side to the “I Wanna Be Your Lover” single. But Prince recorded this several times early in his career. In April 1977, he recorded the entire song from scratch in front of CBS record executives to prove he could play all the instruments and produce himself. He did the exact same thing again for Warner Brothers. We’re unsure where this version fits in the series, but it is our favorite rendition of this beloved Prince jam.
Loring Park Sessions, 1977
The Loring Park Sessions offers an album’s worth of material recorded by Prince at 19. It can’t be considered an official album — it’s primarily instrumental jams — but it is his first collection of studio-produced recordings and precedes the For You album by a full year. An enlightening listen for those interested in hearing the genesis of the high priest of pop.
Another song that lived through a series of reworks, “Wouldn’t You” was first composed in Prince’s early creative period in 1977. This demo version was primarily recorded solo at home on a basic cassette recorder. It was never officially released, but the songs has been covered and was once submitted to Michael Jackson after Prince refused to duet with him on Bad. Prince gave this recording to Quincy Jones for Jackson to work on, but nothing came of it. Prince re-recorded it in ‘86, which is the version you might know on Prince’s 2019 posthumous collection of rarities, Originals.
Prince & The Revolution – Hello (Extended 12″ Fresh Dance Mix), 1985
Here’s a quirky overlooked Prince B-side: This mix, in particular, was only featured on one pressing of the 12” single to “Pop Life.” It’s considered by many heavy Prince fans to be at the top of the list of Prince’s extended mix B-sides.
Can I Play With U?, 1985
“Can I Play with U?” may not be Prince’s greatest but was a long unreleased song that contained an epic collaboration between two greats, Prince and Miles Davis. Miles had just signed to Warner Bros. and his first album would be Tutu. The label requested the collaboration.
Prince simply sent this song with a note: “I can tell just from listening to your music that you and I are so exactly alike that I know whatever you play would be what I’d do. So if this tape is of any use to you, please go ahead and play whatever you feel over it. Because I trust what you hear and play.”“Can I Play …” was supposed to be featured on Sign o’ the Times but it didn’t quite fit with the rest of the record. Plus, neither Davis nor Prince liked the final product.
A Case of U, 2002
Prince’s cover of the Joni Mitchell classic was officially released as the fourth track on his 25th album One Nite Alone… However, Prince has been covering the timeless tune live as early as 1984. Apparently some demo versions are still in his historically massive music vault.
Dance with the Devil, 1989
“Dance with the Devil” was recorded during his soundtrack sessions for Tim Burton’s film Batman. The soundtrack approach indeed led him into some exciting territory musically, employing sounds he may have never otherwise explored. Here we see Prince at his most ominous, facilitating impressionably cold and dark moods, a step into the downtempo realm with many hip hop elements. With chopped effects, it even features Jack Nicholson samples taken from the film.
How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore, 1983
One of the great Prince ballads, “How Come…” was the B-side to 1983 single “1999.” According to his longtime engineer Susan Rogers, this classic ballad featured a meticulously mic’d acoustic piano with reverb. It’s the sole instrument accompaniment, but with his stellar falsetto gospel vocal, what else do you need?
Purple Music, 1982
A Theo Parrish favorite, “Purple Music” was a scrapped 1982 recording that was supposed to be featured on the 1999 album. A low key anti-drug anthem featuring a hypnotic repetitive and bouncy Linn drum beat, funky slap and synth bass, and controversy-esque scratchy guitars, the song is simple, uptempo, subtle, dancey, and shares many common traits with early Chicago house music (which may be why so many old school house fans adore it).
17 Days, 1983
Considered to be a lost masterpiece, “17 Days” was the B-side that forever lived in the shadow of the A-side, “When Doves Cry.” Wendy Melvoin, of Wendy and Lisa, who shares the songwriting credit and played on the recording, had this to say of Prince and the record. “He sang the part of the lonely person a lot, like ‘When You Were Mine’ or ‘The Beautiful Ones.’ Even though he’s got the prowess of a love god, an incredible kind of fantasy person, at the same time he was like a deer in headlights, a very vulnerable person. Those big brown eyes would kill you. But he struggled with his success. One of the reasons he stayed in Minnesota all his life is that it allowed him a little bit of freedom. It was hard after Purple Rain because it was limos and planes and thousands of people, all the time. I think it was hard for him to decide when he could just be Prince, the guy, and when he had to become Prince the superstar. He gave himself so thoroughly to it.”
Considered one of the best Prince songs to never be released, “Extraloveable” was originally written with Vanity 6 in mind but didn’t end up being used by the Prince assembled female vocal trio. The classic Prince Linn Drum beat and wild, noisy synthesizers sound incredible on this extra dirty recording. YouTube comments indicate there’s an earlier version of this tune floating around somewhere that includes guitarist Dez Dickerson who left the band around the time of this recording. Note the little jab at Dez around 5:51 “hey dez don’t you like my band?” Thanks to Andy Beta for the tip on this one!