Results tagged “prince”

I Know Times Are Changing

July 25, 2014

Prince performing on August 3, 1983

0:00 — 0:10

In the summer of 1983, Wendy Melvoin was just 19 years old. She’d flown halfway across the country from Los Angeles for her first professional gig as a guitar player, joining her girlfriend Lisa Coleman in the band where Lisa had been playing keyboards. Almost from the moment she landed, Wendy was thrown into the grueling rehearsals that were taking place in a warehouse in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, right where West Lake Street meets Highway 7.

Rehearsals in the warehouse involved learning dozens of songs, with many of them being created or rearranged on the spot; it was weeks and months of rigorous practice before Wendy was deemed ready to play with the band.

Her debut gig was a fundraiser for a local dance troupe, the Minnesota Dance Theater Company. The temperature on the night of the show was as sweltering as one might expect in early August. The six members of the band made their way over to First Avenue, the evening’s venue, to charge their way through a dozen songs over the course of 70 minutes.

The band challenged the audience with a setlist where half the songs were brand-new, premiering more than 45 minutes of material that no one had ever heard. After almost an hour, Wendy began the penultimate song of the set. A few slow chords, heavily chorused, served to introduce the audience to a new, unfamiliar ballad. For the first ten seconds of the song, the only sound heard was Wendy’s guitar ringing out.

Ten months later, on June 25th 1984, the world got its first listen to those broad, mournful chords as the title track of a brand new album: Purple Rain.

0:50—1:00

A few weeks later, Wendy and Lisa were back in their home state of California, joining their boss Prince, who was having a very auspicious visit to Los Angeles. On August 20, less than three weeks after the charity gig, Prince had been asked to come onstage at a James Brown concert, at the behest of Michael Jackson, who had been singing with Brown onstage. It was the only time the three men would occupy a stage together, and seemed an almost-explicit anointing of Prince by both the funk legend and the man who was then enjoying the height of Thriller’s success.

But despite the recognition, Prince and the Revolution were focused on their work. A few days after the James Brown show, Wendy and Lisa conducted a string section to record a string and piano accompaniment for Purple Rain that Lisa and Prince had arranged. In addition to Lisa adding a much more expressive piano part, there was a three-piece string section which included Lisa’s brother David Coleman on cello. It’s this string part that we can hear rising so dramatically behind the first chorus in the song.

The full version of this orchestral accompaniment track is over ten minutes, matching the original length of the song and then continuing into a more complex coda. But by the time these sessions in Hollywood were done, both the new orchestration and Purple Rain itself would be shorter, to better focus on the purpose for which they were created.

1:50—2:00

Though the idea of “blue states” and “red states” wouldn’t catch on for another two decades, it’s an appropriate framework for Purple Rain’s goals; The song was designed as a perfect amalgamation of red and blue tastes. Much has been made of Prince’s pioneering role in bridging white and black music, of bringing together funk and soul audiences with more conventional rock fans. But little has been said about exactly how he achieved this effect.

Prince simply made use of one of the most potent and consistent techniques of his career: careful appropriation of popular trends in pop music, filtered through his unique sound.

Traditional evaluations of Purple Rain’s songs have tended to describe it as a particularly original creation, given that it includes such distinctively Prince-ly works as When Doves Cry and Darling Nikki (both of which he wrote and performed entirely by himself). But Prince was always watching closely to see what was popular around him, and he put those observations to use in creating the album.

J. Geils Band’s Freeze-Frame, the title track from their 1981 hit album, and likely in the set of the shows on October 9 and 11, 1981, where they shared the bill with Prince.

For example, Prince had shared the stage with the J. Geils Band in 1981, as part of a legendarily ill-fated opening gig for the Rolling Stones where Prince and his band were pelted with objects by the crowd while being booed offstage. A scarring incident, to be sure, but Prince must certainly have noticed that Geils did not get booed offstage. And with good reason — the band’s single Centerfold had just been released two weeks before the Stones show, and would top the charts not long after in February 1982. On the heels of this hit, the band would release Freeze Frame, which was nearly as successful and got to #4 on the Billboard Top 100. Even more striking, the song’s b-side, Flamethrower, went top 20 on the soul charts. The band had an unlikely appeal to both black and white audiences, crossing over in a mirror image of what Prince was striving for.

The “Special Dance Mix” of Let’s Go Crazy, originally available in 1984 on the 12" release of the single.

Little wonder then that Let’s Go Crazy, written just a year later, would incorporate the same staccato organ stabs and driving beat as Freeze Frame (heard quite clearly in the full-length version of Let’s Go Crazy), substituting Prince’s trademark Linn drums for the more conventional sounds of the Geils song, and replacing the “freeze frame!” shout with a similarly percussive “oh no, let’s go!” refrain.

Similarly, in rehearsals from the summer of 1983, we hear Prince referencing what he heard at Paradise Garage, the legendary NYC nightclub. In 1983, that would certainly have included Laid Back’s White Horse, which topped the dance charts that year. Prince‘s creation myth for his song Erotic City was that it was recorded after he and Sheila E. attended a P-Funk concert together and were inspired to stay up all night making the song. And while there may be elements of truth to that story, it’s obvious that he also wanted to create a pastiche of a hit song that was doing well in the clubs.

Erotic City remained a staple of black radio for years after its 1983 release, despite being a b-side and ambiguously containing the word fuck/funk in its chorus.

Laid Back was, of course, a white group (they were from Denmark, a homeland as white as Prince’s) succeeding in a very black genre, synth-driven dance music. It’s little wonder that Erotic City would try to mirror that success, and perhaps inevitable that the song ended up as the b-side to Let’s Go Crazy. Both of Prince’s songs ended up being bigger hits than the earlier works that informed their creation.

But though it’s established that Prince would seek out references as inspiration for his concerted effort at crossing over, who could provide sufficient inspiration for the anthemic title track that his upcoming movie required?

For this, we can again look both to the acts Prince was seeing on the road and what was hitting on the charts in the summer of 1983. During the tour for the 1999 album, which had only ended a few months prior, Prince had been playing in many of the same venues as Bob Seger. Revolution keyboardist Matt Fink explained the appeal to a circumspect Prince: “It’s like country-rock, it’s white music. You should write a ballad like Bob Seger writes and you’ll cross right over.” In perhaps his least Prince-sounding quote ever, Prince mentioned Seger when both were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, “We are both midwesterners and Seger had a lot of influence on me at the start of my career; he certainly influenced my writing.”

It’s not just Seger that was influencing Prince to move into rock balladry. Chick Huntsberry (the giant Santa Claus seen at the James Brown concert above) who was then Prince’s bodyguard and was becoming close to Prince, had been encouraging him to move in the direction of the country-inflected pop ballads that were then all over the charts. Tour manager Alan Leeds recalls Huntsberry’s reaction after first hearing Purple Rain, “He said, ‘Wait until you hear the song he did last night. It’s gonna be bigger than Willie Nelson.’.” Indeed, the guitar solos and even Prince’s vocal inflections of rehearsal versions of Purple Rain show far more of a country-rock influence than the final version.

Stevie Nicks, no stranger to country-informed rock ballads, has also attested that Prince sent her a demo of Purple Rain while he was still in the early stages of creating the song, either for her to write lyrics for or to use as her own song. They certainly knew each other at the time (Prince had contributed synths to “Stand Back” earlier in 1983), but it seems likely that he was refining the song for his own use rather than offering it to her.

Then there is perhaps the clearest antecedent to Purple Rain. Just four months before that August concert where Purple Rain was debuted, Journey released Faithfully, which despite only peaking at #12 on the Billboard charts was recognized as a signature anthem for the band right from its debut. It was reaching its peak airplay in the summer of 1983, just as Prince was creating Purple Rain in the warehouse rehearsals with the Revolution. Though Faithfully is anchored by its opening piano riffs rather than a guitar, it’s not difficult at all to hear echoes of the structure and progression Jonathan Cain wrote for Journey in the final version Purple Rain.

The debt owed to Cain may even have been acknowledged by Prince. In a hard to find Swedish interview in early 2012, Cain claims that Prince asked if it was okay that Purple Rain makes use of the same chords as Faithfully, with Cain demurring that the songs were sufficiently different.

All of this evidence makes it clear that Prince was deliberately scouring as many different sources and influences as possible to design a rocking guitar anthem with maximum mainstream appeal. That goal is never more obvious than in the two key events that happen at 1:50 into Purple Rain.

It is at this point we hear Prince’s guitar enter the song for the first time. Until that point, he had only been contributing vocals. From that point on, Prince’s guitar only increases in importance and centrality to the song, cementing its place as a rock song architected explicitly to appeal across racial boundaries.

Just as important is what we don’t hear. Elided in this transition is an entire minute of the original recording, removed during the same sessions when the string accompaniment was added. This editing serves to erase an entire original verse from the song.

All summer long, Prince had been toying with the lyrics to this lost verse, never quite resolving them into a coherent form, but consistently including them as part of the song. The night of the definitive performance, they were vague, if passionately delivered:

Honey I don’t want your money, no no no.
I don’t even think I want your love.

If I wanted either one, baby, I would take me some money and buy it.

I want the heavy stuff. I want the purple rain. I want the purple rain.

In rehearsals to that point, Prince would often sharpen the final line into “I want the heavy stuff... I want to see what you’re made of.” But, in addition to the contradiction contained in the lyrics (“I don’t want your money… I would take me some money and buy it.”), the message of this verse contradicted the song’s role in the narrative of the film.

And so, the verse was cut, affirming that Prince was doing whatever he could to construct a song which could serve as a signature song not just for an album, or for a film, but for a career. While the Purple Rain album was full of abbreviated edits of songs that he would later perform in their full versions during live performances, that wasn't the case with this missing stanza. After the Hollywood sessions where these edits were made, Prince would never again perform these lyrics as part of Purple Rain.

Purple Rain lyrics

Prince’s original hand-written lyrics for Purple Rain, including the deleted third verse.

2:45—2:55

During the weeks of rehearsal of the Purple Rain material, the band’s sound had been captured almost every day on a simple 24-track recorder that served as the destination for the many cables snaking around the warehouse. The mix for those recordings was managed on a console that was balanced on a few road cases. These machines were usually staffed by David Leonard and David Rivkin. Rivkin was brother to Robert Rivkin, better known as Bobby Z in his role as drummer for the Revolution.

There were new combinations of gear being rigged up for the band on an ongoing basis. Prince’s signature sound to that point had been due in no small part to his use of many of the earliest drum machines, and the show relied on drum machines that didn’t yet allow for the advanced digital controls that bands rely on today. So Prince’s tech Don Batts was forced to hack those primitive drum machines to allow Bobby Z to control a wider range of instruments live on stage.

Linn LM-1 Drum Computer.jpg

A Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, the same model Prince used in his early 80s work. (Wikipedia<)

That same kind of seat-of-the-pants recording technology was used to capture the First Avenue show. The charity show was being recorded thanks to the last-minute addition of a mobile recording truck, brought in from the Record Plant in New York at Prince’s behest. (The Time’s performances of Jungle Love and The Bird earlier that evening, recorded under the same conditions, would be used as the basis for their hit singles and album in 1984 as well. Five major pop hits were recorded in one truck in less than three hours.)

When Prince created When Doves Cry for the album seven months later, he was famously able to remove the bass line from the song in the studio because he had cleanly recorded all the tracks at Sunset Sound’s studios in Hollywood. By contrast, recording conditions for the tracks used on Purple Rain were rife with all the imperfections of a live show.

At 2:45 into Purple Rain, the precarious recording conditions become particularly obvious, when feedback from Prince’s guitar starts to seep into the track. Obviously, given the screeching solo that is to follow, some amount of feedback was necessary and desirable. But nothing attests to the truly electric nature of the song’s creation better than the unexpected feedback that pops up throughout the second half of the song.

4:40—4:50

While Prince and the Revolution had been carefully rehearsing Purple Rain all summer, adjusting each detail of how the song was structured and played, Prince’s nearly-unequalled ability to spontaneously take a live performance to the next level was certainly on display that August night.

Exemplifying this ability is the repeated lilting motif that Prince begins playing on his guitar at 4:40 in the song. For all the countless times they’d practiced the song, even earlier on the same day as the First Avenue performance, Prince had never played this riff during Purple Rain before. In the original live show, it’s clear that Prince realizes he’s found something magical, returning again and again to this brief riff, not just on guitar but even singing it himself during the final fade of the song.

Just as striking is how this little riff shows the care and self-criticism that went into making the song Purple Rain. Like any brilliant 25-year-old guy who’s thought of something clever, Prince’s tendency when he thought of this little gem was to overdo it. In the unedited version of the song, Prince keeps playing the riff for almost another minute, pacing around the stage trying to will the audience into responding to it.

But during those same sessions where the strings were added to the song, Prince ruthlessly chopped down a riff he clearly loves, keeping just enough to serve as a stirring melodic hook for his guitar solo, and leading the song to its soaring vocal climax.

5:15—5:25

At any Prince concert of the last 30 years, the highlight is typically the audience’s singalong to the descending falsetto line that crowns Prince’s guitar solo. But the origins of that signature line are a little more obscure.

Matt Fink, famously rechristened “Dr. Fink” in his role in the Revolution after the surgical scrubs that became his sartorial signature, had been in Prince’s bands from the earliest days. Indeed, Fink’s place in the band was deeply rooted in many ways—the warehouse where the band was rehearsing that summer was just half a mile from the high school he had attended only a few years prior.

It was during the sessions in that warehouse that Fink had first added a descending piano line to the coda of the song. Even as late as a few days before the First Avenue performance, this was merely a striking countermelody adding drama to the end of the guitar solo in the song.

Prince and the Revolution - Warehouse rehearsals

Still from video footage of rehearsals at the St. Louis Park warehouse. Robert (Bobby Z.) Rivkin on drums, Matt Fink on keyboards, Prince on guitar, Wendy Melvoin on guitar.

But by the day of August 3rd, when the band was performing its final rehearsal preparation, Prince had realized the power of Fink’s melody. In practice just hours before the public show, the melody became a soaring vocal hook, evolving in the final performance into perhaps the most affecting part of the song, expressing all of the emotions too powerful for Prince to capture in a lyric. Like Journey’s earlier Faithfully, or U2's later 80s anthems, it also provided a perfect stadium-ready sing-along line, again telegraphing Prince’s ambitions for the song while remaining true to the artistic intent of the piece.

6:40—6:50

Purple Rain is a particularly unusual song for the length of its instrumental coda. Before it fades to a series of striking and unexpected chords performed by the string ensemble, it has one last great hook, a simple piano motif performed by Lisa Coleman.

Given Prince’s legendarily controlling tendencies over his intellectual property, it is perhaps no surprise that the song Purple Rain has almost never been substantially sampled by other pop artists.

But clearly some songwriters consider the tinkling piano at the end of the song to be up for grabs, perhaps because it’s not one of the more obviously recognizable parts of the song. As a result, that piano melody has unexpectedly become the part of the song which lives on in pop radio. Alicia Keys made it the very first thing we hear in her 2007 single, Like You’ll Never See Me Again.

Similarly, Mariah Carey’s first single in 2014, You’re Mine (Eternal) opens with those same notes. Both songs have a pleading, even regretful tone that leaves no doubt their songwriters were making use of the motif to explicitly evoke the emotional context created by Coleman’s work in 1983. Both artists have also covered Prince’s songs from this era, with Keys covering the 1982 b-side How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore early in her career and Carey including her version of Purple Rain’s The Beautiful Ones on a 1997 release.

8:30—8:40

As Purple Rain fades to an end, the last thing we hear is the audience’s applause. While parts of the track had additional applause dubbed in to cover for the original audience’s subdued reaction to the then-new song, it seems clear this final applause is the actual response that Purple Rain inspired at its debut.

Just over a month after the Purple Rain album was released, the film Purple Rain debuted on July 27, 1984. Later that summer, Prince would simultaneously have the number one film, album, and single in the United States. On September 26, 1984, the song Purple Rain itself was released as a single, reaching number two on the pop charts, kept from the top spot by Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, and going gold with over 500,000 copies of the single sold. The Purple Rain soundtrack album has sold over 20 million copies in the last 30 years.

Though Prince has half a dozen singles that did better on the charts than Purple Rain, the song has obviously become Prince’s signature work. It has taken different forms over the years; At an intimate show at his Paisley Park studio in 2002, he did a one-off piano rendition that omitted the famous guitar solo. In recent years he’s even let guitarist Donna Grantis solo on the song. Prince has trotted out Purple Rain to open the Grammy awards with Beyonce, and to shut the Super Bowl down with its best halftime performance ever, complete with a marching band.

Prince - Superbowl

Like the album it completes, Purple Rain has remained provocative and affecting. The song has aged over the last 30 years, especially extraordinary given that Prince was only 25 when he composed it.

During the filming of Purple Rain, a few months after the song was recorded, a love scene between Prince and the movie’s female lead Apollonia was filmed, taking place in a barn. The literal climax of the scene featured a rainstorm, with the sunlight filtering through the storm to provide an image of purple rain.

By the final cut of the film, that scene had been edited from the film. It had been deemed unnecessary.

My Favorite Floppy of All Time

June 23, 2014

After at least 15 years of debating whether I should spend money on this, I recently took the plunge and acquired one of my most-desired Prince collectibles.

Part of the reason I decided to actually acquire this disk was that I'd revisited Parker Higgins' great post about how Prince's signature glyph might have been represented in Unicode if it were able. Even better, once I'd shared the photo I'd taken of the disk, Paisley Park's then-head designer Steven Parke, and Chank Diesel, the Minneapolis type designer whose typefaces would later become stalwarts of Prince's packaging design, both jumped into the thread.

I was pretty surprised to see just how much interest there was in this artifact, but it was a great opportunity to bring out some of the fascinating, innovative work that Prince was doing two decades ago, and to note how fun, funny, and resonant it remains to this day.

Let's Do More

May 13, 2014

I've been trying to do more things that are unfamiliar or slightly out of my comfort zone lately. Here's a quick roundup:

  • I got to participate in Rhizome's venerated Seven on Seven conference, where I teamed up with Kevin McCoy to create monegraph. It's a system that uses the block chain technology which underpins Bitcoin, but puts it to work in service of artists, so that they can verify that a digital work is an original, with a verifiable provenance. I describe the context of the work in A Bitcoin for Digital Art, my first piece for Medium's "The Message" collection, and we also showed it off with a demo at the most improbable of venues, TechCrunch's Disrupt conference. The response overall has been great, as you can tell from the monegraph tumblr.

A Bitcoin for Digital Art

  • The White House's working group on Big Data and Privacy released its report, which is surprisingly thoughtful and appropriately nuanced in its consideration of the issues. As danah so aptly summarized it, "[T]he conversation around the “big data” phenomenon tends to get quickly polarized - it’s good or it’s bad, plain and simple. But it’s never that simple." It's no surprise danah's take was so thoughtful; her Data & Society Research Institute was one of the most valuable contributors to the White House report. In my role on the board of the DSRI, I got to moderate a panel with Kate Crawford, Steven Hodas, Alondra Nelson, and Shamina Singh. The conversation was incredible, and so it's no surprise that our panel was cited in the full report from the White House. You can watch the panel here:

  • Over on The Awl, it's "How to Avoid Raising a Monster" which takes a look at my, uh, parenting style. This includes the question, "Can you ... provide some more examples of when you’ve been especially tempted to do things that wouldn’t be found in any guidebooks on how best to raise a child?"
  • On PolicyMic, a nice piece on 23 Ways Feminism Has Made the World Better for Men includes my least insightful comment ever: "Sex is fun!"
  • Coming up this fall: I'll be speaking at PopTech in October. If you know that conference, you know why I'm geeked out about the opportunity, especially given that John Maeda as host has chosen "rebellion" as the theme for the event.
  • Oh, and Prince finally retweeted one of my tweets, but elided my name and then removed the tweet entirely a brief while later, as he is prone to do. But still, fun for me!
  • And as always, the ThinkUp team has been rocking with a whole range of fun and ridiculous new insights in the app. If you haven't seen ThinkUp lately, you haven't seen it. You should probably sign up and give it a try.

Prince on New Girl

February 2, 2014

[11:05pm] Well, that's a wrap. It's hard for me to say how that ranked as a New Girl episode, but it seemed the narrative of the show may have been subordinated to getting Prince some good lines. That being said, the little man certainly acquitted himself well, and I would absolutely watch a weekly show with Prince in character as this version of himself.

[11:00pm] And love triumphs! Jess finally tells Nick she loves him, and does so while dressed (on Prince's advice) like Stevie Nicks. It could be Prince's lingering memories of having created "Stand Back" with Stevie back in the 80s.

[10:55pm] A little digression: Prince's "When You Were Mine" inspired Janet Jackson's "Just A Little While", which was the lead single from her album Damita Jo, the record she was promoting with her ill-fated Super Bowl appearance a decade ago. See the video here.

[10:50pm] The pancakes references continue, along with Prince simply nodding in response to hearing, "You're good!" Which is exactly what his actual response would be.

I think I've waited my whole life for a music montage in a primetime sitcom to be set to Prince's "When You Were Mine". And here we are!

The ping pong thing there is not some affectation created by the writers; it's an affectation that Prince actually lives and breathes. For example, here's a terrifying and wonderful anecdote from Jimmy Fallon about being summoned to Susan Sarandon's hipster ping pong club in Manhattan (I walk by this a couple times a week) for an impromptu table tennis ass-whooping. [Trigger Warning: Jay Leno]

[10:45pm] Hey it's a pancake reference! Thanks, Dave Chappelle.

Little bit of trivia: eight years before Chappelle Show did its Charlie Murphy True Hollywood Story about Prince that introduced the pancake narrative, a then-mostly-unknown Dave Chappelle was featured in a special where Prince took over VH1 for a few hours. And the pancake thing took on enough of a life with Prince that when his most recent single, "Breakfast Can Wait" was released, the cover was, you guessed it, actually Dave.

breakfast-can-wait.jpeg

[10:40pm] Prince appears! Do note: I have absolutely no respect for people who would actually lower themselves into freaking out when meeting Prince. You're obligated to be cool about it.

This question comes up a lot with casual fans, but yes Prince really is his real name. Prince Rogers Nelson.

[10:38pm] The first failed attempt by Jess to say "I love you" ends in her passing out, to the sounds of Andy Allo's "People Pleaser", which was produced by Prince in late 2012.

[10:35pm] Playing in the background here as our heroines enter Prince's party is "Give 'Em What They Love" a Prince duet from Janelle Monae's album The Electric Lady. Late last year Prince said her album was the best album of 2013.

Here's Prince anointing Janelle's album onstage after they played together in late December:

[10:25pm] And we're off! We've got the setup, based on Prince's manager almost running over our heroines and making it up to them by inviting them to a party at Prince's house. This is plausible; Prince has a few young women who manages some of his affairs, like Kiran Sharma. No word from her yet if she's ever nearly run over Zooey Deschanel.

[10:00pm] Prince was of course chosen to star in this post-Super Bowl episode of New Girl due to his performance in Super Bowl XLI being the greatest halftime show of all time. I wrote a brief introduction to that performance before it aired.

Prince tends to optimize his entire career around maintaining control, which regularly puts him in the position of shutting down videos and streams of his work online. As a result, there's no high-quality version of his Super Bowl performance online. But for right now, you can see a shoddy-quality video of it here:

The playlist featured Prince's own "Let's Go Crazy" and "Baby, I'm A Star", along with covers of Hendrix's version of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" and Foo Fighters' "Best Of You", but the undeniable highlight was Prince performing his signature "Purple Rain" in, you guessed it, a purple rain.

[9:30pm] Now that the Super Bowl is over, we can get on to the main event: Prince's appearance on New Girl. I've never seen New Girl, but I don't think that should hurt my ability to document the important part of this episode, which is Prince.

The premise of this episode is that Jess and Nick are going to tell each other they love each other, but are struggling to do so. This will be resolved by Jess consulting with Prince for advice after the crew ends up at a party at Prince's house. Prince did use to regularly hold house parties at his Los Angeles house, which he called "3121" and had named an album after. (True story: I got invited to a party at Prince's house in L.A. once. I had to get a purple raincheck, and ended up going to his Oscar party instead.)

If you haven't kept up with Prince in a while, don't worry: He's timeless. Here's a comparison of his appearance at the beginning of Purple Rain (which was released 30 years ago), and his appearance in the episode of New Girl tonight.

Prince in Purple Rain and on New Girl


On the day of the Super Bowl, one of the most commonly-search-for terms on the Internet is the obvious question: What time is Prince going to be on New Girl? The popular Fox sitcom will be featuring the iconic pop star this year, and so it's natural that people across the Internet would ask, "What time is the episode of New Girl that features Prince?"

Fortunately, this is a very easy question to answer. This special episode of New Girl, featuring Prince, is on after the Super Bowl. That's on the east coast. On the west coast, the Prince episode of New Girl is on after the Super Bowl.

Stay tuned here at approximately 10:00pm to 10:30pm Eastern Time, when the special Prince episode of New Girl will begin. We'll have live-blogging coverage of the event as it happens. You can follow along by refreshing here.

Related Reading

  • Heaven, Hell, Marvin, Prince and the Party: A rumination on the role that Marvin Gaye and Prince's fathers played in their spirituality and work ethic, and how this is reflected in the way they partied on some of their signature records.
  • A Golden Era of Prince Scholarship: There's been a renaissance (a Revolution?) in taking Prince's work seriously in recent years; Here's a brief glimpse at the wonderful results of that flowering of research.
  • Toure's I Would Die 4 U was a great look at Prince's place in the larger cultural canon, and I was delighted to be quoted it.
  • Why not spare an hour and a half to hear Questlove, Toure, Danyel Smith and Alan Leeds talking about their uniquely informed perspectives on Prince's career? It's totally worth it.

Heaven, Hell, Marvin, Prince and the Party

January 4, 2013

Every great career in rhythm and blues leads only to heaven or hell. The path to hell is obvious: From Sam Cooke gunned down to James Brown leading a multi-state police chase to Sly Stone strung out on crack and living in a van to Whitney Houston's body lying dead as the industry partied a few floors below, our culture's never treated the shining lights of our most soulful genre with kindness. The archetype of this path is Marvin Gaye, facing his demons at the wrong end of a gun aimed by the man who gave him his name and his life.

But heaven doesn't look much better. Whether it's Al Green leading rote singalongs of his greatest hits, or Stevie Wonder's once-essential annual albums slowing down to a trickle of treacle, or Aretha Franklin being used largely as set decoration to signify which events are deemed Worthy Of A Legend. We start to understand why someone like me who loves Lauryn Hill or D'Angelo (or even Dave Chapelle, a comedian who's lived the career of a soul singer) often want to tell them "I've gotten all I ever need from you; Go take care of yourself." Even my beloved Prince has taken to generously sprinkling a still-vital and compelling live show with bowdlerized medleys of greatest hits, interpreting his ever-present religious fixation as a compulsion to undo the ferocity and provocation that earned him his audience three decades ago.

I always thought Michael was going to buy his way to heaven, but held a grim conviction that he might meet his end at the hands of a crazed fan. With the hindsight of a few years, it would appear that, in a way, he did. Those on the heavenly path of an R&B legend are of course faced with the constant temptations of fate and fame; Given enough success, you can just keep paying doctors on retainer until you find the one who's greedy and starstruck enough to not quit in protest when you ask for a lethal dose of anesthetic.

It's no wonder Questlove's most recent quest is to encourage himself and others in the world of soul music to do what it takes to live well past 50. A grim goal made even sadder by the humility of its ambitions.

This is a simple audio essay I put together to go alongside the rest of this essay, explaining some of the ideas.

The father, the son, the lions, the lambs

You don't even have to wait for a soul artist to say "I was raised in the church" when they're interviewed; If they don't recite it themselves, the interviewer will inevitably provide the affirmation without prompting. But R&B legends are also raised by their families, ranging from a litany of "never knew my dad" absences to the all-too-present presence of Joseph Jackson. But as surely as Tito picked up Joseph's guitar, there's a world of difference between preacher dads and player dads.

Marvin's father was a preacher, his last name spelled "Gay" without the "e", the least-fitting name possible. Marvin Sr. was fire and brimstone and an Old Testament-style lack of compromise. Even years before he murdered his son, he'd undermined his musical genius son enough that Marvin Jr. was constantly felt the need to prove his masculinity, whether through adding a vowel to diminish the presumed affront to his heterosexuality that lurked in his own surname, or through outrageously transparent attempts to affirm how virile and conventionally male he truly was.

Hence the Detroit Lions. Marvin Gaye not only befriended the players — he tried out for the team. While he was a competent player, he was nowhere near capable of playing at an NFL level. But as a symbol of hypermasculine strength, what could be more credible than being a professional football player?

Naturally, an obsession (and insecurity) of this magnitude shows up in the music. Though any "party" that appears in a pop song is necessarily artificial, there really were Detroit Lions players in the studio to provide the introductory party vibe that starts "What's Going On". Marvin spoke of sidelining his musical career in favor of athletics, but the seriousness of the threat was undermined by the ferocity with which he fought Berry Gordy for the right to release What's Going On despite Gordy's objections to its brazenly political stance.

Hired Gun Brimstone

Prince's party was carefully constructed, arranged as if it were a string section, to be multiracial and ambiguously gendered.

Prince's dad John Nelson had none of Marvin Gay Sr.'s misgivings about the music; He was in a band called the Prince Rogers Trio, whence came his second son's name. And though they too had a tumultuous relationship, there was at least enough of a rapport between Prince and his father that they collaborated several times during John's life.

But having a dad who was also a musician must have helped shaped Prince's utilitarian view of relationships, where the people in his life were sometimes just instruments to be arranged in the service of a composition.

It shows up in the way that parties appear on Prince's work. From the track "Eye No" that opens up 1988's Lovesexy, we get a party breaking out over the final fade that segues into Alphabet Street, the next track on the record. But a closer listen to the "party" reveals it to be far more scripted than Marvin's "What's Going On"; All of the folks taking part were part of Prince's studio crew or touring band.

More telling than the fact that the party was scripted (because obviously, it's not like Marvin Gaye was spontaneously recording a house party on What's Going On) is the fact that Prince reuses the exact same recording of party sounds a number of times in his work. Before appearing at the end of I No, the party segue showed up at the end of an unreleased track called The Ball, which was a sort of prototype for the song made a few years earlier. That original recording segued into one of Prince's all-time greatest blues guitar tracks, Joy In Repetition. But that song wouldn't be released until 1990's Graffiti Bridge.

That time period also marked the beginning of the first signs of the wild unevenness that would characterize Prince's post-80s work, so some of the reuse of the party sounds may have simply been in-studio laziness on his part. But the fact that the party didn't even have the pretense of being anything but an element of a larger composition offers a glimpse into the intense, nearly obsessive focus Prince had on seeing everything, and everyone, in his world through the lens of how they could be part of his soundtrack.

It's not hard to picture that kind of single-mindedness being grounded in having a father who, in stark contrast to Marvin Gay Sr.'s skepticism, was in fact an accomplished musician himself. Fortunately in Prince's case, that turned into a competitive drive that fueled a nearly-unparalleled burst of pop creativity. The downside was that, rather than seeking out success in a wildly-unfamiliar territory like professional sports, Prince's world retreated to the safe-but-well-known path that leads to being a greatest-hits jukebox.

Ever After

I love this music. It's the soundtrack of my whole world, and usually the way I end the day with my son, listening to these artists and their peers and the echoes of their fathers and their faults. I'm an optimist; I want to believe that it doesn't take extreme and trying circumstances for a talented child to grow up to be a truly profound artist as an adult.

More broadly, I want to think I can be moved by an artist's work without thinking I'm being complicit in their destruction. If they're finding redemption, from the tribulations of their youth or from the challenges of their faith, in creating a work, I don't want my embrace of their celebrity to be an instrument of their undoing.

That soul music is grounded in heaven in hell is the basis of its power. This is why songs that seem like they're incessantly talking about superficial aspects of being in love can tell stories that are profound and timeless. But it seems truly profane that the people most blessed to tell these stories are doomed to follow them to paths that either leave them tormented or robbed of their flame. Maybe the next people who can find salvation in these songs can be those who actually create them.

Related Reading

These themes have been fixations here for a while; Here are some variations on the theme:

A Golden Era of Prince Scholarship

March 28, 2012

Despite his obviously profound impact on popular culture, Prince has generally not been the subject of nearly as much academic study as his peers such as Michael Jackson, his influences like James Brown, or even contemporary hip hop acts from Biggie to Tupac to Jay-Z.

Fortunately, that odd omission is being remedied, and the people doing so are among the best and brightest not just among those of us who take Prince's career seriously, but in academic study of culture overall. Some recent highlights from the past month, which is inarguably the best month that academic study of Prince's work has ever had:

Prince at Pop Conference

  • The session on Prince at the 2012 International Association for the Study of Popular Music's Pop Conference was led by Matt Thomas (@matthomas) and Zaheer Ali (@zaheerali) and, judging by the records of it that I've seen, must have been truly formidable. Matt's presentation was "From Counterculture 2 Cyberculture and Back Again", offering a deep look at how Prince's embrace of the web has shaped the second half of his career. That perspective must be particularly well-informed by Matt's doctoral research into life-hacking. Meanwhile, Zaheer's presentation, "MPLS (Minneapolis): As Site and Sound", spoke to how grounded Prince's perspective has been in his unique geographic origin, as demonstrated well in this wonderful, video-rich preview of his talk that Zaheer shared last week. Perhaps the most effusive praise for Matt and Zaheer's session could be seen in this detailed record of the tweets during their talk, which Zaheer collected on Storify.
  • Meanwhile, my friend Toure was addressing Prince's work at nearly the same time, in his series of three Alain LeRoy Locke Lectures at Harvard's Barker Center. As Toure's been researching for his upcoming book, he's settled into a few key themes that keep popping up in understanding the cultural impact of Prince's career, and those were on full display. First was Prince's divorce-informed perspective on love and relationships, which suffuses all of his work from the earliest stages of his career. And just as key is Prince's use of religion and religious allegory, as one of the fundamental building blocks of his lyrical and musical efforts. As the Crimson says:

Touré argued, for instance, that Prince’s religious upbringing, which included services at Seventh-day Adventist churches, informed his use of gospel sound. He referenced the distinct-if-subtle influence in songs like “Let’s Go Crazy,” which includes a quasi-sermon at the beginning, and “Do Me, Baby,” which seizes on the call-and-response vocals and euphoric climaxes that are typical of gospel music.

Based on his notoriously lewd lyrics, Prince seems like an extremely unlikely Christian rocker. However, Touré argued that Prince’s frank sexuality on songs like “Do Me, Baby” were used to make his frequent religious references more palatable. “It was like hiding vitamins in chocolate cake,” Touré said, citing Prince’s apocalyptic overtones in the song “1999” or self-deification on “I Would Die 4 U.” The most memorable use of lyrical evidence, however, came when Touré passionately recited the numerous times Prince has referenced the number seven, an important number in the Bible and Seventh-day Adventism.

Touré's book is still being written, but in the interim you can tide yourself over with "Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What It Means to Be Black Now", his most recent title, which forms a wonderful companion to Baratunde's "How to Be Black". Similarly, you should check out Manning Marable's Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, for which Zaheer was a senior researcher as part of his work at Columbia's Malcolm X Project.

And who knows, maybe we'll even graduate to having full classes about Prince's work at some point in the future. Might be enough to make me enroll.

Thanks to Carleton Gholz for the image used above.

I Find It Bonkers, By The Way

May 14, 2009

If you don't follow me on Twitter, you've been missing out. But fear not! I take care of my loyal blog readers as well, by offering you the highlights of the interesting links I've been sharing there:

HAHA LOL

This world wide web thing, i think it's going to work out. I think it's gonna be good for the both of us. As always, "HAHA LOL" is courtesy of Alaina Browne.

Okay, Fine: Links!

October 15, 2007

Put these in your browser, and shake well.

  • Facebook apps are not a long tail. So says Chris Anderson, who oughtta know. The tougher question is: Since the recent changes to app distribution on Facebook's platform, will there ever be another popular new application on Facebook again. Or is the era of hit F8 apps over already?
  • Prince is Rolling Stone's most underrated guitarist. The article's got a great shot of Prince's most ridiculously entertaining affectation of recent years: His habit of throwing his guitar away in faux-disgust at the end of his solos. His poor guitar tech Takumi is gonna take one of these spiky symbol-shaped guitars to the head one of these days while trying to make the catch.
  • I loved Ian Rogers' post about digital music, "Convenience Wins, Hubris Loses". Choice quote: "Back in 1999 ... We naively and enthusiastically suggested to labels that we’d be a great place to sell MP3s. The response from the labels at the time was universally, 'What’s MP3?' or 'Um, no.' Instead they commenced suing Napster." Working in music promo online back then, I got to see those reactions first hand, and I guess I was equally naive.
  • Rafe points to Jeff Atwood's great post about copyright and YouTube. I have the opposite conclusion than these guys: If YouTube has created something fantastic, and it required copyright violation to do so, then copyright law should be changed to make it legal. Laws are ours, people -- they're not carved on stone tablets.
  • The PlayStation 3 is a complete failure for casual gaming. That's not news, but it's never been articulated as well. Especially damning is that even the fanboys can only dispute minor facts, not the fundamental conclusion.

U Don't Have To Be Rich

August 4, 2007

In the New Yorker, Bruce Wagner tries to live my life:

The performance began at two in the morning and took place in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. It was amazing. I was so close to Prince that I was injured during the six-and-a-half-hour set. A few lucky ones, who paid an additional hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars--twelve of us, to be exact, including Simon Cowell, the body of Christopher Isherwood, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Moore, the lissome Emma Watson, and the physicist Stephen Hawking--milled about after the show. We were all gregarious and high from the experience....

After Prince stopped playing, the two of us had brunch together. I was sitting so close to the diminutive legend that, as he ate, flecks of his omelette fell into my mouth. The privilege of this intimate meal cost an additional eighty-five thousand dollars, but it was worth every penny.

For a few weeks afterward, I was depressed. Going out to dinner with friends--for, say, two hours of convivial overfamiliarity and banal, rehashed conversation--seemed like idiocy, and the emptiness was only exacerbated when my friends jumped for the check. Even my normal morning ritual held no joy. Usually, one assistant comes into the bedroom with a pot of Indonesian coffee (the brew, six hundred dollars a pound and DHL'd from England, where it is rumored to be a favorite of the Royal Family, is sifted from the dung of wild civets) while a second factotum presents me with a freshly bound volume containing selections from every blog and Twitter and Facebook entry that has mentioned my name in the past twenty-four hours--hundreds of pages, with "BRUCE WAGNER" in convenient boldface--but even this lost its allure.

This is exactly what my experience was like, only my freshly bound volume is slightly thicker than Bruce's.

Giving Records 2 U

July 22, 2007

In the New York Times, Jon Pareles gets it exactly right:

Prince's priorities are obvious. The main one is getting his music to an audience, whether it's purchased or not. "Prince's only aim is to get music direct to those that want to hear it," his spokesman said when announcing that The Mail would include the CD. ... Other musicians may think that their best chance at a livelihood is locking away their music -- impossible as that is in the digital era -- and demanding that fans buy everything they want to hear. But Prince is confident that his listeners will support him, if not through CD sales then at shows or through other deals.

Prince's latest album Planet Earth was bundled for free with newspapers in the U.K.; His 2004 album Musicology was given away with all of his concert tickets that year, as he's doing again this year. And in his 1993 track "Pope", Prince said, "Every time u want it, I'll be live -- bring a date, I mean a computer; When it's over, press save." -- I think he meant it. Somehow the record industry thinks that giving music away for free is unsustainable, but I suppose that depends on what you're good at.

The Times story has a bunch of MP3 samples of Prince's biggest hits, too.

Why do all record industry execs sound like thugs?

June 29, 2007

As much as we like to blame the RIAA for all the evils of the recording industry, leave it to my boy Prince to bring out the best in the execs over in the U.K. And mind you, these are music retailers, not even the people who, despite their extortionate ways, might actually have once helped an artist with production or distribution.

The Entertainment Retailers Association’s co-chairman Paul Quirk couldn’t help himself at an industry conference:

“It would be yet another example of the damaging covermount culture which is destroying any perception of value around recorded music. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince should know that with behaviour like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores. And I say that to all the other artists who may be tempted to dally with the Mail on Sunday.”

So, what’s the transgression that made this guy lash out at Prince, and threaten “artists who may be tempted to dally”? Prince is giving away free CDs with the Mail on Sunday newspaper. Oh, the humanity! And he’s done this before, of course; His 2004 CD Musicology was given away for free at all of his concerts that year, though U.S. retailers were a lot more quiet with their grumblings. I do like that the tension between the death of the record industry and the decline in circulation of print has pitted these two behemoths against each other, however.

Keep in mind — this isn’t some low-level spokesperson for this industry group, this was the co-chairman of the organization, one of the guys in charge. Thus, when I read this story, I realized the only one who could possibly be cackling more loudly than me was Prince himself. Aside from performing, I think his greatest joy in life is to make stodgy old guys so mad they get flustered and start sputtering.

Oh, and the new album Planet Earth features the return of Wendy & Lisa and will probably actually have some good songs, too. I am tempted to dally with it.

This one's for Yosemite Sam

June 8, 2007

This one's sublime: "What's your favorite kitchen sound?"

This one's the truth, finally. The most eloquent dismissal of User Generated Discontent (or in this case, nominal competitor-generated discontent) yet written:

It does, however, drive me nuts that you guys clearly take the influence and then blast us every chance you get...[T]he slamming, hyping up the dreams ... none of that is necessary. It's destructive. And what you don't seem to get is that it doesn't even help you at all...

One of my personal missions in life is to help people express themselves creatively because I think that the expression of human creativity is one of the things that gives purpose to the universe. In one sense, I think that's what we're here for. And that mission applies to you two as well.

You hear that, kids? Intellectual dishonesty doesn't pay! I couldn't have articulated it better myself, even when I tried to.

This one's just for me -- Prince: Perfumer, Macy's Shopper, and Verizon Subscriber. This may be the very first time Pitchfork's ever made something I had even a vague interest in reading.

This one's a shame: Brittney Gilbert leaves "Nashville is Talking". The pioneer of bringing traditional local media into the brave new world of social media has had enough of the bullshit. Brittney Gilbert found herself the victim of stupidity for highlighting someone else's stupidity on a TV stations' blog. While some of the User Generated Malcontents might see this as a victory, I've learned from experience that's better to take care of one's own sanity than to try to prove that you're tough enough to withstand an angry mob.

This one is still the one-and-only manual that can explain exactly how to get a number one single.

And then this is fair warning that next week is all about mangoes, minus some diversions into Best of LOL.

A Temple in Vegas

April 2, 2007

Sasha Frere-Jones bears witness to Prince's ageless funk in this week's New Yorker. As much as I admire Prince's gifts, it's Sasha's job I want.

The Smoking Guitar

March 7, 2007

Always trust the guys at The Smoking Gun to ferret out the good stuff. "Thanks CBS for turning my son GAY." This, of course, is the substance of one of the complaints filed to the FCC about Prince's Superbowl performance.

Well-Spoken Links

February 9, 2007

Okay, these are the links you should be reading on the Internet today.

Is The New

  • The New York Times reports on Justin Timberlake's new audience. "Unlike his former boy-band colleagues, Mr. Timberlake has even won over musicians who prefer lo-fi thrash to the slicker sounds of mainstream albums." These hipsters could have been five years ahead of the curve if they'd just have listened to me.
  • So it turns out there actually may be some Hunanese origins for General Tso's chicken. I've been using General Tso's chicken as the definitive example of how I became clueful about eating good food ("It's not even a real Chinese dish -- I'm a dummy!"), but I like this story of how it's a creation of cross-cultural entrepreneurism even better. I wonder if my family members in Taiwan have ever tried the "delectable concoction of lightly battered chicken in a chili-laced sweet-sour sauce".
  • I'm hoping danah won't be offended if I call her defense of walled gardens articulate. It's also thought-provoking, which is high praise indeed.
  • On the flip side of the walled garden conversation is PB's ongoing onfocus series about getting off the grid. The technology here is interesting, but I'm enjoying watching the thought process behind the coding that Paul has been doing.

A Pre-Superbowl Prince Primer

February 2, 2007

Purple Rain Update: I put up a setlist and mini-review of Prince's Superbowl performance on Vox, and as I find videos of the performance, I'll put them up there, too.

Most everybody who knows me well knows that I've been a fan of Prince for pretty much my entire life. So when casual fans or non-fans hear that Prince is playing the halftime show at the Superbowl this year, they ask me, "What's up with that guy?" or "Is his name still a symbol?"

So I figured I'd put together a quick primer on Prince, at least what he's been up to since he was at his most prominent back in the 80s.

  • Prince's name is Prince. Legally, it always has been, but he did go by the symbol (which is usually typed out as "O(+>") from 1993 until 2000. But his public name is now again the same as his legal name.

prince-ultimate.jpg

  • Though he's not commercially or culturally dominant like he once used to be, Prince is not a has-been, either artistically or on the charts. His "3121" album last year debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts, and followed the success of his Musicology tour and album in 2004, which had a great run on the charts and grossed over $90 million dollars as the most lucrative tour of the year. And his single, "Song of the Heart" from the "Happy Feet" soundtrack won a Golden Globe for best original song just the other day.
  • 3121 is also his most consistently interesting and listenable album in years, so if you have his greatest-hits box set with b-sides or the recent, excellent "Ultimate" collection, it's a good place to start. Oh, and buy "Sign O' The Times", if you don't have it. There's just no excuse not to.
  • Overall, Prince has had dozens of top 10 singles, he's released over 20 albums with almost all of them going at least platinum, he's made 3 or 4 films with nearly 50% of them watchable, and even as he nears 50 years old there just aren't any live acts that are better than him. Maybe, now that he's slowed down a bit, somebody who's at their prime can be as good in concert as Prince. But since James is dead, nobody can beat him.

Since most of my readers are geeks who like technology, and care about issues ranging from DRM to artist's rights to the tyrrany of the RIAA, there's some other things that might appeal to you about Prince's career. A short list of highlights:

  • Prince has distributed much of his own music independently since 1994, and his major label deals since then have largely been promotion-and-distribution deals where he retained ownership of his master recordings.
  • Prince is the first artist not signed to a major label to perform during the Superbowl halftime show, not counting accessory marching bands and child choirs.
  • He's had a continuous presence on the web since 1995, and last year won a Webby for his work online
  • There are a number of really great prince fansites like prince.org, though Prince's control freak tendencies have resulted in a lot of stupid legal threats towards them
  • Prince distributed an online-only album back in 1997 with the liner notes available as a website
  • Prince published an interactive CD-ROM in 1994, and it didn't totally suck
  • He has distributed several albums' worth of material exclusively online through his own music label (though much of it was DRMed) as well as a number of videos and some really bad poetry
  • Prince's webmaster maintained a now-defunct blog, largely ghostwritten by Prince, starting back in 2000.
  • Prince and some of his studio staff used to actually join in on AOL chat room discussions with fans as late as 1995, talking about recording work in progress
  • His current official site, 3121, should have a song available for download today

There's a lot more trivia I can spout, and I love the man's work because it's funky, not because he's been a pioneer in digital distribution. But my geek friends are always surprised to find out that "that guy who wrote Kiss" is also seriously on the edge of technology and tech culture in many ways.

Prince is snagged by the Invisible Fishhook of FunkIf you want a sneak peek at what he's going to be performing at the Superbowl this Sunday, ther are some great video clips from the CBS affiliate in Miami. Prince had told reporters he'd be answering some questions in a press conference, but played 3 songs for them instead. The station then staked out his rehearsal stage (shaped like the symbol!) with a helicopter and shot footage from the chopper. Judging by the lighting and choreography, since there's no sound, it looks like we'll see a medley of 5 or 6 songs, with Purple Rain thrown in towards the middle. There's a marching band, the Florida A&M University Marching 100, and if they actually release doves then he'll probably have to play "When Doves Cry". And Tipper Gore will have to apologize to us all for saying he was offensive, because Prince isn't offensive, he's cheesy.

I get excited about this stuff because I forget most people have never seen him play. (From a jaded reporter: "I've never been to a Prince press conference before, but after Thursday, I would recommend them to all my friends. In fact, I'd give it a 9 out of 10 because you can dance to it.") Anyway, I have a pretty exhaustive storehouse of otherwise-useless Prince knowledge, so feel free to ask any questions if you want in the comments.

Prince's Pretty Patent

January 5, 2007

Sure, everybody's linking to Ironic Sans' (admittedly entertaining) Celebrity Patents, since Waxy pointed them out, but did you know Prince actually has a real patent?

Patent D349127 is for a portable electronic keyboard musical instrument. But Prince prefers to call the monstrosity the Purpleaxxe™.

Purpleaxxe!

It's a horrible 80s-style keytar, though it wasn't created or actively used until well into the 90s. Prince, of course, didn't inflict the ungainly shoulder-mounted funk launcher on his own frame -- he made his then-keyboardist Tommy Elm play it. But no, this sort of humiliation wasn't enough for Prince to inflict on the young man, he also renamed the poor fellow Tommy Barbarella, after -- you guessed it! -- the 1968 Jane Fonda sci-fi cheesecake flick. As you might guess, it's one of Prince's favorite movies.

Though the Purpleaxxe™ has fallen into disuse in the interceding decade and a half, Elm is still saddled with his unfortunate sobriquet (joining such stalwart Prince-named talents as Carmen Electra). And you can find mention of the Purpleaxxe™ in various liner notes on Prince's albums, as well as the lyrics to a b-side remix on an out-of-print CD single from 1992. You know, if you're in to that sort of thing.

I Put Links In The Blog...

July 25, 2006

...and you put links in your browser, and that's what makes the web work.

  • Michael Fitzgerald has a nice piece in CIO about starting a business blog. I'm in there, briefly, but it's worth reading anyway.
  • FAQs and Walkthroughs for New Super Mario Bros. I've got three stars, I've done Challenge Mode... now I'm just wandering around looking for things to do.
  • Data structures as culture. I love this stuff: "Microsoft emphasizes tree problems because their culture puts a high value on the kind of mental gymnastics often necessary to solve such problems, while Apple emphasizes hashtables because its aesthetically-oriented culture prizes their combination of zen-like simplicity and seemingly impossible speed."

Would You Like Some Links?

July 20, 2006

I enjoy links myself, so I thought you might want some too. Here, then:

  • Graphs as art: Werner Vogels picks up the site graph meme with some nice visualizations of Amazon and A9.
  • Knowing enough to be dangerous: Bad advice about Windows tweaking, debunked by Dr. Jason, who's never happier than when he's correcting misinformation.
  • The response to the Mumbai bombings has been rather hushed. Both the attacks and the lack of discussion have been on my mind, Sepia Mutiny covers the topic well.
  • And then, finally, Concerning the platinum bitch. I've been meaning to write a post about Khia for about two years; Stephen beat me to it and now I don't have to.

Culture Jamming, or Jam & Lewis

July 12, 2006

It's no great revelation that popular music has largely shifted to a producer-centric culture, and though this is true not just in hip hop or house music, as discussed earlier, those were certainly two of the biggest influences. If you want to talk about great producer-centric music of the last twenty years or so, though, you owe it to yourself to visit the catalog of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. (Sadly, the best web resource on the duo, an old fan club site, is now offline. There's a web archive record of it.)

There's way too many of their songs to get into a full overview of their catalog (I have at least 250 of their songs in my collection), but at least I've got good starting point for n overview now. George had sent me a link to Stylus magazine's forum on Jam & Lewis' singles, which is like a link directly to my iPod's cold little heart. I love Jam and Lewis because they're such obvious and talented culture vultures, appropriating and approximating virtually every style of pop music. Sometimes it's in service of an artist whom they're producing, but honestly sometimes it sounds like they're doing it just because they have the guts and chops to make it work.

So just to append my two cents to the Stylus overview:

  • Sounds of Blackness' "The Pressure" is still one of my favorite songs any time I'm trying to feel motivated. I was always self-conscious about that because it's the ultimate cheesy house song, but fuck it. It's just a good song.
  • It is of course impossible to mess with Janet's "Rhythm Nation". Jam and Lewis clearly see the "Thank U Falettin' Me Be Mice Elf Agin" as the funkiest backing track ever, and if it ain't, it's certainly tied for first place. They sampled it here, they sampled it on a remix of Michael's "Scream" (see below) and they all-but-explicitly reference the track in nearly all their production on the Rhythm Nation album. I'm pretty sure that, the song dating to 1989, they didn't clear the sample. That means that Janet denied her brother some royalties, since he owned the publishing to the song at the time. He still owns half, so maybe he gets a nickel when you buy the record.
  • I had always mistaken Michael's "Scream" for merely overproduced until hearing the instrumental made me realize how well-produced the record was as well. All this depite the fact that "Scream" sounded dated right out of the gate, a thin retread of "Jam" from Dangerous. You kind of can't listen to the song without hearing the sound of a video that cost too much. Much better is "Scream Louder", Jam and Lewis' remix of Scream built on top of, you guessed it, the rhythm track to Sly's "Thank U".
  • "Go Deep" was the first Janet single since before Control that wasn't a total ass-kicker. Frankly the song was boring, and with Velvet Rope having tons of really interesting production, a song that sounded like Janet trying to sound like Aaliyah was a weak way to go.
  • Johnny Gill still scares the shit out of me, and his signature single sounds more like a threat than a come-on; Please, Johnny, don't hurt 'em! Rub them correctly!
  • Now this is a Janet single, "Someone to Call My Lover". The Jermaine Dupri remix is stupid but stil catchy as hell, but the original single with its America sample over Miami bass beats is still just too smart to ignore. The drums on this track were done by Alan Richbourg, who did a lot of the beats on Velvet Rope, and listening to that album, you could almost hear him saying "I've been listening to Björk lately." Which is a good thing. I was very happy to hear him get a chance at going to bat on a single, although sadly the promotion on the record was kinda weak. With pop artists, you always want the single to do well because that means you're more likely to get some cool remixes or b-sides. Plus Janet finally stopped her series of Great Samples From Adult Contemporary Female Singer-Songwriters of the Seventies.
  • The SOS Band always kind of messes with my mind, and I think the Stylus comments on "Just Be Good To Me" capture that sense nicely.
  • "Cherrelle - I Didn't Mean to Turn You On" I saw this song mentioned on the page and actually said "Haaaaaaaay" out loud. That's how I feel about this song. How great is this song? Not merely great enough that even the late Robert Palmer could make a hit out of it, but that Mariah Carey's Prince-style cover of it in 2001 made for the only listenable song on the Glitter soundtrack. Now that means you've got a good song. And the best part? Jam and Lewis themselves produced that cover. Jam and Lewis, of course, started their careers working for Prince. It all comes full circle. Need to continue the circle further? Ponder the fact that Palmer's version of "Addicted To Love" inspired Prince to create "U Got The Look" on a dare, to see if he could make his own version but still chart as a pop single. Prince tends to win his bets.
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