When Prince’s first greatest hits collection was released, Prince made private comments as a guide for the liner notes. Later briefly posted on his website thedawn.com in 1996, Prince’s comments have been lost for the last 20 years, but now provide a rare first-person insight into how he saw some of his most famous songs.
In 1993, just as Prince had changed his name and began wrangling with his record contract, he agreed to his first-ever collection of greatest hits, released as a 3-disc set, The Hits/The B-sides. Prince’s longtime manager Alan Leeds wrote the liner notes for the box set; already an industry legend for his work with James Brown, Leeds had won a Grammy for his extraordinary work on the liner notes for Startime, the definitive James Brown box set released in 1991.
But Leeds’ notes on Prince’s work included a number of mentions of anecdotes and inspirations that Leeds couldn’t have been privy to first-hand, and a few that only Prince himself could have known. When liner notes for The Hits were posted on thedawn.com three years later, fans were shocked to see that, rather than simply replicating Leeds’ writing, the notes on the site were clearly Prince’s own thoughts. The notes omit many tracks, include mention of songs that weren’t included in the box set at all, and include what appear to be editorial suggestions for Leeds.
Prince often refers to himself as “PRN” (Prince Rogers Nelson) throughout. This was likely both reflective of his longtime habit of trying to issue his pronouncements as coming from a larger, vague collective rather than just himself, and the fact that the notes were likely captured as recited to an assistant. However, it could also have been a deliberate stylistic choice in reference to his then-recent name change; at the time this was published, his public position was that “Prince” was dead.
Update: Alan Leeds himself has weighed in, on Reginald Hudlin’s Facebook page, saying he hadn’t known these notes were ever posted online, but confirming that he did use these comments from Prince to inform his work.
Interesting — I’d never seen this before and wasn’t aware P had posted these comments. For the record, I had volunteered to Warner Bros. to help assemble and sequence the 3 CDs. However, they were stuck on “their” sequence — I never knew for sure if Prince liked or was involved in the sequencing. I believe it was put together by WB’sr in-house catalogue maven, my friend Gregg Geller and I doubt he had much dialogue with Prince. However, Prince did call me to write the notes. I told him it was an honor but only if he’d answer a few questions so I could add some background that wasn’t common knowledge among fans. He agreed but asked me not to write like an interview. So I simply incorporated some of his “revelations” into my notes. When I sent him the finished notes, he called to say “thanks, nice job” and that was it. He surprisingly did zero editing. It’s wonderful to hear directly from Alan on the role these notes played in his incredible work.
“I WANNA BE YOUR LOVER” –originally recorded as a demo 4 Patrice Rushen’s album. PRN had a mad crush on her at the time and the song is about her.
“HEAD” –was only used as a concert tune. This song was picked as Lisa Coleman’s initiation into the band. Gayle Chapman quit because the material of the Dirty Mind period got 2 strong 4 her. Prince figured if Lisa could sing the lyrics to head she could handle anything. The song as a demo as was all the Dirty Mind LP.
“DO ME BABY” –the 1st time Prince turned the control room into a bedroom. Candles were lit, chiffon veils were hung and all the doors were locked.
“Controversy” –write about the first time U heard reflective notes
“LITTLE RED CORVETTE” –after another marathon all-night recording session PRN wrote this in the front seat of Lisa’s pink car (brand of car can be gotten from her) whom PRN drove when she was in LA. PRN always considered the song a dream because it was written between 3 or 4 catnaps and he was never fully awake.
“DIRTY MIND” –Dr. Fink came up with the original keyboard line which PRN heard and wrote lyrics 2 that same night. PRN and Dr. Fink came 2 rehearsal the next day proud of their creation. The band flipped when they heard it. The centerpiece was in place.
“WHEN DOVES CRY” –originally recorded with bass, backing 2 sets of keys and guitar. Frustrated with the mix, PRN sat discouraged in the studio (Sunset Sound). Jill Jones came 2 visit, saw the long face and asked what was wrong. PRN was said to have said, “if eye had my way the song would sound like this.” He then shoved down the bulk of the instrument faders and left up only the drums and the xylophone, when the voices began to sing the chorus. Jill then asked PRN why he thought he couldn’t have his way with the mix. There was no reply. Everyone who passed by the studio was enthralled by the strange sound coming out of Studio 3 that day. The next time Jill heard the song it was on the radio and it was bassless and stark. PRN had his way.
“KISS” –PRN after recording this shelved it because he thought it 2 strange a production 4 human consumption. It was included in the Parade album was an afterthought. PRN thought it never quite worked on that album. Every time he plays it live he changes the arrangement. Probably still feels the same about the public’s acceptance of the sound. It concert it’s never sounded like the record.
“U GOT THE LOOK” –a friend of PRN used 2 jump up and dance whenever Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” came on. As a test this song was recorded to find out of the friend would dance 2 a similar groove or just chill because it wasn’t a hit. Sure enough the friend didn’t like the song until it was in the Top 10.
“SEXY M.F.” –the song that made PRN abandon computers just before he retired. Proof that nothing beats the feel of a live band of funky M.F.’s.
“CREAM” –PRN wrote this standing in a mirror.
“DAMN U” –one of the songs PRN is most proud of; he adores it. Used to play it live even fore it was released. Through the years this has been the indication of his feelings about a new composition.
“I FEEL 4 U” –another demo written 4 the Patrice Rushen project. PRN tended 2 write more Top 40 when writing 4 other artists.
“WHEN U WERE MINE” –written in a hotel room in North Carolina on the Rick James tour. This was not a happy period. PRN didn’t want to do this tour but he needed the exposure cuz his record was breaking R&B first. He was ready 2 headline his own tour but had 2 wait.
“UPTOWN” –a favorite concert number during this period. The anthem 4 all the freaks and funkateers of the Dirty Mind generation. Vocal recorded in one take, no punching in after PRN in his 16 trackhome studio set up the song on the board, plugged in the mic, and left his leather coat on the chair. He went to get pumped at a movie and when it was over walked straight into the studio, donned the leather coat, and sang it straight out. He didn’t listen 2 it until the next day and then began finishing it.
“1999” –was meant 2 be a group vocal. Lisa, Dez, and Prince actually sang the whole song every line. When Prince mixed it he made the decision 2 split up the lines. That’s why the melody keeps changing. Jill Jones 1st big vocal assignment. She does the ad libs on the vamp. Prince loved her voice. Vocally he said she was a ‘cliffdiver.’
“LET’S GO CRAZY” & “PURPLE RAIN” –
“POP LIFE” –the jam in the ‘hood.
“ADORE” –inspired by Patti LaBelle & Luther Vandross who Prince was digging at the time. Patti – “if only u knew”…
“SIGN O’ THE TIMES” –written, recorded, and mixed in one day.
“ALPHABET STREET” Prince always called this an ‘aural cartoon.’ Recorded during the LoveSexy period.
“BATDANCE” –originally a 12″ 4 the song “200 BALLOONS.” This song with every sample just grew and grew. Listening 2 “200 BALLOONS” Prince commented “this sounds like it came from BATDANCE – not the other way around.”
“DIAMONDS AND PEARLS” –written as a duet with Rosie Gaines. Prince vowed never 2 performs it with anyone else. As much as Prince wanted Rosie 2 go solo he hated the fact that he wouldn’t be able 2 peform one of his most prized possessions, Diamonds and Pearls, until they were 2gether again. Prince has called Rosie one of the greatest singers of all time. He most likens her 2 Ella Fitzgerald. Range, speed, and styling. Rosie’s got it all.
“7” –Jevetta Steele asked Prince 4 an explanation of this song. He only smiled.