Alternative Version, demo

Just Seventeen

I write this whilst glancing furtively over my shoulder, lest one of the more strong-armed amongst the internet police should apprehend me. You ain’t seem me, right?

Since Prince passed away, bits and pieces of his stellar catalogue have begun peeking around the corner before nestling quietly in some groovy corner of the internet, seemingly far out of reach of the heavies once employed by the wee genius to ensure the world wide web remained totally Prince-free. Quite a task, all things considered, but a task that was strictly adhered to nonetheless. Now that he’s no longer around to crack the whip, it would appear that things are just a wee bit more relaxed when the subject of Prince and his online presence are broached. Which is just dandy for folk like me who are keen to write about the best music whilst providing a non-downloadable soundtrack with which to read by.

 

In 1983, Prince was at the beginning of an incredible creative streak, a purple patch even. His sprawling and eclectic 1999 album, originally released the year previously as a single album, eventually re-released as the double we know and love today, was still riding high in the charts and on the airwaves and was well on its way to becoming a 4-times platinum album.

Never one to stand still in his kitten heels and bask in the glory of success, Prince set to work on 1999’s follow-up, the soundtrack to Purple Rain. A terrible film – the words vanity project spring to mind –  Purple Rain was pardoned thanks to a ubiquitous catch-all soundtrack that genre hopped between funk, rock, soul, electro and perv ballad. The smattering of occassionally filthy lyrics brought it unwanted attention from Tipper Gore, wife of high-profile American politicain Al, and led to Gore creating the PMRC (The Parents’ Music Resource Centre) – the ultra-conservative body who took it upon themselves to lobby for the censorship of ‘inappropriate’ music. Those wee ‘Parental Advisory’ stickers on your Public Enemy albums? That’s Tipper’s doing, that is.

Not that this bothered Prince. He’d go on to record, amongst many, many others, Wonderful Ass and We Can Fuck, tracks that you don’t really need to hear to know how they go. Although, you really should hear them. That’s the beauty of Prince. Disgustingly filthy one moment then pure as the driven Minneapolis snow the next. Tunes flowed from him as freely as water from a tap, most of them brilliant and precious few in the ‘throwaway’ category. He’d be up for days on end, commiting to tape the songs he’d heard in his head minutes before. Band mates were a telephone call away at most and had to be ready anytime for the call. Incredibly productive, it’s no surprise that many of his greatest tracks slipped past almost unknown. Like 17 Days, for example. I was going through some old 7″s a week or so ago and flipped over my crackly old copy of When Doves Cry to listen to its long-forgotten b-side. Thirty-odd years later, it sounds as fresh as the day I first played it as an awkward 14 year old, scared that Prince would reel off a filthy lyric and I’d incur the wrath of my mother, the memory of having to return Dirk Wears White Sox still scarred on my memory.

Prince17 Days (The Rain Will Come Down, Then U Will Have 2 Choose. If U Believe, Look 2 The Dawn And U Shall Never Lose) (b-side to When Doves Cry)

To give it its none-more-Prince full title 17 Days (The Rain Will Come Down, Then U Will Have 2 Choose. If U Believe, Look 2 The Dawn And U Shall Never Lose), 17 Days has the classic Wendy and Lisa call-and-response yang to his four to the floor yin. Rubber band basslines compete for attention with descending keyboard riffs and a brilliant shuffling rhythm, Prince’s vocal placed ideally in the middle. And there’s not a pervy lyric in sight. 17 Days grooves along for four pop-filled minutes, a lost gem sparkling from the corner of a jeweller’s shop window.

The passing of Prince has also meant, somewhat contentiously, that his triple-locked Vault has started leaking a little. Did Prince want this music released at all? Was the fact it was locked in the Vault reason enough to respect his wishes never to let it out in public? The first tantalising drips from his life’s work has just been released as Piano & A Microphone, a title familiar to those who’d got themsleves into a frenzy at the proposed tour just a year before Prince died. Two shows in the one day at Glasgow’s Concert Hall? Oh aye! Damn those secondary ticketing sites for making Prince put the kybosh on that particularly fantastic idea. The ‘new’ album features fragments of familiar songs, the odd Joni Mitchell cover, reworkings of some of his deeper cuts…..and the demo version of 17 Days.

Prince17 Days (piano demo)

Prince vamps all over it (“Good Gawd!”), loose and funky piano to the fore, with a slight emphasis on the off-beat. It’s got none of the pop/funk sheen of the old b-side, but what it does have is ess! oh! you! ell! SOUL, goddammit! Quite how (or why) Prince turned 17 Days from a free-flowing smoky jazz club number into an arena-pleasing danceathon is, like the man himself, a brilliant mystery.

Alternative Version, Cover Versions, demo, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

By George!

George Harrison, the youngest Beatle, bullied by John and Paul into 2nd tier status in the band, was essentially the runt of the litter yet wrote some of their most enduring songs. When writing sessions were underway ahead of a new Beatles’ recording, poor George had to bide his time while the other two writers hogged the limelight with their latest offerings. Only after they had been given careful consideration would George be allowed to show off what he’d been working on. In any other band, he’d have been the principal writer and held in higher esteem, but in The Beatles he was lucky to get more than one of his tracks onto each album.

 george_harrison_1968

By 1968’s ‘White Album’, George had a handful of future classics under his belt. Writing sessions in Rishikesh in northern India proved particularly fruitful. The Beatles plus associated wives/girlfriends along with a raggle-taggle mismatch of musicians and actors (Donovan, Mike Love, Mia Farrow and her sister ‘Dear’ Prudence) gathered at the feet of the Maharishi to find out the ways of tanscendental mediatation.

1968

The trip was not without incident;  Ringo visited a doctor due to a reaction to the inoculation he’d taken before going, John complained that the food was lousy (Paul and Jane Asher loved it) and the Maharishi, as peace-loving and spiritual as he may have been, turned out to be a randy old man, intent on bedding as many of the female guests as he could.

George was particularly taken with meditation, leading John to quip, “The way George is going, he’ll be flying a magic carpet by the time he’s forty!

Against this backdrop, John, Paul and George wrote many songs that would appear on the new Beatles’ album at the end of the year. Donovan turned John onto a new style of fingerpicking that he’d picked up from the folk clubs and Lennon put it to good use on Dear Prudence. George might’ve been equally inspired, as the descending bass run that characterises Dear Prudence makes it into a couple of his own songs on the White Album.

beatles-india-68

While My Guitar Gently Weeps began life as a downbeat campfire singalong; folk in a minor key, with the ubiquitous descending bass line offest by an uplifting bridge. It’s understated and simple, nothing like the album version.

George HarrisonWhile My Guitar Gently Weeps (demo)

George had to wait an agonising 8 weeks from the start of the album sessions before being given the chance to showcase it. Quite how he kept his mouth shut as John ran through days and days of tape loops creating the arty (but tuneless, let’s be clear) Revolution 9 while Paul completed dozens of takes of the reggae-lite Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and even Ringo had his moment in the spotlight with his honky tonkin’ Don’t Pass Me By is very impressive, but when given his moment (“I always had to do about ten of Paul and John’s before they’d give me the break,”) he rose to the occassion.

george-h-abbey-road-68

The demo of While My Guitar Gently Weeps was used as the blueprint and added to with layer upon layer of guitar and vocals through the use of an 8-track recording machine (the first Beatles’ track to do so) until it was the super-heavy version that appears on the album. An uncredited Eric Clapton was asked by George to play guitar on it. George had been bemoaning the fact that he’d spent hours aimlessly trying to recreate a weeping sound for the track and asked his pal instead to play the solo, which he did with majestic, understated aplomb.

The BeatlesWhile My Guitar Gently Weeps

It’s a perenial favourite, never bettered than when Prince put the other ‘stars’  – heavyweights Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood – firmly in their place with his outrageously brilliant cameo at the 2004 Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Fame. Two questions, the first rhetorical. How overjoyed does Dhani Harrison look when the wee man steps up and takes the song to a whole new level?

Secondly, what happens to Prince’s guitar at the end? Watch….

Live!

Who Says A Funk Band Can’t Play Rock Music?

So. Prince at the Hydro. I’ve seen Prince before, but never in a venue that looks exactly from the outside like the newly-grown 70’s ‘fro on his funky little head. Being my first visit to the Hydro, I was largely impressed; decent leg room and comfy chairs with a terrific view and a beer for £4, although I felt slightly detached from the whole thing. The standing area was clearly the place to be and from our not-so-lofty postion in Level 2, you had the feeling of watching people at a gig, rather then being the people at the gig, if that makes sense.

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Musically, Prince is on a whole other level to any other act on the planet. He and his band 3rdeyegirl have the knack of firing off riff-heavy rock tunes, tear-soaked soul ballads and elastic band-bass funk monsters, often within the space of the same song. And if all that has you breaking out in a rash of Red Hot Chili Pepper proportions, fear not. He has one of the greatest back catalogues in popular music (“D’you have any idea just how many hits I got? We could be here all night!”) and over the next 2 and a half hours much of it gets a good airing.

Beginning with the double wham-bam slam of a slowed down and sludgy, Stooges-heavy Let’s Go Crazy and a bright ‘n breezy Take Me With U, Prince sets his stall out from the off. Tonight is going to be very heavy on the hits and even heavier on the guitars. Raspberry Beret, U Got The Look and Kiss all fly by in an anabolic rush of thundering drums and Hendrix guitars. Now and again he’ll shout for “Donna!”, 3rdeyegirl’s axe wielder, all outgrown Phil Oakey 80’s haircut and sprayed-on lycra to take the lead, and she’ll oblige with a screaming tantrum of a solo. The crowd (and Prince) lap it up, but part of me grimaces. “Eurovision power ballad,” I say at one point to Mrs Pan, and for once she agrees. But that’s a minor complaint as the hits keep a-comin’…..

Little Red Corvette, a sublime full band version of Nothing Compares To U, 1999 (Mommee! Why does everybody have a bomb?” (He did that bit!)). Mid way through, the band exit, Prince takes to stage right, “House lights down, please!”, fires up a primitive drum machine and blasts out shards of white-hot skeletal funk into the darkness – Sign ‘O’ The Times, Hot Thing, I Would Die For You. The whole thing is fast becoming one of my top 3 gigs ever when he stops to talk to the audience. “30 years ago, this was the sound of the summer…” and right on cue the shredding electric guitar intro to When Doves Cry rips the roof off. I have an immediate Pavlovian rush of listening to a warped and stretched old C90 playing the same track on my Grundig music centre through my headphones when I was supposed to be sleeping. Jesus! He even hits the falsettos like it’s 1984 again. Prince is on fire. His voice sounds strong and exactly like the records. Better, even. He’s clearly enjoying himself throughout, dropping to his knees, James Brown style at the slow parts, dancing the mashed potato during the more groove-based musical interludes or walking out to one of his two podiums to rattle off another effortlessly flash solo at lightning speed. For me, the whole gig hung on a terrifically inspired cover of Tommy James and the Shondells‘ old bubblegum hit Crimson And Clover. Prince dragged it out, adding psychedelic flourishes at the slow bits and Hendrixifying it here and there with the odd Wild Thing riff. “I think I love you….but I wanna know for sure…” Unexpected and totally magic.

Tommy James & the ShondellsCrimson And Clover

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Before the gig there were heavy handed notices and announcements warning you not to use cameras of any sort (clearly flouted by a few – all the pictures here were taken from the audience) so when, during a souped-up Controversy, Prince shouts “cellphones out!” the whole place lights up like a Christmas tree. Cheesy? Yes! Just like one of those lighters aloft 70s stadium shows, but my goodness it’s great to be a part of it. I even sneaked a wee clip of 1999 on my phone, but if I want this blog to remain in hyperspace forever, I’ll resist the urge to post it here.

The piano interlude towards the end had him (a wee bit frustratingly) play snippets of some of his hits – Diamonds & Pearls, The Beautiful Ones, Alphabet Street, before Prince settled on Sometimes It Snows In April. Yes! Whodathunkit? Beautiful! He closed the show with it in Leeds the next night, so clearly, it’s a song he holds dear. Almost inevitably, the main set closes with the opening chords to Purple Rain.

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The band walked back on at the appropriate moment and for the next 10 minutes the whole room is awash with confetti from hidden cannons and filled with the sound of the greatest power ballad ever. Did I really just type that?

Encores? Of course. Housequake. Housequake! Wow! Who expected that? More covers- a snippet of Sly’s Dance To the Music with dirty fuzz bass and Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music before coming to a sweaty end with the Isley’s Live It Up, the stage full of gyrating hand-picked audience members of various Glaswegian shapes and sizes. The big girl at the front was clearly having the time of her life. The two guys at the edge looked like they’d rather be anywhere in the world at that particular time. “If you were asked up, how would you dance?” asked the missus. “Like the rhythmically challenged white man from Ayrshire that I am,” I replied. Cos that’s what I’d been doing all night anyway.

Here‘s a Funkadelic track that kinda sums up Prince and his band at the moment. Catch them if you can. Worth every penny. (And they cost a lot of pennies).

FunkadelicWho Says A Funk Band Can’t Play Rock

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*IMPORTANT!

I’d like to credit the photographs used – if any of these are your photos please get in touch and I’ll add your name below. Or remove them if you’d rather. Thanks!

 

Double Nugget, Hard-to-find

Slave To The Rhythm Method

You’ll need a good scrub in the bath after listening to some of these tracks…

Probably long before Little Richard even though about hollering “Tutti Frutti, Oh Rudi“, pop music has been awash with sexual reference and innuendo. Island Records’ current celebration of their 50th birthday found me thinking about ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’, the Grace Jones hit from 1981.

grace jones bumper

The elastic band bassline (courtesy of Sly and Robbie’s Robbie), pattering percussion and honking horns can’t disguise the fact that this track is downright filthy. Taken at lyrical face value it would appear to be about driving through city streets at night, cruising the scene looking for action. So far, so very 80s. The fact that it’s sung by a woman might change your perception of it a wee bit, but if you know anything about Grace Jones you’ll be well aware of her appetite for life’s little pleasures.

grace jones cage

It should therefore come as no surprise when you read between the lyrics and discover that Pull Up To The Bumper is really an open invitation to come and get it.

Driving down those city streets,
Waiting to get down,
Want to ditch your big machine,
Somewhere in this town?

You’ll find the proper place,
Just follow all the written rules,
You’ll fit into the space.

Now in the park and lock garage,

Pull up to my bumper baby,
In your long black limosine,
Pull up to my bumper baby,
And drive it in between.

Pull up, to it, don’t drive, through it,
Back it, up twice, now that, fit’s nice.

back up I’ll pump your tire baby

We operate around the clock,
So won’t you please come in?
There’s lot’s of space for everyone,
Plus one for you my friend?

The lines are short,
I’ll fix you up so won’t you please come on,
That shiny, sleek machine you wheel,
I’ve got to blow your horn.

Pull up to my bumper baby,
In your long black limosine,
Pull up to my bumper baby,
Drive it in between.

Pull up to it, don’t drive through it,
Back it, up twice, now that fits nice,
Grease it, spray it, let me luricate it,
Pull up to my bumper baby.

See what I mean? There’s a multitude of versions out there. In addition to the original version from the Nightclubbing album (see above), there’s a nice early version from the Compass Point studio sessions (I think). There’s also an extended 12″ (uh-huh) version, which is basically the unedited final version of the album track. Larry Levan, Paradise Garage house DJ supremo took that version and updated it to a sleeker, club-friendly version.  This version reminds me a whole lot of..

Prince bw

‘Lady Cab Driver’ by Prince. Shuffling percussion? Check! Rinky-dink funk guitar? Check! Honking horns? Check! Suggestive lyrics? Check, although Prince isn’t as suggestive as Grace Jones, he’s more straight ahead and right to the point. Of course, the purple headed perv is no stranger to such things. But you knew that already. But have you heard the alternate mix of ‘Erotic City?

clique

The easily offended should cover their ears and look away now. The Clique are a mysterious band. The ying to Grace Jones yang, their track ‘Bareback Donkey Riding’ was recorded in 1995 by Mr Lo-fi himself, Liam ‘Friend of Jack White’ Watson at ToeRag Studios. But if you didn’t know that, you would be let off for thinking this track was recorded by some enthusiastic mid-western garage band in 1964. Heavy on the hammond, distortion and passionate vocals, it’s a Nugget-friendly no hit wonder. But have a listen to some of the lyrics…

Well here we are again

It’s you and me my friend

Let’s go throught he same routine

We’ll get there in the end

 

Last night she went away

Didn’t want to stay

Packed her bags and called a cab

I guess it’s not my day

 

If I could find a girl who’d like to hold the reigns

We could carry on our sordid lovers games

Bareback Donkey Riding! Bareback Donkey Riding!

Let’s go through the same routine? Beg beg beg! What d’you mean “not tonight?” Sounds like his girl left him because he wanted to do something that she didn’t. ‘Bareback‘? No protection? Another word for donkey? I’ll leave you to work out what it all means. I might be wrong…

*BONUS TRACK. Here‘s the Serge Santiago Special Edit of Grace Jones‘  ‘Slave To The Rhythm’.

Cover Versions, Hard-to-find

Creepy Prince

Shhhhhh! Listen! That sound you can hear is the sound of a million Radiohead fans tapping furiously on their iMac 4G Powerbooks as they vent their spleen on the umpteen thousand Thom Yorke Is God fansites that litter every corner of cyberspace. 

Prince is a bit creepy. Everyone knows that. But by far the biggest highlight of the recent Coachella festival seems to have been him doing a straight ahead cover of Radiohead‘s ‘Creep‘. It’s true! It’s also very good. Fairly faithful to the original, Prince manages to be both Thom Yorke with added soul and those wee yelps that he’s fond of doing and Jonny Greenwood with the kerrunk-kerrunk guitar before the chorus. His vocals get the full on Purple Rain-era treatment – slight delay, lots of reverb, the exteeeeeeeeendeeeed outro, and I actually think Prince makes this track his own. The audio is taken from this mobile phone video that YouTube won’t show. But it’s reasonably good quality. Worth the download. Click on the video link and you can download the video from there.

Radiohead fans yesterday.

Spot the one that quite likes Prince’s version.