[…continued from last post]
When I bought the “Purple Rain” DLX RM I found that the tracks from the legendary Vault were pretty darned hot. Then came the “Originals” album of Vault tracks written for other artists. That nearly topped my list of releases bought new last year. It’s possible that Prince had inconsequential doodles on the countless tapes that sit inside The Vault. But what has been officially released was of a certain standard that I’ve not been bored by any of it. If anything, it painted an even more eclectic and accomplished picture of this artist.
In the early 90s I always thought that I might be the perfect person to be in charge of The Vault and its eventual plundering. I was a Prince fan, but a casual one. Lapsed, by that time, actually. I’d felt that I might be a good quality control filter should the day come when this material was to be commercially exploited. Maybe that philosophy was closer to the mark than I realized, because what I’ve heard from the archives thus far has been all pretty strong material.
Prince : 1999 SDLX box disc 3 – Vault Tracks 1 – US – CD 
- Feel U Up 
- Irresistible B**** 
- Money Don’t Grow On Trees
- Bold Generation
- International Lover [take 1 live in studio]
- Turn It Up
- You’re All I Want
- Something In The Water Does Not Compute [original]
- If It’ll Make U Happy
- How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore? [take 2 live in studio]
Right from the start, the incredible 1981 version of “Feel U Up” showed that Prince was years ahead of his time. This song was returned to in 1989 to be drafted into a B-side for the “Partyman” single, and I’ve never heard that version, but the one here, recorded in 1981 absolutely sounded like a track from the post-House Music era of eight years hence! The minimal drum programming was completely un-naturalistic when everyone and their pet salamander were attempting to make their Linn Drum stand in for the guy they didn’t want in the band anymore.
When I first heard this I assumed that it was not concurrent with the rest of the “1999” album but it was in fact recorded following the “Controversy” tour in 1981. It could slot right next to a track like “Kiss” with a similar minimal Funk feel with no effort and we would all think it was contemporaneous. It’s a minimal, repetitive gaze into the future of dance music seven or eight years down the road, and special kudos for Prince rocking the ring modulator for some funky Dalek-inflected backing vocals on this one.
Now we just got through discussing the B-side version of “IB” yesterday, but this early recording was seamlessly segued into “Feel U Up” as the beats were shared across the two tunes. It couldn’t be a more different emotional interpretation as the frisky foppishness of the B-side version was not to be found here at all. In this version, Prince was full of anguish as he recounted his obeisance to this cruel mistress; his voice heavy with the weight of his torment. The cataclysmic synth pad that Prince ended the song with was like a blimp overhead blotting out the sun at the song’s end.
“Money Don’t Grow On Trees” was a strange outlier here. It’s almost hard to believe that it was recorded in late 1981; ostensibly in a demo for the “Hookers” project, which morphed into Vanity 6 in the next six months. The song title could certainly have found legs with the intended project, with differing lyrics, but this version was Prince taking a look back at Memphis Soul, from the sound of things. This was a very earthy Prince in a band with himself imagining that it was ’67-’73. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Prince say “I need money, like a hog needs slop” while more Princes in the background add “right on, brother!” There’s nary a synthesizer for miles here, but a lot of the fun is in hearing him try on different outfits with each of them bringing his mastery of playing and arranging to the fore in a very credible way. He certainly knew the past forwards and backwards before he could try to create the future.
It’s well known how Prince wanted actress Denise Matthews to take the stage name “Vagina” to front his “Hookers” project but she rightly insisted on “Vanity” instead. But that didn’t mean that he didn’t already have a song with the title “Vagina” on tape somewhere. But there’s no way that this gritty, almost blues rock number from late ’81 could have ever been intended for the Vanity 6 album. Prince was singing the song of “half boy/half girl… best of both worlds” in a typical falsetto but the instrumentation was just gritty lead and rhythm guitar in funky interplay. The only percussion is Prince imitating his beloved shaker. If anything, this seemed like it might have been written around the time of “Dirty Mind” to be recorded in a demo later. While the Prince sound of ’80-’82 was minimal and stripped down, he rarely let things get this bare bones.
I mentioned earlier about how Prince was trying to create the future, and a few of these songs are concerned about exactly that conceit. “Rearrange” showed him making a song about how he needed to rise above old clichés in order to make bold new statements. Decrying that “old style Funk” that existed before his new Minneapolis sound moved the style into the 80s. I suspect that this might have been written a few years earlier than when it was recorded as by 1980 Prince had already released groundbreaking records that used Funk in a whole new way, but his decision to end the song with almost a full minute of guitar feedback was certainly nothing common to the 1981 landscape which saw guitars almost completely removed from dance music.
That idea continued in “Bold Generation” which was recorded at virtually the same time. The difference between the two songs could not be more pronounced, in spite of their lyrical affinities. While “Rearrange” was a early 80s Funk song about trying to surmount the early 80s Funk sound [which he had already done on his last two records], “Bold Generation” sure sounded like a blueprint for the showbiz gloss of his New Power Generation era of a decade down the road. The difference here was that he achieved it with one man overdubbing everything by himself very capably. It makes me wonder what would have happened if Prince and Todd Rundgren had ever mixed it up in the studio.
NEXT: …More Alternate Visions