Prince Album #9: Sign o’ the Times [Disc I]

Disclaimer (written after 11 days of post composition):

So now, I gotta decide… whether I should split this post into different entries… I think I’ll copy and paste everything into Word and see where we’re at. There is a LOT here.

Dang- I haven’t done this with any of my other posts so far- but I’d written over 13,000 words about this album and still counting. That’s freaking insane.
Single-spaced, it goes from 30 to 22 pages. and the halfway point is just a little before I go to the second album… so there’s A LOT here.

So I get the first Disc I posted, then paste everything from the move into another and then I’ll finish up the one on the second disc later tonight. After giving the whole disc one final run through (but also finishing the Peach & Black discussion)…

[Back to your regularly scheduled programming]

Disc I with a little Camille commentary

This album is a monster…so in all likelihood, this will be yet another long post. Not just because it has 16 tracks, 2 compact discs and 4 sides on vinyl, but because of its history.
Although I don’t know too much about all that… just that Prince had a lot going on in 1986 after the Parade era wrapped up.
A few people have their own view of what happened, but only Prince really knows the answers.

The commonly accepted story [which Matt Thorne spent a “better” part of one chapter- one of four on this album’s evolution- disputing] comes from Prince “historian” Per Nilsen, who wrote “Dance Music Sex Romance,” a massive book covering Prince’s career up until 1989.
The next album was meant to be called “Dream Factory” and it was the next album with The Revolution. But then Prince broke up the band and the project was abandoned.
Then he started working on Camille- which was meant to be another side-project and “protégé” type album- ultimately, it’s an 8 track album where the lead singer is him with a sped-up vocal. But again, it was abandoned.

This was then followed by the legendary 3-disc album Crystal Ball, which compiled tracks from the two abandoned projects. A project so massive Warner Bros had to put their foot down and tell him no and try again with a shorter project.
A couple of disputes had already occurred between him and his record label, but surely this was one of the biggest contributions to his eventual departure from Warners. They were concerned about an oversaturation of the market of Prince music. Not to mention the previous couple projects after Purple Rain didn’t blow up to the same proportion and, in some regards, were deemed failures.

Looking back and taking into account how Emancipation [Prince’s dream 3-disc album he was “born to make”] fared, it might have been a wise choice on their part. But it doesn’t take away from the fact the die-hard fans never stopped craving the release of these projects.

Matt Thorne wrote how Dream Factory never existed and how it and Crystal Ball were merely cassette tapes where Prince recorded music to listen to in his car and they were named as such after the final tracks. He also quoted Wendy and Lisa saying that Dream Factory never existed.
To a degree, I could understand how maybe we could have all had it wrong all these years. But again, something didn’t sit right. Journalists can quote people and use those words to write their own narrative. That’s why Prince had this distrust of journalists engrained in him throughout his career. Although it was cool to hear from Susannah, who was the muse to so many of those great songs from the 80’s. Those quotes didn’t feel taken too out of context- they were genuine and came from a place of love. No ill-will and once or twice she declined to go further on the history of a given song. Which is understandable.

But again, my feathers got ruffled with something he said, trying to write his own narrative about things… he said that Per Nilsen was a Prince expert that fans looked to for information, but just as quickly dismissed him as the definitive source we all think he is. I mean, he probably doesn’t get everything right, but just the disdain in his tone… I didn’t like it. And despite that, he quoted him several times over the next few chapters.

I couldn’t type all this in a tweet, so I more or less said that he has to be jealous that he didn’t get there first.

Anyway- despite that first chapter or so of hiccups and raised eyebrows, there was some interesting information. There always is. There was discussion of Prince recording alone opposed to what he writes in collaboration.
How certain tracks came into being- that’s the part I’m always interested in hearing. Susannah was a good source on a bunch of them. Supposedly “Play in the Sunshine” was their last session together… that kinda puts a damper on things. Then there were some like “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” written after an argument they had. [They also touched on the Joni Mitchell influence and how she and Prince were going to collaborate and she didn’t like the song he sent her so it never took off]
“Hot Thing” got an interesting sentence or two about it, saying how it was part of Crystal Ball [the 3-disc concept album] and how there are potential sinister implications to it. I never thought Crystal Ball was meant to be a concept album, but it’s an interesting thought to say the least. That was always one of my favorites off the Sign o’ the Times set.
“Slow Love” is probably my least favorite song of those 16. I really don’t like it that much- it’s unique among Prince’s ballads, but I find it so boring and sleepy. Not to mention it’s not musically adventurous with that old-school backdrop it has. I know it was credited to someone else, but I got the full story on it. It was written by model/singer/actress Carole Davis and Prince’s attorneys offered her co-writing credit and lots of money if he could have it. That would explain why it’s not quite his style. Then I found her version of the song [as it was released on a 1989 album of hers]… the vocal arrangement is interesting as it has layered vocals on the chorus and it gives it a different feel. It’s also a little more up tempo and musically busy. Prince, for whatever reason, gave it the old school treatment I disliked so much. [She gets co-writing credit because the whole song is hers, but he added the final bridge about racecar drivers].

“It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night” is another track I don’t like much on the album and I got some interesting tidbits on that as well. It was recorded somewhat spontaneously when the Parade tour was in France. [I say somewhat because Prince set up a mobile recording unit as he did with those Purple Rain tracks at the August 3rd 1983 First Avenue show]. But then he took it into the studio and added an influx of overdubs.
One sentence noted that he took this full-band Revolution performance and overdubbed it with contributions from what would become his new band. One of which was Sheila E who does a rap- I had to read that it was her because I had no idea who did it, what its purpose was or why it sounded a little off. Supposedly Prince was recorded her performing it over the phone.
But it doesn’t meant I’d rather have a couple other songs on its place– since it is a LONG track for this album. A cut over 9 minutes.

“Housequake” was discussed in the Camille chapter. At first he talked about how these songs were an early indication of Prince’s distaste of the growing hip-hop movement. I never really picked that up, but then they mentioned how Housequake was a smack against Chicago house music. You look at the lyrics and it makes a lot more sense.
There was also much ado about “Shockadelica.” Not just being the first official Camille track that was recorded, but also how Prince was inspired to write it after hearing an early copy of Jesse Johnson’s album of the same name.
Princevault says that Prince heard the album and wrote this song to draw attention to the fact Jesse’s album didn’t have a title track to go with such a kick-ass title- then he released the song to a local radio station a couple weeks before his album was set to be released and perhaps it was meant as a joke- for people to think Jesse stole the name of his album from Prince.

The Shockadelica album is on YouTube and it looks like it may have been officially handled by the Universal Music Group.
Anyway, anyone who thought Prince was inspired by this album to conceptualize his new direction… I don’t really see it, or rather hear it. To me, it sounds like another take on the MPLS sound. The beats are sick, but not many of the tracks are memorable- except for “Crazay” which features Sly Stone (I remember seeing the video for it during that VH1 Soul protégé marathon… Sly kinda looked like a weirdo, but he kinda was, I guess… I don’t know much) and “Do yourself a favor” because Prince recorded a few years earlier.
Yeah, with a name that cool for an album title, why the heck not have a title track?

I also listened to the first Madhouse album. I remember hearing Eric Leeds talk about it on the Mica Paris 2003 BBC radio show. Prince asked him to his house to work on these tracks with him. They finish- Eric goes home late at night, in bed, ready to turn off the lights when Prince calls him and says he needs to come back. He was so inspired that he had to get these tracks done or they’d lose them.
According to princevault, the songs were recorded September 28-30 1986… so yeah…

I remembered a couple of the songs, but not all of them. The ones that stuck out were the first one (of course because it’s the first track) and #6, which was released as its only single. We hear Vanity’s recording [the infamous one from “Vibrator” and “Orgasm”] a couple times… man, she must have really lived to regret that, assuming she was aware that sample was used for two other tracks.
Reading up on them, it wrote on #4 that it was often used as the musical interlude to “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”… that’s pretty cool. I can totally see how it fits.

One final comment before I start into album talk…
I watched the last part of that interview with The Revolution with Yahoo!
It was pretty awesome- just like all the other parts were.
Wendy talked about knowing the moment when Prince was going to disband The Revolution. They were in Yokohama Japan. Prince invited people on stage, which he never did. He never looked at any of them and at the end he smashed a couple guitars. And there was this weird thing afterwards where Prince kept “sending out smoke signals” and asking them back. Brown Mark said he asked him to be part of the NPG and he said “didn’t I just quit?” He apparently left the band before the Parade tour- I think Prince knew this and that’s why he offered his band Mazarati “Kiss”- before realizing its hit potential and took it back.
Wendy said how she and Lisa worked on a bunch of tracks from the album except the title track of course. And how he had himself spread over so many things and maybe realized it was time to dial it back and do things by himself again.

Sounds like what happened with Musicology, although in less dramatic fashion and the album wasn’t as huge as this one… Prince decided to go back to formula by doing all the instruments himself the way he hadn’t in a long time.

reading up on some of the tracks, they had some of the same information.
“The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”- not just part of his April 14 2016 playlist, but he said he got the idea for it in a dream and claims it wasn’t inspired by the person of the same name. Also, there was a technical issue that made the production murky- it was the first track recorded on new studio equipment and it wasn’t hooked properly and there was also a power outage. The Peach & Black guys talked about the sound quality not being great, so this would explain why. As long as Prince is cool with it, in the end, that’s all that matters.

“U Got the Look”- Sheena Easton said she recorded her backing vocals separately, without hearing Prince on the track, so that does make things a little extra interesting.

The rest… I’ll just go into as I cover the tracks.
I’m half thinking of spending one week with each disc, giving each disc their own rating and then adding the numbers together at the end to rate the album as a whole.
Should make things extremely interesting… seeing which disc is stronger than the other and whether one of the discs is individually stronger than some of the other albums.

It’ll all unfold soon enough…

By this point, I think I’m just clearing out all the inventory as I’m going through this album. First, all the Revolution stuff- interviews I had saved. One was with Yahoo and another was with Sirius. Good thing I saved it for later in the day because the first topic was how everyone got the news of Prince’s passing. That cold reality.
I also listened to Peach and Black talk about the Peterson brothers, St. Paul and Ricky and how they were touring in Australia. Aside from some great musical clips from them (and Sheila E., whom they toured with), there was some good classic hilarious P&B moments where some things said just don’t come out right and clarifying things [how MC is a “man of mystery” who doesn’t want to give away where in Australia he lives- and still won’t listen to “Resolution” and that Captain wouldn’t resort to violence but don’t talk to him during a concert… also, Toejam wrote their first theme song “Shoot the Duck”… I kinda miss it now, actually 😛 it was only those first couple shows]

My tastes on these songs are pretty much set in stone. I have my favorites and I have a few that I’m not 100% on board with.
But I found a few instances on the way home listening where I remember how, even with just these 9 songs to start, you need a lot of time to really digest everything going on with the album.

Right now I’m kinda reading about a couple tracks on Diffuser.fm where they’re doing a Prince track a day for a year. “Starfish & Coffee” I’m on now and Cynthia Rose really was as eccentric as the song suggests.
There was also an interesting comment by Tavis Smiley, how Prince loved having deep talks on all kinds of subjects… what I would have given to have had that opportunity… I’m not the most confident person in the world, but I imagine Prince could have unlocked so much in me- I don’t mean that as innuendo, I’m being serious. The context for this being Prince wanted to know everything about Susannah’s classmate before writing the song.
http://blog.thecurrent.org/2016/11/susannah-melvoin-on-the-hidden-tenderness-of-prince-and-the-story-behind-starfish-and-coffee/
There’s more to the story beyond this and I downloaded the rest of the interview to check out later in the week. But it really gives the song new life, even though it’s easily one of the highlights. On an album so chock full of amazing music, sometimes it can get lost. But I’ve always liked it.

I’d been thinking a bit about the configurations of the albums leading up to this. And also what Camille and Crystal Ball might have been like as concept albums. Interestingly, Hot Thing ends Side 2 and the side 3 has Crystal Ball- making true the lyric “tell them you’re going to the Crystal Ball”- as if that’s another world where all kinds of crazy happens.
Maybe not their original versions, but I have “versions” of all the Camille tracks- so either tomorrow or Thursday, I’ll give it a listen and add comments.
I heard “Housequake” today and couldn’t help but thinking what it could have been within the concept of its album. There’s also a longer version that has a sample from that Jesse Johnson/Sly Stone track.

“Sign o’ the times”- Prince introduces the Fairlight sampler synthesizer to his arsenal of instruments to give this serious song a cold subtext. I believe the Mica Paris BBC radio special brought attention to this as well- but it discussed how this was Prince’s first attempt at hip-hop, putting a bunch of beats from one machine together to create a backing track.
It was the first time he really grounded one of his tracks in serious content from headlines and really didn’t bring himself into it. “Ronnie talk to Russia” touched on this briefly- very briefly. But there’s no room for humor in this aside from maybe the random final line of lyrics.
The first time I heard it was on “The Very Best of…” and it was very brief compared to the album version. I really didn’t get it or like it that much because it was so cold.
For me, it’s a good road trip song because I can lose myself in it but it also isn’t overly distracting.

“Play in the sunshine”- it should be one of those quintessential spring/summer songs. But knowing that it was the last song Prince and Susannah recorded together [I looked it up- it was recorded in March 1986 and The Revolution disbanded in September of that same year], it makes it a little sad.
But I can fool myself into believing that everything will be okay in the end- kinda like living in a world without Prince feels like.
It always felt like a lively group performance with Prince, Wendy, Lisa and Susannah, but it was really the two of them with her on backing vocals. On a rainy day like this, it makes it feel like the sun is coming out.
the verse with the “big white rabbit” lyric- I had to look it up because I never had any idea what he said- “the color green will make your best friend leave ya, it’ll make them do the walk”

the common theme with this album, though, when it starts… I either feel it or I don’t. It’s something I need to be in the right mood to listen to.
And oddly enough, there was one time where I was in the worst mood ever, feeling isolated and cut off from everyone else… I’d just gotten back to college after winter break… I gave this disc a listen because it was the one option I had where I had no emotional attachment to it- I dismissed other albums because I ran the risk of listening to them and not feeling what I feel while listening to them and it’ll lead to something worse than disappointment.
So- yeah, this disc was a Godsend. Things got better shortly after that. I finally made good friends (it took until my 6th semester but better late than never) and college was less lonely- outside of my bubble with my homework or my Prince albums.

That got a little too personal, but I’ll keep it in.

“Housequake”… I’m not sure if the Camille vocal just doesn’t work for me or this would have been better as a live jam. Something is just missing- it could be a lot funkier if the production was different.
Sometimes I’m into and others I’m not. It’s hard to really explain. Sometimes it’s a certain lyric or musical moment that gets me excited and engaged in it.

“The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”- that’s always been a favorite of mine. I mentioned the sound quality and the comments on it and reasoning for it. But I’d only heard this song the one way and I always thought it worked.
I love the story- Prince is such a great storyteller. It’s even cooler to find out this was written from a dream. It provides a cool visual and you can picture it so clearly in your mind. And it’s funny.
Today it was easy to wonder if by “take a bath” if he meant it in the literal sense or… I don’t know… dry humping? I don’t know. As well as the “she didn’t see the movie because she hadn’t read the book first”… I thought for a moment “I wonder if that means she’s a virgin and she’d never been with a man before so seeing him naked was overwhelming”… but she’s so cool and secure in her own skin other than that time she pretended she was blind.
All kinds of weird random stuff came to mind that never had before.
But when moments like that happen, that means I’m in a good place with Prince and just enjoying myself as if nothing else in the world matters.
Also- all that aside, there’s enough in this song that anyone can relate or get their own piece of it. And there’s nothing about it that’s really offensive or weird about it that turns off a lot of people from checking into Prince’s music.
[Another thought on the “book vs. movie” line… I thought about maybe she didn’t want to see him naked because she hadn’t gotten to “read” him- as in laying hands on him, kissing or whatever else… I just picture the two of them sitting on opposite sides of a bathtub filled to the brim with foam and bubbles. He’s eating his fruit cocktail and she picks up the phone with the spiral cord when the phone rings. Then he gets out, his pants come off and she covers her eyes, overwhelmed by… you can finish that sentence yourself :P]

“IT”… I checked out the recording dates of this and “Sign o’ the times”– this was first. The reason I asked myself this was the Fairlight.
To me, this sounds like Prince had just had gotten it and he was goofing around with it and ended up getting a song out of it.
The lyrical content- I gotta quote Toejam on this one with a quote he said a number of times in his AWTIAD review “is he talking the piss or is he serious?” about whether he thinks about “it” (we’re led to assume he’s talking about sex) all the time.
I’m not crazy about the vocals or the lyrics half the time. The beat always reminded me of a bouncing basketball with a real drum on beat 1. Kinda cool and different.
These two songs have in common the fact that the beat is mesmerizing and you can get lost in it. Except there isn’t as much variation here. Musically or lyrically.

“Slow Love”… It’s so old school, but it feels kinda out of place on the album- which is weird to say because there’s no real rhyme or reason to it. It just feels out of place to me personally.
He lobbied to buy this song from someone else, but I don’t see what he saw in it.
I feel kinda bad saying it like this but it feels tame compared to his better ballads, which posed that explicit envelope or he just screamed through them.

“Hot Thing”… I was love with this song from the initial beat and I could listen to that forever. The storytelling is really cool, so much happens in it. And at the time I was listening to it, I was barely 21 myself 😛 so it was like a great track to hear in my first official year of Prince fandom. Eric Leeds also does some sick sax lines that just add so much. Plus the clashing of the, I believe Toejam or MC would call it, high-hat. I guess I’ll have to pay attention that part of the podcast. It just adds that something extra that keeps me salivating to have more. That intangible something extra only Prince can bring out.

“Forever in my life”… it’s an odd note to end on, but I love it all the same. It’s a great Prince ballad without pushing the envelope of being explicit. And it’s also in his style- his odd style where it’s ok that the backing track is out of time with the main vocal. A mistake that happened in studio (one of a couple with this album) but Prince was cool with it and that’s all that matters.
It really makes it sound like Prince wanted to settle down with Susannah because he was maturing into the person he was meant to be. The way Susannah put it in that article it posted the link for earlier.

Next day-

The highlight of the afternoon was “Starfish & Coffee.” After getting to hear about the story behind it, and traffic really cleared up at that point, I was riding high on a wave of euphoria. The song really felt like it came to life and I could imagine what it must have been like knowing this girl, as if she dropped here from another planet [paraphrasing how Susannah described her].
Finding out what inspired the various songs Prince wrote is one of those things that I enjoy finding out- it helps enhance the experience. This is a case and point of that.
But if I was able to find out what all of his song really meant, I think that’d take away from the magic.

“Hot Thing”- I listened to one of those alternate versions I had earlier. I hadn’t heard this one before- it’s called a “dub version”- the lyrics were scattered throughout and you didn’t get to hear all of them, just bits and pieces. It’s all about the beat and the rhythm, which remained the same… and I didn’t mind.
It got me thinking about maybe doing a playlist of Prince songs that have sick beats I never get sick of.

Just something to think about…
but I gotta figure my way through the rest of the albums, what my top 100 Prince songs are, and I have another mix I’d been meaning to get together for ages (my favorite ballads of his).
One thing at a time…

I listened to the Camille stuff today. It started out great until I got halfway through. I think “Shockadelica” scrambled my brain.
“Good Love” felt too much like a Lovesexy track (which I think it wound up becoming) and ran too long.
“If eye was your girlfriend,” I’ll definitely get to later on in this post. and “rockhard in a funky place”- like Prince said at the end of the recording “what kind of f*** ending was that?”

“Rebirth of the flesh”- I don’t remember if I’d ever heard it before. But it blew my head off- it was from a live 1988 recording, released from the NPG music club (I forget who I got this one from… probably one person I got dozens of random Prince music from… he was adamant about bootlegs being part of the overall experience).
It was great as an album opener for sure.
And that feeling carried over to “Housequake.”
“Strange Relationship”- I had so many good vibes from this song… also nice to have another “familiar face”…
“Feel U Up” came on… I tried not to let the lyrics get to me too much. It kinda works with the Camille vocal, but not entirely. This was a longer cut of it and as it went on, I just got sucked into it and that feeling carried over to “Shockadelica”… it was great as a whole up until that track ended.

I’ll have to spend a little time alone with this album… and by alone, I mean without distractions. Really get the feeling for the album… this would have been amazing if Prince released it 😛

Going through the first couple tracks with Peach & Black… I think they might have informed my opinion of the production a bit.
I don’t know what is with me, but a couple times I was thinking how these songs could have been better live.
I did see the Sott movie once- it was a couple years ago… I thought for sure that I wrote a post on it, but I can’t find it anywhere. [Shame on me- I document EVERYTHING when it comes to Prince]
(spoiler alert: I found the movie online and just finished writing about that- that’ll be a separate post)

I remember Captain having a hot and cold response early on… just didn’t remember if he loved or hated “play in the sunshine”… his comments on the title track had the others, not quite flipping out, but in disbelief. He doesn’t believe Prince is being genuine, more like he just read a bunch of newspaper headlines and did his own version of “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles.

more random Camille commentary…

“Feel U Up” has such a SICK beat. The music is so… amazing! But the lyrics kinda mess with that a bit. I guess it pays not to really listen to them. Cannot help grooving it. Oddly, I really like the horn line on the chorus, which is playing a lick originally played on synths- which Prince used to replace horns early in his career.

I think “Housequake” has been steadily growing on me. I listened to the 7 minute version and it’s pretty sick. Mostly instrumentals and they have the final round of lyrics with the “aftershock” part and “everybody shut up, listen to the band.”
I can understand why he had “Shockadelica” as the B-side to this because they both have a similar beat.
But I tell you- I feel almost possessed when I hear that song… it’s just something else. I think I read that it was taking the world of “Darling Nikki” to the next level.

“Good Love”… ok, that’s crazy. Jill Jones does the back-up vocals on this. I thought for sure it was Cat. But apparently there was only the one recording of this according to princvevault. It felt like more of a Lovesexy track than something that belonged with everything here.

The sequencing is brilliant- though- starting with two uninhibited party tracks, introduce romance with “Strange Relationship” and showcase all sides of love, lust and so on.
And “Good Love” is the perfect bridge to “If eye was your girlfriend”- that’s the only way it would have worked.

In the future, I’ll have to spend time with these 8 tracks and really figure out what the underlying message of the album would’ve been.
But I can only go through it so many times right now 😛 this is the 2nd time and that’s enough. Let’s just say there are two tracks here I do not want to get sick of.

On Peach & Black, everyone loved “Housequake”- so much they practically quoted the whole song. There are some great lyrics, no doubt about that. I just don’t always invest like I do with Prince’s ballads or when he’s storytelling or whatever the heck.
But it is kinda nice having the added opportunities with it so I’m not being totally dismissive of it.
There was debate of “Dorothy Parker” and the “book vs. movie” line… I have my version of said events above.
“IT” was such a fun conversation- just because you have to go there- there’s no avoiding… all those innuendos, everyone cracking up. For a second, I thought this would be another of those infamous weird tracks that Captain is a huge fan of. But nope… he used to skip it, now it’s not as bad, but it’s still not great.
He does love “Starfish & Coffee” though- one of his favorite Prince songs. Which is nice to hear. He does love the poppy stuff.

Hearing Susannah talk about Cynthia Rose on that interview… just wow… and she’s selling merchandise based on the song, but it’s for another reason. She was talking about there not being a lot of talk back then about Spectrum disorders and she and Prince recognized Cynthia was on it and they both did things to raise awareness of it, which I thought was really cool.
The things you don’t get to know about Prince until he’s no longer with us.

Either she or Wendy talked about Prince not letting people in easily and how he got more secure with himself while with The Revolution. But after a while, those walls came back up because he couldn’t be that person all the time.
I don’t know if I’m personally projecting or what, but the more I hear about him, the more I see myself in him. How he is with other people. It’s hard for me to be open with anyone, really.
Case in point- it’s hard for me to say when I really want to do something special because I don’t want to risk being told no to… but when it’s something really important, I have to say something or it’s just not going to come out right.

And reviewing this album just got harder 😛 some stuff I’ll go into on another post… which I’ll write once I get something special in the mail.

it’s tempting to save the rest of this part of Peach & Black for Monday… but I’m finishing now, so I can get back to the album tonight- and then I can do my scores and rate it.

“Slow Love” is getting so much love right now… I just don’t get it.
“Adore” is one of Prince’s most beloved ballads… and I will go into that as well.
But calling “Slow Love” underappreciated and on the same level of “Insatiable”… MC has gotta be nuts. Again, don’t get it… maybe in another decade, but just not right now.
If it’s good for anything, it’s a nice breather track before “Hot Thing” which is absolutely nuts IMO. So good!

I was afraid it would get panned, but everyone loved the song- which is great.
I wanted to high-five Toejam and then Captain for their comments. Captain said it was a beat so good you couldn’t stop listening to it. Toejam just did such a glowing review- and said something like “I was going to make this comment during “IT”- it’s not “Hot Thing”… yeah, they are similar in that they’re beat-driven, but this song has more going on.
So much love for everyone involved and what would it be like without Eric Leeds?
…it wouldn’t be nearly as good. It just gives it that something extra.

“Forever in my life” also got a lot of love. It made the Peach & Black top 20 list of Prince songs, which is surprising for something so simple. I can’t say what it is about it, but it’s just nice… and kinda different… and Prince singing in his normal register…
This is a song non-Prince songs would love.
Captain extended his thoughts on “Hot Thing” by saying that this album has more sparse arrangements than you realize. Which is kinda nuts when you think about it.
Then there’s the whole talk about the backing vocals being out of time and that being a mistake.

I didn’t know for years that that was an error that happened in recording that Prince decided to keep (one of a bunch on this album… again, crazy).

One thought I had earlier in the week… this album has two discs. Even though it doesn’t feel particularly cohesive, Disc I feels better put together. While the second disc feels like a bunch of random leftover tracks from the previous projects and there’s no real rhyme or reason to their arrangement.
I’ve had this thought about Emancipation where the first disc feels very cohesive, the 2nd disc somewhat and the third is just a jumble of the political or external conflict tracks (not all of them are focused on Prince personally, at least not as much as the previous few).

So here’s the play-by-play, and this time I’ll have my brand new Excel sheet up at the same time I’m writing all this.
I made it up last week as a way to simplify steps I’ll be taking later- figuring the order of my albums as well as dealing with my top 100 Prince songs, whatever they wind up being.

SIGN O’ THE TIMES
For Prince, this was a lot of firsts in one song. Ok, maybe two. The first officially released track where he relied solely on the Fairlight sampler. And also the first time he released a track completely focused on current events- not really focusing himself at all. The lyrics are poignant and timely (for 1987). The music is all samples with some guitar work. Very percussive and cold.
The question is whether the idea of the song is better than the song itself… or if it’s something people will connect with as they had his previous work.
Technical Merit [which takes into account the music, lyrics, vocal performance, song structure and whether it’s unique to Prince to the point it stands out]- 3.5
-for me, the music & lyrics are brilliant and work for their intended purpose. I didn’t give much to vocal performance because it’s deadpan and doesn’t necessarily grab you. The song itself runs a tad long at times, and while Prince was one of the first to really address issues like AIDS, drug abuse and so on in his music, the song isn’t so special for me to give it full credit on that last thing.
Components [which is how much I personally like the song]- 3 (which I typically assign to songs that I like sometimes and other times, I’m neutral… but this is only because I’m not a fan of this style for Prince within his catalogue. The music and lyrics work for this number, but they don’t maintain my interest after the song ends)
Total score- 6.5

…yeah, not off to a great start. But from my first listen on The Very Best of…, I was never fully on board with it.

Play in the Sunshine
When Prince is down in the dumps about something, he always brings about something light and fun to bring the morale back up. This is another of those cases.
Technical merit- 3.5 [something about the music feels a little off to me, like it would’ve sounded better as a live version, it runs a tad long sometimes and while it has that Prince flavor to it, he’s done this style of song before with greater success]
Components score- 3.5 [I’ll take into account there have been great sunny days where this song has worked well for me… but it’s not one of the first ones I immediately go to for a good time]
Total score- 7

Housequake
Who in this house no about the quake?… I might be starting to… this is where things start turning around
Technical merit- 5 [yeah, I can’t fault any of those 5 points. It’s a Prince classic that people remember well, the music has some great moments, super quotable lyrics and it’s a good jam]
Components score- 3.5 [it’s not among the songs I have to take out and play for the heck of it. The real reason behind this score- I like it better than the title track, so it needs to be a step higher]
Total score- 8.5

The Ballad of Dorothy Parker
This is getting a good score, no doubt about it.
Technical merit- 5 [even though there was a technical issue while recording it that hurt the production, I’d never heard this song any other way than this. Great drum programming, cool lyrics, a well-written song, good performance on Prince’s part and his charisma on this gives it that extra point]
Components score- 4 [as much as I want to give it a tic higher because I like it better than “Let’s go crazy,” which I also gave the same score… I like this song a lot, but it’s not one of those Prince songs that hits me over the head with awesomeness. It’s kinda understated and that’s why it works so well]
Total score- 9

…things are starting to turn around, but then this song is next…

IT
Oi! way to break the momentum… anyway… this song has a short title, but it’s hard to describe what it even is. I just figure Prince is playing around with the Fairlight in the studio, goofing around and this happens as a result.
Technical merit- 3 [the drum beat and atmosphere of this is good, the lyrics are decent, the vocal varies from being over the top to being brilliant, there’s a progression of intensity but really, it doesn’t qualify as a song. Gotta give Prince a kudos point for just being ballsy enough to put a track like this on an official release]
Components score- 3 [Don’t like it or hate it… one of those “I couldn’t be more neutral” tracks]
Total score- 6

STARFISH & COFFEE
and another good one… a nice nursery rhyme type song with a super memorable chorus and if you set your mind free, this track can take you places 😉 and for a Prince song, that’s the ultimate compliment.
Technical merit- 4.5 [the debatable point is whether this song is unique to Prince… anyone could’ve written something like this and had a massive hit. But it gets half a point for that because, dammit, people remember this one and enjoy it for years to come
Components score- 4.5 [this isn’t top tier for me, but I always enjoy this song whenever it comes on. Even more now after hearing the full story behind it… never got to say this, but one of my favorite endings of any song ever- that cymbal ends it on the perfect note, love that!]
Total score- 9

…and the rollercoaster continues…

SLOW LOVE
The components score will be tricky on this one… it’s a ballad and not a particularly memorable one. Not for me, anyway.
Technical merit- 4 [Prince has done many ballads in his career and this gets lost in the shuffle. Mainly because it doesn’t have those nuances that let you know it’s a Prince ballad… although he technically didn’t write this one fully himself. The music is played just right, good lyrics, really good vocal performance and as a song, it moves well with all the verses and choruses you’d expect a standard song to have]
Components score- 2.5 [I’d skip this one if not for the album its on, and I don’t like skipping tracks on Prince albums unless I absolutely can’t stand them… which is kinda rare, actually, but it will happen]
Total score- 6.5

…and we finally stabilize…

HOT THING
With a sick beat like this, you really can’t go wrong. But having a compelling storyline, great saxophone playing and energetic vocals helps a lot
Technical merit- 4 [the structure of the song breaks down towards the end where it becomes an extended jam. and among Prince songs, it’s good, but it’s not as strong with that something extra compared to some others… yeah, I gave Housequake a higher score, I’m surprised too]
Components score- 5 [I always get excited when this song comes on. End of story]
Total score- 9

FOREVER IN MY LIFE
Kinda of an odd way to mark the halfway point of an album, yet it somehow works. From nearly every standpoint, one of the simplest Prince songs ever, yet it makes an impression. Because it makes you feel something.
Technical merit- 4.5 [it’s funny how the x-factor is the most debatable point on this particularly disc… Prince has written a lot of music leading up to this point, but my feeling seems to be he’s accomplished the same songs but much better on other songs. That’s something worth its own discussion… this post is already going to be too long]
Components score- 4 [another one I like a lot, but don’t love it or go out of my way to listen to it… I’d call it an underrated Prince ballad if so many people didn’t love it as much as they do]
Total score- 8.5

so adding another factor of discussion… in addition to adding up all my scores for the songs, the album and dividing points by point possible… I’ll look into the technical total vs. components total…

This disc, I rated higher on technical merit by 4 solid points. [But it seems like every album scores higher technically than on the other scale… except for one, funny enough…]

Total- 70… divide by 90… 7.8 out of 10.
So far, that puts it on equal footing with Controversy… but the whole Revolution era plus 1999 kinda destroys it. But this is also only one disc out of two.

The second disc might help gain some ground, but it might not be enough…
It’s made of 7 tracks… I feel very strongly about how it starts, but how it finishes… that would throw a wrench into the works.

Man, wouldn’t it be something if I gave this album a score nobody expects… and Emancipation winds up scoring higher? That’d be insane…
Going back to Controversy, it wins on the technical side and SotT wins on components.
And funny enough, it beats Parade on components… mostly because I find those songs good, but some are fairly average.

Okay, I won’t be spending THAT much time comparing albums… that’s for another post. Just thought some of my findings were kinda interesting.
Sadly, as it performed, I think it’s the stronger of the two discs.
Disc II has two songs that are among my favorites by Prince and the rest vary from “I like it a lot” to… not meh, but I’m not personally affected as much.

I don’t know if I can wait a whole week to do this again 😛 but I need something to look forward to at the end of the work week… and it is almost 1:30am.
I need sleep…

Stay Tuned for the Sign o’ the Times movie and part 2 where I rate the second disc and its 7 songs and give my rating of the album as a whole…

[looking at the post after shaving half of it off… yeah, that length is a lot better]

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s