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>I want to introduce something that I’ve been meaning to start since I began this blog. I listen to a lot of older music to get perspective on the music industry and music itself, and I thought it would be fun to do a Discography Review of different artists that I’m into, or learning more about. To start, I want to talk about an artist I’m well-versed in, Prince. I come from a family of Prince fans, and I was born in the 80’s so he was an ever present artist throughout my whole life. Thus the reasoning for him topping my All Time Favorite Artists list. When I was in my early 20’s I sort of re-discovered the genius and timeless-ness of his music, especially in his early work which is what this post is mainly about. His first 5 years in the industry and what he managed to do in the span of just 5 albums.
Prince’s debut album “For You” from 1978 has always been regarded as the lesser early Prince album, so I really never heard it, until this weekend. Thanks Youtube! The album shows quick glimpses of the magnitude of music knowledge he possesses, but really only scratched the surface. Largely coming off as a radio accessible Disco/Funk/R&B album, it works as just that. He sings about love throughout, over both uptempo numbers and slower styled ballads, however it’s still not the typical album of that era. The extended Funk of “Just as Long as We’re Together”, and the sexy Disco/R&B hit “Soft and Wet” show there is definitely enough on the album to keep you entertained and dancing. Even the more laid back R&B and acoustic bits like “Crazy You” and “Baby” are nice calming moments in between the uptempo. He closes out with a bit more of a Rock edge on “I’m Yours” to show some of the versatility that would emerge later in his career. And like all of his following albums, he wrote produced and arranged everything on here, giving a hint of the musical genius he has. Not a great album, or anywhere near his best, the album is a fun time capsule of the popular styling of black music at the time. And a modest beginning to an amazing career.
“Prince“, released in 1979, follows the same general pattern as the debut, just slightly amped up.Still singing largely about love, and still a commercially acceptable album, he does experiment with his musical arrangements and his vocals to make this effort a little stronger than the previous. This album is heavy on the R&B/Disco/Funk sound but takes more risks here and there as opposed to his debut, like the extended synth play on the hit single “I Wanna Be Your Lover” or the seamless mix of R&B and Rock on “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”. Lyrically he gets more flirtatious as well with “Sexy Dancer” his extended Disco ode to strippers. Even this albums ballads are a step up from the previous, with “Still Waiting” and “It’s Gonna Be Lonely” being really beautiful and well-written. This still isn’t the Prince that the world has come to love, but it’s definitely an improvement.
In 1980, Prince switched up his whole style and that’s both music and image wise. No longer the perfectly coiffed hippie child, he transformed his style into a grungy sex-thing. And the music on the accompanying album “Dirty Mind” is the perfect match. From his gritty vocals, to the distorted and sometimes washed-out sounding production, this third album is definitely meant to feel more Underground and rebellious than his previous two albums. The entire vibe of the album makes the listener feel like they are having a night hanging out with the Underground Minneapolis Music scene. A group of people with no racial or sexual boundaries who’s only goal is “being free” as he sings on the Funk cut “Uptown”. The most groundbreaking thing about the album is that Prince totally blurs the genre line here, incorporating not only R&B and Funk but also relying heavily on Rock and Punk influences. The sounds are all mixed into one on nearly all the tracks starting with the title track. Freedom and no judgment is a big theme here, but also different sexual perversions get most of the attention. He talks about both incest and prostitution on the salacious Punk number “Sister”, and orally pleasing a soon to be married woman on the Funky “Head”. His lyrics on this album get even more clever as he talks about the woman who “let all my friends come over and eat” on the Classic “When You Were Mine”, talking about a cheating and not very discreet girlfriend (“you didn’t have the decency to change the sheets”). “Dirty Mind” is easily the most cohesive album by Prince thus far and the riskiest as well. The risk paid off though because it showed the music world his versatility in production and his playfulness in songwriting and vocals. Easily one of his all-time best.
Following with the theme of a world of freedom and no judgment talked about in “Dirty Mind”, Prince gets a little more political on 1981’s “Controversy“. He makes a call for a “new breed” to erase stereotypes and racial and sexual boundaries on the stellar club cut “Sexuality” and when he’s not asking this “new breed” to “stand up, organize”, he’s addressing the than powers that be in the quick Punk-ish song “Ronnie Talk to Russia” and talking specifically about social concerns on the haunting “Annie Christian”. Still Prince knows how to have fun, and that’s evidenced in the Pop-y “Private Joy” and his sexual libido is still present on the cleverly flirty “Jack U Off” and the slow burner “Do Me Baby” which is the first in a long line of Bedroom anthems. The sound is a little more polished on this outing, but still mixes all types of genres and shows his early work playing with his drum machine that would come to define his sound later in his career.
Rating: 4 Stars
Best: Controversy, Private Joy, Jack U Off
Prince had shown us his versatility on his previous albums, but the musical genius and forward-thinker he was is on full display on his 1982 double album “1999“, which was his first universally acclaimed opus and the catalyst to his mainstream crossover. And this all came from him being at his riskiest and most experimental time, probably the riskiest of his entire career. This album is a true culmination of all the great things that were displayed on his first 4 albums, but elevated even higher. His great songwriting, his production skills, his vocal play, all of these things are at their best here. Even the vibe and concept of the album is strongly felt, it is set in a world that’s nearing it’s end, and the tone of the music, lyrics and vocal delivery is very frantic like he’s attempting to get out so many thoughts and emotions in the fastest time available. The album deals with a variety of topics, from liberation on “1999” “D.M.S.R.” and the lush “Free”, to heartbreak on “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)” and the classic hit single “Little Red Corvette”.
These are all laid over very futuristic New Wave inspired beats courtesy of the aforementioned drum machine that he utilizes throughout the album. Though that’s not to say that he ditches his traditional instruments, as there are plenty of great guitar solos and musicianship displayed aside from the electronics. Lyrically and Vocally Prince pushes himself further than ever before, the devastation of seeing “pictures of the jockeys that were there before me” on “Little Red Corvette” is felt as well as the agony on “Something in the Water” that results in him screeching out of emotion near the end. Some might argue that the album is a little over long, but in my opinion that is not the case as nothing on the album would really constitute as filler. And the thing that makes this his first true Classic Album is that 29 years later, each and every song could be played alongside any current hit and still sound futuristic and groundbreaking. This album has truly stood the test of time and is my personal favorite of his.