The Problem with Prince’s Legacy
By his sixth album he was the multi-talented prodigy of the modern music era. His ninth album all but assured his position as the Mozart of the 21st Century. But for the numerology-fixated Prince Rogers Nelson, it was unlucky album 13 where things became unstuck, and a curse struck him down. Within four years Prince went off the rails, off his major label, and off the charts.
With his untimely passing in 2016, members of the Purple army clung to the only silver lining — the opening of the vaults — that mythical place where Prince’s unreleased music lay dormant. Enough tracks to release a fully-formed album every year for a million years. Well, maybe a few dozen or so, but that’s how myths are made, right?
Where the problem with Prince’s legacy lies is not within his vault, but in the gap left by his battle with Warner Bros. Records in the early 1990s. The bitter legal fight over the ownership of his original recordings saw him change his name to an unpronounceable symbol in defiance, heralded a release schedule of part-revenge / part-sabotage albums, and then the disappearance of Prince and his music from mainstream society.
Prince In Exile
Embarking on his musical adventures from 1996 onwards, O(+> / TAFKAP / (and eventually) Prince (again) became an unsung hero of the industry, pioneering online music access. He used his formidable presence to kickstart online experimentation with music clubs, CD sales, and digital downloads.
He also continued his everlasting trek to capture the music he envisaged in his mind’s eye, releasing the bulk of his output during this post-Chaos and Disorder period. In the first three years after his Emancipation from WB, he released five albums — comprising NINE CDs of music which he felt compelled to release to prove that releasing copious creative output whenever it was available was the best decision.
Sadly, Warner Bros were right all along, and the world agreed with them. It was too much music, too quickly. And without the bothersome record label’s demand to edit for quality (and more importantly, attention spans), Prince allowed himself to release experimental or lacklustre tracks that (at their worst) came across as pedestrian or incoherent.
On the whole though, for every few insipid tracks, there’s a nugget of genius, and when you consider his gargantuan output, there’s an enormous catalogue to review.
Prince’s desire to control of his own destiny essentially created a time in exile from the publics’ collective conscious. Without a major record label to promote his work, and fuelled by his insatiable desire to continuously release new music, over 25 albums were released that most people don’t knew exist.
As part of his contractual obligations with Warner Bros, the hefty The Hits / The B-Sides tome was released in 1993, a sprawling testament to his genius which contained 33 of his best album tracks and singles plus three brand new songs spread over two CDs, with an a third CD containing a further 20 tracks that had only previously been released as b-sides or hard-to-find rarities.
Later greatest hits releases (The Very Best of Prince, Ultimate, 4Ever) strayed only loosely from this original epic compilation, with only the previously unreleased Moonbeam Levels added on the post-death Prince4Ever.
But nothing from his post O(+> period, or even during the O(+> period were included. Let alone the vault, or the myriad of songs he wrote for others, or that artists had covered from his existing tracks. And it’s worth noting that with a repackaged Purple Rain being released with two CDs of bonus tracks, Warner Bros haven’t announced anything regarding the dozens of albums they have secured the rights of release to.
In fact, one of Prince’s biggest global hits (#1 in five markets — in fact his only UK #1 as a performer), has yet to be heard on any of his “best of” releases. The Most Beautiful Girl In The World anyone?
Before We Even Get To The Mythical Vault …
Currently on Spotify there are 18 Prince albums, the majority of which date between 1978 and 1994, including two of Prince’s final contractual obligation albums, and his final two major releases in 2014.
From these alone, there are enough tracks not featured on the aforementioned compilations to create four x 18–20 track compilation albums. Add an extra collection of covers, and another for collaborations / proteges, and you have over 8 hours of (for most people) unheard Prince.
And then there’s the remaining 30 something albums not available to stream or purchase … and THEN we can consider approaching the Vault.
We all know bootlegs of vault material exists, and for those who’ve sampled the overwhelming output, there’s definitely some incredible tracks to be heard. But can’t we enjoy what we already have first?
Look at existing albums that the mainstream are already aware of and the highlights that are ripe for the picking: from the trippy Bob George (The Black Album) to his final sexploitation explosion P Control (The Gold Experience), his recent output like Big City (HitNRun Phase 2) and the peddle to the metal FunkNRoll (Art Official Age), and back to his classic albums, the fan favourites Sometimes It Snows In April (Parade) and the political stab-in-the-heart America (Around The World In A Day) … there are easily over 100 songs available that other musicians would blush knowing weren’t included on their sampler.
So how should it be done? Too much in one go would just be an information overload — an avalanche of purple badness — exactly what went wrong the first time. An annual release of a single disc would allow for newcomers (and old guard who jumped off the Minneapolis-sound train in the 90’s) a chance to become acquainted with his existing work. Possibly with the addition of one or two new Vault tracks on each new instalment.
As an introduction to Prince, what about a continuation of The Hits concept? As an example, here are six collections of Prince + Prince Covers + Prince collaborations / proteges to get started (based on what is available on Spotify) — with songs from his major hits (such as Purple Rain & Sign O The Times) through to his later work (PlectrumElectrum & Art Official Age). Double A-Side singles could even be released off each collection for promotion — even previously existing singles (e.g.: FunkNRoll / Sometimes It Snows in April; Partyman / U Know; Space / Delirious; FIXURLIFEUP / Housequake).
An Avalanche of Purple Goodness
Which begs the question: what if we had the rest of his existing catalogue to mix into these collections?
Hopefully Prince’s estate is looking at this issue seriously, and one would hope, has reached out to his previous collaborators for assistance in approaching the Vault and ideas on how to re-release existing material. It seems obvious that Susan Rogers, Alan Leeds, and members of The Revolution, The New Power Generation and ThirdEyeGirl should be involved, but there are also luminaries from the music world whose input would also be pertinent, Dr Funkenberry and Questlove for example.
However the re-releases and vault releases happen, there is a core group who will never be fully satiated. Knowing there are recordings that are still unheard, and, more astonishingly, with the premature death of this musical virtuoso, the loss of potentially decades of new music that will never be created.
In a final ironic twist, compiling non-Spotify available tracks brings the total of my conceptual Prince The Hits compilations to 13. Perhaps it’s his lucky number after all.
Prince The Covers
- Nothing Compares 2 U — Sinéad O’Connor
- I Feel For You — Chaka Khan
- When You Were Mine — Cyndi Lauper
- Kiss (feat Tom Jones) — Art of Noise
- How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore — Alicia Keys
- Purple Rain — Bruce Sprinsteen
- Darling Nikki — Foo Fighters
- Take Me With U — Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
- I Wanna Be Your Lover — Corinne Bailey Rae
- She’s Always In My Hair — D’Angelo
- When U Were Mine — Crooked Fingers
- Kiss — Age of Chance
- Sign ‘O’ the Times — Chaka Khan
- Purple Rain — Dan Sultan
- Let’s Pretend We’re Married — School of Fish
- When Doves Cry — The Twilight Singers
Prince The Collaborators and Proteges
- Manic Monday — The Bangles
- The Glamorous Life — Sheila E
- Stand Back — Stevie Nicks
- Love Thy Will Be Done — Martika
- Love Song — Madonna
- Shake! — The Time
- The Dance Electric (Edited Version) — André Cymone
- 101 — Sheena Easton
- Martika’s Kitchen — Martika
- Mutiny — The Family
- Four — Madhouse
- Why Should I Love You? — Kate Bush
- Showmewhatugot — Ida Nielsen
- Nothing Compares 2 U — The Family
- A Love Bizarre — Sheila E
- The Bird (Remix) — The Time
- River Run Dry — The Family
- My Drawers (Edit) — The Time
- The Screams Of Passion — The Family
- The Belle of St. Mark — Sheila E
- Sister Fate — Sheila E
- Another Boy — Bria Valente
- High Fashion — The Family
- Mia Bocca — Jill Jones
- 17 — Madhouse
- Can I Play With U? (Extended) — Miles Davis
- Yo Mister (Miss Thing’s Radio Version) — Patti LaBelle
Prince The Hits 7
- Let’s Go Crazy Reloaded
- I Am (Extended)
- The Future (William Orbit Remix)
- Rock and Roll Love Affair (Original Radio Edit)
- FALLINLOVE2NITE (feat. Zooey Deschanel)
- 2045: Radical Man
- Empty Room (live)
- Beautiful Strange
- Days Of Wild
- The Human Body
- The Good Life
- Le Grind
- Honky Tonk Woman
- I Wish U Heaven (Part 1 2 3)
- The Everlasting Now
- Black Muse
Prince The Hits 8
- Big City
- Crimson And Clover
- Chelsea Rodgers
- S&M Groove
- Have A Heart
- Don’t Play Me
- Tell Me How U Wanna B Done
- Push It Up!
- One Of Us
- Dinner With Delores
- The Most Beautiful Girl In The World
- Bob George
- Alexa De Paris
- Goldie’s Parade
- Chocolate Box
Prince The Hits 9
- Da Bourgeoisie
- When Will We B Paid?
- Beginning Endlessly
- Man In A Uniform
- Poom Poom
- Black Sweat
- Cinnamon Girl
- Purple House
- 1+1+1 is 3
- Judas Smile
- Everyday is a Winding Road
- Freaks On This Side
- My Computer
- The Exodus Has Begun
Prince The Hits 10
- Groovy Potential
- Baby Knows
- Come On
- Hot Summer
- Don’t Talk 2 Strangers
- No More Candy 4 U
- Life ‘o’ the Party
- The Ride (Live)
- I Can’t Make U Love Me
- Get Wild
- 2 Nigs United 4 West Compton
- Call The Law
- Partyman (The Video Mix)
Prince The Hits 11
- Baltimore (feat. Eryn Allen Kane)
- Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance
- (There’ll Never B) Another Like Me
- Girl 6
- Song of the Heart [Live]
- Digital Garden
- Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic
- Until U’re In My Arms Again
- Right Back Here In My Arms
- The Same December
- P Control
- Return Of The Bump Squad
- Jam Of The Year
- 2 Whom It May Concern
- The Purple Party Mix
Prince The Hits 12
- Count The Days
- Billy Jack Bitch
- One Of Your Tears
- Alphabet St (This Is Not Music This Is A Trip)
- Betcha By Golly Wow!
- I Like It There
- What’s my Name?
- Face Down
- Cherry, Cherry
- X’s Face
- The One
- Family Name
- Big Fun
- The Sun, the Moon and Stars
- The Ride
- Superbowl XLI Medley
Prince The Hits 13
- Dance 4 Me
- Y Should I Do That…
- Cause And Effect
- Poor Goo
- Call My Name
- Te Amo Corazón
- Colonized Mind
- Right The Wrong
- Sleep Around
- Animal Kingdom
- Feel U Up (Short Stroke)
- FREE URSELF
- The Greatest Romance Ever Sold
- U Make My Sun Shine (feat. Angie Stone)
- Rock ’N’ Roll Is Alive! (And It Lives In Minneapolis)
You Can’t Please Everyone
Naturally everyone who is a Prince fan will have their own favourites, but that’s the beauty of today’s digital world. Spotify and other streaming platforms will allow you to create your own playlists where you can skip tracks you always thought were over-rated and add those that hold special meaning to you.
What tracks would you add or delete? Is 15 too large a number for an introductory collection? Too small?
Or should we just dive straight into the Vault, call on the Power from Above, Turn it Up, and enjoy some Disco Jellyfish?