Many musicians are remembered, yet very few earn the title of legend. Prince is one of those few.
Soon after the 57-year-old artist’s death in April 2016, those close to him searched for more, and they found it. Inside Prince’s vault, his estate found thousands of tapes, notes and other artifacts of the late artist’s unreleased work. The treasure trove offers a wide-ranging look into Prince’s vision of and for his music.
Compiled by members of his estate and comprised entirely of demo tapes of songs written by Prince for other musicians, the 15 tracks on “Originals” offer further proof of his brilliance — every demo tape is better than the version performed by the artist to whom Prince gave the song to. In a follow-up to the estate’s first release of posthumous material, “Piano and a Microphone 1983,” “Originals” is one more strong addition to Prince’s legacy.
The compilation opens with “Sex Shooter,” originally written by Prince for the girl group Apollonia 6, with whom he worked closely. Although the song will always be memorialized as an icon of ’80s girl group pop, Prince’s original version is just as, if not more, well-done and classic. His vocals do the melodic line more justice than any of the three members of Apollonia 6 could give it, and the instrumental backing is exactly the same as on the Apollonia 6 record. Prince is written all over it, and he simply does it better.
Prince took on many pseudonyms throughout his career, and the record’s third song, “Manic Monday” is credited to one of them — Christopher. Originally intended Apollonia 6, the song instead made its way into the hands of The Bangles — another ’80s girl group — after Prince pulled the song from the latter’s first album. Again featuring the same musical underscoring as the commercially released version, the “Manic Monday” on “Originals” sets itself apart in two ways — Prince’s vocals and improvisation. Both shine on the demo tape, and Prince once again proves that his solo demo tapes are better than the work of a full band.
Most listeners probably wouldn’t be quick to associate a saxophone solo with the name Prince, but the artist subverts expectations — nothing new for the man who built a reputation around doing the unexpected on his records — on the demo tape version of “The Glamorous Life.” Originally intended for Apollonia 6 like “Manic Monday,” the song was instead commercially released by American singer and percussionist Sheila E. Her version is missing the first 20 seconds of the original — an extended, bebop jazz-style saxophone solo interspersed by spoken vocals from Prince and an underlying drum pattern, also played by Prince. A saxophone is used throughout the Sheila E. recording, but only as ornamentation. It might be just a solo, but those opening 20 seconds blend Prince’s typical dance-pop sound with jazz in a way that makes the version of “The Glamorous Life” on “Originals” shine.
Although he had more than his fair share of uptempo pop chart-toppers, Prince wasn’t afraid to slow down and write ballads alongside the dance-pop numbers. “Originals” features several of these, including “Noon Rendezvous,” “You’re My Love” and “Gigolos Get Lonely Too.” All three are similarly built in typical Prince fashion: a base layer of synthesizers, unfiltered piano and electric guitar lines with The Purple One’s smooth vocals gliding on top of it all. “How much more can I endure, my love,” he sings on “Noon Rendezvous,” more heartfelt on his demo than any later released commercial version of the tune. Altogether, the three are an example of one of Prince’s specialties: beautiful ’80s-love-story ballads.
“Originals” closes with what’s perhaps the most well-known song out of the 15: “Nothing Compares 2 U,” popularly ascribed to a band called The Family. Out of all of the groups Prince gave songs to, The Family might have the most direct connection to the artist. Not only did Prince bring the members of The Family together, and not only was it one of the first bands signed to his record label — Paisley Park Records — but he also wrote and produced just about all of its music, including the hit song, “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
Prince’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” on “Originals” is shocking. It’s just a demo tape, yet it's much more; it’s sweeping, it’s transcendent in its delivery and it’s more than a song — it’s an experience. From the screaming sax solo to the layered vocals in perfect harmony with Prince’s anguished vocals, there isn’t a thing that should be changed. Above all else, the “Nothing Compares 2 U” is proof of the genius that was Prince.
The High Priest of Pop, The Prince of Funk, The Purple One: all are titles that Prince holds even in death, and all are proof of the singularity that’s the gift he was to the musical community. “Originals” offers listeners a glimpse into the mind and work process of one of the best.
From “Sex Shooter” to “Nothing Compares 2 U,” the proof of the genius is there — all one has to do is listen.
Contact Jake Conley at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.