Allez ...Michael HOWE en Interview et Review de l'ensemble du corpus inédit de cette BOX SUPERDELUXE......TRACK/TRACK REVIEW>>>>>>>SPOILERS
Warner Music’s recently announce reissue of Prince‘s album 1999 has sparked massive interest in the 35 previously unreleased bonus tracks. SDE spoke to Prince ‘vault’ archivist Michael Howe, who helped to put this set together in conjunction with the Prince Estate and the record label, and asked him about some of this unheard material…
MH: I don’t believe this ever trickled out into the fan community, and really is the only example of something on the entire set of expanded body of work that we had to source from a cassette rough mix, because there was literally no other existing version.
Even a two-inch [reel] was recorded over, so we didn’t even have a trace of what the original track was, but we did find a cassette rough mix of it and made it as sonically appealing as we possibly could, given the limitations, but that’s the kind of forensic approach that we tried to take.
I am virtually certain it was initially intended for The Time and obviously never ended up getting released as it currently exists, and turned into the song ‘New Power Generation’, which is something that ended up on Graffiti Bridge I guess, but this is a much more organic sort of approach I would say.
FEEL U UP / IRRESISTIBLE BITCH
SDE: This medley is a good example of Prince reworking something which sounded great in the first place. I mean ‘Irresistible Bitch’, I actually prefer this version, I think, to the released version, but there’s some obvious differences. The drums sound like a drum machine on this version. They sound real on the normal version.
MH: Coming out of Controversy, Prince was particularly interested in being as self-sufficient as possible and is starting to play with the drum machine and doing a tremendous amount of experimentation in the studio, so I think the influence of something like what Gary Numan was doing, and maybe some of the early British New Wave kind of stuff seeped into his creative energies. And I think it’s more apparent in something like these early versions, than on other unreleased tracks like ‘Vagina’ or ‘Turn It Up’. It’s pretty interesting, the sort of dichotomy of genres or styles that he was exploring.
SDE: And was this originally conceived as one big long track, or was it always two separate tracks that he happened to fuse together on this particular day?
MH: It’s a good question. I mean they are technically two individual tracks, but there is a cassette rough mix of what we would consider the complete version which then we replicated basically to present this tethered version of ‘Feel U Up’ and ‘Irresistible Bitch’. So we believe that this is what the intention was, at least given the rough mix that was done by Prince on a cassette. We are trying to take as few creative liberties as possible, I mean zero creative liberties.
SDE: And were you actually mixing any of these unreleased songs? Were you having to go back to multi tracks or were there stereo versions where you could just leave as is?
MH: Yeah there were cases where we had to mix from the multis, but we always used the rough mix, the existing mix as the template, so we would just basically mix match the two–inch to whatever the source of the rough mix was. In most cases these rough mixes, because they’re so early, are on cassettes, which aren’t really suitable for commercial release, at least from a sonic standpoint, so when we get the mix from the two inch we make it sound as if it’s the mix on a cassette, but with today’s technology, so you’re not hearing hiss and wow and flutter and dropouts and all kinds of other crap.
MONEY DON’T GROW ON TREES
SDE: This is a good example of something that’s like the opposite of ‘Irresistible Bitch’. It’s a kind of breezy, guitar-y kind of band song isn’t it?
MH: Yes it is. I mean presumably he was contemplating this for inclusion on 1999 – given the time period – but it’s certainly, as you say, breezy and less preoccupied with weighty matters than some of the other stuff that he working on at the time.
SDE: When I saw the title, I cringed a little bit, but it’s actually quite a good and surprisingly rocky number. Is this a number that might have ended up as a Vanity 6 song at some point?
MH: Absolutely. I mean the sort of genesis of it is that when he met Denise [Matthews], who became Vanity. He envisioned her name, her public name, to be ‘Vagina’, which she unsurprisingly sort of side-stepped. I mean, particularly now, [lyrically] it’s a very timely, topical piece, given LGBTQ movement and the general focus on gender issues, and it’s remarkable that he was thinking about this stuff in late 81 or early 82, which is eons ago at this point, but I certainly like the way it’s sort of unembellished and you can just hear him kind of thinking aloud a bit as he’s doing it.
SDE: This is a quite a commercial sounding track. Apparently there was a 1988 remix but I’m assuming this is the early version.
MH: This is the early version. That’s exactly right. I don’t know that I’ve even listened to the 88 remix of it, because it wasn’t appropriate for inclusion here, but the rough mix, which is this version, is the December 8th – I think it’s December 8th, I’m sort of working from memory here – but he cut this and a couple of other things in December of ’81 at Sunset with Peggy McCreary.
SDE: This is an instrumental, with a story behind it. It’s [engineer] Peggy McCreary’s middle name, isn’t it?
MH: Yes it is. We included this really because it’s one of those things that fans kind of know exists or have heard exists, and it would have been a glaring omission, I think, if we had left it off. I thought its inclusion would be a fun little nugget.
INTERNATIONAL LOVER (take 1)
SDE: ‘International Lover’. This is take 1, live in the studio. Set the scene for this one then. Would this have been literally the first time he’s going through it in the studio? It sounds like it’s just piano, drums and vocals, this particular version.
MH: It is. It was another track that was contemplated for The Time. In fact, Morris Day is playing drums on the track, so Prince is running through the track with Morris, live on piano and vocal, and decided, I think, to keep the song for himself. I don’t know if there was precedent for it, but this was certainly an example of something that was at least contemplated for a protégé artist or another artist that Prince said “I think I’m going to keep this one”. And I love this version. I mean I think there’s a vulnerability here, and the way he’s kind of articulating the vocal and talking to Peggy, and I mean it’s just a remarkable kind of peek behind the curtain.
This is something we didn’t really know existed. This was on the two-inch reel. I’m thrilled to be able to include it, because I think it’s so sonically arresting and such a special way to hear it.
TURN IT UP
SDE: Apparently Prince decided to not bother putting this on 1999 because he came up with ‘Delirious’ which he thought was much better. Was that the story?
MH: I think so. I don’t know that with certainty, but that’s the rumour. You can hear in spirit that it’s kind of an up tempo sort of breezy pop song the way ‘Delirious’ is. Obviously ‘Delirious’ was a much more complete thought – in my estimation – than ‘Turn It Up’ and he made a wise creative decision, but it’s very much in the spirit of it, and that explanation would make sense to me if that were the case, yeah.
YOU’RE ALL I WANT
SDE: This didn’t get released, but we can hear that [B-side] ‘Horny Toad’ stole some musical cues from this particular number didn’t it?
MH: Yeah, there were a couple of versions of this, one of which has vocals from an ex-girlfriend of Prince’s called Kim Upsher, but this is the solo Prince version. The different version that exists with her vocal, is the same bed track and basically the same Prince vocal as what is here.
SOMETHING IN THE WATER (DOES NOT COMPUTE) ORIGINAL VERSION
SDE: This early version is not dissimilar to the one on the album, but there’s piano in it and it does have a different feel, doesn’t it?
MH: It does, yeah. I mean the differences are somewhat subtle, but this is a slightly more organic sounding version to me and I like it. This is something I believe that has circulated. I’m not sure it’s circulated in this quality obviously, because we took it right from the master, but to the extent that we want to, you know, to trace the creative arc here we thought it important to include.
SDE: ‘Possessed’ is an interesting one, because we’ve already had this on the bonus disc of the Purple Rain reissue haven’t we?
MH: Yes but it’s not this version. There’s a later version that appeared in the movie and on the Purple Rain deluxe. This is the 1982 version that is substantially different than the version that has been officially released at this point.
SDE: I think this version is much better, to be honest.
MH: I do agree.
SDE: What’s the story with Delirious? This is a six minute version. The album’s about four minutes and then the single was about two and a half minutes. So was the album version simply an edit of this full length version?
MH: Yes it is. And it’s another thing that fans know exists and I think would be a glaring omission if we didn’t include it, but it’s not a different master. It’s the same master.
CAN’T STOP THIS FEELING I GOT
SDE: This ended up on Graffiti Bridge, didn’t it, but this is obviously a much earlier version. It’s not massively different, but it obviously has that sound of the production of the 1982 era.
MH: Yes it does. There’s much more humanity to it, I think, than the version that ended up on Graffiti Bridge, which was entirely re-tracked. I mean this was a different master completely.
SDE: ‘Teacher Teacher’ is brilliant, because it’s got lots of Wendy and Lisa on it, and it sounds like a bit sort of later era almost. But that’s a wonderful track.
MH: Yes it is. I mean that was recorded on 16 track actually, before Prince I think even had access to 24 tracks at Kiowa Trail in his home studio, and obviously it morphed into something that Wendy and Lisa sort of took and made into their own later, but this early version is a pretty interesting view.
LADY CAB DRIVER / I WANNA BE YOUR LOVER / HEAD / LITTLE RED CORVETTE (TOUR DEMO)
SDE: This is the last track on the second disc of unreleased vault material on the 5CD+DVD set [also featured on the 10LP box]. What exactly are we listening to here?
MH: So as best we can ascertain, what happened was during a break, there were two legs to the 1999 tour and there was a break in January of 83, and during that break Prince recorded this sort of medley of Lady Cab Driver, I Want to be Your Lover, Head, and Little Red Corvette, which he envisioned as part of the live show for the second leg of the tour. He recorded this demo, basically gave it to the band to teach the band this thing.
And they played it, from what I can tell, only once, in Lakeland, Florida, which was the opening date of the second leg of the tour, and that show strangely was not well reviewed by the local press. It sort of got panned I think… I don’t know, but for whatever reason – you know, Prince was reading the reviews or didn’t think the show went well himself – but for whatever reason I believe they dropped medley as it existed from future live shows. They tweaked it a bit, but this version, with all of these tracks and this order was played, I believe, only once and then abandoned for the rest of the tour.
But to have a studio, a work tape basically of it sort of surprised me, because I didn’t realise that he would do those kinds of things to teach the band. I thought it typically happened just in rehearsals. So it was kind of a nice nugget to find and certainly to include here.
SDE: So would Prince have gone back to various multi tracks and brought things in, or is this all new recording?
MH: No it’s all new recording. I think it was done in one session with a couple of overdubs and that’s it. I mean he didn’t take elements of existing masters and link them together. This was just a brand new master.
SDE: Okay and the audio of the live show included in the super deluxe CD and vinyl sets. What can people expect from that?
MH: It’s awesome. So there were six shows in Detroit as part of the first leg of the 1999 tour, two per day for like three days in a row, I think, and this show was the midnight show on the first day, 30 November 1982.
The very first show, the early show on 30 November has circulated among collectors as a cassette board mix. This show, the late show, we mixed directly from the two-inch multi track reels and has never circulated before, and is just a spine-tingling performance. So not only is it something that collectors presumably do not have and have never heard, but it is as sonically compelling as we’re possibly going to get. Dave Rivkin, you know David Z, the guy who actually captured the audio at the show, he mixed it for us, so it’s basically as the audience was hearing it in the room at the time, which is how we try to approach everything that we do here.
SDE: Has there been anything that you felt should go on the set that you have been unable to find?
MH: The only potential omission, I mean something that I was looking for that is rumoured to exist is a 1982 studio version of ‘Raspberry Beret’, which I simply have not found – and this is conjecture, I don’t know with certainty – but I think it’s because the two inch master that ended up being released on Around the World in a Day was basically an embellished version or an overdubbed version of whatever Prince started in 82. So there’s no distinguishing characteristic, enough, to determine, at least from the track sheets and the notes, what might have been from 82…
SDE: So what you’re saying is that it wasn’t two obvious separate reels sitting on different shelves. It was one thing he was working on.
MH: No. There were no separate reels, there were no cassette rough mixes that we found, there was no trace, and we’ve turned over a significant amount of rocks looking for it. It was a pretty exhaustive search. I mean I know there are soundtrack versions and those kinds of things, but from a studio standpoint I have not found evidence of it. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist and that we won’t stumble across it at some point
SDE: Tell me about the remastering. With the drum machines and the synths of the early 80s, can you realistically get an album like 1999 sounding very much better than it already sounds with the technology at hand today?
MH: I think so. I think so, yeah. I mean Bernie Grundman, who obviously mastered all of the stuff back then is the guy who has been doing all of the remasters for us, and he’s doing it right from high res transfers of the original half inch flat analogue reels, and he’s doing a remarkable job.
I mean I think the album, the remastered album, has a dimension and a sort of depth, a sonic depth that it had been lacking since its release. I mean it’s not perhaps an entirely different listening experience for the untrained ear, but for somebody that’s familiar with the album I think it’s much more satisfying sonically.
SDE: Finally, there might be some people that would question whether we need all these seven-inch edits and promo mixes included as part of this reissue? What do you think they bring to the table?
MH: Well, in something like a super deluxe edition [box] the idea is to trace the entire creative arc as completely as we can, so offering those mixes and things that maybe collectors have had or have been in the marketplace, but in one collection, remastered in chronological or sequential order, we think paints the most compelling picture of the expanded body of work would be, it just seems like it would be incomplete without having those things. I’m sure you’ve heard me say this before, but the way we approach these releases is to do it with as much completeness and respect and integrity as the body of work deserves, and moving forward without including those things just seems like an incomplete thought.