Book Review: Prince And The Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions by Duane Tudahl

There aren’t many titles in the ‘complete studio sessions’ pop library. Mark Lewisohn and others have done sterling work in this area on the Beatles, and Elvis’s career has been similarly scrutinised. But the relative lack of material begs the question – do we really want to know everything about our icons’ recording histories?

When it comes to Prince, the answer may be a resounding yes, since his mystique is so bound up with his status as a master multi-instrumentalist, famously with hundreds of unreleased songs in the studio vaults.

So such a book was probably only a matter of time, but fair play to Duane Tudahl for ‘The Purple Rain Studio Sessions’, a mainly fascinating day-to-day diary of Prince’s studio work (at LA’s Sunset Sound and various facilities and warehouses around Minneapolis) when he was recording the songs that made up Purple Rain, Around The World In A Day and key side projects with Sheila E, Jill Jones, Stevie Nicks, The Time and The Family.

The first half of the book is fascinating for three reasons – it outlines the vengeful decline of one band (The Time) and the adrenalized formation of two others (The Revolution and The Family), though you have to be a major fan of the former to enjoy these sections. It also captures Prince at a crucial juncture in his career, when he was going from mid-table journeyman to title contender.

What comes across loud and clear in the second half is the relentless forward motion of Prince’s creative drive – for example, just a week before the start of his Purple Rain tour, he was completing work on both the Around The World In A Day and The Family albums! We also get a real sense of his famously-short attention span – he curtailed the Purple Rain tour at its absolute peak, bored of the material after only six months.

But the bane of the book is repetition. Too many calendar days are similar –  there’s only so much you can say about two weeks of ‘Baby I’m A Star’ overdubs. In Tudahl’s need to flesh out sometimes fairly uneventful studio days, he uses variations on very similar quotes.

But he also gets some great interview material from almost all of the major players, and there are plenty of revelations and interesting theories – he reveals that ‘When Doves Cry’ was written on Tuesday 1st March 1984, two days after Prince lost two Grammy awards to Michael Jackson. Did this double setback prompt some fairly uncharacteristic introspection, spawning his biggest hit?

Prince is also revealed as a major Springsteen fan, bringing the saxophone sound into his music mainly due to Clarence Clemons’ playing with The Boss. Then there’s his little-known charity work, including a touching photo of a gig at a Minneapolis deaf school, and we also get an insight into his fear before the first night of the Purple Rain tour.

There are also interesting comments about Prince’s business deals – Wendy Melvoin: ‘Collaboration with Prince was a reality, but it didn’t pay the bills.’ Her sister Susannah goes as far as to say that Prince would test people’s loyalty by paying terrible money. These are tantalising – if troubling – morsels, never fully explored by Tudahl.

But he gets closer than most to revealing the true Prince, warts and all. Spoiler alert: some of it isn’t pretty. ‘The Purple Rain Studio Sessions’ is a major achievement and a real labour of love. The years of research have certainly paid off. It’s a vital buy for hardcore Prince fans, but arguably only the second best book on the Minneapolis master – just pipped at the post by Per Nilsen’s ‘Prince: The First Decade’.

‘Prince And The Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions’ by Duane Tudahl is published by Rowman & Littlefield

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Feminist Funk: Ray Parker Jr.’s Woman Out Of Control/Sex And The Single Man

Though ‘Ghostbray parker jrusters‘ is probably still paying a lot of Ray Parker Jr.’s bills, he’d certainly paid his dues before he got the call (apparently only after Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham turned down writing the theme song).

A decade earlier, Ray had played guitar on some great albums of the ’70s (Stevie’s Talking Book and Innervisions, Rufus/Chaka Khan’s Rags To Rufus,  Harvey Mason’s Funk In A Mason Jar, Marvin’s I Want You, Leon Ware’s Musical Massage), not to mention sessions with the likes of Boz Scaggs, Barry White, Tina Turner, Herbie Hancock and Bill Withers.

He also enjoyed a few big hits as part of Raydio before going solo in ’82. Either side of ‘Ghostbusters’, he put out two interesting albums which are now released as a good-value two-fer by Cherry Red/Soulmusic.com. ’83’s Woman Out Of Control unleashes a kind of feminist funk with various tracks unashamedly taking the laydeez’ side in the battle of the sexes, creating something pretty original. ‘Electronic Lover’ and ‘Invasion’ also rock the kind of psych-synth-funk sound that Prince and his contemporaries were tapping into at the time.

85’s Sex And The Single Man, the post-‘Ghostbusters’ album, ups the stakes with a lot more fuzz-toned lead guitar and also some weird synth-pop fun on ‘Girls Are More Fun’ and ‘I’m A Dog’. ‘One Sided Love Affair’ is an amusingly-shameless ‘Hello’ rewrite and there’s some cracking Cameo-style funk/rock on the title track. ‘Men Have Feelings Too’ demonstrates more of his rhythm-guitar mastery. I was going to say that his playing sounds very Prince-influenced but it’s the other way round; check out this masterclass for the evidence.

The albums were only minor hits – apparently Arista boss Clive Davis wasn’t blown away by their modest chart placings and was slow to return Parker Jr.’s call when contract-renewal time came around. While it’s true that there’s nothing as immediate or hook-laden as ‘Ghostbusters’ on these two records, they’re definitely worth reappraising and make nice companion pieces to Miles Davis’s You’re Under Arrest, Cameo’s She’s Strange, Prince’s Purple Rain and The Time’s Ice Cream Castle. Ray’s still going strong too, playing festivals and turning up on the occasional session.

P.S. Apparently Parker Jr. has been subject to an out-of-court settlement regarding the similarity of ‘Ghostbusters’ to Huey Lewis And The News’ ‘I Need A New Drug’. Judge for yourself…

Marcus Miller: Suddenly

marcus millerWarner Bros, released June 1983

Bought: HMV Richmond 1989?

7/10

I first became aware of Marcus when I saw him playing bass with Miles Davis at the trumpeter’s Hammersmith Odeon ‘comeback’ gig in ’82. He quickly became one of my bass heroes a few years later when I was bowled over by his contribution to Miles’ Star People album.

Marcus’s name came up again recently when I was talking to someone about great multi-instrumentalists. In the soul/funk/R’n’B world, obviously there’s Stevie, Prince, Lewis Taylor and Sly. Marcus’s 1983 debut Suddenly almost puts him up there with that esteemed company too, though in the final analysis it suffers from a lack of top-quality material.

Marcus has put it on record that he was first inspired to play music by Michael Jackson and Stevie, and Suddenly was his first attempt to enter their world of quality soul/funk/R’n’B songwriting. He’d certainly paid his dues for Warner Bros Records by 1983, producing, composing and/or playing bass with David Sanborn, Donald Fagen, Joe Sample, Roberta Flack, Grover Washington Jr. and Claus Ogerman, so a Warners solo debut was always on the cards.

Marcus-Miller

You can hear elements of ZAPP, Gap Band, The Time and Cameo on Suddenly, and if Marcus doesn’t quite establish himself as a genuine ’80s funk contender, there are a myriad of great grooves and musical touches to enjoy. He pretty much plays all instruments, getting in selected guests (drummers Harvey Mason and Yogi Horton, Vandross, Sanborn, Mike Mainieri) to add spice here and there. Marcus is not a great singer, his voice rather light and uncertain, but his bass and keyboard playing, songwriting and arranging really save the day.

‘Lovin’ You’ is uplifting pop/funk with a classic bassline, while ‘Just What I Needed’ features some great Richard Tee-like, gospel-tinged piano from Marcus. And his piccolo bass solo on ‘Much Too Much’ had me checking the sleevenotes in vain for the presence of late great guitarist Eric Gale. ‘Just For You’ was previously recorded by David Sanborn on the classic Voyeur album, but here it gets a nice new vocal treatment.

It’s telling though that the closing instrumental ‘Could It Be You’ is by far the most successful track, featuring Miller’s fabulous fretless bass solo. It was later covered excellently by Dizzy Gillespie on his 1984 Closer To The Source album.