In the nearly four years since Prince’s untimely death, his estate has done an exhaustive job of archiving his vast “Vault,” which, considering the artist’s legendary workaholism and sleeplessness over his 40-year-plus career, may contain the most voluminous trove of recorded music by a major solo artist in history. The question now is how they roll it out.
While the previous posthumous releases have almost been samplers — a deluxe edition of “Purple Rain,” the solo “Piano & a Microphone 1983” and “Originals,” a compilation of his recordings of his songs made hits by others — this sprawling edition of his 1982 breakthrough album, “1999,” which comes out Friday and in its “super deluxe” edition spans 5 CDs (or 10 LPs) and a DVD, is the estate’s first real deep dive. (Two-CD/4-LP and single-CD/2-LP editions also are available, see the full tracklist below.)
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And what a deep dive it is. As anyone reading this probably already knows, with songs like “Little Red Corvette,” “Delirious,” “Free,” “D.M.S.R.” and especially the title track, “1999” is almost universally regarded as one of the greatest albums of the ‘80s, not to mention R&B and hip-hop history, and it also marks one of several creative high points in this endlessly prolific artist’s career. The album has received a solid remastering here, and a second disc contains edits and extended versions of its singles, as well as three of his all-time best B-sides: the piano ballad “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore,” the new wavey “Horny Toad” and the smoldering funk of “Irresistible Bitch.”
But where it gets really interesting is the unreleased material in the four remaining discs, which contain more than two hours of “Vault Tracks” — 24 previously unreleased studio recordings, ranging from different versions of well-known album songs to long-bootlegged tracks to ones only certifiable Prince dorks knew existed — and two full concerts from the era, one of them a DVD. For serious fans, Santa’s overloaded sled just crashed through the roof.
The “Vault Tracks” basically fall into three categories: alternate versions of “1999” tracks; songs that were re-recorded and released years later; and ones that fell by the wayside. Not surprisingly, given the depth of the dive, the quality varies wildly — but most impressively, so does the range of musical genres. All of the material in this set was recorded over the course of just 15 months (November 1981 through January 1983), and although the “1999” album has a relatively uniform sound — heavy on synthesizers, drum machines and libidinous singing — what these outtakes reveal is the wild diversity of the material Prince was creating at the time. There’s even a reggae song (albeit a terrible one, “If It’ll Make U Happy”).
The very best in the batch is the longtime bootleg favorite “Moonbeam Levels,” a gorgeous, cinematic ballad that was so renowned among fans that Elvis Costello covered it at a Prince tribute concert in 2012. Other highlights include the buzzing “Purple Music,” a 10-minute groove that would have fit smoothly between sides two and three of “1999.” There’s a power pop track reminiscent of “When U Were Mine” but not as good (“Teacher Teacher”); “Don’t Let Him Fool Ya” sounds like it could be an outtake from an album by The Time; there’s a bouncy workout of “Feel U Up” (later re-recorded and slated for release on the unreleased 1986 “Camille” album before emerging as a B-side).
Anomalies include “Money Don’t Grow on Trees,” a sleek groove that’s in line with middle-of-the-road R&B of the era; “Rearrange,” a more youthful-sounding stab at mainstream R&B that vaguely echoes Whodini’s “Freaks Come Out at Night” (but has a blazing Prince guitar solo). There’s an early, overwrought take on “Irresistible Bitch” and two songs that didn’t see release until 1990’s “Graffiti Bridge” album, “Bold Generation” (later reworked into “New Power Generation”) and “Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got.”
Some are half-baked — where “Vagina” might conjure visions of a long-lost Vanity 6 track, it’s a garden-variety falsetto clap-along. “Turn It Up” and “You’re All I Want” sound like castoffs from his earlier albums; “Yah, You Know” and “No Call U” feel like they were recorded quickly and forgotten. But the presence of those tracks not only helps to provide a fuller picture of Prince’s formidable output at the time, it also signals to fans how deeply the archivists have dug, and throughout, there’s killer guitar and bass work and lots of Prince’s powerfully jazzy, slightly off-kilter drumming.
The concerts, recorded in Detroit and (on DVD) Houston late in 1982, are among the best from the “1999” tour and catches the seasoned band, which had only recently been named the Revolution, in top form for the era. While the shows were recorded just a month apart and share an almost identical song list, they show how much Prince liked to mix things up — the closing track at one show was played early in the set on the other, and vice versa. The band, as always, is in razor-sharp form, with dazzling keyboard work from Lisa Coleman and Matt Fink, although as usual with Prince concerts, in places the band loses momentum, overplaying the suspense with frustratingly long buildups. Having said that, it’s Prince and the motherf—ing Revolution on the “1999” tour so it’s ludicrous to complain. (Superfan note: The Detroit concert is actually the second the band played that night; a bootleg from the same date is from the evening’s earlier show.)
While it’s safe to say completists will have plenty to keep themselves busy for the next several months if not years, of course wonderers are wondering what’s next. Considering the quality of Prince’s 1980s work, the 1985-86 material around the “Parade” and “Sign O’ the Times” albums have been extensively bootlegged and offer dozens of stunning unreleased tracks, as does his late ‘80s work leading up to the “Batman” soundtrack. So even after this exhaustive collection, which documents the beginning of Prince’s golden era, the best may be yet to come.
CD1/LP1&2 (Original Album with 2019 Remaster)
02 Little Red Corvette
04 Let’s Pretend We’re Married
07 Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)
09 Lady Cab Driver
10 All The Critics Love U In New York
11 International Lover
CD2/LP3&4 (Promo Mixes and B-sides, 2019 Remaster)
01 1999 (7″ Stereo Edit)
02 1999 (7″ Mono Promo-Only Edit)
03 Free (Promo Only Edit
04 How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore
05 Little Red Corvette (7″ Edit)
06 All The Critics Love U In New York (7″ Edit)
07 Lady Cab Driver (7″ Edit)
08 Little Red Corvette (Dance Remix Promo Only Edit)
09 Little Red Corvette (Special Dance Mix)
10 Delirious (7″ Edit)
11 Horny Toad
12 Automatic (7″ Edit)
13 Automatic (Video Version)
14 Let’s Pretend We’re Married (7″ Edit)
15 Let’s Pretend We’re Married (7″ Mono Promo Only Edit)
16 Irresistible Bitch
17 Let’s Pretend We’re Married (Video Version)
18 D.M.S.R. (Edit)
CD3/LP5&6 (Vault Tracks Pt 1, recorded between November 1981 and April 1982)
01 Feel U Up
02 Irresistible Bitch
03 Money Don’t Grow On Trees
06 Bold Generation
08 International Lover (Take 1) [Live In Studio]
09 Turn It Up
10 You’re All I Want
11 Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)
12 If It’ll Make U Happy
13 How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore? (Take 2)
CD4/LP7&8 (Vault Tracks Pt 2, recorded between April 1982 and January 1983)
01 Possessed (1982 Version)
02 Delirious (Full Length)
03 Purple Music
04 Yah, You Know
05 Moonbeam Levels (2019 Remaster)
06 No Call U
07 Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got
08 Do Yourself A Favor
09 Don’t Let Him Fool Ya
10 Teacher, Teacher
11 Lady Cab Driver / I Wanna Be Your Lover / Little Red Corvette (Tour Demo)
CD5/LP9&10 (Live In Detroit at Masonic Temple Theater, Masonic Hall (Late Show) – November 30, 1982, Previously Unreleased)
02 Let’s Work
03 Little Red Corvette
04 Do Me, Baby
07 Lisa’s Keyboard Interlude
08 How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?
10 International Lover
DVD (Live at The Summit, Houston, TX, – December 29, 1982, Previously Unreleased)
02 Let’s Work
03 Do Me, Baby
05 Keyboard Interlude
06 Piano Improvisation
07 How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?
08 Lady Cab Driver
10 International Lover
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