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🌵 Sessions: Reflecting On Early Prince – First Three

April 27, 2022

I listened to a recent Political Beats podcast on Prince. Part One, which was nearly four hours long, focuses on 1978 to 1985 (his first seven albums). I think of myself as a serious Prince fan – especially for this period as I experienced most of it in real time. But in reality I was late to the party (the first Prince album I bought was #3: Dirty Mind). I really only have superficial experience with the first two albums. I have failed to explore the deluxe reissues of 1999 and Purple Rain. This podcast has forced me to go back and re-familiarize and re-evaluate the first two albums and motivates me to explore the deluxe reissues.

Prince – For You (1978)

If you are not from Minneapolis, the assumption is that Prince was a local phenomenon before he became a big deal on the national and global stage. I was there and relatively awake in 1978 and he was invisible – at least to this white boy. I was vaguely aware that he existed, but did not pick this album up until after being hooked by Dirty Mind. My recollection of my reaction of my first listen to For You was that it was generic R&B and not the game changer I heard on Dirty Mind. I dismissed it as the early work of a genius in progress.

Listening to it with fresh ears, I now realize what an audacious debut it was. Prince was 19 with minimal experience as a performer and in the studio. Yet he was as confident as a seasoned pro. He sang all the vocals and played all the instruments, including: acoustic, electric, and bass guitar; acoustic and Fender Rhodes piano; synth bass; various keyboard synths by Oberheim, Moog, and Arp; orchestra bells; drums and percussion. He dismissed the advice of his experienced producer in favor of his own vision. He blew his three album advance on this one record.

Yes, it is generic late 70s R&B, but it is also a glimpse of a genius honing his craft. The building blocks are here: the hooks, the guitar histrionics, the voice, the clever horny lyrics and most of all the swagger. It would not take him long to revolutionize funk, R&B, rock, and pop. This is the seed.

Prince – Prince (1979)

On For You Prince arrived fully formed – or so we thought – Prince became Prince on this album. He sounds like no one else, yet he will grow significantly more on the next several albums.. Again, I did not experience this is in real time, but as part of my back tracking after Dirty Mind. I remember this one clicked for me at the time, especially the hit “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” But I was so enamored by Dirty Mind that I never really dug in past that hit.

Coming back to it now, I appreciate what a complete album it is. It has the songs that sound like hits, “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “I Feel For You” (an actual huge hit five years later for Chaka Khan) and “Sexy Dancer.” Amazing quiet storm ballads. Lascivious glam rock with “Bambi.” He set the table not for the five album run, but the eight album run.

Prince – Dirty Mind (1980)

If this was Prince’s only achievement, he would be a legend. But it was merely his first of several masterpieces. He is now fully formed: the Minneapolis sound, the look, the hits, the originality, the foundation of a very long and successful career – a brand. Was it funk, rock, pop? The only appropriate genre designation is Prince music. I am not going to say anymore – just listen.

From → Music Reviews

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