A party meant to last

Prince’s ‘1999’ keeps on giv­ing in 2019

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - A+E - Greg Kot is a Tribune critic. [email protected]

Prince may have died in 2016, but 2019 is turn­ing out to be a great year for new Prince mu­sic. In the last five months, more than four dozen pre­vi­ously un­re­leased Prince stu­dio record­ings have sur­faced, many of them rang­ing from good to ex­tra­or­di­nary. even as he was craft­ing the A mas­sive “1999 Su­per Deluxe” box set (NPG/Warner) due out Nov. 29 re­veals that Prince made enough qual­ity mu­sic in 1982-83 for at least one or pos­si­bly two more stel­lar al­bums

“1999” dou­ble al­bum that would prove to be his com­mer­cial break­through. It sold 4 mil­lion copies and yielded his first top-10 sin­gle, “Lit­tle Red Corvette,” as well as the iconic ti­tle track, which was a hit four dif­fer­ent times over three decades.

The “1999” box set (five CDs, one DVD) con­tains the re­mas­tered land­mark al­bum plus 35 tracks that were shelved dur­ing the record­ing ses­sions and never be­fore re­leased. It fol­lows the re­lease last June of “Orig­i­nals,” which culls 15 demos, 14 pre­vi­ously un­re­leased, that Prince wrote for other artists, many of them hits.

Fac­tor in the rev­e­la­tory 2018 al­bum, “Pi­ano & a Mi­cro­phone 1983,” es­sen­tially a Prince solo mini­con­cert recorded in his liv­ing room, and we now have a more com­plete pic­ture of the artist as he was build­ing a bridge to his block­buster 1984 movie al­bum, “Pur­ple Rain.”

This ex­cep­tional run of cre­ativ­ity was wit­nessed first­hand by Peggy McCreary, the record­ing en­gi­neer

Cover of the “1999 Su­per Deluxe” box set.

who vir­tu­ally lived in the stu­dio with Prince dur­ing this era. She laughs that she had to reg­u­larly “cheat” on the artist to keep him from run­ning ev­ery­body around him into the ground.

“I saw Su­san Rogers (a later Prince record­ing en­gi­neer), and she re­minded me that when I was leav­ing I said, ‘Cof­fee loses its caf­feine about a half-hour af­ter you make it, so don’t make him a fresh pot un­less you don’t want to go home,’ ” McCreary says. “At night, he’d say, ‘Go fix me a cup of tea,’ and I’d make it de­caf but pull the de­caf tab off the tea bag so he wouldn’t know. Oth­er­wise the guy would never quit.”

That work ethic ex­tended to Prince’s eat­ing habits.

“He never wanted to eat any­thing ex­cept cough drops be­cause he thought it would slow him down,” McCreary says. “There was all this mu­sic in­side of him, and he was driven to get it out be­fore his cre­ativ­ity waned. It never did.”

Dez Dick­er­son was the lead guitarist in the Rev­o­lu­tion, Prince’s band since the ’70s, be­fore de­part­ing for a solo ca­reer af­ter the “1999” tour. He was in on the ground floor of “1999” and helped shape its two key sin­gles.

“He did ev­ery­thing him­self at the be­gin­ning,” Dick­er­son says. “That’s what Warner Broth­ers signed: this teen wun­derkind, the next Ste­vie Won­der. But he also wanted to have a band, and we spent so much time re­hears­ing and jam­ming that he felt com­fort­able mov­ing away from that do-ev­ery­thing-your­self tem­plate.”

In the spring of 1982, Prince was work­ing on the “1999” al­bum in his prePais­ley Park home stu­dio in Chan­has­sen, Min­nesota, out­side Min­neapo­lis when he called in Dick­er­son. Prince wanted a guitar solo for “Lit­tle Red Corvette,” and af­ter four or five takes Dick­er­son de­liv­ered one of the decade’s most iconic in­stru­men­tal mo­ments.

“The fi­nal take is ac­tu­ally a com­bi­na­tion of mul­ti­ple takes,” Dick­er­son says. “We talked about which phrases within the solo he liked. When peo­ple have been mar­ried for a while, we could fin­ish each other’s sen­tences.”

For “1999,” Prince wanted to share the lead vo­cals with three mem­bers of the Rev­o­lu­tion: Dick­er­son, Lisa Cole­man and Jill Jones. It am­pli­fied the all-for-one an­them qual­ity of the track.

“He could’ve sang ev­ery­thing on ‘1999’ or played the guitar solo in ‘Corvette’ and peo­ple would’ve loved it,” Dick­er­son says. “But he was con­tin­u­ally try­ing to stretch, bring in new tex­tures, col­ors.”

The bulk of the “1999” al­bum was recorded in Los An­ge­les, of­ten with Prince and McCreary the only two peo­ple in the stu­dio. They worked a string of 18-hour days, in­clud­ing McCreary’s birth­day.

“I was not in a great mood be­cause he calls me in and I’m think­ing I can’t even get half the day off,” she re­calls. “He’s all business, as usual, and in typ­i­cal fash­ion he started and fin­ished a track in a sin­gle day. On his way out the door he smiles, says ‘Happy birth­day’ and tosses me the cas­sette of the song we had just worked on.”

Prince prob­a­bly con­sid­ered the song, “You’re All I Want,” a toss-off. Yet as one of the “1999 Su­per Deluxe” pack­age out­takes, it af­firms how Prince was op­er­at­ing on two lev­els at once: The song was catchy enough to qual­ify as a sin­gle but weird enough to sug­gest that it could’ve eas­ily be­come a deep-cut fa­vorite had it been re­leased in timely fash­ion.

The tri­umph of “1999” was how it stretched bound­aries with its mix of fu­tur­is­tic key­boards and rock gui­tars, in­ter­twined vo­cal lines and lay­ered lyrics while still serv­ing the almighty groove. The left­overs in­cluded a bounty of bril­liance: the eerie sen­su­al­ity of “Feel U Up,” the rock­ing should’ve-been gay an­them “Vagina,” the Hen­drix-like guitar squall of “Re­ar­range,” the thun­der­ing new wave of “Can’t Stop This Feel­ing I Got” and the per­co­lat­ing, self­dep­re­cat­ing “Do Your­self a Fa­vor.”

Mu­si­cal ten­ta­cles shoot out in count­less di­rec­tions: the reg­gae ca­dences of “If it’ll Make U Happy,” the Soft Cell-cov­ers-“Tainted Love” vibe of “Yah, You Know,” the trance-and­dance min­i­mal­ism of the hyp­notic “Pur­ple Mu­sic.” Though sub­se­quent al­bums such as “Pur­ple Rain” and the sprawl­ing “Sign O’ the Times” (1987) are per­haps more highly re­garded, the seeds of their any­thing-goes dar­ing were planted on “1999.”

“Ev­ery­thing be­gan and ended with mu­sic and per­sonal re­la­tion­ships in our ecosys­tem,” Dick­er­son says. “All these out­takes and un­re­leased pieces from ‘1999’ were part of a process that started when Prince, (bassist) An­dre (Cy­mone) and I would jam in his liv­ing room un­plugged start­ing in the ’70s.

“We es­tab­lished a lan­guage, and the mu­sic was the cen­ter of our lives. A lot of the songs we first played in sound check or live never made it on the record.

“Peo­ple who think ev­ery­thing be­gan with ‘Pur­ple Rain,’ they couldn’t be more wrong.”

MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/GETTY

Prince per­forms live at the Fab­u­lous Fo­rum on Feb. 19, 1985, in In­gle­wood, Cal­i­for­nia.

Greg Kot

ALLEN BEAULIEU

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