A party meant to last
Prince’s ‘1999’ keeps on giving in 2019
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.”
Prince performs live at the Fabulous Forum on Feb. 19, 1985, in Inglewood, California.