Dear Santa

1999 super.jpgWell, this looks very lovely. At long last the Prince Estate seems to have gotten things right with a pretty definitive-looking Super Deluxe edition of one of his classic albums, here comprising 5 CDs plus a concert DVD, or (for vinyl collectors), 10 lps and a concert DVD (there’s also a ‘budget’ 2-disc (4 lp) edition whose only purpose seems to be pushing people into buying the more expensive/complete set as its so frankly redundant).

Being released at the end of November, this thing has Christmas List all over it, which is a canny move by all concerned- other than the Purple Rain Deluxe the other vault releases following Prince’s passing have had their merits but have hardly set the mainstream world alight, satisfied the fans or sold hugely. Maybe this set is the point at which things change and we get ‘proper’ Super Deluxe sets that deserve that moniker and fans attention. 1999 was the first single/album by Prince that caught me, back when I was at college, so for me it’s nicely apt that its the first ‘proper’ set.

Rumour has it Parade is next, but we’re surely all just waiting for the Sign o’ the Times Super Deluxe, if our bank balances can stand it (and maybe a revisit to Purple Rain someday? That would seem inevitable at some point). My only sobering consideration about this release is that it’s perhaps ten years overdue- Prince should have allowed these kind of releases many years ago, and it’s terribly sad that it had to wait until he passed. I understand it’s his music, his legacy, and he was more interested in ‘new’ music than looking back on his old success, even if the rumours of the Vault increasingly shadowed over then-‘new’ albums, but it’s almost tragic that he was never interested in curating this kind of release or having any input in it- imagine if this was accompanied by a book of his reminisces/commentary about the music and his career back then?

Perhaps if he had lived longer he might have reconsidered things- we’ll never know. As a fan, his shyness/enigma was both fascinating and infuriating, and it would have been marvelous if he had decided to pull aside the curtain, so to speak, and reveal to his fans the behind-the-scenes story behind one of the most gifted musicians and remarkable life’s work in that vault. Instead, well, perhaps we’ll eventually get to hear (most?) of the music hidden in the vault and when the scope of all that life’s work is known maybe that enigma and mystery will be all the more tantalising. We may get the music, but he’ll always keep us wanting more, eh?

Purple Reign

princePrince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 by Duane Tudahl

A glimpse behind the purple curtain, and perhaps the most important recording period of Prince’s career – I say ‘perhaps’ because although Purple Rain is widely considered Prince’s masterpiece/breakout period, I really think Sign o’the Times and his output during that 1985 – 1986 period is more interesting, but that’s likely just a personal thing and I’m certain many fans will argue otherwise. At any rate, this exhaustive  book is an utterly fascinating read. And I must say, it’s a formidable prospect-  it’s huge, running at well over 500 pages of detailed text, I have to admit I’ve barely delved into it but having already learned so much from it,  I feel it necessary to mention the book on this blog to get the word out there to all Prince fans- you need this book. Buy it now or get it put on your Christmas lists, because this will surely be a cornerstone of anybody’s Prince collection in years to come. Best yet, the author intends for it to be the first in a series of such books, so hopefully my beloved Sign o’the Times era will get similar treatment someday.

The book is pretty much a day by day account of Prince’s work in the recording studio from 1st January 1983 through to the end of December 1984, from the last days of the 1999 tour through to the breakout that was Purple Rain and how it changed everything for Prince. It breaks it down to day by day, recording the dates and times and what was done, song by song, session by session, including those many songs currently in the fabled vault yet to be released (and those that leaped out onto the extras disc of the recent Purple Rain deluxe reissue). It documents how he worked, where he worked, who he worked with, and is filled with commentary from those who were there. It really is a new insight into Prince’s genius at a time when he was particularly on fire creatively, and shows just how hard it was to craft those songs. The work involved in documenting all this and collating it is quite breathtaking.

I’ll be losing myself in this book over the coming days and weeks. It’s a helluva book.

Jerry Goldsmith’s Thriller (and Prince’s Purple Rain)

tadthrillrWhilst on the subject of Jerry Goldsmith in my previous post, I thought it timely to raise the release by Tadlow Music just recently of a re-recording of some of the Jerry Goldsmith scores from the 1960 tv series Thriller. While I grew up thrilled and scared by classic anthology shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, I never saw Thriller, so I was unfamiliar with the particular episodes Goldsmith scored or the music itself. But really, it’s Goldsmith. Classic, vintage Goldsmith. No-brainer.

Turns out the music is great. Innovative orchestrations with some creepy music, some of it akin to the original tv Star Trek music from the sixties (which is perhaps odd, as Goldsmith had no involvement in that- likely it’s just me, or something related to the limited orchestras involved in tv scoring back then, the ensuing creativity in tv scores of the time). In anycase, it is a great disc and sales have been good enough to encourage a second volume, so it’s all good news. How odd that stuff like this surfaces even now with cd sales falling through the floor and so long after the work was originally created- it’s the very definition of ‘niche’ market and likely means nothing at all to most who read this.

purpleRecently I’ve been following the rather tortured path to release of the remastered Purple Rain remaster/expanded edition due this month. Following Prince’s death last year there has been great interest in the artist’s fabled vault that houses hundreds, perhaps thousands of unreleased songs and abandoned album projects etc. From what I gather, this Purple Rain release may have unreleased tracks but they are not likely to be sourced from original masters within the vault itself- Warners seem to have their own copies of material from around that period which are second-generation. At any rate, there has been endless legal wrangling over rights to the music within the vault and whether it will be properly archived/restored and released one day. Some Prince fans feel that proper archive releases are likely years away, possibly decades- and indeed, some speculate they will never live to see/hear them (some of us Prince fans, as he ‘peaked’ in the ‘eighties, are getting a little long in the tooth now). After all, the recent deluxe Sgt Pepper remaster/expansion is 50 years after its original release.

The complication is simply that the cd, and physical music formats in general, are becoming increasingly marginalised in an ever-more digital market. So even if, say, work began on a series of properly mastered, deluxe vault releases tomorrow, would there even be a physical format and market for them over the coming decade/s? Or if there was, would it be so niche that prices/limited numbers would make them unviable? Of course we fans would like to think that Prince was a huge megastar, and he was a great performer/musician, but how popular/relevant is his music to the general public (and younger generations) today? Hardcore fans would likely pay any price but the general public? Perhaps this reality is why this Purple Rain release seems to be so low-budget and unambitious packaging-wise compared to some deluxe packages doing the rounds, with some Prince fans looking at the Sgt Pepper deluxe with envious eyes and wondering of what might have been. Warners seem to be dumping out a cardboard cheapie in order to keep the price down (and keep impulse purchases up?).

Naturally in this there are parallels to movies being released on disc. With streaming and downloads increasing in popularity, we have to wonder how long we will be so spoilt by films -particularly older, catalogue films- being released on disc. It can already be seen that some of those expansive, intensive bells and whistles releases of new films are becoming all the more rare. We’re lucky to get a commentary track days- usually its just EPK fluff thats no interest at all. So whats the future for film lovers who just want to treasure their fave films and have them pride of place on a shelf as part of a collection?