Those Prince vault doors swing open again this month with the release of new posthumous album Originals. And you’ll be forgiven if you think you’ve heard it before, you certainly haven’t.
The premise is simple: 15 songs from Prince’s expanded universe, which he wrote and performed to give to acts he was producing (the Time, Vanity 6, Sheila E.) or just ones he liked (the Bangles, Kenny Rogers). Most of the released versions retained nearly all of Prince’s intricately built backing tracks, making Minneapolis’ distinctive synth-funk sound that much more indelible throughout the ‘80s. But Originals also showcases the breadth of Prince’s musical tastes, dabbling in pure pop as often as straightforward R&B, and even one country-ready tune. (It also showcases Prince’s most prolific period for the digital age: Six of these songs are not available on Apple Music or Spotify, as originally recorded.)
With Originals streaming on TIDAL this week and heading to CD and all digital channels on June 21, now’s a good time to revisit the tracks as we first heard them.
Apollonia 6, “Sex Shooter” (from Apollonia 6, Warner Bros., 1984)
Intended for a second album by Prince-produced girl group Vanity 6, “Sex Shooter” became the key link between that never-finished album and Apollonia 6, the new version of the trio featured in Purple Rain and fronted by the film’s co-star, Patricia Kotero. While Apollonia was far more interested in acting than singing, Prince did everything he could to coax the right performance from her, asking his engineer Susan Rogers to excuse herself from the vocal tracking session.
The Time, “Jungle Love” (from Ice Cream Castle, Warner Bros., 1984)
Like most of The Time’s output, the Top 20 hit “Jungle Love” (a centerpiece of the Purple Rain film) combines Prince’s overactive funk and pop sensibilities with the untamed swagger of frontman Morris Day. (Not to be discounted, particularly on this record, is guitarist Jesse Johnson, whose demo morphed into this track.) “Jungle Love” has managed to live longer than most Prince-affiliated songs, probably thanks in part to its use in Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
The Bangles, “Manic Monday” (from Different Light, Columbia, 1986)
One Prince’s biggest hits as a writer, the lead single from the Bangles’ sophomore album reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100—kept, ironically, from the top spot by Prince and The Revolution’s “Kiss.” (“Monday” was credited to “Christopher,” ostensibly a reference to Prince’s character in that year’s film Under The Cherry Moon, though it was first recorded by Apollonia 6 and oft-bootlegged since.) While most Prince-penned hits feature his full production, arrangement, composition and performance, “Manic Monday” is all Bangles, so hearing it as Prince played it on Originals is sure to be a treat.
Sheila E., “Noon Rendezvous” (from The Glamorous Life, Warner Bros., 1985)
One of the most distinctive associated artists of the Paisley Park universe, singer/percussionist Sheila Escovedo (daughter of former Santana/Azteca percussionist Pete) was also one of the longest-lasting, occasionally appearing with Prince in concert into the 21st century. “We started writing ‘Noon Rendezvous’ when I let Prince listen to a ballad I’d written and played castanets on,” Sheila wrote in her memoir Beat Of My Own Drum. “My dream was to write a song commercial enough to be played on the radio, which was something totally different for me.” There are far more famous songs in Sheila’s discography (one of which appears later on Originals), but this track is a highlight of her debut album.
Vanity 6, “Make-Up” (from Vanity 6, Warner Bros., 1982)
An irresistible side from Vanity 6’s only album, “Make-Up” offers the same sort of furious locked-down rhythm tracks that were present on his other two major releases in 1982: 1999 and The Time’s sophomore (and arguably best) album What Time Is It? Originally, it wasn’t Vanity on lead vocals but Susan Moonsie, who was initially tapped to lead the pre-Vanity version of the group, the Hookers.
Mazarati, “100 MPH” (from Mazarati, Paisley Park, 1986)
For every Prince-affiliated act who earn prominence thanks to his guidance, there seemed to be one or two who just didn’t click with the public. Mazarati are among the latter group for multiple reasons, chiefly after Prince heard them transform one of his acoustic demos into a spare funk number, and took it back for himself; the result, “Kiss,” was one of his biggest songs. (They also took the first crack at “Jerk Out,” later The Time’s biggest pop hit, and members Marvin Gunn and Tony Christian later formed the Wild Pair, whose rap on Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract” was performed onscreen by the infamous MC Skat Kat.) Mazarati’s sole hit under Prince’s auspices was “100 MPH,” a Top 20 R&B hit; ironically, his version on Originals will be the only one that’s digitally available upon release.
Kenny Rogers, “You’re My Love” (from They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To, RCA, 1986)
Prince once sent a string of Batman samples to No. 1 for three weeks, but the oddest entry in his vast catalog may be “You’re My Love,” a song credited under the pseudonym “Joey Coco” and included on Kenny Rogers’ nineteenth album. While the Gambler was no stranger to collaboration in the ‘80s—his two pop chart-toppers were written by Lionel Richie and the Bee Gees—Prince was a left-field choice, especially as produced by David Foster collaborator Jay Graydon and featuring background vocals by El DeBarge. Amazingly, Rogers claims it was his idea to sing a Prince song, and later wished he could have used more of the track Prince sent him—which fans will finally get to discover on Originals.
Sheila E., “Holly Rock” (from Krush Groove: Music from The Motion Picture, Warner Bros., 1985)
Surrounded by rising hip-hop acts like LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, and Run-DMC, “Holly Rock” sticks out like a sore thumb on the soundtrack to Krush Groove. (For all his cutting-edge work, Prince was often sour on rap, particularly mocking the trappings of the genre on “Dead on It,” from the Black Album in 1987.) Still, taken on its own merits, it’s a notable bridge between Prince’s pop-savvy mid-’80s projects (the track borrows elements of the Family’s “Feline” and is briefly referenced in the outtake “Dream Factory”) and more hip-hop-savvy cuts like “Housequake.”
Jill Jones, “Baby, You’re a Trip” (from Jill Jones, Paisley Park, 1987)
As with Mazarati, Prince’s guidance couldn’t net Jill Jones a hit, for all the years she spent in his orbit. (Her backing vocals are a constant presence on 1999, and she appears in several of the album’svideos as well as a small role in Purple Rain.) Jones’ self-titled debut album was released in 1987, but was largely comprised of odds and ends Prince had accumulated through the decade; “Baby, You’re a Trip” dates to the 1999 era in mid-1982. Though Prince usually had no trouble getting even old material onto the charts—most of his own songs were a few years removed from the time when they came out—Jones’ material failed to find a foothold with the public.
Sheila E., “The Glamorous Life” (from The Glamorous Life, Warner Bros., 1985)
Prince was savvy enough to make himself heard on the biggest hits he shepherded, and his vocals are all over Sheila E.’s Top 10 smash “The Glamorous Life” and the just-outside-the-Top-10 hit “A Love Bizarre” (in fact billed as a duet). Unlike Sheila’s “Noon Rendezvous,” “The Glamorous Life” more clearly originated with Prince in late 1983, before his relationship with the drummer fully progressed. E.’s manic percussion and the saxophone work of Larry Williams (co-founder of fusion group Seawind and a horn player on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and Thriller) add unique flair.
The Time, “Gigolos Get Lonely Too” (from What Time Is It?, Warner Bros., 1982)
Prince clearly didn’t want the Time to showcase unchecked funk bravado, as evidenced by this bedroom ballad that was issued as the third single from the group’s second (and arguably best) album. Audiences were either more interested in the deep grooves of “777-9311” and “The Walk” or couldn’t handle the power of a song released to radio with the phrase “contrary to rumor” in it, and the track stalled at No. 77 on the R&B charts.
Martika, “Love...Thy Will Be Done” (from Martika’s Kitchen, Columbia, 1991)
The forgotten second Top 10 hit from the “Toy Soldiers” singer, a dreamy and sensual hymn, was one of four tracks he co-wrote and produced for her sophomore album, Martika’s Kitchen. (It’s also the most recent song on Originals, added to the track list at the insistence of TIDAL co-founder Jay Z, who helped curate the album.) Martika described Prince to Smash Hits as “the ultimate teacher,” and was inspired to write the lyrics as “[her] own prayer.”
Sheila E., “Dear Michaelangelo” (from Romance 1600, Paisley Park, 1985)
It’s easy to listen to Prince’s outside productions during his imperial period and write them off as a wildly prolific artist getting his music out by any means necessary. Sheila E. brings it on her first two albums, but this particular melody is too distinctively Prince for it to break from his shadow. Still, it’s fun hearing him adapt his voice for a female perspective.
Taja Sevelle, “Wouldn’t You Love To Love Me?” (from Taja Sevelle, Paisley Park, 1987)
Another outlier of sorts from Prince’s imperial period, “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me” was written in 1976, before Prince even had a record deal, and finessed several times during the next decade. Paisley Park Records signee Taja Sevelle finally committed it to tape after Prince (unsuccessfully) offered it to Michael Jackson, apparently a conciliatory gesture after turning down a guest spot on Bad.
The Family, “Nothing Compares 2 U” (from The Family, Paisley Park, 1985)
A fitting closer to Originals, Prince’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” is the only track fans got to hear in advance, when it was released as a single on the second anniversary of his death. Long before that, it was first released on the deeply-underrated first album by the Family, a Prince-assembled group featuring stunners like saxophonist Eric Leeds; former Time members Jellybean Johnson, Jerome Benton, and St. Paul Peterson; touring Revolution guitarist Miko Weaver, and Wendy Melvoin’s twin sister Susannah. (The group reunited in the 2010s as fDeluxe, releasing two albums of their own.) It’s of course best known as a chart-topper for Sinead O’Connor in 1990, a rare Prince-written hit that otherwise didn’t feature his handiwork. (O’Connor has claimed over the years that their first meeting ended in blows.) No matter who sings it, the song still packs an emotional punch, and will power our love for Prince and Originals as we patiently await for whatever comes out from the vault next.