One of the many qualities that made Prince such an iconic figure in pop music was his work ethic. He just never stopped making music, whether he was on tour, making an album or whatever he was doing in between that schedule. The man released 11 albums between his 1978 debut to Graffiti Bridge in 1990, then nine albums in the ensuing decade and ten more the following decade. He probably would’ve released ten more this decade if he wasn’t rudely inconvenienced by death. Still, Warner Records and NPG Records is keeping Prince’s spirit alive (and their wallets full) by literally drilling into Prince’s vault of unreleased music and rolling out a plethora of album remasters and rarity collections. While this is typical of any iconic singer’s passing, the case of Prince has so far yielded great rewards. The expanded remaster of Purple Rain released in 2017 had an entire disc of sharp material recorded during the original album sessions, while last year’s Piano & a Microphone 1983 showcase his captivating talents when he only has two instruments to practice on. With its latest vault dig, Warner and NPG decided to remind people how generous Prince was with his endless songwriting.
Prince could’ve easily released Originals as his own album when he was in his 80s prime. The 15 tracks are awash with his classic 80s sound, specifically Dirty Mind and Controversy, which is fitting considering 14 of the tracks were recorded between 1981 and 1985. The lone 90s track is “Love… Thy Will Be Done,” recorded in 1991 with crisp electronic drums and eventually used by Martika the same year. It makes sense that track sticks out from the rest of the album considering the remaining 14 tracks could’ve made for a perfect released between 1999 and Purple Rain. “Sex Shooter,” “100 MPH” and “Holly Rock” would’ve made great live staples along the likes of “1999” and “Controversy” with their towering synthesizers and propulsive rhythm sections. “You’re My Love,” “Baby, You’re a Trip” and “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?” have the funkier, laid-back vibe of cuts from For You and Prince. The Time should thank their lucky stars Prince liked them so much considering “Jungle Love” fits him hit like a glove. For what are essentially demos and rehearsals, the recordings on Origins are surprisingly well-mixed and clean. It’s another example of how seriously Prince took any and all forms of music, he could’ve released any of these recordings on their own at any time.
There’s also the sense that Origins could be mistaken as Prince doing karaoke covers considering there isn’t much variation on the music. “Jungle Love,” “Sex Shooter” and “Manic Monday” sound identical to the performances made famous by Apollonia 6, The Time and The Bangles. It’s a wonder why “100 MPH” was never just a Prince single considering Mazarati’s version has practically the same vocal performance as Mr. Nelson while “Baby, You’re a Trip” could’ve also been a Prince ballad if it weren’t for Jill Jones’s overdub. There are minor changes between Prince’s demo and the final cut of others, specifically two of the tracks gifted to Sheila E. Known for her impeccable percussion work, her takes of “The Glamorous Life” and “Holly Rock” have more skittering drum work while the Prince version is more electronic.
On the other hand, Prince’s versions can trounce their counterparts, like The Time ballad “Gigolos Get Lonely Too,” where Prince pulls off heartbreak much better than Morris Day or “You’re My Love” which is so fun and funky that it’s a mystery why Prince gave this to Kenny Rogers of all people. Prince’s high-pitched ballad voice can also get grating, as on “Noon Rendezvous” where Sheila E. went for sexy but Prince went for teeth-grinding whine. Even “Nothing Compares 2 U” sounds more like the closing theme to Saturday Night Live and loses the dramatic heft that Sinead O’Connor brought to her take. There’s also the Vanity 6 track “Make-Up,” a flat club track made somehow worse by the fact that Prince’s vocals are turned down to be inaudible.
Originals is a lot like Piano & a Microphone 1983 in that it captures Prince at a very specific time in his career. While it doesn’t reveal as much as the latter release, it does show the Artist at the peak of his powers even on songs he’d toss to others. It also shows why Prince and 80s fit so well together. The decade of overblown excess where everything had to be big and gaudy fit so well with a man who could not stop creating music. It makes all the more sense why Prince would need an actual vault to collect all of his recordings. Here’s to more mining of treasures at Paisley Park.