Rock and Roll Book Club: 'Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions'


'Prince and the Purple Rain Studio Sessions.'
Duane Tudahl's 'Prince and the Purple Rain Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984.' (Jay Gabler/MPR)

"There are many things about Prince's life that interest me," writes Questlove in the introduction to Duane Tudahl's new book Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions. "But one thing has remained consistent, no matter when I've thought about it, and that's my interest in Prince's studio process."

One of the most famously self-contained artists of all time, Prince could use a studio like few others. As Questlove suggests, knowing about Prince's studio process isn't just a matter of understanding "how the sausage is made." It's key to understanding the very specific nature of his genius.

Tudahl details Prince's studio time during the years 1983 and 1984. Over the course of those 731 days — during which time Prince also filmed and released a movie, and performed dozens of shows — Prince spent, count 'em, 220 days in the studio. When he wasn't on stage or in bed, virtually everyone who knew him agrees, he was usually in the studio.

If you're going to pick two years of Prince's life to detail, these are the two. Not only were these the sessions that yielded Purple Rain and Around the World in a Day, but they also spawned complete albums for the Time, Vanity 6, and Sheila E...not to mention tracks like "Stand Back" (for Stevie Nicks), "100 MPH" (for Mazarati), and "Manic Monday" (a song that went to the Bangles).

In a note at the conclusion, Tudahl refers to the book as "a gigantic, meticulous puzzle." His source material included "several hundred hours" of original interviews with band members, engineers, and others; as well as a trove of interview data from Alan Freed and the copious published journalism on this period, including many quotes from Prince himself (though Tudahl didn't personally talk to Prince). Crucially, he also had studio logs that provide some definitive information about exactly what happened when.

This all sounds like a bonanza for Prince superfans, and it is...but what's surprising about the book is just how illuminating it is for the casual fan as well. Tudahl does a superb job outlining the dynamics of the artists who worked most closely with Prince, and looking through the lens of Prince's studio time illuminates how these relationships played out in real time.

As 1983 began, Prince was on the road with the Time and Vanity 6. Later that year, he would fire Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis from the Time, and tensions with the "protegés" who were really, in important respects, his peers, steadily grew. Vanity then quit Prince's circle, leading to a hasty search for her replacement in Purple Rain and the reconfiguring of her character to fit Apollonia. Wendy Melvoin joined the Revolution, Lisa Coleman's brother David inspired the eclectic new sound of Around the World, and Prince connected with Sheila E.

Tudahl carefully traces all of these rising and falling relationships, and the mix of inspiration and frustration Prince inspired in his collaborators is clear on every page. In addition to the sheer data Tudahl presents here, the book's most important contribution might be its demonstration of just how collaborative Prince was in this era. His word was always final, but he surrounded himself with inspired musicians who could both appreciate and help him realize his vision.

Nonetheless, Tudahl overall sees this as an era in which Prince both achieved colossal success and became increasingly isolated. As Tudahl notes in an essay about the song "Another Lonely Christmas" — recorded in February 1984, and played in St. Paul on Boxing Day of that year for its first and only public performance — "Prince was never completely gregarious by nature and the white-hot spotlight that shined on him ended up isolating him even more. He withdrew from people to maintain his focus. Perhaps he recorded so many songs not just because he wrote so often, but maybe it was because he had so much to say and his songs were the avenue to conduct the conversation in the way he knew best."

This all happened years before the Paisley Park studio became a reality, and L.A.'s Sunset Sound was the primary venue for Prince's recording in these years. He also recorded many crucial stem tracks at his intimate home studio on Lake Riley in Chanhassen.

There are so many priceless details here, it's hard to pick just a few to mention. My favorites include the story about Stevie Nicks writing "Stand Back" over "Little Red Corvette" and then enlisting Prince himself to help record the song. (How did she get his phone number? "I'm Stevie Nicks, I can get it.") Then there are the sessions with Apollonia, who wasn't hired for her voice but could get the job done — and who sang the Beatles' "When I'm 64" to warm up for the recording of "Sex Shooter."

And, did you know Prince called Journey to get their blessing to record a song inspired by the chords and feel of their ballad "Faithfully"? "Prince felt, I guess, that it was obvious enough that he was worried we were going to sue him," explained Journey guitarist Neal Schon. "We all talked about it and everyone said, 'Nah, It's the highest form of flattery. Let it go.'"

The name of the new Prince ballad? "Purple Rain."

The Current's Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions giveaway

Use this form to enter The Current's Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions giveaway between 8 a.m. CDT on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 and 11:59 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, December 26, 2017.

Three (3) winners will each receive one (1) hardcover copy of Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions. Three (3) back up names will be drawn.

Prize retail value: $38.00

We will contact the winners on Wednesday, December 27, 2017. Winner must accept by 10 a.m. CT on Thursday, December 28, 2017.

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This giveaway is subject to Minnesota Public Radio's 2017 Official Giveaway Rules.

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