Prince: The Story of 1999, Episode 1: My Mind Says Prepare to Fight

Prince the story of 1999
Prince: The Story of 1999 (Courtesy The Prince Estate)
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Prince: The Story of 1999 is a four-part audio documentary series brought to you by The Current in collaboration with the Prince Estate, Paisley Park, and Warner Records. Listen Tuesdays at 8 p.m. Central, and read a written version, below. The series is also available as a podcast on multiple platforms.

Andrea Swensson: What is the legacy of 1999?

Brenda Bennett: I think it was the biggest crossover for him, as far as the type of audiences in both the black music world and the so-called white music world.

Dez Dickerson: It was about never wanting to be limited. It was about never wanting to be marginalized.

Tom Marzullo: By the time we reached 1999 there were a lot of Prince fans from all walks of life.

Bobby Z: He became a leader in 1999. He went from a caterpillar to a butterfly in that one purple trench coat...the iconic look of the photos, the album cover — it's all there. It's all a setup for what's to come.

Dez Dickerson: To be a band with across-the-board radio, and at that time MTV success. It went from being largely unknown in your own home town, to not being able to walk down the street in your own home town.

Audio: "1999"

VO: If you're a fan of Prince's music, I probably don't even need to tell you why we're doing this — there is a huge remastered reissue of 1999 coming out out on November 29, and the Super Deluxe Edition includes 35 tracks from Prince's vault, including studio tracks that have never been heard and live recordings from the 1999 Tour.

This was a huge moment in Prince's life and career. It's crazy to think about now, but even though he'd already released four full albums, it wasn't until he dropped his first double album, 1999, that he was finally introduced to the mainstream audience he knew he deserved.

In one album cycle, Prince went from an underground artist rubbing up against the barriers of a deeply segregated music industry, to a global superstar with hits in heavy rotation on the radio and MTV.

In case you haven't thrown it on in a while, all of these songs are from 1999...

Audio: 30-60 second supercut of 1999 hits: "Little Red Corvette," "Delirious," "Let's Pretend We're Married," "D.M.S.R.," "International Lover"

VO: I'm Andrea Swensson, and this is Prince: The Story of 1999. I'm an author, radio host, and music journalist in Minneapolis. Living in Minneapolis, Prince's impact is all around me. I spent more late nights than I can count out in Chanhassen writing about what he was up to at Paisley Park. I danced to his DJ sets, watched him perform, and met with him; I wrote a book about the roots of his Minneapolis Sound; and I've interviewed countless Prince collaborators, friends, and experts for The Current, and on stage at Paisley Park's annual Celebrations.

Prince: The Story of 1999 is produced by The Current in collaboration with the Prince Estate and Warner Records, and we're going to NERD. OUT. about this new, huge Super Deluxe Edition reissue of 1999, which includes 35 never-before-released tracks from Prince's legendary vault.

I actually can't wait any longer to share these with you — so let's throw one on.

Audio: "Purple Music" (vault)

You're going to hear stories from the people who were working alongside Prince in this wildly prolific era, when Prince was writing songs at a feverish pace for his own album, his funk side project the Time, and his new all-woman trio Vanity 6. And you'll get your first taste of this incredible material from the vault, which includes live recordings, emotional alternate takes in the studio, and long-lost songs — like "Purple Music," which Prince recorded back in 1982 and had just started playing live on his final Piano & a Microphone Tour in 2016.

Audio: fade up "Purple Music"

The earliest tracks in the Super Deluxe Edition of 1999 were recorded in November 1981, and we're going to listen to them in a few moments. But before we get there, it's important to understand exactly where Prince's head was at when he recorded these unreleased sketches of songs. And though it's impossible to know what Prince himself was thinking and feeling at this exact moment in history, you could say that things...well...they weren't going great.

The story of 1999 begins with one of the most legendary concert debacles in rock and roll history: when Prince and his band got the chance to open for the Rolling Stones at the Los Angeles Coliseum. As Prince's bandmates have told me, opening up for the Rolling Stones was Prince's biggest gig to date, and it was supposed to have been the opportunity of a lifetime. Here's Prince's first guitar player, Dez Dickerson.

Dez Dickerson: At that time we were playing what folks then called the Chitlin Circuit, so we're playing arenas, but we're playing to stone solid African-American audiences.

VO: Prince was still relatively new to touring in 1981. He had only done a couple of short tours, including one opening for Rick James the year before, and he had just completed the Dirty Mind Tour, which earned a lot of buzz in the music world. When the Dirty Mind Tour hit the Roxy in New York, it was attended by all of the biggest names in the music scene at the time, including the Stones' Mick Jagger. (Correction: There was no Roxy in New York. Prince played the Ritz, not the Roxy.) The show went so well, it ended up inspiring a track on 1999, "All the Critics Love U in New York," as Prince's first drummer, Bobby "Z." Rivkin, told me.

Audio: "All the Critics Love U in New York" from 1999 album

Bobby Z: People in New York loved it, and the critics loved it, and we played the Ritz and it was monumental. Everybody was at that show in New York — Warhol, and Bowie, and the KISS guys were there back then. It was big time stuff, an up-and-comer was pulling the stars in.

Dez Dickerson: The energy at that time was different than it ever was at any time going forward, because there's something about people who are kids — you don't think of yourselves as kids at the time — who are doing what they, in their constructive hubris, think that they were always meant to do, but you have this forward momentum, and you're just kind of hurtling forward through, you know, the candy store. And there was just something about those days that was more adventurous. It was an amazing time.

Audio: "Head" (Live in Detroit) from Super Deluxe Edition

VO: The Dirty Mind Tour was raw, raunchy, and sexually liberated. Prince typically performed in legwarmers, a trench coat, and a pair of bikini briefs.

Dez Dickerson: The way that the whole bikini underwear thing started was one of the Dennis the Menace pushback things. It was "Prince, you can't go on stage without underwear like that. You gotta wear underwear." "Okay, then I'll come out just wearing underwear."

VO: The centerpiece of each show was a drawn-out jam on the Dirty Mind track "Head," which often ended with Prince rolling around on the stage and grinding his hips into the air.

Continued audio: "Head" (Live in Detroit) from Super Deluxe Edition

VO: This is a live version of "Head" captured in Detroit in 1982, which is included in the 1999 Super Deluxe set.

In addition to getting him in front of Mick Jagger, the Dirty Mind Tour had brought Prince back home to Minneapolis to play on hallowed ground: the stage at the downtown rock club Sam's, which would soon be rebranded as First Avenue and earn a starring role in Purple Rain. With that March 9, 1981 show at Sam's, Prince had planted a flag in the white hipster rock scene of his hometown, and earned the adoration of the tastemakers who had previously ignored him in favor of revered punk and new wave bands like the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and the Suburbs. As he prepared for his big gig opening for the Rolling Stones with another warm-up show at Sam's, there was no reason not to believe that he was about to win over 94,000 classic rock fans.

Matt Fink: Hi, everybody. This is Matt Fink, a.k.a. Dr. Fink from Prince and the Revolution. Just having the opportunity to open for the Stones, being youngsters from the Midwest who looked up to all those guys, was really a dream come true, a fantasy fulfilled, as you might think.

Bobby Z: There was a huge stairway down — red carpet back to the Stones village, and walked down it, all excited. You see these pictures that we're all excited to play. It's a big moment. Band from Minneapolis, right? It's like growing up in St. Louis Park and South and North Minneapolis. It's huge, huge, huge moment. And it ends in utter shambles and defeat.

Matt Fink: What was interesting is, I thought that the Rolling Stones had more of a '60s counterculture kind of audience that would be more peaceful than this, so I was a bit surprised by that. So it kinda took on that Hell's Angels edge, since they allowed the Hell's Angels to still be their security force even at that time. So you had a mixed-race group of people up there, mixed gender. Prince was dressed in his trench coat and his thigh-high stockings and high-heeled boots and just looking radical compared to what they were used to, although Mick Jagger used to come out in kinda sexy clothing at times.

Andrea Swensson: But he was white.

Matt Fink: But he was white, yeah, so you had the three black front guys and — anyway, you get it, so yeah, it was disappointing.

VO: The first show took place on a Friday afternoon: October 9, 1981. There were four bands on the bill, so Prince and his band took the stage at about 2:00 p.m., ahead of George Thorogood, the J. Geils Band, and the Stones.

Dez Dickerson: the Friday show actually wasn't that bad. The first two songs — I can still hear that sound, that sound of that many people. It was, like, amazing.

VO: The band launched into the guitar scorcher "Bambi," and followed it up with a hard-driving rock version of "When You Were Mine," clearly altering their set list to try to appeal to Stones fans. But when they were midway through their third song, "Jack U Off," the crowd started to turn.

Audio: "Jack U Off" live with audible booing

Dr. Fink: People were flipping us the bird and they were booing and they were throwing food and bottles and cans and crumpled-up paper cups. We were all nearly pelted with stuff. I know I got pelted in my head with one of those crumpled-up paper cups. It did sting.

Bobby Z: You know when you start out watching TV and your favorite musicians and you imitate them and you're a little kid, you get the drum set and you get the guitar, you never ever really ever think that anyone will be angry, like booing at an athletic event, But then you add objects — projectiles — on top of that, and it just — it really — it shook me to the point where I was literally shaking. And we couldn't really end the set. I've never seen him more petrified and sad — all of us. He took off right away.

VO: Prince left the stage during "Uptown," leaving his bandmates to finish the song alone. By the time the rest of the players made it back to the dressing room, Prince was gone. He'd not only left the venue — he was on his way to the airport to fly home to Minneapolis.

Bob Hilburn: I think the problem was, this was a time when disco was hated in rock.

VO: That's Robert Hilburn, the legendary L.A. Times music critic.

Bob: it was anybody who was doing that kind of music that was black, that was the problem. I mean with those fans that got upset. Because they didn't want their stations to start playing disco and funk and stuff, there was kind of a war — remember there was a thing in Chicago where they broke disco records, they set them on fire or something? So I think he got caught up in that.

Andrea: Did you hear about people saying either racist or homophobic things when they were yelling at Prince?

Bob: No, they were just booing him, I think because they thought he was an outsider trying to get into the rock world.

VO: The next day, Prince's phone started ringing off the hook. He took calls from the legendary concert promoter Bill Graham — who had chastised the audience for their behavior after Prince's set — and Mick Jagger, who tried to convince Prince to return for the second show on Sunday night.

Dr. Fink: Mick Jagger, of course, appreciated Prince. He personally asked us to come and do that show, but — and he begged Prince to come back and do the second show in spite of the first one being as disappointing as it was.

VO: It was Dez Dickerson who ultimately convinced Prince to return.

Dez Dickerson: Frankly, I don't know what Mick said to try to get him back, but "bless his heart," as we say in the South, it didn't work. So I just literally appealed to his manhood. I said, "We cannot let them do us like this. We can't let people run us out of town, because if we do it now we're going to be running forever. So you gotta come back. We gotta do this, and we just have to make our stand." And that is what clicked.

Bobby Z: The obligation to do the second show was tough. And obligations, as we know, for Prince were difficult when he's forced. And this time he was forced. that moment was before the second show, was like dead man walking. You knew that it wasn't gonna be better. What you didn't expect was the glee that people had read about the first show, and now they were prepared to throw it right off the get-go. So now you're out there and you're exposed in a way that was just chilling.

Dez Dickerson: The Sunday show was Game of Thrones. The Sunday show was like whew, man, winter was coming.

Audio: Prince playing "Jack U Off" at L.A. Coliseum, 1981. Audience member says, "Look at all that trash!"

Dez Dickerson: First thing I saw Sunday when we stepped onstage was this dot in the distance. As it got closer — that's a Ziploc bag with some sort of — those are chicken parts. And as they got real close it was like they were like gray, like somebody took the time to put them in the sun. It was like this is going to be an interesting afternoon.

Andrea Swensson: A Ziploc bag full of rotting chicken parts.

Dez Dickerson: Rotting chicken parts, and then I turned and looked just in time to see Mark Brown's bass with a gallon of orange juice exploding on it. I mean it was war, but you just had to kind of survive.

Bobby Z: He was protected by God — his head ducked, and an empty Jack Daniels bottle just missed his head by about a quarter of an inch and crashed against the drum riser right in front of me. I remember looking at Lisa, and there was stuff crashing.

Lisa Coleman: Bobby was like, "I'm gonna use my cymbals for shields," and I was like, I'm laying out in the open, help. And then I just saw Prince go running by me on my left-hand side, and he just ran all the way up the stairs, and we all looked at each other like what do we do. We just finished the song, and then we ran up the stairs too.

I think it also gave Prince a new kind of courage, because there was, you know, a sea of people as far as the eye could see, literally in front of him as if those were the people he was gonna have to address, you know, to be the great artist that he wanted to be. You know, this was a battle that was gonna have to be won or at least faced — faced down.

Bobby Z: It was vicious, and obviously, we're still talking about this day. It's a pivotal moment. But in talking to Bill and Charlie Watts — Wyman and Watts — I think of what Charlie Watts said. "Shake it off, kid, because we had it too." And you think of the Beatles in Hamburg, how that must've been. So everybody's got a beginning. Now you can go on TV and be instantly famous, but to earn it the way Prince did it, brick by brick, moment by moment, this is a key moment of growth, strength, knowledge, defeat, that you have to have in this story to relish the victory later.

Audio: "Moonbeam Levels" from Vault

VO: The next day, as the booing heard 'round the world made its way into every newspaper and radio show, Prince holed up in his favorite studio, Sunset Sound, with his new favorite engineer, Peggy McCreary.

Peggy McCreary: His managers came running in the studio the next morning and said it was a really bad night, be prepared, he was booed off the stage and they threw things at him. I went oh my God, but he wasn't bad, it was one of those days when he was quiet.

VO: From the outside, Prince appeared to retreat from public view. He stopped doing interviews. He vowed to never open for another act again, and stuck to that promise for the rest of his career. And he spent hours alone in the studio, dreaming up the songs and projects that would emerge over the course of the next year. As his management pressed him to do more publicity, his self-imposed isolation had an intriguing side effect: Prince became a mystery. And that mystery built into mythology, and made every move of his more entrancing to a public who was suddenly hungry for more.

As he shielded himself from public scrutiny, Prince's creative energy whirled ever more rapidly. He had always had a strong work ethic, but over the course of the next year he wrote songs, performed, rehearsed, and refined like he was preparing for battle. His weapons of choice were his new Linn LM-1 drum machine, which he'd just started composing songs on earlier that year, and an arsenal of cutting-edge synthesizers.

Audio: "Feel U Up"

VO: This is "Feel U Up," which Prince recorded in his home studio in Minnesota just weeks after the Rolling Stones show. It was discovered in his vault nestled side-by-side with the original version of his B-side "Irresistible Bitch."

Michael Howe: Hi, this is Michael Howe. I am the chief archivist for the Prince estate, so I am the Vault keeper.

VO: Michael Howe told me about the importance of these two tracks, which are the earliest to be included in the Super Deluxe Edition of the 1999 reissue.

Michael Howe: Those were songs that were recorded kind of individually but then sequenced together on a cassette as one seamless kind of piece. So, I think Prince envisioned the songs to be in that exact order, basically with no segue, no delineation between the two even though they're technically two distinct songs. So, this was one of the cases where we actually had to mix from the 2-inches to duplicate what was on the cassette, because the only rough mix was a, kind of a beaten up cassette with a lot of dropouts and a lot of — sort of low integrity, sonically. So, we put the 2" up on the grid and just mixed it exactly to the specification that's on the rough mix, so basically, you're hearing what is on the cassette, but with the sonic integrity of something that came off of the master tape.

Audio: Fade up "Feel U Up"

VO: Prince wouldn't speak publicly about his experience at the L.A. Coliseum for over a year. But when Robert Hilburn of the L.A. Times asked him about it in the fall of 1982, he said, "The reason I left was because I didn't want to play anymore."

Bob Hilburn: He said he thought most of the crowd was okay but he was frustrated because there was some guy near the front of the stage that kept yelling and yelling, and Prince said, I got so mad that I wanted to fight that guy, I was really angry. I think he was hurt. Bill Graham said when he talked to him, talking to go back on stage, he could see he was hurt, he was almost shaking.

VO: In the version of "Irresistible Bitch" that was recorded after those Stones shows, Prince taps into a ragged, urgent new vocal delivery that stands apart from the rest of his entire body of work, save for maybe The Black Album. He sounds pissed.

Audio: "Irresistible Bitch" (vault version)

Andrea Swensson: What are you hearing in Prince's voice on "Irresistible Bitch"? I'm just fascinated by that.

Michael Howe: I think that's a Jamie Starr moment for sure. I mean, it's kind of an alter ego, and I think it allowed him to exercise a creative muscle that might have been a little more difficult to do had he been singing kinda straight, in a straight Prince voice.

Audio: [continued] "Irresistible Bitch" (vault version)

VO: The fierce resolve we're hearing on this track would propel Prince through the next year of his career. In 1982, he would release three projects — including LPs from the Time and Vanity 6 under his new producer pseudonym, Jamie Starr, and his own double album, 1999. Prince set out to make a record and an army of bands that no one could deny, that would make him a superstar on his own terms, that would pioneer a "Minneapolis Sound" and would shape the sound of a decade — when he emerged from his year of intense, prolific creation, he would have the sound of the future. The sound of 1999.

Coming up next, we'll dive deep into Prince's time in the studio in the winter of 1981 and 1982, as he churned through volumes of material on his way to creating 1999. You'll hear more tracks from the Super Deluxe Edition of 1999, including "Colleen," the long-lost instrumental that Prince named after his engineer, Peggy Colleen McCreary.

Audio: bed of "Colleen" (from vault)

Peggy McCreary: I mean, we cut so much that never came out.

Andrea Swensson: Do you think it was fair to say there were points where he was writing a song a day?

Peggy McCreary: Oh, yeah. Oh, I think more than that. He was so prolific at that time — he had so much in him that he wanted to get out.

Audio: fade up "Colleen" (from vault)

VO: Prince: The Story of 1999 is produced by The Current and supported by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. This program was produced in collaboration with the Prince Estate and Warner Records, and with their support.

This story was hosted and produced by Andrea Swensson, produced and edited by Anna Weggel, mixed by Corey Schreppel, with script editing from Jay Gabler and production support from Brett Baldwin, Lynn Elliot, Cecilia Johnson, Jim McGuinn, David Safar, and Derrick Stevens. Thanks to Trevor Guy, Michael Howe, Giancarlo Sciama, and Duane Tudahl.

If you haven't subscribed yet, search for Prince: The Story of 1999 on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, to learn more about Prince, please visit prince.com.

Audio: "1999" live; "Thank you very much, good night."

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Legacy AmendmentPresented by The Current, Classical MPR and Minnesota Orchestra. This event is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.


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