Prince: The Story of 1999, Episode 2: Rearrange

Prince the story of 1999
Prince: The Story of 1999 (Courtesy The Prince Estate)
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Prince: The Story of 1999, Episode 2: Rearrange
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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.

VO: So, we're out in Chanhassen right now. I come out to Chanhassen a lot to go to Paisley Park. But we're at a place that Prince had before Paisley Park. Before he'd even really done anything of this magnitude of Purple Rain, before he even claimed the color purple.

So this property has been known in the fan community as "the purple house," but back in the fall of '81, it was actually brown. It was this boring, split-level beige-brown house on a cul-de-sac in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. It was the first house that Prince ever owned, which was a huge deal for him at that point. You know, he's in his early 20s. And it was one of his first real home studios, where he could just hole up and work on whatever was going through his mind at that time.

And the reason that I wanted to come here is it's always been so odd to me to think about — all of these futuristic sounds on "1999" and "Little Red Corvette," all these songs that he made at this place, it sounds like a city. They're so busy, they're so full of all these synthesizers and explosions, and politics and all these social elements. But he made them at a place that is, on the surface, boring. It's quiet. There's not a lot going on around here. But as I'm standing here now, I realize that's probably exactly why he loved it here. Thinking about that era of his life, and especially the horrible experience he had opening for the Rolling Stones, and all this pressure that he was under. And all these expectations that he had for himself. I think it was really important for him to be able to come someplace that was safe, and quiet, and chill. Where he could just be alone or have friends over, and really just be alone with his thoughts and alone with his music.

You know, I've heard all these stories from his friends about [how] they would hang out here and watch all these movies. He was a huge film buff. They would watch The Idolmaker or Blade Runner or Eraserhead. Which, even just standing here looking at the lake, just says so much. [Andrea laughs] Like, watching Eraserhead in the suburbs, it makes sense how 1999 could come out of that.

But it was a place for him that, I think, felt really really safe. And standing here now and looking — you know, there's a couple of geese flying over the lake, but otherwise, it's pretty silent — I get it. I get why this was significant for him. Why he needed this place.

Audio: "Free"

VO: I'm Andrea Swensson, and this is Prince: The Story of 1999, brought to you by The Current in collaboration with the Prince Estate, Paisley Park, and Warner Records.

In this segment, we're going to take an intimate look at Prince's life in the studio during this prolific winter of 1981-1982 — in addition to completing the Controversy Tour, Prince was churning his way through dozens of songs on his way to creating 1999. Along the way, we'll continue listening to these incredible unreleased tracks from Prince's vault, which are included on the new Super Deluxe reissue of the album.

Audio: "Possessed," with the Prince lyrics: "Bobby Z, step on it. Step on it. Step on it."

Bobby Z: Hi. I'm Bobby Z. I started with Prince in the very beginning and became the drummer for The Revolution.

Andrea Swensson: Could you describe the Lake Riley house for me?

Bobby Z: It wasn't purple. It was just brown, and the front door came in. There was like a window to the side of the door. Sometimes he'd peek out if he'd see you coming. But then you'd go down, and then take a left, and it was kind of a control room, smaller than Studio A at Paisley. But adjacent to that was kind of a small live room that he had a drum kit in, and that's where Mark Brown actually auditioned, in that little live room. And it really proved to be exactly what he needed, which was a good board, good speakers. Don Batts was still at the helm, and he was a super technician. He just knew everything. You know, later on he painted it purple - but it's forever where we hung out and watched so many movies and spent so much time dreaming.

VO: One of the musicians who spent the most time at the Lake Riley house in this period was Lisa Coleman, Prince's keyboard player and close collaborator.

Lisa Coleman: Yeah, on Kiowa Trail. Yeah, I lived in that house for a while.

It was like [we were] kids in a house and Mom and Dad weren't home. It was like wow, it's a whole house with a kitchen and bedrooms and the studio downstairs. And I had a bedroom upstairs, and Prince's master suite was downstairs. He trusted me a lot, because during that time I also took a lot of photographs. We used to play around and do photo sessions. This was when he first started wearing the trench coat.

So, it was a little house of creation, you know, and then he'd be like, "Lisa, come punch me in" — like playing the drums or something — like, "Punch me in, I've gotta do the outro," so I became his engineer. There were a couple times we did like these two-handed keyboard parts. You know, that would be really cute to think of — the two of us standing there alone in the middle of Minneapolis, in some wilderness by a lake, playing four-handed ARP Omni parts.

Audio: "Lisa's Keyboard Interlude" (1999 SuperDeluxe - Live at Masonic Hall, Detroit 1982

Lisa Coleman: When I moved out there and we started working, I mean, we worked really closely. I think we just really connected musically, even the very first day that I met him. There was some tension at first, and we were both really shy people, and we couldn't really look at each other, or didn't have much to say, and he — we got to his house, and he was like, "I think I'm gonna send her home." And then he heard me playing the piano downstairs, and then he came downstairs and picked up a guitar, and we played together. And ever since that moment, I think we just — it was a love thing. It was a musical love affair. I just loved playing with him because we loved each other, and I could play a note that would put a smile on his face, or he could play a riff that would just make me see God. I think he knew the level of my commitment, and I would be a person for him forever. Everything he was working on, I was there. The Time records, Vanity 6, everything. Oh, I'm gonna get all sentimental now — wah.

Andrea Swensson: I'm curious if you have any insight into why that was important to him to have that kind of remote location to work?

Lisa Coleman: I think it was really because he was Prince concentrate, and he had everything he needed already. And all he needed was the space to let it out. He wanted to emerge, and you could only do that in some boring place.

Audio: "Yah, You Know"

VO: One of the most hilarious vault tracks on the 1999 reissue is a song Prince recorded at his Lake Riley home studio. It's one that Lisa remembers vividly.

Lisa Coleman: I remember it perfectly, and I remember when he played it for me, and he was just laughing so hard. I couldn't believe he actually — you actually said that, dude, you said they spit when they talk.

VO: "Yah, You Know" is basically a diss track about a certain kind of Minnesotan, and as a lifelong resident of this state, I cannot get over it. Prince even goes so far as to adopt a classic Scandinavian accent at the end.

Audio: "Yah, You Know" (outro where Prince is "talking Minnesotan" at 2:52)

VO: I'm actually going to play that for you again. I mean, listen to this. Prince is saying, "Yah, you know, like I would get a job but the world's gonna end soon," in this exaggerated Minnesotan accent that the movie Fargo would make famous.

Audio: "Yah, You Know" outro again

VO: I wanted to know more about the context of some of these vault tracks, so I called up a friend of mine in Los Angeles, Duane Tudahl. Duane is an author who has written extensively about Prince's studio sessions, and he also wrote some of the liner notes for the 1999 reissue.

Andrea Swensson: So I wanna ask you about some of these vault tracks.

Duane Tudahl: Ooh, yes.

Andrea Swensson: And I was listening to this one today and thinking about it kinda in context of the Rolling Stones thing, and maybe a low point for him in this month leading up to when this was recorded in November '81. "Money Don't Grow On Trees" — he's telling someone, basically, don't get your hopes up too much, and maybe you should think about going to college. [Andrea and Duane laugh]

Audio: "Money Don't Grow on Trees" (Super Deluxe vault track)

Duane Tudahl: Money has always been something that was important to Prince. It was in a lot of songs he used. "Money Don't Matter Tonight," or "Love Or Money," and even a verse in "Purple Rain" that he edited out that had "money" in it. But it's kinda fun to hear him talking about almost a lesson to somebody. A lot of his songs — even "I ain't got no money" in "I Wanna Be Your Lover" — he was talking about money quite a bit, so the idea that he was gonna be lecturing somebody about [the fact that] "money don't grow on trees" is kind of a funny — it's not very Prince-ish.

Andrea Swensson: Yeah.

Duane Tudahl: But that's sorta what makes it so interesting to me, is that sometimes the songs that are so un-Prince stand out as a novel thing because they are coming from a different place in his head, almost like he's trying to sing in a different voice, and I don't know if he knew who that voice was yet.

Audio: "Money Don't Grow on Trees" (Super Deluxe vault track)

Andrea Swensson: So okay, this song I can't ever say without blushing, but I'm sure you know what I'm about to say.

Duane Tudahl: What song could it be?

Andrea Swensson: It's "Vagina," Duane.

Duane Tudahl: What? This is outrageous.

Andrea Swensson: Tell me everything you know about the song.

Duane Tudahl: Prince liked to push envelopes. Just the word "vagina" itself is just shocking, and at the time, who would've named a song, a band, a person, "vagina"? And that's what Prince said — "Oh, yeah? Watch this." Tried to name Denise Matthews, who became Vanity — tried to name her Vagina, and she was like no, I don't think that's gonna work. And so he said, "Okay, we'll make a song out of this." The song is so different. He's singing about somebody who's half boy, half girl. That's revolutionary at the time. You don't — I guess you did — "Lola," from The Kinks, and things like that. But it wasn't very common.

And I think it was really trying to blow the doors off of things, and I think that's what Prince was in the mindset of. He'd been doing that since Dirty Mind, and even before that, trying to shock people. Naming a song "Vagina" — that was pretty shocking. And it's unfortunate it didn't come out, because to me it's actually one of the best rockers on the album, and this is really a good song.

Audio: "Vagina"

Andrea Swensson: That track right after, "Rearrange," is interesting. What can you tell me about that?

Duane Tudahl: When I first heard about a song called "Rearrange," it was one of those songs that we'd heard existed, but I didn't think it was actually a song. I thought it was just some shuffling of his stuff, and then to hear the song, it's this fun song. Now that the song has been unearthed, it sorta shows exactly where he was on the Controversy Tour, right before he really started recording all the 1999 stuff. This is kind of a precursor for all the stuff he did for 1999 and I think that's what makes it so fun, because I don't know whether it was intended for 1999, whether he was searching for a voice for 1999, or whether he was saying, "I gotta record another Time album soon." But either way it was something that was not planned. He just thought, "I'm in the studio, I gotta record, I'm going to record. This is what I'm gonna do."

Audio: "Rearrange"

VO: It's incredible to think of the balancing act Prince was doing at this time. In the winter of 1981 and 1982, he was splitting his time between the stage and the studio; on the road, he was perfecting his live show and barreling through 59 dates of the Controversy Tour. But in his mind, he was churning through possible songs for his next album, The Time, and Vanity 6. When he had a three-week break from tour in January 1982, he raced back to Sunset Sound to hole up with his favorite engineer, Peggy McCreary.

Listening to all of the material on the 1999 reissue, I found myself returning to something that Duane had told me when we spoke.

Duane Tudahl: To me it's impossible to think of 1999 and not think of Peggy McCreary on this, because what she brought to it created an atmosphere that allowed him to make what he did, but it was a safe zone. And she was very protective of him, just like most of the people around him were very protective of him. I don't think you would have 1999, the album, if it wasn't for somebody like Peggy McCreary.

VO: Peggy and Prince first crossed paths at Sunset Sound as he was putting the finishing touches on Controversy. But as she told me, at the time she had no idea if Prince actually enjoyed working with her.

Peggy McCreary: After Controversy, most people say, "It was great working with you, hope to see you again, goodbye," and there was none of that. I thought I'll never see this guy again because I really kinda got in his face and said, "You know, I can't understand you. You can't just mumble instructions to me. I've got to hear you if you want me to work for you." And I thought I was way too abrupt with him. I'll never see him again.

And then they called me and said he's coming in, and he requested you. And it was like oh, okay. And that's when we started working on 1999, and it was just grueling hours. I have never worked so long or so hard for anybody in my life.

Andrea Swensson: Well, I'm just so interested in this idea of you just being alone with him in the studio so often, and I'm wondering if you have any inkling of, why did he prefer to mostly work alone?

Peggy McCreary: I think he needed people, but I think that people like him that are introverts and don't communicate well - you've gotta realize too that he was 20-what? Twenty-three, 24 years old. He was pretty young. He wasn't an LA guy. He was a Minneapolis guy, and he was a king in Minneapolis, but in LA he was just another rock star in LA. And I just think that he felt comfortable with me. I didn't talk a lot. I didn't - I just worked for him and did what he wanted, and he could create, and not have to communicate, which I think was hard for him at that stage in his life.

Audio: "Colleen"

Andrea Swensson: Can you tell me the story of how "Colleen" ended up being one of the titles?

Peggy McCreary: I got tired of always scrambling to figure out what we had worked on, or try to figure out a line in the chorus that would be the title. So he started to leave, and I said, "Wait, wait, wait, wait. What's [the] name of this song?" I said, "I need it for Warner Bros. and I need it for the studio." And he just had that little smile on his face, and he said, "What's your middle name?" And I said, "Colleen." And he said, "Write that down." Okay. So — it never went — it was one of those songs that didn't — I think he tried to revisit it, and it just didn't happen. It was one of those songs that just didn't go anywhere. And he did that a lot, so I always figured, once they open that vault and he started getting those tapes out that I'd be on stuff forever. We cut so much that never came out.

Andrea Swensson: Right.

Peggy McCreary: And then we cut that "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore."

Andrea Swensson: Tell me that story. This is such a good story.

Peggy McCreary: He came in one night, and he said, "What do you drink?" And I said, "You mean alcohol?" And he said, "Yeah." And I said, "Remy Martin." And he said, "Okay, order a bottle of Remy Martin and a bottle of Asti Spumanti," and I said, "Oh, Prince, no, you don't want me to drink." And he said, "Order it." And we had a couple of drinks and he started playing the piano, and we cut this song, and I kept thinking — I knew I was a little buzzed, and I kept thinking this is really amazing.

Audio: How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore (Take 2, Live in Studio)

Peggy McCreary: I looked for it for years, and finally the kids and I were at Amoeba Records, and I went upstairs, and there was Prince's B-sides, and it was on there — a cassette with his B-sides on it, and I took it home and I listened to it, and I went, "Yes! It was great." So yeah — and they're re-releasing — I think we did two takes, and they're releasing the other one that we did too.

Andrea Swensson: It's just so raw, and it's so unlike all the other material that he was doing — just to hear him alone at the piano. What was that like for you to just be sitting there watching this?

Peggy McCreary: So when he would go out, like most musicians would go out and relax and you could go out and get something to eat or go to the bathroom or something, you kept your eye on him because it could all of a sudden be a full-on session. So there were times that he would just go out and play the piano, and I loved that.

Audio: "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore (Take 2, Live in Studio)" fades up

Peggy McCreary: So, some of the stuff technically, for the sounds, I'm not real proud of, but he taught me so much about if the song is there, it doesn't really matter if it technically is perfect. He wasn't real picky. If it was there, it was there.

Andrea Swensson: Wow. 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, and he just — and that's why he had two other bands, is because he had more material that didn't really fit maybe with him, or — he wrote for other people. He had so much in him that he wanted to get out.

Audio: International Lover (Take 1, Live in Studio)

Andrea Swensson: You started really working with him basically as this chapter was opening, where he was headed toward this new album, although he didn't know yet it was 1999, and he was creating so much material in late '81, early '82 with you. And all of a sudden this album emerged.

Peggy McCreary: Well, and he told somebody that he didn't expect it to be a double album. It just kept on happening. And during that period, we were also — he was also writing songs for — it was Vanity 6 then — and he was writing songs for The Time. So we were doing those albums. I never knew what we were working on. I didn't know what was going on — the album that we were actually working on, until we assembled it. And — because Morris would come in, and that's when we cut "International Lover."

Audio: "International Lover (Take 1, Live in Studio)" - CHORUS

Peggy McCreary: It's really funny, because I had kinda remembered it at the time. I remembered I had my back — I was loading a tape machine — and he said, "Did you hear that, Peggy?" and I laughed.

Audio: "International Lover (Take 1, Live in Studio)" - PEGGY NAME CHECK

Peggy McCreary: With him there was never any — as sexual as his songs were, as sexy as his songs were, there was never that banter with us, which I — you know, you're kinda used to as a woman in the studio. It gets pretty raw and gritty sometimes. And it was never that with him. He was very respectful. So the fact that he even kind of pointed that out was kinda funny, because it was at a part where it said, "Your seat can be used for a flotation device," or something like that. It was like yeah, I get it. Got that. Got it.

Andrea Swensson: And then January 11 must be your birthday.

Peggy McCreary: Yeah. they called me and it was my birthday, and I thought, "Aw geez, I can't even get my birthday off." And we started cutting this song, and at the end of the night, I thought okay, well now there's no birthday for me today. So anyway, he starts to leave, and I always made him a cassette of the mix, and he walks to the door and he looks over at me and he smiles, and he tosses this cassette over his shoulder, and he says, "Happy birthday," and he walked out. And I just stood there with my mouth open. It was like oh. He didn't even wait for a response, a thank you or anything. It was just that was my happy birthday song, so it's coming out, and Warner Bros. is releasing it, so I can't say I have an unreleased Prince song anymore. [Peggy laughs] Bummer. But then everybody else will get to hear it too.

Andrea Swensson: Right.

Peggy McCreary: It's called "You're All I Want."

Audio: "You're All I Want"

Andrea Swensson: I mean, do you think it's fair to say that 1999 is the sound of you and Prince working together in the studio?

Peggy McCreary: Yeah, that was us. And then he was such a different kind of person in the studio, that I didn't really understand who he was until he took me out on the road for that tour.

Audio: "Do Me Baby (Live)"

Peggy McCreary: As a Christmas present he gave me two days on the road of the 1999 Tour, and it was New Year's Eve in Dallas, and then the next night in Houston. And I was completely blown away at his performance. I was just literally like weak in the knees. I thought oh my god, I get it now. I never got who he was. The outfits and the attitude and the everything, it was always him. He just got to really exude that onstage. So, yeah, when I saw him perform I had a whole different level of appreciation for him.

VO: Coming up next on Prince: The Story of 1999, we'll talk about the stories behind Prince's biggest hits from the album, and what it was like as he was preparing for the massive 1999 Tour with The Time and Vanity 6.

Dez Dickerson: I would compare it to like an NFL quarterback. By the time you've been playing for five years the game has slowed down and you see exactly what's happening before it happens. By 1999, that's kind of where he was.

VO: All that and more, coming up next on Prince: The Story of 1999.

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 me, 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.

To learn more about The Current, visit thecurrent.org. 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: "Do Me Baby (Live)" fades up, fades out

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