In the four years since his death, a lot has already been done to keep Prince’s legacy alive and kicking — and to keep fans happy and spending. But there’s still so much more that could be done.
Tuesday’s all-star CBS-TV tribute concert on the anniversary of his death, “Let’s Go Crazy: The Grammy Salute to Prince,” is another welcome and worthy way of getting other stars to honor the Minnesota music icon. But nothing compares to Prince himself. We want more of that.
So far, his estate has issued two “new” posthumous Prince collections: last year’s “Originals” featuring his versions of songs he wrote for others like Sheila E and Kenny Rogers, and the “Piano and a Microphone 1983” solo set recorded in his Chanhassen living room. That’s in addition to a modest assortment of reissues, most notably last year’s deluxe edition of “1999,” his 1983 breakthrough album.
With perhaps just a tinge of hometown bias, here is a wish list of a dozen things we’d like to see surface from Prince’s legendarily stuffed vault.
Warner Bros. demos, 1977. After graduating from Minneapolis Central High in 1976 and playing with his band Grand Central, Prince Nelson struck a deal for after-hours access to Moon Sound recording studio in south Minneapolis. There he crafted a one-man-band demo tape that landed him a manager, Owen Husney, who helped Prince score a contract with Warner Bros. Three songs were presented to the label: “We’ll Make It Through the Storm,” (later recorded by Twin Cities singer Sue Ann Carwell in 1981), “Soft and Wet” (it became Prince’s first single) and “Baby” (also on Prince’s debut LP).
“The Second Coming,” 1982. Prince enlisted Minneapolis-based video pioneer Chuck Statler to film part of the 1982 tour featuring Prince and the Time. In mid-tour, the budding star decided to expand the project to include some dramatic scenes, featuring Kim Upsher (his high school girlfriend) and Susan Moonsie (another girlfriend, soon to be in Vanity 6) as well as a certain Minneapolis music critic in a dressing-room interview scene. The gospelly title song was never released. Prince didn’t acquire rights to the film footage until he paid Statler in this century. A final edit of the film was never completed.
Minnesota Dance Theatre benefit, First Avenue, Aug. 3, 1983. This is one of rock’s most historic live recordings sitting on a shelf somewhere. It’s the show where the song “Purple Rain” premiered. Recorded by a mobile studio, the audio for it and two tunes were used for the 1984 album and film of the same name. It was also 19-year-old guitarist Wendy Melvoin’s first Revolution gig. Even without that history, it was a great concert with rare performances of “Electric Intercourse” and Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.”
Birthday party, First Avenue, June 7, 1984. Of the four or five other high-quality bootlegs of performances at his pre-Paisley Park hometown playground, this set seems the most treasurable both for its context and its content. It amounted to a full-steam blowoff of a show as Prince braced for the release of “Purple Rain.” It also featured a lot of B-sides and deep cuts that he seldom played live after this, including “17 Days,” “Our Destiny” and “Irresistible Bitch.” Best of all, he turned “When Doves Cry” into an 11-minute grind.
Rupert’s concert, Sept. 5, 1987. Unlike most acts, Prince didn’t pay his dues gigging in a bar band. This was his chance — four sets, with a different outfit for each, of course: 1) a sampler of then-current “Sign o’ the Times”; 2) an R&B workout (Al Green, Sly Stone); 3) Prince’s Top 10 rock-oriented singles, and 4) a funk jam (Staple Singers, James Brown). Throughout, Prince made lots of goofy faces that he seemed to do only in his hometown. Cover charge: $5.
New Year’s Eve concert at Paisley Park, Dec. 31, 1987. In a $200-per-person black-tie benefit for the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless at Prince’s recently opened Chanhassen complex, about 400 people dined on a buffet of salmon, tourte Milanaise and roast beef (pre-Prince’s no-meat rules). Local celebs like Twins owner Carl Pohlad and TV anchor Paul Magers witnessed one of Prince’s baddest, dance-happiest bands on fire after their triumphant Sign o’ the Times Tour. The night’s special guest was jazz god Miles Davis, who played trumpet while pacing back and forth in the middle of an epic jam that started with “Gonna Be a Beautiful Night.” It was a beautiful New Year’s Eve.
Musicology 2004ever Tour. Prince wanted to “bring back live musicianship” with this tour, his first in six years with a full New Power Generation lineup. The commanding 2½-hour in-the-round shows brought back his reputation as one of rock’s all-time greatest live performers. Set lists were unusually loaded with hits and a solo acoustic segment, along with some fun covers and the retro-soul new tracks from “Musicology,” arguably his best album of the 21st century.
“20Ten,” 2010. Released only in Europe via London’s Sunday Mirror and other publications, this CD probably should have been titled “19Eighty” because it exuded Prince’s synth minimalism circa 1980. As for the lyrics, he didn’t have a dirty mind, but he said mortgage bankers do, in the gospel-funk social commentary “Act of God.” A hidden track was the real prize: a slow funk “Laydown,” with Prince declaring “from the heart of Minnesota/Here come the Purple Yoda.”
3rdEyeGirl’s debut, the Dakota Jazz Club, Jan. 19, 2013. After years of sneaking to his balcony table to watch other musicians play there, he finally hit Minneapolis’ intimate downtown jazz haven in a big way for three nights, each with a different approach. On the final night, he unveiled his raucous new rock backup trio for two sets with old jams like “Bambi” and “Endorphine Machine” that blended/ear-bled into new crankers such as “Guitar” and “Screwdriver.” Throughout the Dakota run, Prince looked as jazzed up about the totally un-jazzy sets as the lucky ticket holders.
Lynx championship celebration, Paisley Park, Oct. 14, 2015. Prince hatched the idea that afternoon: If the Lynx won the WNBA title, he’d host an after-party for them at Paisley. The Lynx did their job at Target Center, and Prince, who attended the game, responded with a three-hour concert in front of Lynx stars Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and 150 team and arena employees. It was one of Prince’s longest and most joyful performances at Paisley, with several Lynx players dancing onstage with the Purple One.
Piano & a Microphone concert at Paisley Park, Jan. 21, 2016. The first of his two performances that night was unquestionably the most revealing, intimate and personal show he’s ever given. During the premiere of this conceptual musical autobiography, he was playful, philosophical and uncharacteristically open. He talked about his songwriting process, influences and conflicts with his father, a jazz pianist. Because this performance was shot with multiple cameras from different angles, the fabulous film is almost better than being there. Well, almost.
More deluxe editions of the Warner Bros. albums. If last year’s “1999” set was any indication, there’s probably a trove of bonus material for each and every one of the 1980s-era studio albums. “Sign o’ the Times,” “Dirty Mind,” “Around the World in a Day” and “Parade” would be the most obvious next choices. We’d happily take leftovers and live pairings from the early ’90s NPG days, too.