For Prince Fans, The Announcement Of A New Album Closes A Musical Gap…Sort Of

On what would have been Prince’s 60th birthday last Thursday, his estate and Warner Bros. announced that a new Prince album of previously unreleased material would surface later this year, entitled Piano & A Microphone 1983.

The cover art for Piano/Microphone: a photo of Prince backstage during the 1999 tour taken by the singer’s former photographer and creative collaborator, Allen Beaulieu. (courtesy Warner Brothers and USAToday)

The album is set to include early versions of post-1999, pre-Purple Rain era material including the latter album’s title track, “17 Days” (the official version of which was the B-side to “When Doves Cry”) and “Strange Relationship,” plus Prince’s takes on Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You” and the old 19th-century spiritual “Mary Don’t You Weep,” both of which have audio clips at the bottom of this article.  That last song is slated to be included in Spike Lee’s upcoming film BlacKkKlansman later this summer.

The album will contain nine tracks in all (35 minutes of runtime), with the first seven songs playing in their original recording sequence as a sort-of spontaneous live Prince medley.  So far, only four of the songs are ones we’ve heard before – albeit different takes – while the rest may be previously unheard material.

But it’s the new album’s title – and the year in which it was purportedly recorded – that will be significant to many Prince fans.  For many of them, 1983 represents the “gap year,” or the only year during Prince’s heyday – essentially the first 15 years of his professional career, that the legend did not release a new studio album.

For those needing a refresher course on Prince’s early discography, his album-release history reads as follows:

  1. For You (1978)
  2. Prince (1979)
  3. Dirty Mind (1980)
  4. Controversy (1981)
  5. 1999 (1982)
  6. Purple Rain (1984)
  7. Around The World In A Day (1985)
  8. Parade: Under The Cherry Moon (1986)
  9. Sign o’ The Times (1987)
  10. Lovesexy (1988) (*note The Black Album was recorded and slated for release in 1988 but was shelved and not released until 1994)
  11. Batman Soundtrack (1989)
  12. Graffiti Bridge (1990)
  13. Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
  14. Love Symbol Album (1992)

As readers can see, the only year not represented in those first fifteen years of Prince’s professional career is 1983, which is ironic because that was the year Prince had his first major breakthrough success – albeit with singles from the 1999 album, released in October 1982.

It was in 1982 that “1999,” the first single and title track from 1999 was released. It charted well on the Billboard R&B list, reaching No. 4, but failed to make the pop top 40.  The album’s second single, “Little Red Corvette,” was the one that finally broke Prince into the ‘80s mainstream, reaching No. 6 on the Hot 100 in May 1983 and prompting Warner Bros. to re-issue the first single to capitalize on Prince’s newfound success.

The strategy was successful as “1999” nearly reached the pop top ten in its second life during the summer of 1983, setting up third single “Delirious” to accomplish the feat (peaking at No. 8) that October and November.

But fans wouldn’t hear new Prince material until May 1984 when Purple Rain’s lead-off single, “When Doves Cry” made its début, with the Purple Rain album following a month later.  The 20 months between 1999 and Purple Rain marked the longest gap between Prince albums during his heyday and made 1983 the only year not accounted for by new Prince material.

By most artists’ standards, that may not seem like a big deal, but for Prince fans who had grown accustomed to a new album each year and who would later boast of the artist’s prolific status with what seemed like a continuous stream of new releases annually, 1983 represented that one missing piece of Prince’s vast musical puzzle.  But for that year, Prince would have been the only major label artist to release an album during every calendar year of the 1980s decade.

So the news of Piano & A Microphone 1983 finally completes the picture for Prince’s early years, providing fans perhaps some insight into what was going on in Prince’s mind while the singles from 1999 were still charting and he was recording material for what would ultimately become Purple Rain.

And while we can’t reverse time and place Piano/Microphone in its true 1983 chronological context (we’re not even sure if Prince would have authorized its release or if that’s what he would have even called it), it will be nice to hear some new “old” Prince material, which no doubt will have 1983 written all over it.

Well, at least we hope so.

Here’s an early sample:

DJRob

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