(June 22, 2019). On Friday, two weeks after what would have been Prince’s 61st birthday – and two weeks after its exclusive release on Tidal – the Prince estate expanded the release of his new demos album Originals to the other major streaming and digital music outlets, instantly giving millions of non-Tidal subscribers a chance to hear it.
The album, which has been lauded by critics, contains Prince’s original versions of songs he composed for other artists – some famously, others not so much.
Included are tunes made famous by Prince protégés Sheila E., The Time, Vanity 6, and the Family (and later Sinead O’Connor in one case). Also in the mix are one-time affiliations with The Bangles, Mazarati, Martika and country singer Kenny Rogers. All but one of the fifteen songs were previously unreleased, with the exception being his “Nothing Compares 2 U,” for which the issue was probably forced after Sinead O’Connor took her million-selling version to No. 1 in 1990.
Critics have praised Originals, noting that the album excels even with the songs in their most raw, demo-like form. Prince performs most of them in the same key with much of the same instrumentation that the original commercial releases had, causing reviewers to marvel at their similarities. It also has the unintended consequence of reminding us just how little those other artists added creatively to their versions, while mainly adhering to Prince’s vision. This is even the case, surprisingly, for the four tunes he gave to Sheila E., but at least she shares writing credits on all but one of them (ironically her biggest hit “The Glamorous Life”).
Most interesting is hearing Prince sing the tunes he gave to women, particularly where he doesn’t bother to make them gender appropriate for his own vocals, like his rap during the bridge on “Sex Shooter” or when he exclaims “Sheila E.’s my name, Holly Rock’s my game…” on his demo of her “Holly Rock.”
Djrobblog thought it would be fun to listen to these original demos by Prince and rate them against the “original” releases by the other artists. Using totally subjective criteria – basically one blogger’s opinion – what follows is a comparison of each song to the original and a vote for which is better.
So here goes. Read on and then decide which is better, Prince’s original demos or the “originals” by each artist? (My vote is denoted by “winner” under the selected artist)
“Sex Shooter” – Prince vs. Apollonia 6
The first two songs on Originals were featured in the motion picture Purple Rain. “Sex Shooter” was by Apollonia 6, the trio featuring his love interest both in and out of the movie, Patricia “Apollonia” Kotero.
Prince’s original is one of several songs on the album that have the same music track as the hit version, after all they are demos. But even more interesting is how Apollonia’s vocals mimicked Prince’s almost verbatim throughout the song, even during the adlibs at the end.
But somehow I still cringe when I hear Apollonia squeal “everybody sing it!” followed by “I can’t hear you” in the song’s final 30 seconds. Prince does that part better, and for that and so many other reasons, my vote goes to his original version.
“Jungle Love” – Prince vs. Morris Day & The Time
“Jungle Love” by The Time was another song featured in the movie Purple Rain but not included in its soundtrack album (which included only Prince songs). Instead, The Time included it on their third album Ice Cream Castles.
After hearing Prince’s original demo version, it’s become even clearer how little Morris Day and Co. contributed creatively to their Prince-created material (although both Morris Day and Jesse Johnson initially received co-writing credits). But Morris Day added something to “Jungle Love” that Prince’s version didn’t have: natural humor. I’ve always appreciated “Jungle Love,” the band’s first crossover pop hit, for its novelty factor, something you just don’t get from the demo.
For that reason, The Time gets the nod for “Jungle Love.”
“Manic Monday” – Prince vs. the Bangles
When Prince sings (in 1984) about kissing (actor Rudolph) Valentino in the opening verse to his demo of “Manic Monday,” you almost know he wrote the song from a female perspective. Instead the female he initially wrote it for was Apollonia.
It was later offered to Susannah Hoffs, the rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist of the Bangles, after Prince had heard their first album. The Bangles recorded it for their next album, with the single being credited to the pseudonym Christopher, the name of a character played in his second film, Under The Cherry Moon in 1986.
Prince, along with Revolution members Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, do an admirable job on the original “Manic Monday.” But the pop production of David Kahne and those vocal harmonies by the Bangles are hard to top.
My vote goes to The Bangles’ version.
“Noon Rendezvous” – Prince vs. Sheila E.
“Noon Rendezvous” was an album cut on Sheila E.’s 1984 debut The Glamorous Life. Her version was a ballad with a soft calypso beat and programmed castanets accentuating a looped bass drum.
Prince’s demo begins a cappella before morphing into a melancholic piano ballad. Somehow that arrangement conveys the protagonist’s vulnerability much better than Sheila’s.
In just over three short minutes, Prince bares his soul like only he can. The edge goes to his version.
“Make-Up” – Prince vs. Vanity 6
Before Apollonia, there was Vanity. The late Denise Matthews was Prince’s first female protégé who broke big in late 1982 with her group Vanity 6’s debut single “Nasty Girl.”
From the same album came the track “Make-Up,” a song about, well, makeup. In the demo, no one blinks an eye while Prince sings about applying eyeliner, blush and mascara…totally appropriate for him at the time.
But it was clearly written from a woman’s perspective, and Vanity 6 delivered the message in the droid-like, robotic cadence that the early 1980s called for, and they did it sexily.
In this case, Vanity 6 applied their makeup better than their boss. Vote goes to them.
“100 MPH” – Prince vs. Mazarati
The Minneapolis funk band Mazarati used an intentional misspelling of the car brand to market themselves, that and an opportunistic Prince hookup via the song “100 MPH,” recorded under contract to his Paisley Park record label.
The single reached the top 20 on the R&B chart in 1986, and that was the end of Mazarati’s chart career.
Prince’s version on the demo album is a dead ringer to Mazarati’s, or vice-versa. I’m giving the vote to the song’s creator as it’s less mid-80s bombastic than that of his protégés.
“You’re My Love” – Prince vs. Kenny Rogers
Under the pseudonym of Joey Coco, Prince secretly wrote “You’re My Love” for Kenny Rogers’ fourteenth studio album in 1986. The song also appeared as the B-side to Kenny’s No. 1 country chart duet with Ronnie Milsap’s “Make No Mistake, She’s Mine.”
In the song-by-song comparison, Prince’s demo vocals come across as uneven, especially at the end when he’s pouring his heart out to the song’s love interest, while Kenny – who is backed by none other than soul crooner El DeBarge – is the more solid and polished one (even if his recording screams of the yacht rock that came to dominate parts of the ‘80s).
From the category of I never thought I’d be saying this, I’m picking Kenny Rogers’ version of a Prince song over Prince himself.
“Holly Rock” – Prince vs. Sheila E.
Prince’s contribution to the 1985 Krush Groove Soundtrack was this tune he penned for Sheila E. (with the singer listed as co-writer). Sheila E. was at the height of her powers on “Holly Rock,” with the talented instrumentalist even holding her own with some raps – in keeping with the film’s hip-hop theme.
Hearing Prince’s demo is yet another reminder that he was probably about an 80-90% contributor to her music and its success, but the demo doesn’t have the energy her percussion-infused performance gives it.
When it comes to her uptempo dance tracks, Sheila E.’s versions seem to have the edge over her mentor’s demos…as my vote here reflects.
“Baby You’re A Trip” – Prince vs. Jill Jones
Jill Jones turned in a stellar performance of Prince’s “Baby You’re A Trip,” so much so that I just had to post the video of it below. Vocally speaking, she may even be the most talented of all Prince’s protege’s.
But Prince’s demo version on Originals is the standout track on this album. And when the Purple One adlibs at the end, you almost wonder if he could have been a Baptist church pastor in another lifetime.
Right up to that guttural yowl at the song’s finish, Prince enraptures listeners with his falsetto delivery just as he had on such released classics as “Adore” and “Do Me, Baby.”
It’s a tough choice, but the slight edge goes to Prince in this battle.
“The Glamorous Life” – Prince vs. Sheila E.
This is another case of the original using the same instrumental track as the demo. Except, in this case, one main ingredient is missing from Prince’s practice version: Sheila E.’s famous percussion.
That and the fact that he provides guide vocals in his normal singing voice – and not the falsetto I would have expected (at least not until the end) – makes this an easy one.
Sheila E. hands down.
“Gigolos Get Lonely Too” – Prince vs. The Time
“Gigolos” was included on The Time’s second album, What Time Is It?, and was the third single released from it. Although the band was at the height of its popularity, the song stalled at No. 77 on the Billboard Soul Chart (and failed to even chart pop).
Their fate would pick up a year later with the songs they’d recorded for Purple Rain.
The logical conclusion that could be reached: Morris Day does borderline novelty (“Jungle Love,” “The Bird”) better than Prince, but His Purple Highness does ballads far better than The Time’s leader.
For that reason, Prince gets the nod here.
“Love…Thy Will Be Done” – Prince vs. Martika
I remember when I first heard Martika’s “Love…Thy Will Be Done” in 1991. My first thought was, damn she’s matured in just two years (since hitting No. 1 in 1989 with “Toy Soldiers”).
But the adult sophistication in her lyrics could be attributed to her newfound collaboration with Prince, with whom she co-wrote this eerie track. Her version reached the top ten in several countries (including here in the U.S.).
Prince not only wrote the song, he also produced the record, and his fingerprints are all over it, right up to the climax near the end when the layered vocals build to a crescendo.
But all of that happens on both Martika’s hit version and Prince’s demo, making it hard to pick the better of the two.
In a vote that could go either way, I’m choosing the more polished finished product, Martika’s version.
“Dear Michaelangelo” – Prince vs. Sheila E.
In another apples and apples comparison, Sheila E.’s “Dear Michaelangelo” competes with Prince’s demo. Sheila’s was from her second album, 1985’s Romance 1600 (the one with “A Love Bizarre”).
There’s not much difference here, except Prince’s demo doesn’t have an annoyingly abrupt ending that segues unexpectedly into the next song on the album.
I’m going with Prince here, which gives the four Sheila E. songs on Originals an even split at 2-2.
“Wouldn’t You Love To Love Me?” – Prince vs. Taja Sevelle
Taja Sevelle is another protégé from Prince’ hometown of Minneapolis. In 1988 she reached No. 61 with her synth dance-pop, Prince-penned tune “Wouldn’t You Love To Love Me?,” not a great showing for a song that sounds worthy of much more.
Prince’s demo is far different – perhaps the most different sounding demo on the entire album – as it is a throwback to the raw, melodic, guitar-driven funk that characterized the earlier part of the decade (or even the late 1970s).
Prince was said to have written and recorded this when he was 17, and he dug it out for Sevelle over a decade later. Her version is nice, but it’s far too overproduced for my tastes.
Even in its poorer, unfinished sound quality, the nod goes to Prince.
“Nothing Compares 2 U” – Prince vs. the Family
Prince intended the song “Nothing Compares 2 U” to be a soulful ballad. Never was that vision carried out better than on the original album cut by his Minneapolis-based protégés The Family on their 1985 debut album. Vocalist Paul “St. Paul” Peterson (formerly of The Time) gave a rendering that made the song his own, with vocalist Susannah Melvoin (sister of Revolution member Wendy) supporting.
Comparing either the Prince demo or the Family’s original to Sinead O’Connor’s bigger hit version from 1990 is an apples and oranges scenario, but when it comes to the two originals, I give the nod to The Family.
And those are the votes for all fifteen of the songs on Prince’ Originals album. The tally: Prince 7, the others 8.
That outcome would either be considered by some as blasphemy or just another indicator of how talented Prince was, not only at creating songs, but at finding artists who could enhance his vision for them.
But this is just one man’s opinion, and I do reserve the right to change my votes upon further listens.
So what do you think? Provide comments either below or on the Facebook and/or Twitter feeds.
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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