Bookshelf: 'Prince and the Purple Rain-Era Studio Sessions 1983 and 1984

by Duane Tudahl (Rowman & Littlefield)
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In 1982, Prince was a rising star yet to have a Number One single. He had gained some attention for his album 1999 but was perhaps just as well-known for wearing lingerie onstage as he was for his songwriting or musicianship. But one thing he didn’t lack was confidence.

His contract with managers Bob Cavallo and Steve Fagnoli was due to expire and with their artist’s career on a clear incline, they told him they wanted to renew the contract. Prince, age 25, upped the ante. He would only re-sign, he informed them, if they got a movie deal out of his record label, Warner Brothers. And, he said, he wanted his name above the title. Remarkably, his gambit paid off and Prince was soon propelled into superstardom with a movie and an album that would help to define the decade.

This is the sort of star-maker-machinery story that Alan Light tells so well in his excellent 2014 cultural history Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain. After that delve into the man and his times, it hardly seems like another examination of Prince’s best known (if not his best) album would be necessary, but Duane Tudahl finds another path to cut through the most productive years of the famously elusive Prince. Light’s book is about how Purple Rain fit into the world of popular entertainment, but Prince didn’t live in that world. He lived in the studio, and that’s where Tudahl directs his attention.

Framing his research around studio work orders, Tudahl examines the workaday world of Prince writing and playing the better part of three records associated with the movie (the soundtrack, released by himself with the Revolution) along with albums by two other bands in the film, the Time and Appolonia 6. Along the way, he meets Sheila E and creates an album for her (The Glamorous Life) that he records on Warners’ dime and sells to them before they knew it existed. On top of that, there are projects with Sheena Easton, Jill Jones, initial work on the Purple Rain follow-up Around the World in a Day and more abandoned tracks than we’ll likely ever know.

Tudahl supplements the nuts and bolts with plenty of interviews—his own and period articles from other outlets, including Keyboard magazine—to make a compelling 420-page book that is part sessionography, part oral history, and occasional critical review. Gear talk is kept to a minimum, likely because that information wasn’t available (one doesn’t get the impression that the author left much of his findings out), but we do learn that along with his trusty LinnDrum, a Simmons setup got steady use, and that an Oberheim keyboard was responsible for much of the initial tracking for those records.

Few readers will have interest for all the info contained in the book, but it is surprisingly readable nevertheless and looks impressive sitting alongside Light’s book and the triple CD with bonus DVD edition of the Purple Rain album that came out last year.