DUST IT OFF: Prince & The Revolution’s “Parade”… 30 years later

Prince & The Revolution photo PrinceParade_cover_zpswybvysc5.jpg

  • When Prince released his album Parade on April 1, 1986, it was his third album in three years. Looking back at how the music industry normally plays itself, maybe three albums in three years is not that of a big deal but consider that the first album of that three-album batch was Purple Rain, essentially the soundtrack for one of the biggest films of the year. 1984 was also the year where Michael Jackson’s Thriller album was finally dying down in massive popularity after its release in November 1982. Normally when someone comes out with a hugely successful album, they generally wait two to three years, taking those years to tour across the country and perhaps the world, then cutting the business off and allowing them to relax and decompress. Then perhaps two years after the release of that album, they return to the recording studio after having a number of songs waiting to be recorded and see what happens.

    However, it seemed Prince was not on a normal time schedule compared to everyone else. He not only had time specifically to make his album, but whenever he felt like doing a session or two for someone he was working with or wanting to collaborate with someone else, he had the opportunity to do so. On top of that, it seemed when he wasn’t on tour, he was in the studio recording a wealth of songs, some of which remain on the vaults as is so the only time anyone knew he was releasing a project was when it was reported in Rolling Stone. As Purple Rain came out with a string of successful singles, it was when we heard about him already finished with another album, Around The World In A Day. Upon listening to the first song, the title track, it seemed Prince was not about to follow-up a successful album by creating variations on a theme. Due to how different some of the tracks sounded to those who were able to listen, it was immediately called Prince’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with slight psychedelic touches. Yet with every hint of “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “Penny Lane” one felt they could detect on that album, you had songs like “America”, “Pop Life”, “Temptation”, and “Tamborine”.

    Around The World In A Day featured four singles, at least in the UK. While “Paisley Park” also marked the introduction of his brand new boutique record label, it was also the first single released from the album and got a small bit of airplay in the United States but depending on what you read, either radio programmers didn’t like it as much, code for “it doesn’t sound anything similar to “When Doves Cry” or “Let’s Go Crazy” and we need something familiar so fans can say “hey, welcome back” or fans didn’t take to it immediately. They may have wanted something closer to Purple Rain than the Beatles fetishism Rolling Stone were creaming about. Nonetheless, when Warner Bros. UK decided to release “Raspberry Beret” as the album’s second single, that became the United States’ first release for the album. While not as big as Purple Rain, Around The World In A Day was a huge success and just when it was expected for him to perhaps rest another year, here came news of not only a new album, but a new movie.

  • When news surfaced that Prince would be doing a follow-up film to Purple Rain, it made a lot of people anxious. The hope was it would be as great and powerful as his initial Hollywood success and on top of that, it would be in black & white. In comparison, it was a reverse approach that The Beatles did with their first two films. A Hard Days’s Night was shot in black & white and the following year, Help! was filmed in color. Prince decided to do something completely different, to the point where when the film was released on July 2, 1986, it moved many mainstream fans away from their newly-embraced superstar. It lead many wondering if Prince had lost the power that introduced him to them.

    However, fans had three months to have some sense of what this new movie would be like with Parade. Like Purple Rain, while it was released as a soundtrack, the music worked on its own terms and could be heard separately from the film. In fact, most people who saw the film probably wanted to forget it, as the film that cost Warner Bros. $12,000,000 to make barely made over $10,000,000. It lost money for Warner Bros., who spent $7,000,000 to make Purple Rain, relatively low but decent for a first-time project for Prince, and it made close to $70,000,000. Under The Cherry Moon was panned, bashed, give any word that compared it to complete crap and it probably received it. I saw it at a local drive-in theater and I didn’t mind it at all, I thought it was good. It was quirky and fun and while that may come off as a nice way to say “it’s good but not as good”, not at all. There were a lot of in-jokes throughout the film and sadly, new Prince fans weren’t wanting Prince to be quirky. They wanted to try to understand their new hero and Prince wasn’t about to let anyone in. If that is anywhere close to being true, Prince was not afraid to let people in through his music.

  • If Around The World In A Day was considered his Sgt. Pepper, then what to make of Parade? For me, the album’s first four songs would easily be compared to the medley that makes up Side 2 of Abbey Road, as each song did not sound like the next but were strung together in harmony to carry the listener and let them know it was meant to be listened to as one. Yet if we are to make one last Beatles comparison, Parade could be considered his Revolver. If that’s to case, then what to make of the album that would follow a year later, Sign ‘O’ The Times? I’m ahead of myself.

    Prince had utilized string sections in two tracks on Around The World In A Day: “Raspberry Beret” and “The Ladder”. He liked it so much that he wanted to do much more with one of his next projects. He decided to make it work for a number of songs on his Parade album by bringing in Clare Fischer, a composer/arranger who most likely knew of Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, as both of them were children of the recording studio culture of Los Angeles that their parents came from. Nonetheless, Prince knew he wanted to work with Fischer in time they would but their relationship involved never meeting with each other. In an interview with Fischer, he said that Prince did not want to know what he looked like, nor did he want to be anywhere near the recording studio when he created arrangements for him. Prince felt if he was there, he would interfere and end up adding his input, which he did not want to do. Prince was confident in his own capabilities but wanted to work with Fischer because he put faith in his capabilities so in the time they made music, they apparently never met each other. They traded master tapes, sheet music, and notes and if Prince liked it, that is what would be added. If Prince didn’t like it, it wasn’t used. That was their healthy exchange and as odd as that might sound, it ended up creating some of the most incredible music in Prince’s discography.

  • Parade is very much an album by Prince, The Revolution, and Clare Fischer, that can’t be denied. Bootleg cassettes circulated on what was considered early rough versions of Parade, with one bootleg album called Charade. An early version of “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” was called “Little Girl Wendy’s Parade”, the line of which surfaces in the song “Kiss” during the guitar solo. In that early version of the song without the string arrangement, the lyrics are different and things sound sparse, if not empty as if something is indeed missing and what Fischer did is welcome in the listener into a new world, Prince’s new world, or Fischer’s new world, or “Prince’s new world with Fischer hanging out in the mythological background.” The strings build the song together in different ways and while it is arguably the most effective part of Under The Cherry Moon, the idea of hearing strings bringing the viewer in to this unusual Parisian world, the world it captures in audio is distinctly its own.
  • Just when it things Prince will take you to a completely world, he brings you into a “New Position”. It’s in the same tempo as “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” but is slightly funkier, at least in feel. The exchange of vocals between Prince, Wendy, and Lisa shows how beautiful they worked together and their groove was something that was irresistible.
  • This eventually segues directly into “I Wonder U”, essentially a Wendy & Lisa song with the kind of eroticism some fans were hearing through their harmonies, arguably starting with their exchange in “Computer Blue”. For me, this is one of the best songs on the album. While Prince is not heard vocally throughout the song, it is Prince who plays everything but the string arrangement. In fact, even though the album is credited to Prince And The Revolution, The Revolution only played on three of the tracks. We wouldn’t hear anyone from The Revolution, outside of Wendy and Lisa, until song #5. and we were still here on track #3. The lyrics of “I Wonder U” are basic and one could hear this as an interlude, even though it works very well on its own. One might argue Prince could’ve done more but it easily does its magic without anything else added to it. On top of that, Fischer’s arrangement carries things nicely until the next track.
  • The last song of the four-part movement is the title track to the film, where Prince takes to the piano. It is here where he builds a sculpture for what the movie would be like, at least in theory:

    I want to live life to the ultimate high
    maybe I’ll die young like heroes die
    maybe I’ll kiss you some wild special way
    if nobody kills me or thrills me soon
    I’ll die in your arms under the cherry moon

    Essentially he is telling what will happen in the film but what works about the song is while it wouldn’t be known that Prince played everything but the arrangement in “Under The Cherry Moon”, it sounds like it’s just him and his “band” in a small jazz club, playing a bit of the blues and being intimate with no one but himself. I always love the “if that alright” part as he is getting into a piano groove. One can say he is either giving himself code as he is in the studio doing the overdubs, or perhaps it’s a bit of code for Fischer to do something specific. One can say Prince got caught up in the moment and simply said something as if someone else was in the room or the studio. As the song comes to an end, the album’s first four tracks could have easily been something Prince could’ve or should’ve done more of in the years to come, and I wish he did. Then again, I probably would’ve said something to the effect of “Prince did that mini rock opera again, I wish he didn’t repeat himself.”

  • Track 5 is the first song where The Revolution joins in with help from Eric Leeds on baritone saxophone in the jazzy funk pump of “Girls And Boys”, complete with mean baritone saxophone work from Eric Leeds. Also in assistance is Sheila E., who helps Wendy and Lisa in their background vocals. The song was recorded in July 1985, most likely around the same time Prince and Sheila E. recorded “Alexa De Paris”, a song that would be used within the film but was released as the non-LP B-side to “Mountains”.
  • This goes immediately into “Life Can Be So Nice”, which sounds like it could be another Revolution contribution but is actually Prince all to himself with help from Wendy and Lisa and Sheila E. on cowbells. When this is heard in Under The Cherry Moon, it is one of my favorite parts of the film, where you see Prince sitting in his car just jamming and getting lost in his own groove before he is seen mouthing the lyrics “scrambled eggs, so boring.”
  • “Venus De Milo” wraps up Side 1 and sounds like a true interlude, not wasteful but a nice delicate piece that highlights Prince with Sheila E. on drums, most likely recorded around the time she did her parts in “Girls & Boys” and “Alexa De Paris”.

  • Side 2 begins with the second song with the rest of The Revolution, “Mountains”. This one sounds like a cross between Curtis Mayfield and Larry Graham, with Mayfield’s essence heard in Prince’s falsetto while Brown Mark’s bass work could be straight out of the Sly & The Family Stone vaults. While many have said the lyrics are Christian in theme, the line “Africa divided, hijack in the air/it’s enough to make you want to lose your mind” suggests it’s also cultural as well. The overall feel of the song is about someone looking for love and regardless of how you find it, it will pull you out of your loneliness. Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss’ horn playing is sharp but it also ties in with the complete arrangement from Fischer, which carries this song throughout in different textures. The 12″ version, a full ten minutes, carries a funkier groove and it offers a chance for Leeds and Bliss to get lost with their instruments.
  • “Do U Lie” could be considered an extension of an interlude, as if “I Wonder U” and “Venus De Milo” wasn’t enough and Prince said “I need to make something stronger but keep things mellow.” The music is primarily Prince with help from Wendy and Lisa but Wendy’s brother, Jonathan Melvoin, sits in for this song playing the drums. It’s playful and if others covered this song in their own way, it could easily become its own entity.
  • “Kiss” was Parade first single and the one most people identify with the album and, if they remember it, the film. While the video also featured Wendy playing the guitar, she is not in the actual version. Prince plays everything in the song and originally he did it as a demo to present to a group he had signed to Paisley Park, Mazarati. However, after Prince heard Mazarati’s version of the song, which was funkier than the acoustic and laid back approach of his demo, Prince decided to tinker with their formula and make it his song. He pulled out a few elements (including the original lead vocal from Sir Casey Terry) but made sure to leave the background vocals from Mazarati to give it a bit of character. The song, pulled by the seductive and also humorous music video, eventually went to #1 on Billboard’s Pop Singles Chart, becoming Prince’s third #1 single and because of its success, is often one of the Prince songs you’ll always hear on the oldies format today.
  • If there’s another song on Parade that had much more of a Sly & The Family Stone hint, that would belong to “Anotherloverholenyohead”, the third and last song on the album to feature the entire Revolution, along with Wendy’s twin sister Susannah on background vocals. The third single in the U.S. from Parade, there’s so much to enjoy from this song, from the different ways he sings one verse compared to the others to Prince’s guitar work, especially in the last minute. The extended version on the 12″ doubles in time and allows everyone to keep things in the pocket until he calls it a day. A full arrangement from Fischer had been made for “Anotherloverholenyohead” but according to PrinceVault.com, he liked the song without the orchestration so while you do hear light strings in parts of the song, most of it was pulled out of the final mix.
  • The album closes with “Sometimes It Snows In April and ends up being the moral of the story in Under The Cherry Moon although if you just hear it as is, you might wonder what it means and what it has to do with the rest of the album. The main character in the film is Christopher Tracy, played by Prince, and the name can be shortened to Chris T., or “Christ”. If “Mountains” was said to be Christian themed, you might say that by the snow existing in the warm spring month of April, it’s a reference to Jesus Christ in his last days. Everything is in metaphor and in the song, it’s just Prince on piano with Wendy on guitar and vocals and Lisa on keyboards and vocals. While he did initially approve of Fischer’s string arrangement in the song, he decided to not use it on the final mix of the album but choosing for it to be used in Under The Cherry Moon.

    The song itself ends with two lines that you could say ended up being prophetic for what was to come for Prince and his career:
    Sometimes I wish that life was never ending
    and all good things, they say, never last
    all good things, they say, never last
    and love, it isn’t love until it’s past


  • While Under The Cherry Moon was a complete flop, Parade is easily one of the best things Prince recorded and released not only in the 1980’s but his entire career. You could play along with the story line of Christopher Tracy but the album has more of a running theme than an actual concept but then again, you can say the same thing about the film. His songs, his guitar work, his vocals and musicianship was becoming stronger and by continuing his collaboration with Wendy and Lisa and bringing in Clare Fischer to help, one was hoping these good vibes would continue for perhaps the rest of the decade. As we now know, Prince had other things in mind for he wasn’t about to wait around to follow himself up in anything.

    Parade would become the last set of music credited to Prince & The Revolution. A tour in support of the album was fairly small compared to all of the dates did for Purple Rain and if you look at the concert dates, it almost seems as if he had no urge to push the music to a bigger or greater audience. Only eleven shows were done in the U.S. and the second half of the tour went to Europe along with a small handful of shows in Japan.

    Perhaps the failure of the film in the United States moved Prince to wonder if it’s worth supporting the album at all. “Anotherloverholenyohead” only went as high as #63 on Billboard’s Pop Singles chart and ran out of steam in a month. By the end of the tour, Wendy & Lisa were no longer happy with Prince’s shenanigans and that put an end to The Revolution. While reading that made it off as if Prince’s decisions to break things down was sudden, perhaps it was something he was preparing to do in the first place, despite the fact most of his band had toured with him long before there was a Revolution.

    Nonetheless, even when Parade was recorded, mixed, and mastered, he was still working on an album that had yet to be finished, Dream Factory and it had been planned for release at the end of the year. In other words, Prince was not only working on what was assumed to be one new album a year for three years, but he had enough on stand-by to possibly release a second album. All the song that were done over the years were put together for album configurations but Prince was not happy with either of them. A few weeks after Under The Cherry Moon was released in limited theaters, Prince was putting together what he felt was good enough for a double album. However, when Wendy & Lisa getting ready to leave, there was no reason for him to release Dream Factory as is and the album was scrapped. The album never came anywhere close to being approved for a final version but some of its songs would be used for a project-to-come.

    That included a third album that was planned for 1987, and it was Crystal Ball that was was not only announced as his follow-up to Parade, but it would make up for the scrapped Dream Factory (at this point in his career, Prince’s on-again/off-again album projects were becoming told like a soap opera). Portions of what was Dream Factory were used for what was to be Crystal Ball and he came up with a plan to release it as a triple LP. That included tracks from a new project he was working on, where his voice was sped up to where he came close to sounding like a Chipmunk. That would be the voice of Camille and he had plans on releasing a full album under the character. While sales for his music were still very strong, Warner Bros. looked at the flop that was Under The Cherry Moon and told him under no circumstance would they ever release a 3-record set. He needed to reduce the amount of songs or come up with something completely different. While Prince had no problem with coming up with anything, two of his potentially-biggest projects were not meant to be and that would help him create what we now know as Sign ‘O’ The Times. When news of that album surfaced in Rolling Stone, I was kind of leery about it, only because his other projects were not considered worthy so what should I expect from him in 1987. We would find out on March 31, 1987.

  • As for Parade, it ended a formula that Prince very much had in the palm of his hands and while it’s easy to say he let it fly away, perhaps Wendy and Lisa’s departure was inevitable. Fortunately it lead to them being signed to Columbia Records and release music on their own, pushing on with a musical collaboration that continues to this day. Prince went to a different and arguably higher level with Sign ‘O’ The Times, which continued with the release of Lovesexy and later with Diamonds And Pearls, nothing could equal what was created on Parade, and perhaps even Prince knows this too. The trilogy of albums Prince did with The Revolution are remarkable and while each of them are still self-contained showcases, it’s what he did with the other members that helped make those albums stronger. Parade was, in many ways, a climax of a feeling that ended up becoming another feeling, from a man who refused to stay in one place at any given time. Maybe he forced himself in not wanting to be too comfortable, not ever wanting to take the easy way out. If he did, he could have yet… well, anyone can assume what he would’ve/could’ve/should’ve but at this point in his career, Prince was doing things with his music that no one else could equal to. As Sheila E. said in one of her songs, Prince was inside of his toy box and he didn’t cared who knocked. Parade was a theme park you never wanted to leave but all good things, as they say, never last, and it didn’t.

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