A list of songs on the palette making The Colors Of Rock (updated periodically)
18 Yellow Roses (Bobby Darin)
99 Luftballons/Red Balloons (Nena)
All Cats Are Grey (The Cure)
Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk (Dr. Hook)
Back In Black (AC/DC)
Bad, Bad Leroy Brown (Jim Croce)
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
Black Celebration (Depeche Mode)
Black And Blue (Van Halen)
Black Cat (Janet Jackson)
Black Cow (Steely Dan)
Black Diamond (Kiss)
Black Is Black (Los Bravos)
Black Night (Deep Purple)
Black Water (The Doobie Brothers)
Blue Collar Man (Styx)
Blue Eyes (Elton John)
Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain (Willie Nelson)
Blue Jean (David Bowie)
Blue On Black (Kenny Wayne Shepard)
Blue Suede Shoes (Elvis Presley)
Bluer Than Blue (Michael Johnson)
Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison)
Brown Shoes (Frank Zappa)
Brown Sugar (The Rolling Stones)
Caribbean Blue (Enya)
Crystal Blue Persuasion (Tommy James & The Shondells)
Colour My World (Chicago)
Desert Rose (Eric Johnson)
Don't Eat the Yellow Snow (Frank Zappa)
Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue (Crystal Gayle)
Fade to Black (Metallica)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John)
Green Earrings (Steely Dan)
Green Eyed Lady (Sugarloaf)
Green Green Grass Of Home (Johnny Darrell, Porter Wagoner, Bobby Bare, Tom Jones)
Green Light (Lorde)
Green Onions (Booker T. & The M.G.s)
Green Tinted Sixties Mind (Mr. Big)
Gold (John Stewart)
Golden Lady (Stevie Wonder)
Golden Slumbers (The Beatles)
Lady In Red (Chris Deburgh)
I Saw Red (Warrant)
Indigo Eyes (Peter Murphy)
It's Not Easy Being Green (Kermit the Frog)
Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini (Brian Hyland)
Little Red Corvette (Prince)
Mellow Yellow (Donovan)
Men In Black (Will Smith)
Midnight Blue (Lou Graham)
Mr. Brownstone (Guns N' Roses)
Orange Crush (R.E.M.)
Paint It Black (The Rolling Stones)
Pink Cadillac (Bruce Springsteen, Natalie Cole)
Pink Houses (John Cougar Mellencamp)
Purple Haze (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)
Purple People Eater (Sheb Wooley)
Purple Rain (Prince)
Red Barchetta (Rush)
Red House (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)
Red Sector A (Rush)
Red Skies (The Fixx)
Song Sung Blue (Neil Diamond)
Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree (Tony Orlando and Dawn)
Touch Of Grey (The Grateful Dead)
True Blue (Madonna)
True Colors (Cyndi Lauper, Phil Collins)
Still Got The Blues (Gary Moore)
White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)
White Room (Cream)
Yellow Flicker Beat (Lorde)
Yellow Submarine (The Beatles)
The unfortunate thing about massively successful albums is there's songs on them that never see the light of day.
Stated another way, if these songs were written by another band or artist, they would have been released and became their signature song in an alternate parallel pop universe.
The Outfield had their breakthrough album with their 1985 debut Play Deep. And it was all about some girl named Josie after that.
The band have so many instantly recognizable songs: "Josie's on a vacation far away..." see what i mean? And from there, bassist Tony Lewis became known as the lead singer. But there was another singer in the band who you only heard in their signature harmonies, which we'll come back to in a moment.
But first: The pop world is still wondering, "Is this same "Josie"Steely Dan hung around in the 70's? Did Josie also attend Bard College with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen then do a semester in London?"
Play Deep was huge with 4 singles becoming radio mainstays: "Your Love" (AKA that tune about Josie), , "Say It Isn't So", "All The Love" and "Everytime You Cry."
Like Cheap Trick, The Outfield have so many interesting songs buried in their respective catalogs. Do yourself a favor and dig into their deeper tracks. You'll find veins of auditory ore that'll turn you into a more active fan of both bands. Okay I used to live near Robin Zander for those of you full disclosure purists.
The Outfield were a brilliant blend of power pop, new wave and pop rock with trademark crisp, clean positive vibes. A band from London and apparently not pissed off about anything when the prices of hotel rooms there alone are enough to piss off most tourists.
The vision behind The Outfield was guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter and yes, vocalist John Spinks. And it is John who is lead vocalist on our featured track here "Taking My Chances."John Spinks was a regular "jack" of all instruments like that Canadian Aldo Nova or that Prince guy you may have heard of.
For those fans who missed Canadian Musicians 102, Aldo Nova had a major hit with the tune "Fantasy" off his 1982 self titled debut Aldo Nova. You can now safely go back to your Rush, BTO, The Guess Who, Céline Dion, Bryan Adams and Corey Hart with or without OSHA approved sunglasses.
While main Outfield vocalist Tony Lewis showcased a high piercing positivity like Jon Anderson of Yes, John Spinks had a deeper introspective voice which made for a rich vocal blend with and classic counterpoint to Tony Lewis.
On top of that, John Spinks' guitar tone is among the happiest guitar tones I can think of. The matrimony of Lewis's soaring vocals and Spinks's guitar tone and style is something that often goes unnoticed and understated for why The Outfield have legions of fans outside the English speaking world.
Close your eyes (You Canadians take your sunglasses off) and imagine that "Taking My Chances" was the first tune you ever heard from a new band called The Outfield. You'll see that John Spinkscould have fronted his own band as guitarist and lead singer:
Hey Rick Springfield did it. So did Bryan "Sandpaper Larynx" Adams. John Spinks easily could have done so too with all the demos he made that eventually became Play Deep. But The Outfield was a project he enjoyed with his pre–fame bandmates since the late 1970's, bassist/singer Tony Lewis and drummer Alan Jackman.
"Taking My Chances" reverses the traditional vocal order of The Outfield winning formula but it still works great. It also demonstrates how well John and Tony blended their vocal harmonies and could expertly weave in and around each other no matter who was the lead off hitter in the song.
It's this classic blend of high range and low range vocals which worked superbly for other successful acts generations a generation earlier like Hall & Oates and Kiss. Daryl Hall & John Oates and Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons gave the ear fix for high and lows plus the chorus blends of each. Coincidentally, The Outfield and Hall & Oates both had a hit song titled "Say It Isn't So."
This "Master Blend" also worked well for Journey although briefly. The Tony Lewis and John Spinks blend was also similar to Steve Perry and Gregg Rolie. the former vocalist for Santana and original Journey vocalist. Rolie has such a beautiful deep soulful voice, and is best known or singing "Black Magic Woman" but gives stellar performances on tracks that have been largely unknown and forgotten which is another story altogether.
For just 3 people, The Outfield packed a lot of power and wattage. Their incredibly full sounding choruses weaved from the tapestry of harmonizing between John and Tony gave songs their characteristic punch.
The Outfield wrote great pop music and weren't pretending to be anything they weren't. In fact, the same 3 bandmates which became the classic Outfield lineup took a hiatus in the late 70's because the Punk Movement was becoming more popular in England.
Instead of getting mohawks, bleaching their hair fluorescent orange, or piercing their nipples with nunchucks, John Spinks, Tony Lewis and Alan Jackman took a long 7th inning stretch into the mid 80's when the music industry, now steadily dating it's new flame MTV, became more favorable to their original style of songwriting. The strange thing being, even though the English speaking world was all over British Pop/New Wave acts like Duran Duran and The Fixx, The Outfield were never as popular in their native England as they were in the United States.
What I've always enjoyed about The Outfield is the production quality of their songs is always crystal clear but never hospital sounding sterile. There's always a vibrance and energy to the music and instruments in the mix. The recording quality is always bright and shiny, it's like listening to sunlight reflecting off chrome. People just feel good listening to them, just like a simple Beach Boys song. And that's all the proof anyone's ears need.
Sadly the creator and songwriter of The Outfield,John Spinks died of liver cancer in 2014 at just 60 years of age. Later in early 2016, liver cancer also claimed David Bowie. But John's legacy lives on as does his pleasantly hypnotic vocal tonality on this track which never made it out of the band's batting cage of potential hits.
"Taking My Chances" is great song that got overlooked because it was a track on a album filled with great pop songs. Play Deep quickly went triple platinum and continues to be a Must Have 80's album for new generations of fans.
Indeed The Outfield knocked it out of the park on their first album. They could have also hit more singles.
If you’re a fan of the classic Prince sound congealed with his backing band The Revolution, you’ll definitely appreciate this lesser known track off the Parade album.
Released in 1986, Parade was the 8th studio album by Prince and also the final one with The Revolution. Tracks like “Mountains” are prized audio real estate since his passing for fans to nostalgically travel back in time to the 1980’s on a purple motorcycle.
“Mountains” starts off with the familiar Linn LM–1 drum machine used in several earlier Prince hits like “1999” and “When Doves Cry.” This drum machine was also used by other artists in the early 80’s as it popped up on Billy Idol albums as well—Say for instance, if you’re going to be dancing with yourself, you’ll probably need a drum machine.
“Mountains” was written by Wendy & Lisa with Prince which demonstrates just how much The Revolution was the integral formula that produced the classic 80’s Prince sound which reached it’s commercial peak with Purple Rain.
Prince’s earlier solo records didn’t have the same “real world” orchestration as when he was backed by The Revolution. Being a multi–instrumentalist although impressive, it’s still ALL YOU playing every instrument and this can be perceived by other musicians and astute listeners. Having other musicians play and collaborate with adds an additive synergy one person cannot create by themselves alone.
Case in point, Steely Dan could have recorded everything (keys, bass, guitars) by Walter Becker & Donald Fagen and used an electronic drum machine. Instead they hired the best A–list studio musicians in the business which made all their albums sound all the more varied than if the two did everything by themselves. That’s how one band can turn into and sound like a handful of bands with the same 2 core members.
Thankfully Prince realized this after a few solo albums as well. That he could still record all by himself in his home studio and also with a band. Each has it’s pros and cons but having both puts more globs of color on a artist’s creative palette. Then there’s the blatant reality that if your’re going to play out and perform live, you cannot just be a studio band—you’ll have to have an actual band so you might as well have a group of other musicians to bounce ideas off.
Another thing is you can only overdub yourself so many times before it becomes overkill and listeners want to hear another biological entity vocalizing something—like that chimpanzee in the beginning of Michael Jackson’s“Off The Wall” for instance.
Outside of Freddie Mercury and Brad Delp of Boston, there’s not too many singers that still sound cool nuanced and interesting overdubbed 20 times. Having two or more vocalists creates tension and resolution within a song and having male and female vocalists adds another layer to the audio onion. Prince nailed this concept on “1999”; If only one vocalist sung the entire song it wouldn’t have had the same impact and appeal. There’s not too many songs like “1999” that use 3 vocalists to split the verses.
“Mountains” only reached the #23 slot on the US Billboard charts, but it’s definitely a buried track in Prince’s catalog that deserves greater recognition. The earlier single released from the Parade album “Kiss” became more popular having become a #1 hit. However, I prefer the groove and mood of “Mountains” as it has more emotional depth and introspection than “Kiss.” It holds up better for me during repeated listenings and on replay which helps to “get inside the song” and integrate a song into your life.
“Mountains” is a “sister synth” song to “1999” and “I Would Die 4 U.” It uses the same Prince falsetto we all know and love as in “Kiss” but it’s a more seriously toned falsetto instead of a “playful south enough of lecherous” for AM radio one. “Mountains” is the track where Prince unleashes his full array of vocal tricks. It has the trademark PrinceWooo!! like on “Let’s Go Crazy”, the Owww!, and the Purple Banshee Screams like on “When Does Cry”:
Guitars and drums on the 1 Huuuh!!!
“Mountains” is my favorite song off the Parade album and the track I listen to most frequently in several of my iPod mixes. Plus I always dug the lyric “Once upon a time in a haystack of despair” in the song’s second verse. It evokes a cool jagged image where I wonder why any metal band hasn’t jumped on writing a song called “Haystack Of Despair.” If there’s a “Harvester Of Sorrow” according to Metallica, then it follows logically there should damn well be a “Haystack Of Despair” right? Nuff said.
“Kiss”, with it’s stylized falsetto, is like a hybrid pop/novelty song—it’s like Prince walked the fence between those two genres on that track, which isn’t surprising as he was never the poster boy for musical purists. He lived to experiment in the Paisley Park fire pit and create new sound stews. And besides, blind obedience to purism and “genre parameters” makes for a lower ceiling on Creativity. And that leads to starvation like what’s whispered towards the end of “Mountains” before the fade out. If there’s Diamonds And Pearls and Gold Experience in them there hills, my ear definitely hears some Purple Rain in them “Mountains.”
I realized something being a longtime fan of Science Fiction: that Yoda’s favorite Prince song would be “When Doves Cry.”
Wait for it…Some of the lyrics are just the phrasing the Jedi Master himself would appreciate. Prince is clearly speaking Yoda’s native tongue here—all three verses begin in “Yoda” or Yodaspeak”:
Dig if you will the picture
Dream if you can a courtyard
Touch if you will my stomach
Can you picture Yoda singing it in the shower? While taking his morning constitutional on planet Dagobah? Can you picture this?
Deeper questions then emerged. Did the Jedi Master himself inspire “When Doves Cry?” Did Prince channel Yoda in the recording studio? Pop culture influences and inspires other pop culture and we may never know.
Linguistics scholars would also appreciate that “Yoda” is a Romance language like French and Spanish. And speaking Yoda is quite fun as well. In the control room of the music instructional video company I used to work for, we’d joke around and talk Yoda on a regular basis. This would frequently spill over the VOG (Voice Of God) to rank on the talent in the studio—yelling at them in “Yoda” for botching up a take as well as providing motivation and guidance for the proper corrective course of action.
“When Doves Cry” was the first number one single for Prince. Ironically it was the last song written for the film/soundtrack to Purple Rain as Director Albert Magnoli needed another song for a montage scene and requested Prince write additional music for it. You’ll notice with all the other songs written for Purple Rain, Prince and The Revolution perform them onstage in the film except “When Doves Cry.” “When Doves Cry” was written to musically portray Prince’s character, The Kid’s parental issues with his father Francis L. and his simultaneous blossoming romance with Apollonia.
Looking at “When Doves Cry” deeper musically, it’s a pretty minimalist song in A minor. There’s no bass line throughout the entire song. Most listeners don’t notice things like this until it’s pointed out to them, and besides the pop rock world has caught fans sleeping at the wheel before. For instance, Free’s classic rock tune “All Right Now” had a hibernating bass line all through the verses and only emerges on the chorus and bass solo leading into the guitar solo overlaying it. And that was during the 70’s–when rock, pop, dance & funk fans were far more rabid about bass in your face.
Still none of this “multi–track lack” reduces the appeal of “When Doves Cry.” Prince was very good at writing for what fits the song. I myself am a believer that every song does not need a guitar solo (or any kind of solo) nor have to contain every instrument in the band just because someone will feel “left out” onstage during a performance. Prince was a screaming guitar player and I dig how he never overplayed or overused his chops at the expense of what a particular song called for. In cover bands, when there was no keyboard part for the song, I’d just either double the bass or a guitar part to fatten things up not add a keys part. The Police were another band that was very good at this non oversaturation and not bludgeoning the listener with excessive musicality at the price of playing within the songs actual needs and parameters. We can take an example from Prince & The Police (an 80’s superband that never happened) here: Musicians have to realize that sometimes “space”, silence, and breathing room are part of the song like in “When Doves Cry.”
There is some flash (no pun intended, Prince was only nude in the music video) of virtuosity in “When Doves Cry” though it’s sparsely and tastefully done. The opening guitar flourishes and the classical cello part towards the end add some moments of heightened tension, higher energy & angry spiciness to the song’s recipe. If memory serves and I’m not the victim of my own Purple Haze, I remember reading years ago in the Prince biography Purple Reign: The Artist Formerly Known As Prince by Liz Jones that Wendy Melvoin’s brother Jonathan Melvoin wrote the classical string part for “When Doves Cry” but I’d have to check that book again if I can find which cardboard storage box it now resides in.
Back to Prince’s #1 Jedi fan, Master Yoda. I can picture an alternate version of the “When Doves Cry” music video being done with Yoda superimposed over Prince (someone on Youtube who has more free time than I preferably). We’d see Yoda stepping out of the bathtub and subsequently crawling on the floor sans Jedi robe. Then Yoda cruising around Minneapolis and the suburbs on Prince’s motorcycle (or riding on the back–riding in the front would be “Too E.T.“), and kissing Apollonia passionately horizontally while levitating over her—hey he’s a Jedi Master remember? Hopefully this won’t be in a galaxy far far away but just in case, here’s your “When Doves Cry” refresher:
Whoa…that crawling on the floor was so much fun Madonna had to try it herself in her video “Express Yourself” and add some bovine special effects.
Since it was an 11th hour recording request for the film, “When Doves Cry” is pretty much Prince by himself with his trusty drum machine playing several instruments and without the vocal harmonizing of The Revolution like on most of the Purple Rain soundtrack. The vocal audio looping bears little resemblance to an actual dove crying not that I’ve crossed the line being cruel to animals to scientifically gather such information. It’s a droning “I” or “Aye” sound making Prince’s looped vocal yearnings sound more like a zombie pirate brigade or some species of South American tree frog that would definitely make you Delirious if you lick its skin. And I’m sure you’d see Paisley Parks and Strawberry Fields Forever but let’s not go there just yet.
But then again these made up syllable loops worked well for Jon & Ritchie on the Bon Jovi hit “Livin’ On A Prayer.” Did Bon Jovi sample a neighbor’s dog or have Chewbacca come in for a session to lay down a vocal track? “Livin On A Prayer” is one of the most frequent songs I hear when I work weddings—and every now and then I hear a Prince tune. But “When Doves Cry” isn’t the optimal Prince song to inaugurate a lifetime together—more salient choices in this department that better suit the occasion are “Kiss” or “I Would Die 4 U” as people can get their pointer finger on while ripping up the dancefloor and impress a slightly inebriated crowd with some stellar rudimentary choreography. Plus it looks pretty cool against uplightling as I can attest. But hey, I’m just a dude behind a camera so what do I know.
“When Doves Cry” was Prince’s directorial debut—it was racy for it’s time and had to threaten heterosexual males watching MTV for the half naked girls. I mean could middle America start liking a song with a naked guy coming out of a bathtub and crawling towards them? It turned out the Bible Belt was on the floor with the rest of Prince’s clothes in that regard.
Fashion wise, I always found it interestingly dapper how The Revolution (save keyboardist Dr. Fink) dressed in ornate clothing similar to the upper crust during the French Revolution. There’s also a funhouse mirror effect in the later dance routine which creates a kaleidoscopic effect with Prince in the center. And Prince wasn’t a slacker on stage performance—he loved to dance with his own trademark moves as well as nods to the Godfather James Brown.
Come to think of it, if Michael Jackson didn’t become the megastar of 1980’s pop, Prince would have been seen as a better dancer than he was usually given credit for. But Prince held his own on his own terms and wasn’t in music to compete with others which isn’t what art and creativity is about—actually competition diminishes the joy of creativity and one’s personal enjoyment of the process.
If Prince was competitive, he would have come out with some lame dance move in response after Michael premiered the Moonwalk with his own version “The Cherry Moonwalk.”Prince never challenged Michael Jackson to a dance off like MC Hammer. Nor did Prince extrapolate his songs into stylized themed dances over the abyss of the campy canyon with The “When Doves Cry Waltz”, the “Let’s Go Crazy Conga” or “The Purple Raindance.”
Yet with all his contributions to pop culture and writing songs for other artists, Prince wouldn’t allow parody of his songs even though Weird Al Yankovic was aching to do so for decades. Some, like Mark Knopfler said yes on one condition—that he play guitar on the parody track. This is why Weird Al’s parody of Dire Straits’“Money For Nothing” called “Beverly Hillbillies” musically matches the original version more than his other parodies.
For “When Doves Cry”, I can picture Weird Al doing “When Spuds Fry” starting off saying the word “Fry” as that’s what it sounds like Prince is uttering in the original recording. Weird Al did do a similar themed parody to the Robert Palmer song “Addicted To Love” called “Addicted To Spuds.” And I know for a fact that Weird Al would not pass up the opportunity of being naked in a bathtub to parody the video. That’s the stuff Weird Al bucket lists are made of. Buckets of dove’s tears.
Yankovic was never able to secure permission for parody of any of Prince songs when he was alive. When Prince’s estate gets settled and who owns the licensing to his song catalogue is decided, Weird Al may get to parody Prince songs in the future.
Yankovic is far from malicious towards the artists he parodies—it’s a nod and a tribute, though some like Coolio get miffed when Al does a parody of a song he himself didn’t even write the music to in the first place (Coolio’s 1995 single “Gangsta’s Paradise” sampled the 1976 Stevie Wonder song “Pastime Paradise”).
One thing for certain that’s probably in the works already is a Hollywood biopic about Prince. Within a few years it’ll likely hit theatres. One can only hope Hollywood will see Purple instead of getting tangled up in green and Prince won’t be physically miscast with someone like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. But then again I’d pay to see Arnold Schwarzenegger singing Prince songs and buy that soundtrack. William Shatner can cut a Prince tribute album as well. It’s all become part of our shared collective culture and part of celebrating that will encompass some obligatory moneymaking schlock along the way. But this doesn’t diminish the original inspiration for it nor hamper appreciation of Prince’s contribution to popular culture.
As with Michael Jackson’s glove, that bathtub Prince used in “When Doves Cry” has to fetch a pretty penny on eBay—the perfect gift for those who already have a bottle of Elvis’ bathwater. And then Yoda can whisper at the end of that revamped “When Doves Cry” music video, “There…is…another…Moonwalker.”
There’s the Bible Code and the Da Vinci Code—but is there a “Let’s Go Crazy” Code?
Before anyone thinks I’ve stared at the Abbey Road & Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album covers Clockwork Orange style way too long, isn’t a bit of poetic coincidence that Prince died in an elevator?
I mean you know the narration before the full band enters in “Let’s Go Crazy”:
And if de-elevator tries 2 bring u down
Go crazy – punch a higher floor!!!
It seems Prince indeed punched a higher floor in that Paisley Park elevator and left the Earth plane.
The second verse of “Let’s Go Crazy” going into the chorus is even more prophetically elaborated:
We’re all excited
But we don’t know why
Maybe it’s ‘cuz
We’re all gonna die
And when we do (When we do) What’s it all 4 (What’s it all 4) U better live now Before the Grim Reaper come knocking on your door
Tell me, are we gonna let de-elevator bring us down? Oh, no let’s go!
(Note to Steven Tyler & Aerosmith: The Grim Reaper takes elevators)
I never met Prince nor saw him perform live but he was one of the people on my concert bucket list I wanted to see. Actually the only time I was in his home state of Minnesota was in Minneapolis to catch a connecting flight from the west coast. One of my relatives however did meet Prince at a club in Miami and talked with him.
An actor friend also met Prince when he worked for a network TV station in New York City. He didn’t get to ride in an elevator with Prince (most definitely a Scavenger Hunt Selfie), but did so with Neil Young. Interestingly, Neil Young had a backing band called Crazy Horse…hmmm…and further down the Purple Paisley rabbit hole we go. Later in his career, Prince also wrote a song called “Cinnamon Girl” which was one of the biggest hits of Neil Young And Crazy Horse.
When I was out in Hollywood visiting friends and wandering around (the occasional olfactory overture of concrete mingled with fermented urine while on The Walk Of Fame comes to mind), I came upon the fabled Sunset Sound recording studio where so many famous acts such as The Doors recorded their historic and iconic albums. Prince also recorded there in a cute story by Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks.
Nicks was working on her solo album The Wild Heart at the time. She was driving around and heard “Little Red Corvette” on the radio and came up with lyrics to “Stand Back.” Since a song written by Prince inspired her lyrics, she called him up and asked if he was in the area (Prince had another residence nearby) and if he would like to come down and play on the track.
Like calling a pizza delivery session player, Prince was there in under 30 minutes and laid the keyboard parts down for “Stand Back.”Prince influences Nicks and in turn it seems Nicks influences Prince. Being asked to play on “Stand Back” seemed to give Prince the foundational ideas for one of my favorite Prince tunes: “I Would Die 4 U.” There’s an apparent aural geneology to these two songs: “Stand Back” and “I Would Die 4 U” have similar tempos and utilize the same kind of pulsating staccato synth bass bed.
Prince wrote several pop rock anthems: “1999”, “Purple Rain”, “I Would Die 4 U”, “When Doves Cry”, and “Let’s Go Crazy” to name a few. I remember first becoming aware of Prince with the single “Little Red Corvette.” After Purple Rain, I went on to buy all his earlier work and then every now and them, I’d pick up his later post 80’s material.
The albums 1999 and Purple Rain are still my favorites because I really liked the musical chemistry of Prince and the Revolution as well as the mix of male/female vocal trading and harmonizing. The Revolution was for Prince his “original Kiss lineup” to my ears. Another irony here being Prince wrote a song called “Kiss.” With bands, there’s a certain unique chemistry every now and then that can’t be duplicated even if the band goes on without earlier members for any number of reasons in the Rock and Roll playbook.
In 1984, “Let’s Go Crazy” became a number 1 hit. If only George Orwell lived to see that. Big Brother in a Jheri curl*? Dressed in a purple trench coat wielding a white guitar? Prince’s Purple Rain soundtrack and the movie became joined at the hip with the 1980’s. The eulogy intro narration to “Let’s Go Crazy” is one of those 80’s pop culture moments along with the intro to Twisted Sister’s music video “We’re Not Gonna Take It” that nearly every child of the 80’s has grooved into their neurons. “1999” was a playful dig by Prince at Big Brother and his nuclear arsenal during the Cold War 80’s with the lyrical mention:
Yeah, everybody’s got a bomb,
We could all die any day
But before I’ll let that happen, I’ll dance my life away
This was misheard by some at the time to be a reference to President Ronald Reagan (Yeah, Ronnie’s got a bomb, we could all die anyday…)
*Invented by a white guy from Illinois—go figure
For a guy who rode a motorcycle, Prince was never the “biker type rocker.” Then again those types of bands wouldn’t dare to write a song like “When Doves Cry”, “Purple Rain”, “Raspberry Beret”, or “Kiss.” I mean can you imagine Mötley Crüe pulling that off?
Prince was more multifaceted as an artist which gave him broad appeal over successive generations and crossed lines of gender and race with his fan base. This is hard do do especially now as the recording industry tries to segregate fan bases to maximize profit. Michael Jackson, Madonna, Sade, Gloria Estefan are other contemporaries of Prince that crossed these “Pop Picket Lines.” Prince’s music also escaped the vinyl witch hunt of rock radio station record burnings and steamroller rodeo rides over popular Disco hits. He was rock enough for the rockers—one of his fans being, oh some guy named Eric Clapton.
Enjoy The Talents Of Others And Let It Inspire Your Own
Prince was an incredibly creative and multi–talented musician. I know many critics and fans will use the word Genius when referring to him and his prolific body of work. It’s a deserved compliment and helps celebrate how his music touched millions of people around the world. However I take a different perspective on the nature of Genius as I believe the current way it’s used and how who’s labeled as such or not separates people from participating in art and their own creativity.
The Genius label encourages the “Why should I bother, when THOSE people are Geniuses and I can only play “Lean On Me” on piano or “Pretty Woman” on guitar mentality.” If we all felt that way as we did when we were young looking up to our heroes and inspirations, no one would try to write music on their own—even Prince.
We all should participate in art and creativity. It’s just fun and a form of play which becomes in shorter and shorter supply when many people become adults. Every child innately enjoys art and music and participates in these then they get to a certain age and internalize the cultural message that they are wasting their time because they aren’t Geniuses or they aren’t that talented.
By all means be inspired by artists like Prince and whoever came before you that inspired you down the road of creativity so you can take your own tuning forks to deeper self expression. But don’t get stuck behind the starting gate just because certain people are better or more successful than you. No one comes out of the womb a concert pianist. Every future “Genius” can’t even play “Three Blind Mice” during that early stage of life.
What often gets lost in praise, compliments and fan worship is the nature of art and creativity itself—which even Prince would have probably said the following of his body of work. That Genius, like gender identity and sexuality is along a spectrum, not a black or white, either or static state. Stated another way, a Genius will not always produce works of Genius every single time and an artist of average talent can produce works of Genius at times.
The more important thing as an artist or anyone producing works of creativity is to keep producing and don’t censor or judge. Your favorite pieces may very well differ from the works your audience loves and considers “your best stuff” or “your works of Genius” but it’s all part of you and you don’t want to play favorites—even your own.
In another example from baseball, for decades Babe Ruth held the record of 714 career home runs. His nickname was “The Sultan Of Swat” not to be confused with Dire Straits“Sultans Of Swing.” What people fail to often see with such talent and ability is that Babe Ruth struck out quite a large number of times in his career as well (1,330 times in fact as has EVERY other Hall of Famer). He could have just as easily earned the derogatory nickname “The Sultan Of Flyswat” or “The Sultan of Sloth” if he wasn’t getting his “hits” on the other side of the ledger.
The important thing was Babe Ruth kept stepping up to the plate, kept having another opportunity at bat. Similarly, Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler has stated he is not the most skilled guitar player on the technical level yet he still wrote “Sultans Of Swing” which is an amazing guitar composition by any standard. And music schools crank out dozens of dazzling technicians every year yet how many have actually written a piece with the depth of “Sultans Of Swing” or “Purple Rain?”
The Prince Prophecy
Prince dying in an elevator is one of those coincidences we can embellish into pop culture lore and legend. Songwriter John Denver died in a glider accident and one of his well known songs was called “Leaving On A Jet Plane.” If Denver’s tune was titled “Leaving On A Glider”, I’d weigh that more in the neighborhood of authentic foreknowledge.
Another coincidence here is John Denver was one of the people who testified against the PMRC (Parent’s Music Resource Center) along with Frank Zappa and Dee Snyder of Twisted Sister after one of Prince’s songs on Purple Rain, “Darling Nikki” sent Tipper Gore into a tizzy over it’s masturbation reference.
Such ironies of life will happen on occasion as statistics and probability can demonstrate. Case in point, say I wrote a novel about a female pilot and named her Amelia Earhart. You’d think the characters name was made up for the fiction novel because it alludes literarily that Amelia has her heart in the air—hence the two words “air heart” combined in her last name and more poetically spelled as Earhart.
But such “novel names” and situations like our “Let’s Go Crazy Code” here actually do happen in real life some of the time. So have we negated the “Prince Prophecy theory” and de–romanticized the departure of a pop legend? We’re just chasing white doves formulating such theories—dig if you will that picture.
The body of work is what matters and the body of work is what’s still here. We have to look deeper and ask the internal question: What did the creative works of Prince mean to you? For starters, it didn’t make anyone’s life WORSE in the final analysis. It even had a happy ending for Darling Nikki.
The Aural Autopsy on the artist we knew as Prince is clear though. Prince is one of the best selling artists of all time with over 100 million records sold. Prince released 39 studio albums, racked up 7 Grammys, an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. He was a shoe–in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the first year he was eligible in 2004. He walked down the Red Carpet but also made his own Purple Carpet as well—and luckily didn’t slip on any purple bananas while dancing on it.
Still, none of these awards, accolades and sales figures means as much as the fun and joy of making music. And Prince loved making music. It was about making music long before the money and about making music even after he had plenty of it. And that’s what I really admire about him.
There’s works of his I absolutely love, there’s works I think are cool and okay, there’s works I think aren’t his best. But Prince was never alive to write to specifically please me nor or any of his audience. He had the right to be an artist, to explore his creativity and he truly exercised that right—just look at his creative output.
It’s easy to slack off on the Fame Train after even one or two successful albums. As an artist, I experience and understand creativity this way because I write to enjoy doing so myself BECAUSE making art and being creative is it’s own reward. Whoever resonates with a creative work besides the originator is secondary and an added bonus to the joy of creation. And the more work you produce, those odds on connecting and resonating with an audience go up exponentially.
For myself, I have Prince tunes in iPod mixes for all moods and occasions. I’ve grooved out his classic tunes at friend’s dance parties into the early morning hours numerous times. Writing music is a celebration of life and listening and dancing to music is celebrating life as well. We can all always party like it’s 1999 on the dance floor and revisit our own sacred time outside the confines of the calendar. Why? Because the Messiah of the Minnesota Music scene said so. Stick that white dove feather in your Raspberry Beret.
Indeed, the Pale Blue Dot did turn a bit Purple with his time on the planet.
So goodbye Prince, and thank you for adding to the soundtrack of my life.
What follows is a grocery list of things I’ve learned from life and various approaches to living exploring Creativity & Spirituality—being an artist, student of meditation, regular fasting & yoga, internal yearning towards higher consciousness and becoming a more creative being for positive transformation. These are general principles and observations I try to live by and navigate the wilderness of Maya with. Some are Confucius sounding hence the jest with the title if the long bearded Chinese sage wanted to narcissistically self–aggrandize himself.
Here’s the fourth batch of Zen Brownies—Tasty, mouth–watering morsels to reduce consumption of bad karma and sweeten the recipe of your life:
1. Resonance is a better matchmaker than trial and error social norms like dating. Become a radio tower and listeners will tune into you.
2. A hundred people will do or not do the same thing or say or not say the same thing. Be interested in the person who differs. Find those who can swim upstream. They’re worth knowing.
3. There’s no shortage of learned ignoramuses blowing the expert trumpet on the planet.
4. At times people will do things you won’t think was the best decision. Accept that’s how people are and realize they made the decision based on where they are on their fear scale and level of consciousness.
5. When your feet get too big for the human experience, there’s still art and meditation.
6. The pictures, patterns, and scripts people go after in life are not a substitute for genuine substance and authentic deep connections. People overhype the former when they don’t have the latter. Something truly deep and meaningful won’t need or look like the former.
7. If you are a piece of the Creator at the deepest level, how are you half of anything?
8. Intellect is often an agent of the ego that fails to comprehend and recognize forms of consciousness greater than itself.
9. What people think life is really about depends on their level of consciousness.
10. Court the Flame, the Life Force itself and you just may receive the kiss of wisdom.
This is the inaugural installment of a segment where we’ll highlight songs that “Coulda been a contender.” Don’t feel sad there Marlon Brando, you WERE a contender having been mentioned in David Bowie’s“China Girl.” These are songs we refer to as “Closet Singles” and aim to sing their praises and give them a coming out party almost as good as Diana Ross could.
What usually happens with a musical duo is one becomes the lead vocalist in the eyes of the public, or as in this case, Private Eyes—Simon & Garfunkel, Loggins & Messina, Hall & Oates.
This holds true even if the other part of said duo CAN and does sing. Even so if the duo records albums with each trading lead vocals on various tracks like Hall & Oates regularly did on their albums.
Why does this happen? Well, with hit singles, record company marketing and desire for ROI (Return On Investment) heavily influence this.
Once a song becomes a major hit, that’s the lead singer—that’s the map, the formula: repeat the previous success in the future for their bottom line as well as for listeners wanting to hear the next song by whatever act with that same lead vocalist.
Strangely, Hall & Oates first well known single, “She’s Gone” off their 1973 album Abandoned Luncheonette was with John Oates on lead vocals and Daryl Hall secondary.
Technically, it’s actually a dual lead vocal line in the verses—Daryl doubles John with a falsetto but since it’s high and thin aurally, John’s deeper voice takes precedence in the auditory foreground then they trade for a “call and response” chorus.
A few years later however, after “Sara Smile” and “Rich Girl”, their first number one single, it was pretty much all singles with Daryl Hall on lead vocals and John Oates as backing vocalist.
Record companies use the same formulas of established success within bands as well as in the industry as a whole—think boy bands and rest assured, there’ll be new ones for every generation. They might even outlive cockroaches & Keith Richards.
They also follow this template with previously successful artists—they re–market, repackage, resell “them”, that style to new generations. An example of this is Lady Gaga.
When I first listened to her Born This Way album, a woman I worked with asked me what I thought of it. My first reaction was “They’re Madonna songs sung by someone else.” I could totally see why Lady gaga was being backed by and was a priority artist on a record company’s roster.
You can see and hear how they follow previously successful formulas and sign artists that fit this sound/style and/or groom their talent pool more in that direction because they do not want to take chances. Taking chances is a business risk and they want a sure predictable return on their investment.
So it is with the first hit single—for Daryl Hall & John Oates it was “Sara Smile” with Daryl Hall at the helm. It seems “She’s Gone” just wasn’t a big enough single to perk their ROI radar. If it had, they’d have been looking for the next single with John Oates on lead vocals, and that’s where this installment of Closet Singles comes to the much belated rescue.
That song is “You’ll Never Learn” which is also off the same album as their first #1 single “Rich Girl”—their 1976 release Bigger Than Both Of Us. If you love Hall & Oates like I do, you’ll love this song. It’s another great example of John Oates the vocalist, how there was another “She’s Gone” in the batting cage, waiting to get another chance at bat to become a hit.
“You’ll Never Learn” showcases John Oates’ range and intensity alongside solid lyrics and orchestration. His vocals on this capture that sublime sense of awe—his nuance and tasteful use of falsetto makes this melody soulfully soar:
“You’ll Never Learn” is a flat out great Hall & Oates song that never met the airwaves—it’s a great song for ANYONE that few people know about.
Now picture a Parallel Pop Song Universe. Imagine if John Oates was a solo artist and released “You’ll Never Learn.” If you have hairspray induced amnesia or if I used The Force and made you forget Hall & Oates, what would your impression of this song in that context be?
I can say if this was a song I heard on the radio or saw on MTV, Solid Gold, The Midnight Special, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, etc., back then, I definitely would have bought the hypothetical John Oates album She’s Gone And You’ll Never Learn it was off of.
Which brings us to another point—The dynamics of a duo are different: Batman is more likely to have a successful solo career than Robin.
Think about bands that have/have had one or more lead vocalist:
Chicago The Eagles Kiss Fleetwood Mac Journey Toto
These are just some well known ones that come to mind. Notice how it’s more permissible and acceptable to vary vocalists with the industry and audience AS A BAND than if you are known and billed as a duo?
In the case of Fleetwood Mac, it’s not only 2 different female vocalists, but also a dude in the mix: Lindsey Buckingham. They had songs chart with each different vocalist including songs with split vocals like the anthem “Don’t Stop” off their Grammy Award winning Rumours album.
Following this strategy and seeming recording industry/audience loophole, say for instance the songwriting duo Hall & Oates called themselves by a band name instead. I mean Steely Dan was mainly 2 guys and could have went by the duo name Becker & Fagen.
Lets work some revisionist history magic and say Hall & Oates called themselves by what they coined their own style of songwriting & music: Rock N Soul. Since they were from the Philadelphia area, let’s add that to the mix as well. So they are now known as “Philly Rock & Soul” after Marty makes it back in Doc’s DeLorean or PRS for short.
This is assuming Paul Reed Smith guitars (PRS) doesn’t have a problem with that. What then? Well now the duo bias and audience ADD is removed and PRS can have hit singles with more than one vocalist doing leads. Furthermore they can each have successful solo careers afterwards like Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Peter Cetera, Ace Frehley, etc.
…And they can all live happily ever after with Rich Girls.
So if Batman & Robin should happen to read this, they should call their band the “Caped Crusaders” instead of “Batman & Robin” ensuring both may have successful solo careers sans capes, masks & spandex later on in the Gotham City music scene.
Perhaps they could even do a cover of Steve Miller’s “The Joker.”