Funk | Gospel

Warner Bros. Records


musing on prince’s ‘piano & a microphone 1983’

September 23, 2018

It’s 1983 and Prince is sitting at home with a sound engineer, a piano, and his microphone. What followed was 35 minutes of Prince unleashed as a pianist and vocalist, teasing out emergent ideas that would one day become full-grown album features. The songs were originally recorded on a cassette tape and now the Prince estate has released them as Piano & a Microphone 1983, the first album to make it out of Prince’s expansive archive, the Vault.

Unfiltered creative energy seeps through the recording as the musician’s voice modulations and piano permutations of funk and gospel give the listener the distinct feeling of being in the room as Prince works away at the instrument. The informality of the recording is proof that it wasn’t meant for mass consumption owing to the experimental nature of each piece; the single-take vocals still manage to carry the right amount of feeling and texture even as he plays around with vocal styles, imbuing each song with a different persona.

The album is 9 songs that are an amalgamation of familiar Prince songs as well as unreleased recordings and musical sketches. “17 Days” opens up the album which also includes a brief excerpt from “Purple Rain”. Album tracks “Strange Relationship” and “International Lover” are accounted for alongside covers like Joni Mitchell’s “Case Of You” and Aretha’s gospel powerhouse “Mary Don’t You Weep” (which was featured on the BlacKkKlansman soundtrack). “Wednesday”, “Coffee & Cocaine” and “Why the Butterflies” make up the previously unreleased tracks.

The recording re-establishes Prince’s “boundless musicality” as described by the New York Times. “Nearly all of the lyrics are, in some way, about longing,” portrayed through lyrics like ” Iknow your head is under water, I doubt that you can hear me” in the song “17 Days”. The singer/songwriter weaved through genre effortlessly in his production yet his ability to communicate the ennui of the forlorn 20 different ways through his lyrics is a skill highlighted by his musical musings throughout the album.

Thanks to the Prince estate, we get to enjoy the raw talent of a legend in a way that transports us to the day this album was recorded, a year before the release of “Purple Rain” and the birth of the legend status that would follow Prince to the end and beyond. The icon’s genius is solidified so to be graced with an intimate look into that process and passion is the gift that Prince keeps giving.

Piano & a Microphone 1983 is out everywhere.