Talking about Prince on a blog devoted to back catalogue music usually results in three considerations: 1) Prince really should allow remasters/reissues of his astounding discography, 2) Prince won’t ever allow remasters/reissues of said discography and 3) why the heck not?
As many of his fellow contemporaries (Madonna, Michael Jackson, Rick James, etc.) and other luminaries (The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, even The Beatles) have enjoyed remastering and rediscovery on compact disc, Prince has not. Even more disturbing is that he may never – and worse yet, no one quire understands why.
Some artists have their reasons for being reluctant to mine their own back catalogue: they don’t want to revisit that particular time in their lives, they feel the work hasn’t held up over time, they have a particular enmity with the label that controls said recordings and so on. Prince seems to suffer from all of those afflictions at one time or another. He consistently discusses looking forward instead of back and his decade-old conversion to the Jehovah’s Witness faith has curtailed his tolerance of those somewhat raunchy early LPs. Then there’s his ongoing hatred of Warner Bros., which at its apex drove him to unpronounceable madness.
Does Prince have the wrong idea about reissues? Is he waiting for something? How would such reissues even work? Let’s speculate after the jump.Of course Prince is wrong. On so many levels. That whole “I-look-forward-not-back” routine is embarrassing in the hands of any artist. If you really refuse to look back, you’ll never play your old songs. Particularly not during a Super Bowl halftime show. And especially not in the same set where you play soul and R&B songs that are older than your career. Seeing as how Prince has done all three of those things, the argument loses its merit.
The LOtUSFLOW3R disaster didn’t help either. For the promotion of his last release, a Target-exclusive multi-disc set, Prince jumped back into the Internet with a new Web site promising content unlike any other in his career. As one of the Web’s earliest adopters – he was selling CDs on his sites in the late 1990s and started offering downloads well through the first half of the next decade – this was a tough act to follow, particularly since his NPG Music Club was shuttered without warning a few years back.
Fans were understandably expecting something big. Not long before, he was systematically scrubbing himself off the Internet and threatening to sue whoever didn’t comply. So fans lined up to join the Web site (and pay a $77 subscription fee) and got…a digital download of the album and a few bootleg quality clips (most famously, a Japanese-subtitled dub of the Warner-era Sacrifice of Victor concert). And a t-shirt (well, the ones that actually ended up on fans’ doorsteps). Then, almost a year later, the Web site shuttered, but that didn’t stop some fans’ credit cards from automatically resubscribing.
Basically, if this is how Prince is going to look forward, then someone wake me when it’s 1986.
So let’s assume that Prince knows that reissues should happen while anyone still buys CDs. What is he waiting for? It’s highly unlikely that he’ll wait to buy or receive his master recordings. (He probably won’t get them if Warner Bros. wrote out Prince’s contract like one might expect them to, placing recordings on a work-for-hire basis; refer here for a more thorough explanation.) Even if he did, he’d probably overdub over them and scrub all those dirty words out of the tracks. The only way anyone can seem to answer this question, then, is “who the hell knows?” And that’s sad. Prince was a game-changer extraordinaire as far as rock music is concerned, and for him to forbid his old label from celebrating that legacy past a few compilations is rather unfortunate.
But let’s say at some point Prince has a change of heart. Will Rhino (Warner’s catalogue label) have a good plan to satisfy literally years of pent-up demand? One could imagine they have a planned track list, liner notes author and mastering engineer ready to go at a moment’s notice, but who knows? And how would they tackle such a project?
Me personally, I actually would keep the initial stages of a Prince catalogue project to reissued albums bolstered with only previously-released content (B-sides, remixes, etc.). The many, many outtakes of Prince, or unreleased live concerts, would work great on a box set instead, where the listener wouldn’t be forced to consider the lesser-heard material against the classic, previously-released stuff.
Of course, this is just crazy speculation on my part. But I’m sure The Second Disc will be able to provide the best reportage on any upcoming Prince reissues, should they happen in the next 50 years. What would you want to see from Rhino regarding Prince reissues? Do sound off below.