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Prince's "The Black Album"
June 2, 2011 1:17 PM   Subscribe

The Black Album is a Prince record that was originally planned for release in December 1987, as the follow-up to Sign o' the Times. ... The 1987 promo-only release had no printed title, artist name, production credits or photography printed; a simple black sleeve accompanied the disc. ... The album was canceled mere days before its scheduled release, after hundreds of thousands of copies were pressed. A few escaped destruction, and rank among the most coveted Prince collectibles. In addition, the Black Album became the most bootlegged record of all time.

The story of The Black Album being pulled from release is what is usually remembered the most, but the music is fascinating too. Some see it as the most negative thing Prince ever did, with songs like "Bob George", where he lowered the pitch of his voice to a monstrous growl and threatened to kill a woman, "Superfunkycalifragisexy", a funk workout about S&M somehow involving a drink made from squirrel meat, or "Cindy C.", an ode to the model Cindy Crawford in which Prince tries to get her naked. Others think it's the wildest and most daring thing he ever did, managing to remain funky as hell and intensely shocking at the same time. Some see it as terribly dated, with "Dead On It", an anti-rapper scribe, as a sign of Prince's disconnectedness from reality. I just think it's a product of the time and place Prince was in his life, although I also think it's the last consistently good album he ever recorded. The Black Album is strange, funky, catchy and unforgettable. The unforgettable part is important because even if you don't like it you won't forget about it. It's essential Prince and one of the few albums of it's kind, something unafraid to be dark and nasty. It would have shocked many people if it had come out as originally planned, and it would probably be widely acknowledged as dated now, but there is no denying that Prince was in prime form. - The Unheard Music
posted by Trurl (70 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hi, I represent the estate of Prince. He'd like this thread removed, along with any references to it anywhere on the internet. Hope this is OK.
posted by chaff at 1:21 PM on June 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


"what's wrong with being sexy?"
posted by marienbad at 1:22 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's no Smell the Glove.
posted by swift at 1:23 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wait..these are rare? I have one, which I bought at Schoolkids Records in Ann Arbor. I didn't think they were rare. Too bad one of my cats scratched up the spine.
posted by spicynuts at 1:26 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tools upon tools. Its tools all the way down.
posted by sfts2 at 1:27 PM on June 2, 2011


I've never even heard of this, but my name is 2bucksplus and I am not that funky.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:27 PM on June 2, 2011


Don't forget about The Dawn. It's legendary, and it's possibly been reconstructed. One of the best Prince albums never released. If he'd put this out, he would have ruled the 1990s.

Truly one of the gems of my music library. Although at 3 70-minute CDs long... it's a bit difficult to fully comprehend.
posted by hippybear at 1:29 PM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


As black albums go, I like it better than Metallica but not as well as Jay-Z.
posted by box at 1:31 PM on June 2, 2011


It's an interesting testament to the awesomeness of The Beatles that so many artists release a "black album" but that few, if any, have the audacity to release a "white album."
posted by The World Famous at 1:35 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


In 1988 I was living in London and friends of mine from the states were overjoyed to find cassettes of the Black Album for sale in Camden Town, for a snip.

On the street it sounded vaguely like Prince.

At home, it was very clearly some dickwad caterwauling over his own synthesizer noodling.

Not Prince at all.
posted by chavenet at 1:35 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm amused that there's actually an Unreleased Prince projects Wikipedia page. It makes the Chinese Democracy saga pale in comparison.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:35 PM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


posted by spicynuts I have one, which I bought at Schoolkids Records in Ann Arbor.

Well, yeah. It's the kind you find in a secondhand store.
posted by mattdidthat at 1:36 PM on June 2, 2011 [26 favorites]


Don't forget about The Dawn. It's legendary, and it's possibly been reconstructed. One of the best Prince albums never released.

It's the Sistine Chapel of fan bootlegs, for sure. And it makes a stronger case for Prince's 90s work than anything he ever put together.

But I think the compiler acknowledges that it's as much his vision as it is Prince's - whose thoughts on the matter will remain obscure. And I would pick Camille as the Great Lost Album.
posted by Trurl at 1:39 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


At home, it was very clearly some dickwad caterwauling over his own synthesizer noodling.

An old roommate of mine had dozens of bootleg live REM CDs he bought in Thailand. Many of them were actual bootlegs.

Some of them were recordings of non-English-speakers singing really atrocious REM karaoke.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:41 PM on June 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Grooveshark's got it.

All hail Lester Bangs' Basement.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:41 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


My father used to bring me home bootleg cassettes from Saudi. The best part was the phonetically transcribed lyric sheets that came with them.
posted by maxwelton at 1:45 PM on June 2, 2011


To be completely honest, it was officially released, but for a limited run starting in November 1994, and then it was deleted from Warner's catalog in January of 1995. .
posted by filthy light thief at 1:45 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would pick Camille as the Great Lost Album.

Apparently not entirely lost.
posted by hippybear at 1:46 PM on June 2, 2011


Afroblanco: Grooveshark's got it.

All hail Lester Bangs' Basement.


It's also linked on The Unheard Music blog, but I won't tell if you don't.

posted by filthy light thief at 1:46 PM on June 2, 2011


spicynuts, the actual album itself isn't rare; It was officially released in 1994 as part of Prince's extrication from his Warner Brothers contract. However, the original releases of the album (from 1988) have a different catalog number and are exceedingly rare.

Beyond the unreleased Prince projects wikipedia page, PrinceVault is doing the most comprehensive modern cataloguing of Prince's work, based on the seminal efforts of Per Nilsen and the Uptown Magazine staff over the past two decades.

This is especially challenging work because (as this thread shows), Prince's works tend to acquire a mythology, particularly so during the 80s and 90s when there was seemingly no claim too outrageous to be true about the guy. Also because people put a lot of effort into building up plausible, but false, claims. For example: The Dawn was certainly a shelved album, but never a 3-disc configuration as has been released on bootleg. Indeed, much of the material on that fake 3-disc album has been officially released in various formats and was just gathered under that title for grey market marketing purposes.

But, back to the topic of the thread itself, the Black Album has certainly benefitted from its near-mythological release-and-withdrawal saga, even though its official release followed only a little more than half a decade later. There are great songs on the album, but it's uneven overall due to having been hastily assembled for the purpose of being the soundtrack to Sheila E's birthday party that year.

The reason it stands up as well as it does is because Prince was working with perhaps his best-ever live band, incorporating their live-in-the-studio recordings alongside production skills that were just passing from their Sign O The Times peak into their Lovesexy overproduction phase. The sonic density, complexity and layering of instrumentation that the Black Album demonstrated weren't equalled on any Prince albums except Lovesexy, though he's of course tried to retread that style many times in the years since.

The Black Album mostly moves me because it features the pinnacle of the Camille tracks, because it served for so many years as the secret handshake among fans (see PM Dawn's sampling of "Cindy C" on their first album), and because there are easter eggs galore for fans to discover over time. Try comparing the backing track and chord changes on Bob George to U Got The Look sometime.
posted by anildash at 1:48 PM on June 2, 2011 [9 favorites]


Or, if you're up for a 15GB torrent, you can get "Work It 2.0" - 38 CDs worth of songs liberated from the famous vault.
posted by Trurl at 1:49 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or, if you're up for a 15GB torrent, you can get "Work It 2.0" - 38 CDs worth of songs liberated from the famous vault.

jezusfukinchrist. I'm a Prince fan and all, but I don't know if I have the ambition or the stamina to even begin to approach something like that.
posted by hippybear at 1:51 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


What, nobody liked the Batman soundtrack?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:55 PM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


My favorite Prince bootleg is still the very high quality sound board recording usually called "Small Club", a recording of an aftershow concert in Hamburg played in a club in front of a just a few hundred people during the Lovesexy tour in the late 80s. It's absolutely brilliant and includes a version of the Temptation's "Just My Imagination" which features what I believe to be one of the best guitar solos ever recorded anywhere.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 1:55 PM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh man, the "Work It" collections have soooooo much awesome hard to find Time & Madhouse stuff.

Also: BOB GEORGE. Wow.
posted by mintcake! at 1:56 PM on June 2, 2011


What, nobody liked the Batman soundtrack?!

Actually, I love the Batman album. Why, did someone in this thread say something disparaging about it?
posted by hippybear at 1:57 PM on June 2, 2011


What, nobody liked the Batman soundtrack?!

I have to step back from my own production ideas and ask myself "Is this getting too Batdance?" occassionally. The Batman soundtrack is a huge touchstone for me.
posted by mintcake! at 1:58 PM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


*Loved* the Batman soundtrack.
posted by Duug at 2:00 PM on June 2, 2011


I'm a Prince fan and all, but I don't know if I have the ambition or the stamina to even begin to approach something like that.

The best place to start would be the work versions of the officially released stuff.

1) There's an early version of "Soft and Wet" that has an odd gloomy charm.

2) The short acoustic blues demo of "Kiss" that Mazarati and David Z. buffed up into the #1 hit.

3) The extended versions of "Computer Blue" - which feature some of his best guitar work in addition to some odd psychodrama.

Among the never released stuff, the pinnacle is the heavily Wendy-and-Lisa-ed "All My Dreams".
posted by Trurl at 2:03 PM on June 2, 2011


I call bullshit. Everyone knows you can't bootleg without computers and MP3s.

All we had in those days were DAT recorders and tape and shoe leather. No way that would've worked.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:07 PM on June 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


occassionally

Prince taught me how 2 spell.
posted by mintcake! at 2:08 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed Prince's music but never knew much about him. Then, I ran into him leaving the Gay 90's in Minneapolis in, like, late 1992 or early 1993... He had on a teeny-weeny little purple velvet tuxedo and a lavender shirt and white platform shoes and was flanked by two mostly-naked girls wearing stands of rhinestones - and nothing else - looking for all the world like something from the Bob Mackie for Cher collection.

I was never able to listen to his recordings again without laughing, and laughing, and laughing...

I still like "Little Red Corvette" though.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 2:08 PM on June 2, 2011


Is this where I vote for half of the tracks on Parade?

It would have shocked many people if it had come out as originally planned, and it would probably be widely acknowledged as dated now, but there is no denying that Prince was in prime form.

Isn't that true of most of his music? Before he converted, that is.
posted by blucevalo at 2:09 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


He had on a teeny-weeny little purple velvet tuxedo and a lavender shirt and white platform shoes and was flanked by two mostly-naked girls wearing stands of rhinestones - and nothing else - looking for all the world like something from the Bob Mackie for Cher collection.

Nothing about that doesn't sound awesome.
posted by mintcake! at 2:14 PM on June 2, 2011 [14 favorites]


He had on a teeny-weeny little purple velvet tuxedo

Yeah, Prince is pretty much pocket-sized. Except for his talent, which is huge, and his ego, which is big enough to fill the Spruce Goose hanger.
posted by hippybear at 2:14 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have to step back from my own production ideas and ask myself "Is this getting too Batdance?"

That reminds me. I need to step back from everything in my life and ask myself "Is this Batdance enough?"
posted by The World Famous at 2:16 PM on June 2, 2011 [12 favorites]


Oh, for those innocent days when Prince was known as the black Michael Jackson and both were presumed sane.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:32 PM on June 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Nothing about that doesn't sound awesome.

Yeah, but you have to do the whole mental picture with Prince the size of your average Cabbage Patch doll... And the little strutting walk, trying not to fall of his shoes... See?! I'm laughing NOW!
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 2:44 PM on June 2, 2011


Holy crap this thread is awesome.
posted by eyeballkid at 2:50 PM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wow, I just don't have time, don't y'all understand I don't have time for this? Last month I came to the startling realization that even though I claim Prince is my absolute favorite artist I haven't really heard much of his music at all. This is because there is so much of it. And I determined that I was going to rectify the blasphemy and listen, listen, listen to all that stuff. It's been weeks and weeks and I have found a ton of new favorites but after this thread, man, it's just too much. Soon I will be Prince if this keeps up.
posted by Danila at 3:08 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have an original vinyl LP of the black album. When I bought it (in Berkeley, at the cellophane square, I think), the clerk acted like I was getting the last one, but I couldn't help but notice he pulled another "last one" off a stack of at least 20 of them as I was leaving. So either I got a bootleg, or experienced a part of the grey-market distribution chain. I should try to figure it out sometime.

I agree with Hairy Lobster, though, Small Club is a more enjoyable experience, and more timeless musically. I bought my copy of that at one of those ubiquitous "Live CD" bootleg shops in Italy.
posted by dylanjames at 3:35 PM on June 2, 2011


Since we're taking the opportunity to go all fanboy on Prince, I want to mention that he has been playing his "21 Night Stand" in LA over the past month at the old Forum in Inglewood. I'm a lifelong fan, and an avid concert-goer, but for some reason I never caught him live before this most recent tour. He is, without a doubt, the most virtuousic pop performer I have ever seen live, and I don't even know if there is a close second. That's not to say he's the best - there is a cold professionalism to the sets that I find emotionally distancing. And his religious self-censorship is annoying and totally inconsistent. But in terms of sheer skill, he is truly an incredible thing to behold, the only pop performer I've ever seen whose musicianship equals and often exceeds the best classical and jazz performers. He sings and plays guitar beautifully and with seemingly limitless flexibility and his band is so tight and responsive it's like they're reading his mind. He's also a fantastic dancer and looks like Tiny Dionysus.

I don't know if technology is going to allow for many more of these people to emerge, people like Fred Astaire or Jimi Hendrix, whose performances are supremely enjoyable while at the same time almost incomprehensible. Blood-and-sweat virtuosity will always be around, and three hours' worth of hits will always be around, but both from the same person? He might be the end of all that. Fortunately he seems immune to the effects of time.
posted by ivanosky at 3:46 PM on June 2, 2011 [10 favorites]


ivanosky: I last saw him on his Purple Rain tour. (Yes, I'm old.)

I know I need to see him again before he or I die. I'm just waiting for the right opportunity. I hope it's some time in this decade before either of us are too old to fully commit to the experience.
posted by hippybear at 3:51 PM on June 2, 2011


In addition, the Black Album became the most bootlegged record of all time.

Bootlegged more than Brian Wilson's SMiLE?
posted by tommasz at 3:56 PM on June 2, 2011


Bootlegged more than Brian Wilson's SMiLE?

Well, see.. SMiLE was abandoned incomplete. The Black Album was actually finished and pressed and ready to go. It's a lot easier to bootleg something which has been put to the printers than something which has never actually been completed.

Although apparently SMiLE is coming out this year, finally, so we'll see how all that turns out.
posted by hippybear at 4:01 PM on June 2, 2011


He had on a teeny-weeny little purple velvet tuxedo and a lavender shirt and white platform shoes and was flanked by two mostly-naked girls wearing stands of rhinestones - and nothing else

...and when he got home from the club, he had sex with them. Perhaps one at a time, perhaps both together. Perhaps both one at a time and then together over the period of a couple of days, pausing only to cook them pancakes to keep up their strength. Their strength mind you, not his. His strength does not wane. He's Prince.
posted by vibrotronica at 4:11 PM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


You forgot the part where he convinced them to legally change their names to stupid new ones like "Venutiana" and "Voluptua Electronicus."
posted by The World Famous at 4:15 PM on June 2, 2011


You forgot the part where he convinced them to legally change their names to stupid new ones like "Venutiana" and "Voluptua Electronicus."

Or even "vibrotronica"!!!

(I keed, I keed)
posted by hippybear at 4:18 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does anyone else remember Prince's Alphabet Street video? It was him singing with letters all around him, some of which spelled a message from Prince about the Black Album.
posted by 4ster at 5:15 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is 'most bootlegged record of all time' always going to be kind of an educated guess?
posted by box at 5:15 PM on June 2, 2011


Better link here.
posted by 4ster at 5:16 PM on June 2, 2011


"It's like, you ask yourself 'how much more black can it be?' and the answer is 'none: none more black'"
posted by Gilbert at 5:19 PM on June 2, 2011


If you... ahem... come across that blog that filthy light thief mentioned, they have an honestly named Ridiculously Deluxe Edition of Sign O' The Times. 2 of the 7(!) CDs in the set are outtakes. They include one of the many stages "We Can Funk" went through before ending up on Graffiti Bridge. (Which I happen to think is his most underrated record.)

This early version is significantly different - a darker and, dare I say, sexier groove than the final product. I much prefer it.
posted by Trurl at 6:37 PM on June 2, 2011


spicynuts, the actual album itself isn't rare; It was officially released in 1994 as part of Prince's extrication from his Warner Brothers contract. However, the original releases of the album (from 1988) have a different catalog number and are exceedingly rare.

Ok, home now and looking at the album. There is no major label copyright, marking or other branding on it. The only thing looking like a catalog number is NOIR-69A and NOIR-69B on the record itself, not on the jacket. There is a little pink insert listing addresses for Prince Fanzines in the UK and the US. Other than that, nothing. It looks like I was wrong about Schoolkids...it still has the price tag of 15.99 from Play It Again Records on it. I left Ann Arbor in '92 so I probably bought this my senior year between 91 and 92. So, who knows. It's in perfect condition though...I was wrong about the cats mauling the spine as well. Am I rich now?
posted by spicynuts at 6:47 PM on June 2, 2011


Am I rich now?

My second link should tell you.
posted by Trurl at 6:54 PM on June 2, 2011


To clarify, it should let you know if it's authentic.

As to what you might get for that, you could ask on the prince.org forum.
posted by Trurl at 7:11 PM on June 2, 2011


Purple Exegetics
posted by Trurl at 7:15 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yaaay! I love the Black Album
posted by jetsetsc at 8:14 PM on June 2, 2011


Aw come on, Danny Elfman did the Batman soundtrack. Prince just had a couple songs in the film. Right?
posted by fartknocker at 10:00 PM on June 2, 2011


Holy shit, "Bob George" is nearly identical in tone to aspects of The Butthole Surfers earlier "Moving to Florida" and their "American Woman" cover. It's like a weird, Princely combination of both. Even has the whole "police are outside" dialogue that's in American Woman. Guess Prince was a fan!
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 10:05 PM on June 2, 2011


Aw come on, Danny Elfman did the Batman soundtrack. Prince just had a couple songs in the film. Right?

Danny Elfman did the score. Prince did the soundtrack album.
posted by hippybear at 3:02 AM on June 3, 2011


"Gentlemen, let's broaden our minds! Lawrence!"

(oh, yeah)

All hail - the new king in town
Young and old, gather 'round (yeah)
Black and white, red and green (funky)
The funkiest man U've ever seen

Tell U what his name is
Partyman, partyman
Rock a party like nobody can
Rules and regulations - no place in his nation
Partyman, partyman
posted by bwg at 4:22 AM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Listened to it on Grooveshark; did nothing for me.

No wonder it got scrapped.
posted by bwg at 4:26 AM on June 3, 2011


jezusfukinchrist. I'm a Prince fan and all, but I don't know if I have the ambition or the stamina to even begin to approach something like that.

The annoying thing is, there's surprisingly little filler considering the size of the thing. You can safely skip CD 27 - sorry Mayte and Poet99 fans! - but there's something of value on all the rest. Going by the tracklisting and assuming the versions are ones I've heard before, anyway. I'm only five CDs in, and it's been a pleasure so far.

This early version is significantly different - a darker and, dare I say, sexier groove than the final product. I much prefer it.

If memory serves, that goes for quite a few tracks on Graffiti Bridge - when it came out I remember feeling short changed as I'd heard a lot of it before on the C90 cassettes I traded in the post with other Prince nerds (filesharing used to be such a lovely hassle!).
posted by jack_mo at 4:45 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apparently not entirely lost.

Yeah, everything but the studio version of Rebirth of the Flesh has been released officially at one time or another. It works brilliantly as an album.
posted by jack_mo at 5:26 AM on June 3, 2011


"Go, go, go with a smile!"
posted by blucevalo at 6:25 AM on June 3, 2011


Trurl: Or, if you're up for a 15GB torrent, you can get "Work It 2.0" - 38 CDs worth of songs liberated from the famous vault.

If you're wondering what fits into 38 CDs but can't visit torrent sites, someone on the Guitars101.com forums posted the tracklist in a series of forum posts.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:05 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


particularly so during the 80s and 90s when there was seemingly no claim too outrageous to be true about the guy.

...and then he served us pancakes.

Pancakes.
posted by ostranenie at 9:19 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I... cannot.... stop myself....

Metafilter: Is this getting too Batdance?
posted by FatherDagon at 10:47 AM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Now I have "La La La Hee Hee Hee" in my head. (My sister got part of TBA from a friend back in the day.)

I'd have to say that my favorite "official" album is For You. I liked it as a kid, and now that I actually know a little about analog synths, I like it even more. :)
posted by luckynerd at 10:59 AM on June 3, 2011


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