This was a great week of music...by two artists whom I had all but written off before this project. Once again, I'll cite a lack of proper exposure.
76: Prince -- Purple Rain (1984)
I decided to watch the film that was released alongside this album before listening to it for the first time. The film shows a very young Prince at the height of his manifold skills. It's a bit of a strange portrayal of the 80's, set in Minneapolis, where Prince and Morris Day (of The Time) come off as huge misogynists. But aside from that, and some pretty terrible acting (especially from Apollonia Kotero), I was sold on the performances and the overall complexity of the film (specifically his [fictional??] relationship with his parents). I can only imagine how racy this film was for its time.
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The album starts off with Let's Go Crazy--a song I've heard many times, but never really listened to the lyrics. Upon deeper listening, I love this song--even if I don't have a clue what "look for the purple banana" means.
Take Me With U is ruined by Apollonia's voice, especially the last few vamps on the chorus. The first time I heard The Beautiful Ones I thought it was over the top...but I found myself singing it in the shower. It is now a favorite track, in spite of its excesses. The height of Prince's emoting at the end "I want you" is so powerful. That moment, "DO YOU WANT HIM? OR DO YOU WANT ME? 'CAUSE I WANT YOU!!" Woah.
Darling Nikki sounds like it could be a Stevie Wonder--that is until the lyrics kick in. Then, it is clear, that it could only be Prince. Then, after a cool backwards vocal harmony section and rain shower, comes the one-two-punch of When Doves Cry and I Would Die 4 U. The drum programming in When Doves Cry is so masterful and untouchable.
The 44 minute album ends with an extended track you may have heard of Purple Rain.
After watching the film and listening to this album, I can see why people are such fervent Prince fans. The man just drips with sex appeal and musical genius. I actually still prefer "Sign O The Times" because of its artistic range--but can see why this album, perhaps because it is more focused and has more hits, is considered a higher achievement.
75: James Brown -- Star Time (1991)
I have memories of smoke-filled dorm rooms where James Brown records were admired and on constant rotation. I never really got it.
Funky? Oh, hell yes.
But that was as far as it went for me.
So, when I discovered that I would "have to" listen to almost 15 hours of James Brown this week, I wasn't thrilled.
But then I started to listen.
[Full Disclosure: I did not listen to this 4 hour and 53 minute album three times. I didn't even get through one focused listen. But I did listen to it through twice, and heard enough to weigh in, a little.]
When I first heard Try Me, I was intrigued. I never looked past Mr. Brown's screaming and incredible stage presence to realize that he was a great singer too. I love the sax and jazz guitar parts that begin I Know It's True.
I watched this documentary to learn more about James Brown. It's amazing to see where he came from, the heights the he climbed to by sheer force of will and determinism and talent, and how far he fell again thereafter. I found it especially intriguing to learn that he would motion to his players and background singers during the show, notifying them during the set when they messed up and now owed him a monetary fine. That's crazy. But I respect ya.
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I love the interplay with the background singers during I Don't Mind. Before long, you're dropped into three of Brown's most famous songs, two versions each of It's A Man's World (or It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World), I Got You (I Feel Good) (or the version with The Famous Flames), and Papa's Got A Brand New Bag (or the shorter, Part 1 version).
It's no wonder why James Brown's (well, Clyde Stubblefield's) drum beats were so heavily sampled. Check out I Got The Feelin' or Say It Loud - I'm Black And I'm Proud (Part 1), and of course Funky Drummer (especially around 5:37, see how many hip-hop songs borrowed this beat here).
There is no way to really digest an album (or archive, really) of this magnitude in one week's time. I guess I now know of a well that I can return to when I want to know how to Make It Funky.
The dorm room is tiny in the rear-view, and the smoke has cleared (mostly), but I finally get the appeal.
I did not expect to enjoy both of these albums as much as I did. With Sign O The Times, and now Purple Rain, I may be late to the party, but I'm here.
And I have all kinds of new respect for James Brown. I fully expect to dig deeper into Star Time when I have a bit more time (of any kind) myself.
74: Neil Young -- After The Gold Rush (1970) 73: Led Zeppelin -- Physical Graffiti (1975)