Today’s the day! I have been eagerly anticipating this release since it was announced back in June. You might ask, “So is this that new unreleased Prince album I keep hearing about?” Well, yes and no. This is indeed a physical release presented on a CD and an LP, but it’s not really an “album,” in that this is not a series of professionally recorded studio songs sequenced together with the idea of them being released to the public for sale. This 35-minute recording from 1983 is quite simply Prince messing around playing his piano and singing in what was his home at the time, his house on Kiowa Trail in Chanhassen, Minnesota. The source of the recording was a TDK C60 audio cassette that was found in Prince’s vault after his passing. The tape features Prince playing and singing for no other reason than for the love of playing and theoretically to capture some musical ideas onto tape for future reference. The Revolution member Lisa Coleman says in the liner notes, “This is definitely a work piece. It’s Prince exploring ideas, having some fun, and opening himself up to whatever might happen.”
The TDK C60 cassette is a consumer-grade blank tape that anyone could have bought in a retail store at the time, as opposed to a studio-grade reel-to-reel tape that musicians would record on when planning to professionally release a studio album. The fact that Prince recorded this private home performance on a simple consumer-grade cassette is evidence enough that he never had plans to release it to the public. However, it is very fortunate for his fans that this recording is still intact. It gives us a fascinating insight into what it might have been like to be sitting in the same room as Prince (as vocalist Jill Jones did according to her comments in the liner notes) and listen to him in his most relaxed, unguarded moments, when the sheer brilliance of his musicianship truly shined. We’re all aware of what a fantastic musician Prince was whether he was playing guitar, piano, bass, or countless other instruments, but it is in these rare intimate moments, when Prince is just messing around, that we truly realize what a masterful musician he was. For aspiring musicians, it’s scary to think that someone could be this good — never hitting a wrong note — when just messing around. That was part of Prince’s genius.
It was inevitable that I would use the phrase “intimate moments” above, because it brings up another interesting story about this recording. Some fans like myself have had copies of this cassette for many years, obtained from either a network of Prince fans who trade tapes (and later CDs, then digital files) or from various record conventions through the years. It was most famously bootlegged on a CD called “Intimate Moments,” so that phrase was on my mind constantly while listening to the new Piano & A Microphone 1983 release. The great news is that unlike that bootleg recording which suffered from barely listenable sound quality, this new release features much-improved sound quality, direct from the source tape. There is still a prominent tape hiss heard throughout the recording, but it does not hinder the enjoyment of the listening experience. I am grateful that Warner Brothers did not try to use noise reduction or any other editing effects on this release. The bootleggers seemed to use noise reduction techniques on their CD, and it damaged the sound quality terribly. This new release, although not up to typical recording studio standards, preserves the performance intact without altering it. The tape hiss and infrequent incidents of tape flutter are probably in the master recording itself.
Piano & A Microphone 1983 is simply a medley of songs and musical fragments, and could almost be viewed as one track, as opposed to the nine tracks listed on the CD and LP. With the first seven songs, each song runs into the next, as one continuous performance (but are indexed on the CD as separate tracks), without any breaks in between the songs, which is exactly what Prince performed. At the end of “Wednesday,” you can hear Prince ask someone, “Wanna flip it over?” This clearly indicates that they were flipping the tape, so it appears that “Cold Coffee & Cocaine” and “Why The Butterflies?” were on side two of the source tape, although we don’t know if those two songs are presented in the order in which they were performed.
Here is the track listing as shown in the booklet that comes with the deluxe LP/CD set:
This is the kind of recording that you’ll want to listen to privately in a silent room with no background noise, at a loud enough volume to hear all of the nuances of Prince’s performance. Listening with headphones (but again, in a silent room with no background noise) would be another ideal way to listen. You can hear Prince stomping his feet. You can even hear him sniffling a few times during “Mary Don’t You Weep” and “Strange Relationship,” something you would never hear on one of his officially released studio songs. It’s a rare opportunity to sit back, close your eyes, and imagine what it would be like to be in the same room as Prince with only his piano and a microphone. It’s every fan’s fantasy, and thanks to this tape, a fantasy we can relive over and over again.