Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Every Prince Song on Tidal Ranked: 100-1

In the last week, I listened to every Prince album and single on Tidal. And I ranked them all. Somewhere between a combination of "I like" and "most popular" and "most important" or some other such ranking. Some albums aren't on Tidal, including: The Black Album, The Gold Experience, Chaos and Disorder, Crystal Ball, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, The Rainbow Children, Planet Earth, and 20Ten. This means that great songs are missing from the list (see: Pussy Control, Guitar, The One U Wanna C, Gold, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World and others). Here they are in reverse order...

100. "3121" (3121)

99. "Mr. Nelson" (HITnRUN Phase One)

98. "Wall of Berlin" (Lotusflow3r): Oh, I do love the metaphor here and Prince is doing virtuoso things with the instruments here.

97. "Pope" (The Hits 2): Prince rappping + Bernie Mac + weird metaphors equals a solid B-side.

96. "Push" (Diamonds and Pearls): This one is basically an extended jam that allows the New Power Generation players a chance to work out with Prince, with the key being the note-for-note matching of Prince and Rosie Gaines that is really something to behold.

95. "Ronnie, Talk to Russia" (Controversy): Prince has always been political. Before this one, though, most of his politics were about sex and race. Here, he gets super explicit about it, but stays ridiculously catchy. This is how musicians should preach when they preach.

94. "Strollin" (Diamonds and Pearls): After the filthy funk of Cream, this light pop confection messes with your senses. Are we still listening to the same album? Is that note he just hit humanly possible?

93. "Like a Mack" (HITnRUN Phase One): The guest on this one, Curly Fryz, is another great Prince find. Never heard of this woman, but she both raps and sings here and it meshes super-well with Prince's funk/EDM hybrid music.

92. "4ever" (Lotusflow3r)

91. "Shut This Down" (HITnRUN Phase One)

90. "It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night" (Sign o' the Times): Prince said "oh, you think I can't recreate a live show in one song? Watch me."

89. "My Little Pill" (The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale): This is creepy and weird. I love it.

88. "Feel Good, Feel Better, Feel Wonderful" (Lotusflow3r)

87. "Million $ Show" (HITnRUN Phase One): Oh, I like the retrospective nature of this song, particularly for his last album cycle.

86. "The Truth" (The Truth): After the previous few releases were all Vault-related things with odds and ends that mostly amounted to Prince's worst releases, this outtake of acoustic songs from Crystal Ball is much, much more interesting. This one has Prince getting philosophical and pulling it off.

85. "The Max" (Love Symbol Album): On this one, I kind of picture Prince as a gangster, with a hard -er, and he and his NPG friends are in Zoot Suits and are going to beat up you and your friends and take your dates home (willingly).

84. "Fallinlove2nite" (HITnRUN Phase One): The album version, without the duet by Zooey Deschanel, shows that the song is no gimmick, but that it is still improved a lot by her addition.

83. "Crimson and Clover" (Lotusflow3r): Probably Prince's best cover song.

82. "Tamborine" (Around the World In A Day): Ramping up the Eastern influence of the early parts of the album. This whole album is such a radical departure for Prince.

81. "The Future" (Batman): People, including Prince, seem to hate the Batman soundtrack. Shaun of the Dead is right, though, it is a good album. This song is a solid rocker with samples from the movie. It sticks in your head.

80. "PretzelBodyLogic" (Plectrumelectrum): 3RDEYEGIRL adds to the Prince legacy on this album. He was always great at spotting talent and getting the best out of it. Still true.

79. "Alphabet St." (Lovesexy): Such a weird quirkly little hit. We quoted it endlessly "...to Tennessee" was part of our slang for a year. And for the second album in a row, Prince brings in an unknown female rapper to provide an interesting spark.

78. "This Could B Us" (HITnRUN Phase One): HITnRUN finds Prince getting trip-hoppy and dubsteppy at times, like on this, a much superior version to the one released a year earlier.

77. "Nothing Compares 2 U" (The Hits 1): It makes tons of sense to stick this on a Greatest Hits album, considering its massive success. But it's bold to take a song that was an iconic hit for someone else and rework it into your signature sound and promise it's going to be a hit. Prince wins. Again.

76. "Little Red Corvette" (1999): This song always made me a little uncommfortable, like I was seeing inside a private moment where I wasn't supposed to be invited.

75. "Housequake" (Sign o' the Times): The best Parliament-Funkadelic song that wasn't written by Parliament-Funkadelic. I defy you to stand still when this song comes on.

74. "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?" (Prince): A pretty perfect break-up song for the era.

73. "X's Face" (HITnRUN Phase One): Prince was listening to Yeezus and trap before making this one.

72. "Soft and Wet" (For You): One never forgets that Prince did funk. And did it better than just about anyone else ever.

71. "I Wanna Be Your Lover" (Prince): Prince's first perfect song is about as representative a summer 70s pop-disco song as one could imagine. One of those songs that immediately takes you back to a specific time and always works to establish the era when used in movies.

70. "I Wonder U" (Parade): This one is masterful in its beautiful simplicty.

69. "FALLINLOVE2NITE" (FALLENLOVE2NITE): Zooey's vocals greately improve this song.

68. "Let's Pretend We're Married" (1999): Basically an update of his earlier up-tempo disco style sexy jams, but in a more new wave and experimental direction. He also really, really uses his voice as an instrument here, doing things that other human beings can't do.

67. "Girl" (The B-sides): Wait, was he just singing about the West Wing? Why are my pants off?

66. "4 the Tears in Your Eyes" (The B-sides): Mid-80s spiritual New Wave Prince? Hell, yes.

65. "Walk Don't Walk" (Diamonds and Pearls): Yep, Prince can even make a great song out of car horns beeping.

64. "RocknRoll Love Affair" (HITnRUN Phase Two): There is literally nothing wrong with this song.

63. "When Doves Cry" (Purple Rain): One of the most iconic videos ever. One of the most original sounding pop tracks ever. A really uncomfortable commentary on parents and their relationships with their children that struck really, really close to home.

62. "Forever In My Life" (Sign o' the Times): I don't know what genre this song is, electro-soul, maybe? But it's a powerful, powerful moment. In anyone else's career, this would probably be a highlight. For Prince, it's an obscure album track on his weird experimental album that everybody overlooks. Crime.

61. "Paisley Park" (Around the World In A Day): Another game-changer for me. This was kind of a hippie mysticism that I could believe in. I hear things like the Beatles in this song.

60. "Annie Christian" (Controversy): If you thought Prince could be weird before you got to this song, you had no idea. Both experimental in terms of content and sound, this is the first time you have to really think that Prince is on some other level shit.

59. "Free Urself" (Free Urself): Yay! Hippie Prince is back!

58. "Life Can Be So Nice" (Parade): People slept on this album and movie a bit, but songs like this show that it has some of Prince's most inventive work, instrumentally.

57. "The Ladder" (Around the World In A Day): A.k.a., Purple Rain II. It's basically the same song, just moreso.

56. "Love 2 the 9's" (Love Symbol Album): When you make that playlist of Prince songs to make love to, make sure this one is on the list.

55. "Gotta Stop (Messin' About)" (The B-sides): I really hope there are a lot of gems like this in the Vault.

54. "2 Y. 2 D." (HITnRUN Phase Two): This album suite just keeps on giving. This one is a classic, owing both to 70s/80s Prince and James Brown. It's hard to deny.

53. "77 Beverly Park" (Lotusflow3r): Wow, it's amazing how good the Lotusflow3r album is. Prince has made a comeback album here like few in anyone's career. This is maybe Prince's best instrumental song. It's just pure beauty.

52. "Pink Cashmere" (The Hits 1): The one new song that appeared on the Hits 1 album isn't as great as the amazing sounds around it, but damned if it doesn't feel like it is when you listen to it in sequence.

51. "Cinnamon Girl" (Musicology): Alternately rocking and melodic, this song about, let's say terrorism?, is pretty great.

50. "Computer Blue" (Purple Rain): What for many is the worst song on the album would still be a standout on many other albums. It also has the sexiest moment on the album, which is saying a lot, with Wendy & Lisa's intro.

49. "Partyman" (Batman): Jack Nicholson somehow makes the song even funkier. This is a party song extraordiare.

48. "Dirty Mind" (Dirty Mind): I think this is where Prince really starts becoming unique. There were elements of it before, but this song is singular in its vision and its a predictor of the genius to come.

47. "Comeback" (The Truth): Wow. This is why you keep listening to later Prince albums, despite their multitudes and lack of quality control. This song is simple, but beautiful.

46. "Hardrocklover" (HITnRUN Phase One): Oh, wow, this is Prince at his sexiest. It both calls back to his Purple Sex God days, but is filtered through the many years and advances in technology that have happened since. And it this is all meant as a compliment. In the biggest way possible.

45. "Money Don't Matter 2 Night" (Diamonds and Pearls): This one is like an early 80s Billy Joel piano ballad written by Bruce Springsteen. With Prince's voice. It's even better than it sounds.

44. "Darling Nikki" (Purple Rain): I remember a sleepover at my friend's house where there were no parents. My friend's older sister took each of us into her room individually to listen to the song. We didn't do anything, but quite a few fantasies were spawned in that moment. Later the song was ruined for me in that way because I grew really close to a woman named Nikki who is basically my little sister. That and the Foo Fighters cover. Awkward. Also, this was the song responsible for the Parents Resource Music Center, Tipper Gore's rise to fame, and the Parental Advisory sticker's existence.

43. "Baltimore" (HITnRUN Phase Two): The last important single of Prince's life is one that will grow in its legendary status over time. It's a great song. He killed it live when I saw him perform it in Baltimore.

42. "Around the World In A Day" (Around the World In A Day): My mind is instantly blown the second I hear the opening music and Prince scream. I also learned that my family was racist and I still remember the look on my Uncle's face when I played this at a family gathering. I was baffled that anyone could hear this music and be racist.

41. "I Would Die 4 U" (Purple Rain): This song has pretty much everything, doesn't it? Romantic, dancy, packs a wallop, original to a fault. Just great.

40. "My Name Is Prince" (Love Symbol Album): At this point in his career, Prince has started deciding to stop making up new kinds of music and is just mastering things that other people invented, and doing it better than they are. Here he puts a boast rap over the most unlikely backing track you can think of it. It works. Well.

39. "When You Were Mine" (Dirty Mind): This is where my mind starts getting blown. I had the Dirty Mind album on cassette for most of my life. And I listened to it quite a few times. And I totally forgot this song, which I rediscovered through one of my all-time favorite bands, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, whose indie electronic pop version of the song is one of my favorite things ever. I forgot that Prince wrote it and recorded it first.

38. "Shockadelica" (The B-sides): And it is on this tune that I realized that Prince invented autotune (with his Camille character). And the horrorcore hook on this one is hard to get out of your head.

37. "Screwdriver" (HITnRUN Phase Two): A bit rockabilly, a bit punk, a bit hip hop, a bit funk, a bit perfect.

36. "The Morning Papers" (Love Symbol Album): There's some kind of story going on throughout the Love Symbol album. Doesn't matter, the songs stand up alone. This is a celebratory lover song that showcases Prince's amazing ability to turn a phrase and use words you wouldn't think of to tell you the story he wants you to hear.

35. "Pop Life" (Around the World In A Day): A drastically under-rated pop song that satirizes itself by being exactly what it is complaining about. Brilliant inception-y stuff.

34. "Take Me With U" (Purple Rain) : One of the top 5 most romantic songs ever. Ever.

33. "She's Always in My Hair" (The B-sides): The best Purple Rain song not to appear on Purple Rain.

32. "Peach" (The Hits 2): Prince was very, very smart about the new tracks added to his first Hits collection. This one is just stanky.

31. "Sign o' the Times" (Sign o' the Times): As much as I loved what Prince had done before, this album, more than anything else he ever did, and more than most others ever did, contributed to me being the person I am today. Starting with this song, which was a revelation to me. You could be totally talking about important issues, preaching even, didactic even, and still be funky and cool. This song channels the spirit of hip hop more than anything Prince had done before and is a bridge to him actually rapping later. And the sounds are so innovative and different. And the album is all over the map. It's a sprawling mess. A brilliant mess. No two songs seem to even be in the same genre as each other. And there are so few artists who ever could even cover all these songs, much less came up with them all for an album whose message is "I'm a freak and I'm not like you and I'm going to make you love me anyway, as I am, not as you want me to be." Man, that's powerful.

30. "Sexy MF" (Love Symbol Album): This is a song I've quoted endlessly since it came out. It's a jazz funk rap thing with amazing solos that can't help but make you dance or fuck. If you hear me quote this song, somebody has REALLY gotten my attention. It's amazing how much of my dialog in life was written by Prince.

29. "Electric Chair" (Batman): Another good rocker, this one a simple meditation on crime and punishment, gets this album off to a very good start. If you don't think these Batman songs are amazing, I suggest you check out Prince performing this one, and killing, on Saturday Night Live when it first came out. Amazing.

28. "Jack U Off" (Controversy): Bubble gum pop funk porn music? Not really a better way to describe it.

27. "Starfish and Coffee" (Sign o' the Times): Literally one of my favorite things ever. I was 15 years old and listening to the weirdness of this song (which I just learned had an accompanying Muppet video version), I realized that Prince was a fucking weirdo. And he was the most popular person on the planet. I was a fucking weirdo and if the world would let him release this song on a hit album, then I could be the weirdo I was and the world wouldn't kill me or ridicule me for it. Literally, that's the impact this song had on me.

26. "America" (Around the World In A Day): This jams so hard. The interpolation of America the Beautiful is just amazing.

25. "Face Down" (Emancipation): By far, this is the best song on Emancipation. Made the whole thing worth buying for me, back in the day. This is as much attitude as Prince shows in his post-symbol era.

24. "Delirious" (1999): Still, to this day, this is one of the most infectious and catchy beats ever.

23. "Diamonds and Pearls" (Diamonds and Pearls): One shouldn't be able to create ANOTHER fantastic, epic ballad, after having already created Pruple Rain. But with the addition of Rosie Gaines, he damned sure did it.

22. "Black Sweat" (3121): When you hear this song, you immediately think "this is a great Prince hit from one of his earlier albums," but it was from one of his last. But it could have early fit on one of his 80s albums.

21. "Hot Thing" (Sign o' the Times): The best bassline ever. And one of the greatest, most experimental musical songs. Especially at the end. One of the highlights of my life was seeing him experiment with this song live in Baltimore.

20. "Batdance" (Batman): Maybe the strangest #1 hit ever? This is basically an early EDM song, mixed with samples of the other songs on the album, an interpolation of the original show's theme, some random ass Prince guitar and ad libs, and quotes from the movie. And somehow it's all entertaining as fuck. This was my sons' first Prince song that they loved, not surprisingly. Oh, and that insane video with the dancers in the crazy-ass Batman outfits is a spectacle you shouldn't miss. My personal music was greatly influenced by this song, too, since it is assembled from lyrics from multiple songs that go together to fit a bigger whole.

19. "Cream" (Diamonds and Pearls): Prince sang a lot about sex, but rarely in as funky a way as this one. This video is also a one of the most epic and Prince things to ever happen.

18. "Controversy" (Controversy): Oh, what a perfect song about the media and how it treats celebrity. On this album, Prince starts finally getting out of his own heart and pants (and those of his song subjects) and starts adding his cultural critic persona, which was one of his key, and under-rated, elements.

17. "Musicology" (Musicology): This is, by far, the best song of the post-The Hits/The B-Sides era. The idea isn't original in the Prince catalog, but it's rarely been done better. This song is a party. And one you want to go to.

16. "The Cross" (Sign o' the Times): I'm not spiritual or religious. Except when I listen to this song. It's so powerful, I'm among the converted while it is on.

15. "Automatic" (1999): This is probably the first time where Prince heavily dipped into electro-hip hop kind of stuff. And it's amazing. You can hear this being played in a New York Club in the mid-80s while everyone is dancing and sweating and high as hell on coke, coming on right after Kraftwerk and before Thelma Houston.

14. "Gett Off" (Diamonds and Pearls): Something that is hard not to do while listening to this song. My greatest Prince-related achievement was unlocked to this song.

13. "Erotic City" (The B-sides): The perfect funk song. The perfect 70s hook. One of the greatest whistles ever. This song feels like drugs.

12. "Kiss" (Parade): I imagine in the five minutes or so it took Prince to write this perfect song, Prince thought to himself "yep, I just made a million dollars."

11. "Sometimes It Snows In April" (Parade): This is some Inception shit. Prince singing about the death of his character from the movie. The character died in April. Just like Prince did. Biggie did this kind of thing.

10. "The Beautiful Ones" (Purple Rain): Soon to become one of my karaoke staples, this is one of the most beautiful, profound, and personal songs ever. All at once. This is a love song. Both a love song to someone and a universal song about love itself.

9. "U Got the Look" (Sign o' the Times): Man, what an amazing fucking song. Ridiculously funky. Super duper sexy (Sheena Easton at her best). Amazing fucking percussion from Sheila E. And the beginning of what I describe as Prince's sexy feminist strain of songs. He fucking loves women and this song is a great example. He had the power to turn his vision on any woman and find the beautiful things in her, her uniqueness. He loved women, both sexually and emotionally. He sets himself up as a bit of the heel here, letting Sheena knock him back down to size ("Oh, please") without losing her interest. It's a declaration that traditional gender rules don't matter any more and that a smart, straight (or bi) man knows that a sexy, strong, powerful woman is wonderful for many, many reasons. And he's willing to give them equal footing, or even be submissive, while at the same time being masculine and powerful. What a balance.

8. "I Could Never Take the Place Of Your Man" (Sign o' the Times): This is just another perfect song, one I love to sing at karaoke. It's just a great rock song and a great song about break-ups and love and lust. And then it gets just kinda crazy and bridges the kind of extended instrumental jam that would be at home anywhere from a Doors song to a Jack White concert.

7. "1999" (1999): This is where my Prince story began. This song changed my life. Before this, I'm not sure I knew what having a "favorite song" could mean. There was nothing I did not love about this. The catchiness, the apocalyptic imagery, the sexuality, the philosophy, the synths, the lyrics, the teamwork, the weirdness. The first time I saw this video, Prince was my favorite artist.

6. "Purple Rain" (Purple Rain): The best ballad ever.

5. "Baby I'm A Star" (Purple Rain): This is my Prince go-to at karaoke. Like it works at a Prince show, I establish myself at a new place, by announcing my talent by performing this song, cockiness and bravado and all. And then I rap. My musical showmanship and sense of challenging the audience comes directly from Prince. So does a lot of my voice.

4. "Rasperry Beret" (Around the World In A Day): Just a perfect pop gem. Amazing music, amazing video, and just enough sass and attitude to melt anyone. The use of green screen and the dancing in the video still are among the most memorable images I've ever seen.

3. "Mountains" (Parade): Wow, an extension of Raspberry Beret that is somehow better than its predecessor.

2. "Let's Go Crazy" (Purple Rain): Picture this scene. Three high school boys driving around in a puke green Nova with a poster of a giant cockroach taped to the inside ceiling. They're driving around in 1988, probably cradling Keystone Lights or warm Mad Dog 20/20. The tall one in the front seat who would grow up to be a bearded, tattooed, rapper-writer in the nation's capitol turns and recites the opening monologue to Let's Go Crazy from memory. Much merriment ensued. (And no one got arrested or hurt. That night). Also, this song established Prince as a rock star, too. This is straight up rock and roll, as good as it gets. Also, this established Prince as one of the greatest guitarists ever. Also, this song firmly established the Prince-Jimi Hendrix parallel forever. Also, from the first note of this song, through the end of the album, everything is perfect. There are no mistakes. There are no bad choices. This is the best album ever. Also, I once sold a copy of this album to a stripper for $50 at the Banana Stand. Her coked-out boyfriend tried to steal my cat.

1. "7" (Love Symbol Album): If you added up the parts of this song, you would get nothing like the masterpiece it is. The story, which seems like a twisted version of Aladdin, with weird demonic laughter, Eastern elements, a random love story, some kind of apocalyptic whatever, and Prince's standard funk and hip hop elements from this period. It's epic and celebratory and WTF. And it may be my favorite song ever.

391-301
300-201
200-101
100-1

Every Prince Song on Tidal Ranked: 200-101

In the last week, I listened to every Prince album and single on Tidal. And I ranked them all. Somewhere between a combination of "I like" and "most popular" and "most important" or some other such ranking. Some albums aren't on Tidal, including: The Black Album, The Gold Experience, Chaos and Disorder, Crystal Ball, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, The Rainbow Children, Planet Earth, and 20Ten. This means that great songs are missing from the list (see: Pussy Control, Guitar, The One U Wanna C, Gold, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World and others). Here they are in reverse order...

200. "Arboretum" (One Night Alone...)

199. "Tick, Tick, Bang" (Graffiti Bridge): Rumor is there is a punk version of this song, recorded by Prince. That must be much more interesting than yet another glam song.

198. Under the Cherry Moon (Parade)

197. "Life 'o' the Party" (Musicology)

196. "Young and Beautiful" (One Night Alone...)

195. "When Will We B Paid"

194. "The Continental" (Love Symbol Album): I always thought of this one as the name of some kind of dance. It didn't really catch on.

193. "Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife" (Emancipation)

192. "Arrogance" (Love Symbol Album): The most notable part of this one is the "A-double-A-double-arrogant" chant and "pimp rag, tootsie pop, and a cane" and the feeling that it's channeling Morris Day or Kid Creole and the Coconuts.

191. "The War" (The War): Unlike John Lennon, when Prince got experimental, it's still very listenable.

190. "Xpectation" (Xpectation): Most notable for the use of instruments to make odd sounds, often sounding like an excerpt from a Charlie Brown cartoon.

189. "Xhalation" (Xpectation): Prince gets into big band jazz. This is the best of the unremarkable bunch.

188. "Another Lonely Christmas" (The B-sides): If I were going to listen to a Christmas song, it'd be this one, with its weird lyrics about hating the number 9.

187. "I Love U in Me" (The B-sides): See "Damn U."

186. "Lady Cab Driver" (1999): An otherwise solid song gets crazy towards the end as Prince does the first of what can only be described as rap. While a woman squeals in delight behind him.

185. "Do It All Night" (Dirty Mind): Much like, "I Feel For You," this one has a kind of swinging boogie piano reminiscient of some of the stuff that Billy Joel and Elton John were doing at the time. Impressive in the middle of all this other stuff.

184. "Feel U Up" (The B-sides): Anyone who asked to "Feel U Up" would seem kind of creepy. With Prince, you say "Thank U."

183. "The Rest of My Life" (The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale)

182. "Elephants & Flowers" (Graffiti Bridge)

181. "Partyup" (Dirty Mind): Ah, our first introduction to the pre-Bruno Mars that was Morris Day. He's only here as a co-writer, but Morris Day is probably Prince's most important protege.

180. "FunkNRoll" (Plectrumelectrum)

179. "Northside" (The Slaughterhouse)

178. "Bambi" (Prince): There's some pretty metal guitar in here, surprisingly for Prince in 1979.

177. "Irresistible Bitch" (The B-sides): Here, Prince melds Gil Scott Heron and Sly Stone and you're like, yeah, okay.

176. "I Feel For You" (Prince): The Chaka Khan version is better, which is often something that happens with songs Prince writes, but this one is still worth putting on a playlist or two.

175. "Thieves In the Temple" (Graffiti Bridge): The metaphor of this song, the thieves, kinda blew my mind at the time. I was like, literally, nobody other than Prince would have said it that way.

174. "Something In the Water (Does Not Compute)" (1999): Prince's fascination with technology and computers was absolutely an early reason I was attracted to him (I made my career in related areas). He quickly realized that anything, including computers, could be an instrument and maximized what he could do with that. Me, too. I was also really into nerdy things at the time and the idea that you could be a big fat nerd like Prince and still be the sexiest man alive was a goal to aspire to.

173. "Escape" (The B-sides): The hook repeats the phrase "glam slam" and is much better than Prince's song of that same name.

172. "Crazy You" (For You): After the funky sex of Soft and Wet, this next one has a breezy, but sensual, quality. Prince is wasting no time establishing the sex symbol thing.

171. "If Eye Could Get Ur Attention" (If Eye Could Get Ur Attention)

170. "Marz" (Plectrumelectrum)

169. "When We're Dancing Close and Slow" (Prince): One of the most seductive voices I've heard is on this song. This is why straight men often said over the years that if they had to go gay for a day, Prince would be the way to go

168. "Welcome 2 the Dawn" (The Truth): Almost sounds like it could have been on Around the World In A Day, if the instrumentation were a bit more funky and Eastern-influenced.

167. "Papa" (Come)

166. "Slave" (Emancipation)

165. "Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance" (Musicology)

164. "So Blue": A simple, but beautiful, acoustic ballad.

163. "Solo" (Come)

162. "17 Days" (The B-sides)

161. "Black Muse" (HITnRUN Phase Two)

160. "Sarah" (The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale)

159. "S&M Groove" (The Slaughterhouse): A flashback to early NPG sounds (and 70s/80s funk).

158. "In Love" (For You): I forgot that Prince did pretty amazing disco.

157. "Condition of the Heart" (Around the World In A Day): See "International Lover."

156. "Free" (1999): And now one of those recurring moments, where Prince turns in a totally pop direction and just gets sublime. This one is almost a lullabye.

155. "Eye No" (Lovesexy): This is the first time, on an album, I think, that Prince really gets into the big band kind of sound, like he's on a stage with 30 people. It's an amazing thing to see live, regardless of the song content.

154. "Horny Toad" (The B-sides): Prince: "What do you mean I can't make a sexy, funky song about a frog?" The Revolution: "That song's about a toad." Prince: "Shut up and dance."

153. "It" (Sign o' the Times): The song, about sex, is much less notable for its topic or lyrics than it is for the totally experimental musicianship behind it. The song is jagged and jarring like sex can be. It's a thing that should be comforting and fun, but sometimes, it's not. This song captures that sonically.

152. "If I Was Your Girlfriend" (Sign o' the Times): This song was a revelation to me at the time. I never knew it was okay to mess around with gender roles. Prince made me realize that it was totally fine.

151. "The Other Side of the Pillow" (The Truth)

150. "FunknRoll (Remix)" (Art Official Age): This is so much better than the 3RDEYEGIRL version. The other version is good, but the alternate instrumentation here is an improvement.

149. "Don't Play Me" (The Truth): Prince is angry here, but he downplays it, which creates an interesting effect.

148. "Strange Relationship" (Sign o' the Times): After the last song, this is exactly the phrase that every listener was thinking. Good joke, Prince, good job with the sequencing. When this album was out at the time, I lived in a small town called Perry, Fla., living in a house trailer with one end that had been crushed in a storm and the open end allowed cold air to get into the trailer. Needless to say, I was an outcast in the school at the time. I met this guy named Preston. Preston, at 16, dressed exactly like Prince. He wore a long overcoat, the frilly shirts, everything. He wrote like Prince. He used the letter U for "you" and Ur for "you're." He wrote songs with sexy Prince lyrics that were basically rewrites of other songs by other artists, just with new words. Oh, he was the whitest kid in school. We became fast friends. In the tiny redneck town we lived in, I'm shocked he didn't get murdered or something.

147. "The Flow" (Love Symbol Album): Very old school rap vibe, but with Prince.

146. "Big City" (HITnRUN Phase Two)

145. "Right Back Here in My Arms" (Emancipation)

144. "D.M.S.R." (1999): I can see a young Bruno Mars hearing this song on vinyl and deciding exactly what he was going to do for the rest of his life.

143. "All the Critics Love U In New York" (1999): For funsies, Prince turns into Andy Warhol on this one.

142. "Blue Light"  (Love Symbol Album): Prince can do light reggae better than you, too.

141. "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore" (The B-sides): And on this song, Prince invents Alicia Keyes.

140. "The Plan" (Emancipation): Prior to this song, there isn't a lot of instrumental music on Prince's albums. This one makes it clear that was a bad idea, one he fixes later.

139. "The Question of U" (Graffiti Bridge): Apparently this was supposed to be on the Parade album, which sounds much more connected to it, stylistically, than this album does. I think of it as "funky blues."

138. "La, La, La, He, He, Hee" (The B-sides): And on this song, Prince invents Snoop Doggy Dogg.

137. "When She Comes" (HITnRUN Phase Two): There are so many incongruous elements here, this song is hard to describe. Prince has never sounded more like Elvis than on parts of this song.

136. "Joy In Repitition" (Graffiti Bridge): This is Prince getting deeply meta. At this point, having listened to 12 Prince albums in a row, you do see repitition. As prolific as Prince is, there have to start being repeated themes and sounds. This is Prince telling us that he knows that and he doesn't care. Also, this is an album made up largely of outtakes from earlier albums, and necessarily echoes those earlier albums (a fourth soundtrack?), sounds, and themes. But it also reflects his growing disdain with the record industry. And the song sounds repititious and has no joy, pumping up the irony.

135. "BoyTrouble" (Plectrumelectrum): 3RDEYEGIRL start rapping on this one. It's a good idea.

134. "New Position" (Parade)

133. "The Gold Standard" (Art Official Age)

132. "Thunder" (Diamonds and Pearls): Here's Prince randomly talking about Jesus again. Here's me singing along with him again.

131. "Vicki Waiting" (Batman)

130. "Christopher Tracy's Parade" (Parade)

129. "Breakfast Can Wait" (Art Official Age)

128. "Trust" (Batman)

127. "Groovy Potential" (HITnRUN Phase Two): Pretty accurate title. Very good use of autotune.

126. "Uptown" (Dirty Mind): This isn't the first Prince song I heard, but the mix of funk, new wave, rock, and R&B here, expanded elsewhere, is what attracted me to Prince early on.

125. "Still Would Stand All Time" (Graffiti Bridge)

124. "For You" (For You): There aren't a lot of careers introduced more interestingly than this track. In the album credits, Prince is credited for creating sounds (instruments, vocals, etc.) 29 different ways. On his first album.

123. "Come" (Come)

122. "Do Me, Baby" (Controversy): Prince remade this song a lot. It was never my favorite song on the album, his sexy, funky, extended love ballad, but damn if he didn't do it better than anyone else.

121. "$" (Lotusflow3r)

120. "affirmation I & II" (Art Official Age)

119. "Daddy Pop" (Diamonds and Pearls): Every album or two, Prince almost completely re-invinted his sound. Up to this point. This type of large band, almost sounding live, but impeccably recorded. He played with the sound before, but it kind of settles into the bulk of what he did live from this point forward. This song isn't a major milestone, but it is catchy and is the type of thing that I've seen many, many other bands try to recreate live. In the present.

118. "Girls & Boys" (Parade): A nice funky little number, that he would do a better version of on the Batman soundtrack called "Partyman."

117. "Head" (Dirty Mind): Prince isn't allowed to sing about this stuff, is he?

116. "Xtraloveable" (HITnRUN Phase Two)

115. "June" (HITnRUN Phase One)

114. "Can't Stop This Feeling I Got" (Graffiti Bridge): This is another one of those seemingly casually tossed of Prince songs that sounds like a hit for anyone else, but isn't even one of the better songs on the album it's on.

113. "Play in the Sunshine" (Sign o' the Times): I can't imagine a song title in the entire collection that is more evocative of the sounds that go along with this. This is what playing in the sunshine feels like, in music form.

112. "Letitgo" (Come): It's often the smallest things that make a Prince song work. On this one, for instance, a tiny double tap on what sounds like a wood block makes the song stick in your brain.

111. "Jughead" (Diamonds and Pearls): Prince isn't playing with the record company executives here. His anger translator, Tony M. takes the lead, and Rosie Gaines throws in some impressive rapping, too.

110. "Round and Round" (Graffiti Bridge): Prince said "I'm taking the best song I wrote for the album, and I'm just gonna sing back-up and make Tevin Campbell a star." It worked.

109. "My Medallion" (The Chocolate Invasion)

108. "Shake" (Graffiti Bridge): The instrumentation makes this Time song one of the album's best, and what, the Time's third or fourth best song.

107. "Stare" (HITnRUN Phase Two)

106. "Live 4 Love" (Diamonds and Pearls): In this song, Prince invents all live rap shows in 2015.

105. "Colonized Mind" (Lotusflow3r)

104. "Ain't About 2 Stop" (HITnRUN Phase One): On many songs, what you see is Prince throwing together disparate ideas he has. When he's at his best, they all work, no matter how weird. Just below that is this type of song, where a lot of the ideas work, some are perfect, and a few fail, resulting in a net positive. Without Rita Ora, this might have been a great song, but too much pop added into what was otherwise a really weird, interesting song.

103. "Man in a Uniform" (The Truth): This is a funky, quirky little number that seems unlike anything else I've heard in the Prince catalog up to this point.

102. "Incense and Candles" (3121): This starts off as another sexy jam, but then gets very rhythmic with autotune and hardcore hip hop flows. The diversity makes it strong.

101. "The Arms of Orion" (Batman): This is a deeply sappy duet that with Sheena Easton at this time sounds like her "Somewhere Out There" duet with Kenny Loggins, but with better lyrics and imagery.

391-301
300-201
200-101
100-1

Every Prince Song on Tidal Ranked: 300-201

In the last week, I listened to every Prince album and single on Tidal. And I ranked them all. Somewhere between a combination of "I like" and "most popular" and "most important" or some other such ranking. Some albums aren't on Tidal, including: The Black Album, The Gold Experience, Chaos and Disorder, Crystal Ball, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, The Rainbow Children, Planet Earth, and 20Ten. This means that great songs are missing from the list (see: Pussy Control, Guitar, The One U Wanna C, Gold, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World and others). Here they are in reverse order...

300. "The Word" (3121)

299. "Love Machine" (Graffiti Bridge): It's almost as if the joke of the Time was starting to wear thin pretty quickly.

298. "The Marrying Kind" (Musicology)

297. "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" (Sign o' the Times)

296. "Here" (MPLSound)

295. "affirmation III" (Art Official Age)

294. "The Sacrifice of Victor" (Love Symbol Album): If there is supposed to be some kind of story about Victor that I'm supposed to care about, I never got it.

293. "When 2 R in Love" (Lovesexy)

292. "Courtin' Time" (Emancipation): Prince does New Orleans jazz.

291. "Love" (3121)

290. "AintTurninRound" (Plectrumelectrum)

289. "Curious Child" (Emancipation)

288. "Saviour" (Emancipation)

287. "...Back 2 the Lotus" (Lotusflow3r)

286. "Look at Me, Look at U" (HITnRUN Phase Two)

285. "If Eye Was the Man in Ur Life" (Musicology)

284. "No More Candy 4 U" (MPLSound)

283. "Revelation" (HITnRUN Phase Two): Smooth jazz, if you like that.

282. "Space" (Come)

281. "Dance 4 Me" (MPLSound)

280. "Te Amo Corazón" (3121)

279. "Nagoya" (C Note)

278. "Dreamer" (Lotusflow3r)

277. "2045: Radical Man" (The Slaughterhouse)

276. "Copenhagen" (C Note)

275. "Get On the Boat" (3121)

274. "Melody Cool" (Graffiti Bridge): An often under-rated thing about Prince is how cool the names he comes up with are.

273. "1000 X's & O's" (HITnRUN Phase One)

272. "Mr. Happy" (Emancipation): This one has a hint of the old weirdness of Prince, but doesn't quite elevate itself enough to be noticed.

271. "Ol' Skool Company" (MPLSound)

270. "Chocolate Box" (MPLSound)

269. "Venus De Milo" (Parade)

268. "3 Chains o' Gold" (Love Symbol Album): I guess this is the centerpiece of the movie story on the album? Not sure it makes sense as part of the album. Especially 16 songs in.

267. "And God Created Woman" (Love Symbol Album): Prince somehow always seems to be putting women on some kind of pedestal while also recognizing them as unique individuals. Weird.

266. "Art Official Cage" (Art Official Age)

265. "Gamillah" (The Chocolate Invasion)

264. "Boom" (Lotusflow3r)

263. "Call My Name" (Musicology)

262. "Baby" (For You): Is this Mariah Carey? How is he hitting some of these notes?

261. "Loose!" (Come)

260. "New World" (Emancipation)

259. "(There'll Never B) Another Like Me" (MPLSound)

258. "Positivity" (Lovesexy)

257. "Have a Heart" (One Night Alone...)

256. "U Know" (Art Official Age)

255. "Dear Mr. Man" (Musicology)

254. "Adore" (Sign o' the Times): See "Slow Love."

253. "Anna Stesia" (Lovesexy)

252. "Release It" (Graffiti Bridge): Standard number by the Time.

251. "Love Like Jazz" (Lotusflow3r)

250. "Hello" (The B-sides)

249. "Fascination" (The Truth)

248. "From the Lotus..." (Lotusflow3r)

247. "I'm Yours" (For You)

246. "Groove On" (Emancipation)

245. "I Wish U Heaven" (Lovesexy)

244. "Scarlet Pussy" (The B-sides): Prince is the only dude who can say "pussy" and it doesn't make me feel icky.

243. "Da, Da, Da" (Emancipation): Scrap D. isn't terrible at rapping on this one, but he's not a standout, either. Not a shocker we don't hear much from him elsewhere.

242. "Race" (Come)

241. "Power Fantastic" (The B-sides)

240. "Let's Work" (Controversy)

239. "PlectrumElectrum" (Plectrumelectrum)

238. "Time" (Art Official Age)

237. "Xpand" (Xpectation)

236. "Xpedition" (Xpectation)

235. "Xcogitate" (Xpectation)

234. "Xemplify" (Xpectation)

233. "Xogenous" (Xpectation)

232. "Xotica" (Xpectation)

231. "Way Back Home" (Art Official Age)

230. "Wow" (Plectrumelectrum)

229. "Sexuality" (Controversy): Might be the first recorded example of the signature Prince squeal. As iconic as Michael Jackson's "jum on," he would do it better on other songs, but this is the first time I think it was on record.

228. "Glam Slam" (Lovesexy)

227. "Soul Sanctuary" (Emancipation): As with most of Emancipation, this one almost is a good song, but not quite.

226. "Just As Long As We're Together" (For You): Prince released a lot of filler music, he was so prolific (and you'll probably still be hearing new Prince music for the rest of your life), but he establishes with this early filler song a pattern that would always be there: even his filler songs are listenable, if not memorable, and better than much of what is on the radio during their time.

225. "One of Us" (Emancipation): That this is the best cover on Emancipation isn't a compliment.

224. "Damn U" (Love Symbol Album): See "Insatiable."

223. "International Lover" (1999): See "Do Me, Baby."

222. "Slow Love" (Sign o' the Times): See "Condition of the Heart."

221. "It's About That Walk" (The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale): Sort of like a Harry Connick Jr. song.

220. "What It Feels Like" (Art Official Age)

219. "Jam of the Year" (Emancipation)

218. "Reflection" (Musicology)

217. "Grafitti Bridge" (Graffiti Bridge): It tries to be "Purple Rain" or "The Ladder," but fails.

216. "God" (The B-sides): The beginning of this song has what I think is the highest note Prince ever released on an album. Worth hearing that, otherwise a standard Prince gospel song (meaning one that no one else could sing well).

215. "New Power Generation" (Graffiti Bridge): A weird combo of introduction of his new band and a kind of philosophy, it contains the oddly compelling entreaty to "lay down your funky weapons." I don't know that that means, but I'm doing it.

214. "In This Bed I Scream" (Emancipation): Interesting musical ideas, but the lyrics are redundent.

213. "When Eye Lay My Hands on U" (The Chocolate Invasion): Very edgy instrumentation. Not a standout song otherwise.

212. "Insatiable" (Diamonds and Pearls): See "Scandalous."

211. "Scandalous" (Batman): See "Adore."

210. "Dreamin' About U" (Emancipation): There is some interesting acoustic guitar work here, but that's about it.

209. "Do U Lie?" (Parade)

208. "This Could Be Us" (Art Official Age)

207. "I Wanna Melt with U" (Love Symbol Album): The best part of this is what I call the Ghostbusters part, when the cats and dogs start living together.

206. "200 Balloons" (The B-sides): An rightful deletion from the Batman soundtrack. The elements here work better elsewhere.

205. "Anotherloverholenyohead"  (Parade)

204. "Peace" (The Slaughterhouse): The end of this is really entertaining. Not so much before that.

203. "We Can Funk" (Graffiti Bridge): When two of the funkiest musicians ever, Prince and George Clinton get together and have a song with this title, you wish it were funkier, but this one hits its peak during Prince's whispered rap.

202. "White Mansion" (Emancipation): This one almost feels like a fully developed song. Almost.

201. "We Gets Up" (Emancipation): Prince does his James Brown impression.

391-301
300-201
200-101
100-1

Every Prince Song on Tidal Ranked: 391-301

In the last week, I listened to every Prince album and single on Tidal. And I ranked them all. Somewhere between a combination of "I like" and "most popular" and "most important" or some other such ranking. Some albums aren't on Tidal, including: The Black Album, The Gold Experience, Chaos and Disorder, Crystal Ball, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, The Rainbow Children, Planet Earth, and 20Ten. This means that great songs are missing from the list (see: Pussy Control, Guitar, The One U Wanna C, Gold, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World and others). Here they are in reverse order...

391. "Orgasm" (Come): Pretty much exactly what it sounds like.

390. "Segue #2" (Love Symbol Album): Yay, Kirstie Alley is back for some reason?

389. "Hypnoparadise" (The Slaughterhouse)

388. "One of Your Tears" (The Truth): And on this song, Prince invents Kanye West's inappropriate lyrics fascination.

387. "Animal Kingdom" (The Truth): This is a weird vegetarian advocacy song that doesn't inspire me towards vegetarianism. At one point, Prince does an impression of Beaker from the Muppets, it seems.

386. "Lolita" (3121)

385. "La, La, La Means I Love U" (Emancipation): Prince chose poorly as to what songs to cover on Emancipation. He doesn't do a bad job with them, they just aren't great songs.

384. "Sexmesexmenot" (The Chocolate Invasion)

383. "Let's Have a Baby" (Emancipation)

382. "Objects in the Mirror" (One Night Alone...)

381. "The Dance" (3121)

380. "Underneath the Cream" (The Chocolate Invasion)

379. "Golden Parachute" (The Slaughterhouse)

378. "Better with Time" (MPLSound)

377. "A Million Days" (Musicology)

376. "One Kiss at a Time" (Emancipation)

375. "A Case of U" (One Night Alone...)

374. "Breakdown" (Art Official Age)

373. "Pearls B4 the Swine" (One Night Alone...): Some things just aren't things you should sing about, like bagels and cream cheese.

372. "Joint 2 Joint" (Emancipation)

371. "Betcha by Golly Wow!" (Emancipation): Doesn't add much to the original, which I didn't like that much anyway.

370. "U Make My Sun Shine" (The Chocolate Invasion): Not a bad song, but when you've written this song 50 times already...

369. "Emale" (Emancipation): The name of this song, like a lot of the album, is a bit stretched and tortured. The rest of the song isn't much better.

368. "The Human Body" (Emancipation)

367. "Osaka" (C Note)

366. "Y Should Eye Do That When Eye Can Do This?" (The Slaughterhouse): Prince was much harder earlier, on Diamonds and Pearls, this rapping seems kinda silly.

365. "Empty Room" (C Note)

364. "Tokyo" (C Note)

363. "Sleep Around" (Emancipation)

362. "Beautiful, Loved and Blessed" (3121)

361. "Sex in the Summer" (Emancipation)

360. "Circle of Amour" (The Truth)

359. "I Can't Make U Love Me" (Emancipation): Prince improves upon the original, which I never liked.

358. "Dark" (Come)

357. "The Daisy Chain" (The Slaughterhouse)

356. "Emancipation" (Emancipation)

355. "Dionne" (The Truth)

354. "Lemon Crush" (Batman)

353. "Segue #1" (Love Symbol Album): The story on the album now contains Kirstie Alley. Okay.

352. "It's Gonna Be Lonely" (Prince)

351. "Gotta Broken Heart Again" (Dirty Mind)

350. "My Love Is Forever" (For You)

349. "The Latest Fashion" (Graffiti Bridge)

348. "Xosphere" (Xpectation)

347. "New Power Generation (Pt. II)" (Graffiti Bridge)

346. "With You" (Prince)

345. "The Holy River" (Emancipation)

344. "Valentina" (MPLSound)

343. "AnotherLove" (Plectrumelectrum)

342. "Private Joy" (Controversy)

341. "Avalanche" (One Night Alone...): The most interesting part of this song is the line "Abraham Lincoln was a racist," the rest puts me to sleep.

340. "Sweet Baby" (Love Symbol Album): Sickeningly sweet.

339. "Old Friends 4 Sale" (The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale)

338. "West" (N.E.W.S.)

337. "What Do U Want Me 2 Do?" (Musicology)

336. "East" (N.E.W.S.)

335. "Clouds" (Art Official Age)

334. "On the Couch" (Musicology)

333. "Props 'n' Pounds" (The Slaughterhouse)

332. "North" (N.E.W.S.)

331. "Still Waiting" (Prince): This one's a little bit country, a little bit R&B.

330. "Pheromone" (Come)

329. "TicTacToe" (Plectrumelectrum)

328. "Silicon" (The Slaughterhouse)

327. "She Spoke 2 Me" (The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale)

326. "Fury" (3121)

325. "Sister" (Dirty Mind): Prince really isn't allowed to sing about this stuff, is he? And that demo-quality and discordant guitair is just as effective as the insane lyrics.

324. "Sexy Dancer" (Prince): Is the part when he starts breathing heavy about halfway through the song supposed to make me feel tingly?

323. "Satisfied" (3121)

322. "Style" (Emancipation)

321. "South" (N.E.W.S.)

320. "Supercute" (The Chocolate Invasion)

319. "The Love We Make" (Emancipation)

318. "My Computer" (Emancipation)

317. "Somebody's Somebody" (Emancipation)

316. "WhiteCaps" (Plectrumelectrum)

315. "U're Gonna C Me" (One Night Alone...)/(MPLSound)

314. "Judas Smile" (The Chocolate Invasion)

313. "Here on Earth" (One Night Alone...)

312. "One Nite Alone..." (One Night Alone...)

311. "StopThisTrain" (Plectrumelectrum)

310. "5 Women" (The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale)

309. "When the Lights Go Down" (The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale)

308. "High" (The Chocolate Invasion)

307. "There Is Lonely" (The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale)

306. "Vavoom" (The Chocolate Invasion)

305. "Extraordinary" (The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale)

304. "3rd I" (The Truth)

303. "Damned if I Do" (Emancipation)

302. "FixUrLifeUp" (Plectrumelectrum)

301. "Dance On"  (Lovesexy)

391-301
300-201
200-101
100-1

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Brilliance of Paul Smith's Run on Uncanny X-Men

(Click on any of the images to see larger versions. These are scans from hard copies of the comics.)

I've been rereading old X-Men comics of late and a couple of different posts have been percolating in my head, but the first one isn't my usual style of analysis, this one is more about the art. To say that I'm an X-Men fanboy or that the comics had a massive impact on my life would be an understatement. As I'm rereading these comics, I'm learning that these really were some of the key texts in my life. With family largely abdicating moral education of me and my brother, and pop culture being a mixed bag, at best, especially during the 1970s and 80s, the progressivism that filled the pages of the Chris Claremont run on Uncanny X-Men was a massive influence on who I am. There will be a lot more about that later, this post is about someone else who played a role in those comics--Paul Smith.

It's very easy to forget Smith. His name is too common to remember. He only worked on the comic for about a year. And when you're proceeded by Dave Cockrum and John Byrne and followed by John Romita Jr., three of Marvel's greatest artists of the period, it's easy to get lost. Smith only drew 12 issues at the time, but there is so much great art in them that I couldn't even begin to include it all here. And this is not to say that Smith was perfect, many issues have bad panels, especially in the first few issues, but there are so many iconic images in these few issues that it's breathtaking.

Smith had a tough job jumping right into the middle of the Brood Saga, an X-Men classic, after Cockrum left. His first issue beings with this cover:



Uncanny X-Men 165, from 1983, is a superb example of something that Smith was brilliant at, saying a lot with very little. If you hadn't been reading the issues and don't know about the Brood Saga (shame on you), it's hard to fathom everything in this image. But here is Storm, probably the most important black woman in comics history going through the agonizing transformation into one of the most evil species in the universe, the Brood, which means not only the end of her life as she knows it, but probably the death of many of her family and friends, possibly the entire earth, where she plays a significant role. Her agony is just as obvious from this picture as the Brood's evil was. As a writer, Claremont was superbly good at picking up on other pop culture trends and seamlessly incorporating them into his writing in ways that never felt stolen or stale--in this case, the Brood are clearly in the spirit of James Cameron's Aliens, but they stand alone because only the surface details are similar. Artists of lesser quality than Smith and Dave Cockrum (who started the storyline) could have messed that up and not made them distinct. The continuity of inker Bob Wiacek certainly helped.

In that issue, there is a ton of great art about the world and the combined organic/technology approach the Brood take to their conquests, most notably their enslaved living starships, the Acanti, which Smith draws this way:




I haven't read enough of the backstory on this saga to know whose idea the Acanti were (probably Claremont/Cockrum), but this is a wonderous creature and a great take on what flying through a nebular might be like. The next issue looks like this:




The number of massive action sequences both on covers and internally that Smith had to put massive amount of time into in order to reach the level of detail you see here had to be intense. A key thing to note here, is that all of these characters have ridiculously distinct appearances, something that many X-Men artists later on couldn't say.

From the interior of the issue, we get this classic image that encapsulates so much of the modern history of the X-Men--the divide between Cyclops and Wolverine, with the other X-Men and their allies caught in the middle. This is seriously maybe the second biggest on-going X-Men storyline after the Xavier/Magneto civil rights conflict.



Issue 167 provides another classic cover, with one of the first "deaths" of Professor Xavier and the emotions of the X-Men in response. Note how Wolverine's shoulders are slumped and he looks defeated. Subtle but powerful. Also, note the ridiculousness of Kitty Pryde's costume. There is a running gag with the character in the early years that she's a young teenager who keeps experimenting with costumes and names until she figures out what fits. These were often comic relief, but Smith works it into this scene flawlessly, I think, helping keep the characters unique and consistent.



The cover of the next issue is even better to me. Here is Kitty Pryde, then 13, who is not sexualized and while she's clearly in danger, she's no damsel in distress, she's smart, tough, and determined to win. The story inside matches that, as, once again, the youngest X-Man takes on killer monsters well beyond her power set and proves herself a valuable member of the team after Xavier tried to shift her to the junior team, the New Mutants.



And you turn the page and get one of the most classic splash pages in Marvel history, directly part the storyline I mentioned above:



The next story arc is one of my all-time favorites, both writing- and art-wise. The Morlocks, a group of ugly, outcast mutants who have taken up residence in the tunnels underneath Manhattan under the leadership of Callisto. But she wants someone pretty to be her husband, so she kidnaps Angel in an attempt to force a marriage. It isn't going to be a happy one, as Angel is crucified, Christ-like. the reactions of the other X-Men are pretty well-drawn, too, I think.



This next sequence is where Storm went from being a character that I sort of liked, to being one of my all-time favorites. Before this, Storm (in a very uncommon pop culture leadership role for a black woman in the early 80s) replaces Cyclops as leader of the X-Men. Historically she has a very strong compunction against killing, but as she struggles with self-doubt in replacing the lifelong leader of the X-Men, of being forced to kill to survive, and the struggles her powers have encountered since she went into space (she'll soon lose them temporarily), she is crippled at times with inability to make the right decisions and is in constant conflict with Cyclops and Professor X. Then this happens:


There are so many amazing things that Smith has done in this sequence: The look of determination on Storm's face (she's no longer playing ANY games), the depiction of the action of her catching the knife is beautiful, the look on Callisto's face when she realizes that Storm is tougher than she tought, the look on Callisto's face when Storm stabs her in the heart in order to save her friends and take control of the Morlocks. Just insane quality here. And the look on Storm's face in this next panel is just plain unforgettable:



But Smith was just getting started. Here's the next issue:



Wolverine, in the height of his (the character's not the writer's) cultural appropriation phase, is getting married to a powerful Japanese woman who inherited her father's criminal empire. This image conveys so much: that Wolverine is finally going to have a love interest that isn't someone else's girlfriend or wife, that Wolverine has an obsession with Japanese culture, that Lady Mariko is powerful enough to warrant an invitation sent out by the emperor, that Wolverine loves his alcohol and his friendship with Nightcrawler, and that somebody, somebody dangerous, wants Wolverine dead.

From the interior, you get this amazing shot of Rogue:



The backstory here is that Rogue has just joined the X-Men (in the previous issue, not drawn by Smith), but she comes to them from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants where she not only previously tried to kill the X-Men, her powers ruined the life (by stealing the powers, memories, and personality of Ms. Marvel permanently) of one of the X-Men's closest friends. They hate her. And yet she travels with the team to Wolverine's wedding. In the shot above, Rogue, probably only second in power to Storm at this point among this group of X-Men, is shown here too look very, very meek in the face of what she knows is deserved hatred.

But this shot is even better, because it not only conveys everything I just described about Rogue, even more clearly, but so much more:



The divide between Rogue and the rest of the X-Men is so apparent, but not mentioned in the dialog or in Wolverine's inner monologue. And it's clear that all of the above turmoil related to Storm is being carried over into this pic, too. You also get a ton of other character-related info from this one shot: Nightcrawler is playful, agile, flexible; Kitty Pryde and Colossus have a burgeoning romance that is chaste and age-appropriate; Wolverine thinks of himself as a sexy beast, and if you had read the previous pages, you'd know that the woman in yellow kneeling and pretending to be a house servant is actually the deadly assassin Viper. Here she has sneakily inserted herself into the X-Men's safe abode (in the visual metaphor, she's literally right in the middle of the mix) where she's about to poison the X-Men and take most of them out of action. This is not only part of a great sequence, both art-wise and in the issue's plot, but it sets up what, at the time, was one of the biggest character changes in Marvel history, Rogue's transformation from a horribly evil person to one of Marvel's most iconic female heroes. That is literally set up by this sequence and couldn't happen without it. The next issue looks like this:



Again, there is so much conveyed with very little there. With only Wolverine and Rogue still standing, Rogue knows she both has to prove herself, but also follow Wolverine's lead, not just because she's knew enough to not really know everything that's going on, but because she knows she hasn't earned anyone's trust yet, and following orders and kicking a little ass will certainly help. Later she goes on to make several sacrifices that win her admiration from her teammates, but it starts here. And Wolverine looks really fierce here. He's used to being the last man standing and fighting his way through things, but now he's in charge and is fighting for the lives of his friend and for the love of his life. Then a few pages later:



Smith effectively recreating the cover on an inside panel, but notice how much more savage and animalistic Wolverine looks. Things have gotten more serious and he fears for his bride-to-be's life. And he's the best at what he does and what he does isn't nice. The transition here, from the cover to this interior panel, is amazing.

Smith is also good at action sequences. There's so much coolness in this brief sequence that helps establish how bad-ass Viper and her ninjas are:



Even better is this epic and brutal battle, presented without sounds or dialog, that goes a long way towards establishing Wolverine as the most rough-and-tumble fighter in the Marvel Universe. And it doesn't paint Silver Samurai as any slouch, either. This is just a beautiful sequence, as far as I'm concerned:




Even that last panel is amazing, as Wolverine shows emotion through the mask, with no visible eyeballs. He looks shocked to me that he was both pulled out of his beserker rage and that it was Mariko that did it.

The comes one of my favorite things from the period, Storm's new look:



Not sure whose idea it was, but Smith nailed the look that to me still says Storm, when she was written her best, is a unique and powerful character that isn't just another member of the X-Men, she's the leader.

Smith also does good at comedic sequences like this one, where Madelyne Pryor's face is perfectly still after discovering Kitty's pet dragon.




Most of Smith's covers involve action, not surprisingly, but this one goes in a different direction. So much of recent X-Men history is shown in this cover, particularly once you realize that isn't Jean Grey, but Pryor, on the cover. And that the storyline that led to her death was instigated by the character in the background, Mastermind. And this point in the plot, there was a lot of confusion as to who Pryor really is and Scott Summers falling in love and proposing to a woman who looks exactly like his dead girlfriend. And this cover gets at the big questions: Is Mastermind going to do it again? Is Pryor real or a Mastermind creation? Is Phoenix back? How will Cyclops deal with Mastermind trying to bring back, in one way or another, the worst moments of the hero's adult life? That and the colors are just as amazing as the composition of the cover.



Another one of those awesome busy Smith covers. He's drawing a team with seven unique members and a huge cast of supporting characters, and he never fails to make them each distinct and part of the action:



Several issues in this run have a strong Phoenix presence and Smith drew some of the iconic images of the character during the X-Men's rise to superstardom. This is one of my favorites, not just because of how Jean looks, but because of the way that Cyclops looks in defeat as Phoenix rises from his "ashes."



One last one to add here, since it's at the end of Smith's run, but here is a shot of the X-men reacting in shock where Smith and his collaborators took out most of the color. The image does a great job of conveying the shocking death the X-Men watch on TV.




Okay, that's all I'm going to share on this one, even though there are many other beautiful shots. You should definitely check out this run of issues, as well as the rest of the Claremont run, as it is, without a doubt, a classic of popular literature that is very, very well crafted. (More to come on Claremont...)


Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Great American Rock 'n' Roll Revival: One Million Pieces of Perfect Pop Culture #1

Note: You can listen to my Spotify playlist that recreates this album.



Thank God for the Columbia House Record Club.

Probably the first cassettes, of what would one day grow to be a collection of 10,000+, that I ever obtained were from one of these type of ads that came in the Sunday paper or in a magazine or something like that. For those too young to know about this deal, here's what it was: You basically signed a contract saying that if Columbia House (or one of the many imitators) sent you X number of albums for a penny, you had to by X number of other albums at inflated prices with ridiculously high shipping. They often offered a bonus, that if you bought another album at full price, right now, you could get 1-4 extra free albums. Then you would proceed to never fulfill your part of the bargain, and then go ahead and do the whole thing over again with a different name or from your new address or whatever. In other words, this was one of the main ways how poor people grew their album collections for many decades before the Internet.

The first time I did it was probably in 1985, and while it wasn't one of the full 12-for-a-penny orders like in the pic above, it soon sent me the first few cassettes I owned.  I can't remember everything that I got, but I want to say that it included Foreigner "Records," Duran Duran's "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" (now immortalized in a tattoo on my neck), something or another with Phil Collins (probably Genesis?), and, most importantly for this post, the Great American Rock 'n' Roll Revival.







That's a vinyl version, but mine was cassette, naturally. It was this new thing, a double-length cassette, that put two vinyl records onto one cassette. This was literally my first real world understanding (that I can remember) of why math was important, it helped me understand that different medium had different storage sizes and various other mathematical things that are obvious now that weren't when I was like 11 or 12.

I was relatively new to listening to music and hadn't taken it seriously before that. And along with the Duran Duran album (which I've now listened to in at least five different formats), this album changed my life. Here's the full track list.

The name is a bit misleading, as it was a pretty narrow scope of 60s rock n roll that was represented on the album, but man, what a selection. Certain artists are over-represented (Dion and/or the Belmonts appear nine times, for instance), but nothing here sucks. And this album is loaded with classic songs, and for almost all of them, this is the first time I heard them. At that point in my life, my musical interests came from three places: 1. MTV and video shows. 2. Top 40 radio shows such as Casey Kasem and Rick Dees, 3. What my parents listened to around the house, which had a relatively focused scope (Beatles, Elvis, Doors).  So a lot of the music from the 60s that wasn't made by the biggest superstars was new to me. This album not only introduced me to these particular great songs and numerous artists that would become among my all-time favorites (the Beach Boys, Dion, Del Shannon), it also helped me discover entire genres (doo-wop, surf rock, girl groups, Motown, 60s rock crooners), which I would then go and listen to in depth, but it would also introduce me into the concept of listening to an album without any prior knowledge of what was on it, a tactic I still use extensively today and one that has added great diversity and depth to my music knowledge.

There were subtle influences of this album on my politics, too. What I saw on this album, at a young and impressionable age, was that it didn't matter who you were if you made great music--the singers here are young and old, white and black, female and male, diverse.  It's not perfect, and there are some subtle hints of older values which I would reject here and there (particularly in terms of gender: the world 'girl' is tossed around a bit casually), but for the most part, this album is basically a 60s dance night where nearly everybody is welcome and I took that message to heart. In retrospect, it's obvious that there are some exceptions, but this album was pretty forward-thinking in terms of the time period of the music (which makes sense, since the compilation was released in 1980).

The album also introduced my ears to a bunch of different ways to make musical sounds that were interesting. Doo wop, in particular, was all about people making sounds with their voice that imitated instruments in various ways. There was a lot of what would be considered revolutionary by the standards of the late 70s/early 80s, much the way that punk songs often were throwbacks to garage rock song structures/styles. This music, at my age, my lack of experience, and intellectual development at the time was nothing short of revolutionary in its affect on me. I literally listened to this album hundreds of times. And I learned a ton from the experience.


Read more about "One Million Pieces of Perfect Pop Culture" and read more entries in the series.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Recording

So in my attempts to be an actual musician, I have to create and record music, not just perform it live. When I started the process of becoming a musician, I literally had no idea how to record and create music. I had hosted podcasts and such before that, but those were using dummy-proof software that made it so easy a state legislator could figure it out (if you don't get that joke, trust me that most state legislators are pretty ignorant people when it comes to technology).

In my earliest days, I was part of a group called the Cap City Mob (starting in approximately 2007), led by an old friend. I won't rehash what happened there, but let's just say he was difficult to work with. But starting the group and including me in it was his idea (as was my stage name). Once I was invited to participate, he handled all the composition of the music and all of the entire recording process. He was talented and creative, but he didn't want to create original sounds (everything was created from copywritten material), he didn't want to work often enough (which is fine, because he had a life), and he refused to share any of his knowledge. These things bothered me enough that they added to an environment where other interpersonal issues led to me leaving the group and we haven't talked since.

After that, I really wanted to ramp things up, but didn't know how. So I did what any responsible person would do, I bought a microphone, grabbed my laptop and started figuring things out on my own. That was in early 2012 or so. By the time I had left Tallahassee permanently later that year, I had created a handful of beats, done some well-received solo live shows, and had recorded songs for each of those beats. None of those early recordings still exists, because as I improved at what I was doing, I rerecorded songs over and over again until they were better and better. So it isn't song ideas or concepts that was deleted, just early takes that weren't as good.

Since then, I've spent more than 150 hours recording songs and while I have figured out quite a bit of stuff, a lot of it is just from repetition and there almost certainly things that I'm doing the hard way that I could do easier. But, most of the time, I am happy with the way my voice sounds after recording, so I'm sufficiently happy with my skillset for now. I don't really have much interest in being an engineer or mixer or any of those things, I'm more a writer/vocalist, and I've only taken on these other roles out of necessity.

So my goals with recording are a bit varied. First and foremost is to create good music that will entertain or educate others. That is always at the top of my mind. My musical tastes are varied, but start with hip hop, punk, postpunk, new wave, indie, alternative, and the like. I want to create music that derives from those genres, even if I have some pop sensibilities that might also make their way into the songs. And, in no uncertain terms, my music always has some kind of message. A lefty political/social message. Even the party songs have something in that realm. And all of the songs are meant to be entertaining on some level, too. So creating music that fits that general concept is first.

I have two other related goals with recording. The first is to learn the technical stuff more, so that I can create the sounds I have in my head more easily. The other is to learn what my voice is, what it can do, and learn how to improve and expand upon it. That becomes a lot easier when you record the same lines over and over again, trying to perfect the line readings and try different approaches, enunciation, voices, etc. This is one of the reasons I post raw demos pretty frequently, it not only leads to feedback, it provides a strong incentive to continually improve and rework things. If I make a shitty recording and it's out there, someone could hear it unless I work on it and make it better.

I am a prolific songwriter. I have written more than 100 songs in the last three years and I have many, many more ideas that are in various stages of writing. But it can become an echo chamber when I write and record by myself and don't have to interact with the ideas and artistry of others. So I have made it a goal to not just record my own material, but that of others, too. I really like the idea of the artist, such as Prince or 2Pac, that spends massive amounts of time in the studio recording their voice, their songs, their inspirations, and leaves a lot behind for the world to listen to. The idea came from an article I read once where some semi-famous rapper started recording himself doing a bunch of other people's songs and posting the videos on YouTube. For some reason, I haven't been able to find that article again and I'm not sure who it was. I want to say Action Bronson, but I can't say that for sure since I can't find it. But it really made me think a few things. One was that doing a bunch of different rappers, with a bunch of different styles, in recorded fashion, would make my ability to perform and vocalize much better. And that has certainly been true as I've done it. The other was that if I had interesting takes or good performances of songs that already had fans, I would, in the great cover song tradition, obtain more fans. That has also been true, too, although to a lesser extent.

So in addition to recording more than 70 original tracks, I also started recording various cover songs. The first goal was to record 200 different rappers. Not just different songs, but 200 songs each by a different artist (I'm well past 50 on that goal now). But after recording a few songs by artists I really like, I quickly found that I wanted to record more songs by those artists, so I expanded my recordings to allow for that. A third approach I took on was to take songs that weren't strictly hip hop songs, but contained relevant elements. Songs that might not be rap, but sounded pretty close. For this series of "Almost Hip Hop" songs, I decided to take those tracks, and make them more hip hop, more in my own voice. It quickly became an idea that I didn't just want to copy the songs, doing all the exact same words and exact same line deliveries. Some songs I did relatively straightforward takes on, others I made some pretty significant changes to. My version of "Parents Just Don't Understand" is a pretty faithful Fresh Prince imitation, while my cover of Nirvana's "Downer" is so radically different than the original, it's a post-punk hip hop poetry reading kind of think, almost like a Butthole Surfers song.

A few guidelines I have for these variant takes:

  1. I never, ever use the N-word. No matter what. I'm a guest in hip hop and I understand the history from where it comes, so regardless of the original, I change the word to something else. I've even been given permission to use the word by numerous African American performers and fans and I will never use it.
  2. I rarely use words like "bitch" or other slurs that denigrate women or homosexuals. I don't fully eliminate them because at times they are being used by a character in the song. Robert DeNiro doesn't refuse to play sexist or homophobic characters because he can say something important through those characters and it isn't necessarily an endorsement of a character that you play them. I refuse to record lines, though, that are explicitly me using those slurs to denigrate anyone, unless the point is ironic (such as a recording of a 2 Live Crew song). Yes, I get the inconsistency between #1 on this list and #2. The reason for that is that the artform I'm using, hip hop, is an African American form, so I'm showing my respect for that by not insulting the innovators of the form I'm using. I try not to insult anyone based on such characteristics, so it's safe to assume that if you hear a word like "bitch," it isn't meant as a literal, unironic use of the word to denigrate women. I understand some will still reject my take on the topic, but that's the path I've chosen.
  3. I do my best to remain true to the spirit of the original track. I may change things around a bit, but the goal is homage and respect, not just the repeating of words that I like.
  4. As with most hip hop cover songs I've ever heard, when I choose to, I change references to the original artist's name to some variation of my own. Think Snoop Dogg's cover of "Lodi Dodi," which is true to the original, but has many Snoop-ified changes in the lyrics.
  5. I literally want to record at least one track by every hip hop artist for whom I can find an instrumental. Since none of these songs is meant for commercial release, I have no problem using other people's music and lyrics to make interesting sounds of my own. And since my goals involve diversity and technical skill, I will record versions of songs from artists I don't like, although I will note that when I have done that, it has increased my appreciation of those artists at times. At some point, I'd like to be able to say that I've recorded cover versions of more rappers than any other person on the planet. I assume that I'm already well on the way to that goal, considering I've now done 57 different rappers by my latest count.
  6. I want to add new things to songs. I like adding subtext, making cultural references, and tying different forms of art together. When I have an idea that serves that purpose, I pursue it.
  7. I want to make the songs work for my voice. I have a pretty good ability to mimic other voices, I always have. But in my efforts to perfect my own voice, it's important not to bite anyone else's style for the purpose of a recording. So while some of my recordings are pretty imitative of the original, others make pretty significant changes to line deliveries, particularly with rappers like Jay-Z or Kanye who, at times, eschew traditional melodies or pronounce or say words in ways that I wouldn't. I'm absolutely not interested in doing a Iggy Azalea and adopting speech patterns and slang that aren't authentic to who I am. I grew up in the Deep South, lived in mostly black neighborhoods much of my life, and from an early age was deeply immersed in hip hop and basketball culture. And you likely wouldn't know any of that from my recorded voice, since I'm not trying to adopt the patterns and culture of others, I'm trying to forge new ground in my own voice. On those rare occasions where you hear me use black slang, it's black slang I use all the time as part of my daily life, it's not an affect taken on for the purpose of a recording.

(I may think of more of those that I have used later and will add them to the list if I do.)

So, to give you all an example of these principles in action, I present to you, my most recent recording, an interpretation of Beck's song "Loser."

Here are the above principles in action for this song:

  1. Beck doesn't use the N-word, so not relevant.
  2. Similar to #1, not a concern here.
  3. I certainly change the vocals quite a bit here. Beck's original is laid back and almost indifferent to what is going on in the song. I use my more natural rapping voice, which is a bit of a hybrid of Beastie Boys and Chuck D. The original is just Beck singing, too, while I felt that my version was better served by having backing vocals for emphasis on certain parts. I also changed some line deliveries by adding a little delay here and there and having the rest of the line in question be rapped in double time. I think it creates some really interesting moments. I also radically reworked the chorus, going for a specific Rage Against the Machine feel and reference which I think add an layer to the song that, while not in the original, are in line with the original's mood, if not tone.
  4. I didn't do this a lot on this one, although I added a "motherfucker" to a spot where I couldn't get a good read on one of Beck's deliveries.
  5. Beck's not a rapper, of course, so this one fits the "Almost Hip Hop" approach, but he is an artist I have never covered before (and rarely sing in public), so it is in line with the spirit of trying different voices.
  6. There isn't much new subtext here (although there is some in the reworking of the chorus and the change in the vocal style from apathetic to aggressive), but the tie in to other cultural points is pretty extensive. In addition to the Rage-style chorus, the end of the song includes an explicit Rage line that is added, much of the vocal presentation ties in to artists like the Beastie Boys, and the added backing vocals have a wide range of influences from Beasties to Afroman to Eminem and others. There are also some attempts at sophomoric humor (emphasizing the word "balls," a Cartman reference on the word "beef") and to the sing-songy nursery rhyme styles of early rap songs (which is done on the actual nursery rhyme that Beck included in the lyrics). And these are just the conscious references I made during the recording, there are certainly likely to be subconscious references or things I forgot.
  7. I've already addressed this one, but needless to say, there are very few points in this song where I sound anything like Beck, either in my voice or in my line deliveries.

One last thing on recording. I have literally no patience or skill for rearranging and editing and punching things in. My process begins with the beginning of the song, I hit record, and I go forward from there. I generally record the song chronologically and do my best to do entire verses without a break. I've not always done that in the past, but I think discerning listeners can tell when the songs are edited, so if a song has a 16 bar verse, I try to record that interrupted before moving to the next part, and will try the same part over and over again until I am happy with every word (or nearly every word) in the segment, only breaking things up when it is naturally part of the song. The first verse of the Beck song above is one take, although it was far from the first take. I particularly have to pay close attention to improper breathing, which often shows up, sound levels (although those can be adjusted after the recording, it's better not to have to adjust them, it just sounds better), contact with anything else in the studio, etc. Ambient sounds usually aren't picked up by my mic, so that's fine, but if I bump the mic during a recording session, that take is a wash. I have a screen in front of the mic, so I don't get too many "P" sound problems, although there are still some other sounds (like "S" at the beginning of a word) that can be very problematic in recording. For a song like this with backing vocals and such, I will record the main versus and chorus first and come back in on a separate track and add those. I don't generally rehearse a lot before the song, unless it's new, although I'm generally recording songs I've heard many times, and usually songs I've performed at karaoke, so they have been practiced. Mass transit in a big city also gives ample opportunity to run through songs in your head before a recording session, so it's not exactly like I go in unprepared. Part of this is that I don't want to overdo a bad line and get it stuck in my head, so I like to be able to listen to what I've rapped to see if I'm doing it in a way that I'm happy with. I can only do that when recording and listening to the playback.

Okay, that's probably way more than enough for this post, although I'm sure that I'll talk more about recording when introducing other songs in the future. My next post will be about karaoke and why that's important to what I'm doing.