The Road to Day 7
Date: 3rd July 2023 - Author: Vas Christian
“Absolutely, and where is it?”
We are currently just days away from the first general release of Prince studio recordings since the new administration took control in July 2022. It’s certainly been a disheartening time to be a Prince fan in recent years. We are standing at the tail end of one of the longest droughts of Prince’s original music since the early 2010’s.
It’s been almost two years since the troubled release of Welcome 2 America, Prince’s first fully complete (caveat) posthumous album that wasn’t a compilation or pre-existing promo. Furthermore, we’re quickly approaching the three year anniversary of Prince’s last expanded box set, Sign ‘O’ The Times. So how did we get here?
A Positive Place
September 2020, and Sign ‘O’ The Time (Super Deluxe Edition) has been released worldwide. The largest single release of Prince’s music to date. It was the third special edition album of it’s kind (with each release steadily growing in scale). A classic album, spectacularly remastered by distinguished audio engineer Bernie Grundman, 45 previously unreleased tracks (the bulk of which covering Prince’s now legendary Crystal Ball sessions), and two complete concert recordings (one audio only and one full video, the latter being the historic 1987 New Year’s Eve show at Paisley Park).
It wasn’t a perfect release. Some of the master tapes had shown signs of wear, some of the version choices for each song were questionable, and (for some unknown reason) one of the most anticipated tracks, Rebirth of the Flesh, was evidently not transferred from a single source, but was in fact two separate mixes of the song spliced together?!? Despite the few holes that could be poked, most fans couldn’t have been happier. If this set was any indication, the future of Prince’s discography was looking bright.
I’ve Seen the Future, and Boy it’s Rough
December 2020. Rumours begin to circulate as to what the next expanded box set was going to be. Word on the street was that the super deluxe edition of Prince’s 1986 album Parade had been in the works for in excess of a year by this point.
Allegedly, Warner Records had bumped the album down the release schedule in favour of releasing Sign ‘O’ The Times instead. The logic was that Warner Records were on the verge of losing the rights to distribute SOTT worldwide (along with many other Prince albums), due to a pre-existing contract that was due to come into effect. As of 1st January 2021, most of Prince’s Warner Brother's catalogue would fall under the jurisdiction of Legacy Recordings (a division of Sony Music) within the USA. However since Parade was a movie soundtrack, it wasn’t included as part of the deal. Since Warner Brother's would still retain the rights to release Parade worldwide post 2020, it was a sensible decision to sit on it for the time being. It was assumed that Parade would likely be the primary choice for the next big Prince release, however that turned out not to be the case.
Come December, rumours began circulating that Parade was being bumped yet again, this time in favour of Prince’s 1991 album Diamonds and Pearls, to celebrate the record’s pending 30th anniversary. It has been speculated that this decision was made in part to placate Legacy Recordings, who wouldn’t have seen a return from Parade. Regardless of the reason, the expectations for the next box set was firmly pointing towards Diamonds and Pearls.
January 2021. The Legacy distribution deal comes into effect. Immediately fans begin noticing Sony’s name appearing in the meta data of Prince’s music on streaming services. The Sony deal did raise some concerns. Fans such as Prince podcaster Richard Cole of Amari Music Talk championed the distribution deal, having seen Legacy Recordings put out tremendous work for other artists in the past. On the other hand, there were fans who were worried that The Prince Estate would end up being neglected in similar vein to the Michael Jackson Estate.
Later the same month, Prince archivist Michael Howe is interviewed by Dutch podcaster Simone Walraven for NPO Radio 2. When asked about potential Prince releases for 2021, Howe replied…
“… Who knows, with Covid and all of the strange backdrop of the world, what will happen. But the plan is to do at least one more, sort of deep dive, super deluxe type release sometime during 2021, and there will probably be another stand alone type release at some point during the year as well. Beyond that I can’t really say, and I don’t know what the specific timings are at this point, and certainly what contents of those things might be, I can not discuss. We’re aiming to release something for sure.”
Although Howe’s answer wasn’t definitive, fans were excited by the prospect of up to two potential releases for 2021, with the deep dive set likely being the 30th anniversary Diamonds and Pearls.
February 2021. An article is released by French fan site Schkopi, detailing The Prince Estate’s plans for the year ahead. Schkopi is often privileged to insider information, and despite not always being correct, their sources are usually pretty solid. Given how Schkopi have on occasion broken news before any other source, I’m inclined to believe that the information they post is usually accurate at the time of publication, with any deviation that transpires being the result of plans changing in the interim. Either way, their site is well worth bookmarking for future reference.
This article revealed that The Prince Estate had a three phase strategy in place for 2021. Phase one consisting of a re-issues of Prince’s 1998 official bootleg compilation Crystal Ball, to be released in April. Phase two would see the release of Prince’s previously shelved album Welcome 2 America (recorded in 2010) to come out somewhere around June or July. Finally, phase three would see the launch of the Diamonds and Pearls expanded box set in October.
As far as I can recall, this was the first time that Welcome 2 America had been mentioned as being slated for release.
8th April 2021. Schkopi’s scoop held water. The Prince Estate officially announced that the previously unreleased album Welcome 2 America would be the next stand alone release. This would be the first time that a body of work would be released as Prince originally intended (caveat), as such this was initially seen as an exciting development amongst fans.
So what happened to Crystal Ball? How comes Schkopi were right about Welcome 2 America, yet Crystal Ball never materialised? Was the rumour that Crystal Ball was getting a re-issue completely baseless? It turns out, possibly not.
Crystal Ball may not have been re-issued, however Prince’s 1998 acoustic album The Truth did get a special limited pressing for Record Store Day 2021 (The Truth being a bonus album that was originally included as part of the Crystal Ball box set). The fact that The Truth was selected for Record Store Day implies that The Estate must have at least entertained the idea of re-issuing Crystal Ball around this time. Given that Crystal Ball had a running time of 2 and half hours, it’s possible that it may have been a causality of supply shortages. Despite Schkopi not getting phase one correct, they had nailed phase two.
As excited as fans were for Welcome 2 America, once further details about the release were revealed, there were a small number of concerns. The first eyebrow raised was regarding the vinyl release of the album. Due to the 55 minute running time, the album would be released as a 2LP set. Unfortunately only three sides of the vinyl would be utilised for the music. Since the album fit comfortably onto three sides, The Estate had decided to leave side four blank (choosing to include an etching, rather than some additional bonus content). Given the vast wealth of unreleased tracks that The Estate were sitting on, twinned with the shortage of vinyl that was disrupting many album releases at the time, this waste of wax was seen as an act of bad faith on The Estate’s part.
The second issue concerned the price of the package. The standard editions of the album were very reasonably priced across all formats. However the same couldn’t be said for the deluxe edition. The deluxe box set contained two copies of the album (one on CD, and one on vinyl), a selection of printed memorabilia (32 page soft cover booklet, poster, mock tickets and VIP passes, etc.) and (for the first time on Blu-ray) a high definition concert video.
In the US the set was sold for $99. Not unreasonable for 1CD, 2LPs, and a live Blu-ray, but considering the set only contained 12 studio tracks (despite the multiple formats) was it really worth the additional cost? In Europe the situation was far worse, with the set fetching £149.99 on Amazon UK with comparative prices in Spain, Itialy and the Netherlands. This archived page from the website superdeluxeedition.com reflects the prices that were offered at the time of pre-order.
In Japan the situation was mitigated somewhat, with an edition exclusive to the region containing just the CD and Blu-ray disc, which was available for around 6000yen. (Approximately $54 going by the exchange rate at the time).
Although many fans already had their initial hang ups, these weren't the last of the disappointments that Welcome 2 America had in store.
July 2021, and Welcome 2 America is officially released. From a musical perspective it wasn’t a bad album. Prince had departed from the retro, 80s, pro-tools sound that he embraced on MPLSound (2009) and 20Ten (2010), returning to making “real music by real musicians”. It had a fresh cool sound, a Curtis Mayfield vibe, and overall was a solid little collections of songs.
‘Timing is everything, and I don’t know what his reason were for not putting it out then. I got no indication of why. I just remember him saying he was happy. He was happy with us, he was really happy, ‘cos he said it. He said “I’ve been waiting to get this sound out. Thank you so much. You really helped me get this sound out. This is different from every other thing I’ve done. I’ve been sitting on this for a while.”’ - Chris Coleman
So the fans got they wanted. A previously unreleased album that Prince had compiled in his lifetime. This should have been an undisputed treasure for any fan, so what was the problem? The problem was that the audio contained a flaw. The album was sourced from reference CDs that The Estate had found in 2019, and evidently one of the CDs must have either been scratched or worn out. Regardless of which, subtle audio distortion can be heard on at least three of the twelve songs, the worst offender being the ballad Stand Up And B Strong which suffered very badly from the issue.
This issue left a bad taste in the mouth. Although many fans were perfectly satisfied with the release, others were disappoint by the lack of quality control and transparency. Forum user bfunk called the decision to source the album from these CD-Rs “sloppy and lazy” when we have photographic evidence that many of the master tapes from this era still exist.
Giving The Prince Estate the benefit of the doubt, it has been pointed out that Prince had originally given the W2A songs to producer Morris Hayes to finish the mixing and mastering. It’s been speculated that Morris may have transferred the master recordings digitally before completing work on the album. Unfortunately, his home studio was destroyed in a fire in 2019.As such, it’s possible that these CD’s may have been the only surviving copies of the finished versions.
Regardless of how this happened, it doesn’t change the fact that The Prince Estate and Legacy Recordings had spent months pushing this overpriced product onto the fans, and at no point displayed any transparency regarding the inherent audio flaws. In fact, prior to the album leaking, no one had mentioned them at all. During the build up to the final release, many former band members and personnel were interviewed extensively for a podcast series titled The Story of Welcome 2 America. Despite all the praise that was heaped onto this album, and the emphasis of how important it was to Prince, nobody brought these concerns up at any point. Not even outlets with review copies mentioned them. Prince forum user Number23 who managed to write an in-depth review prior to release later explained that although he did notice the distortions, he’d assumed they were caused by issues with his headphones, rather than a problem with the album itself.
*Caveat: Although Welcome 2 America was marketed as a finished Prince album, it’s also been claimed that album was compiled from a mixture of possible intended track lists. Since the details of these tracklists have never been published, it’s impossible to verify how close the released album reflects Prince’s original intentions.
Quote from PrinceVault.com:
“The released version was built from three reference CDs found by The Prince Estate in 2019, each containing different configurations of the album. Morris Hayes was commissioned to build the final tracklist from these three cds. The official version is similar to one of the configurations which also included Cause And Effect. It was decided not to retain this song for the final version because it was attached to the 20Ten album (Prince quotes titles from this album in the lyrics).”
However it wasn’t only the fans who had the wool pulled over there eyes at this time. While Legacy's first original Prince album had left many fans disappointed, Warner Records were in the midst of causing some upset of their own.
It was in May of the same year that Rhino Records (a division of Warner Music Group) announced that it would be releasing a special 40th anniversary edition of The Time’s self titled debut album (a record that Prince was very heavily involved with) as part of their Black Music Month initiative. However, Rhino’s promotion of black artists didn’t appear to extend to the courtesy of actually informing the band of their intentions. On hearing about the release, lead singer Morris Day took to Instagram and posted the following message…
Unlike the disappointment caused by Welcome 2 America, it seems Rhino Records did attempt to resolve the conflict with the band. Morris has since deleted his original message and has subsequently posted the following...
Things were beginning to look shaky in the purple kingdom, however all was not lost. The Prince Estate still had their forthcoming box set to fall back on. A solid deep dive release and maybe 2021 wouldn’t end up being quite the wash out that it was shaping up to be. So how did the Diamonds and Pearls box set turn out?
30th September 2021 (The day prior to Diamonds and Pearls 30th birthday).
Prince’s official twitter account posts the following image…
This beautifully scanned photo, used for Prince’s album cover, was uploaded along with the following message…
"D to the I to the A to the M, O to the N to the D to the pearls of love..." October 1.
This was it! This was the teaser that the fanbase had been waiting for. Surely they were just one day away from the official announcement of the next special edition Prince box set?
1st October 2021. Fans are waiting with baited breath for official word to break. I remember being at work with several browser tabs open, which I kept refreshing every few minutes throughout the day. Surely an announcement was inevitable at this point?
Later that afternoon (UK time), the Prince social media machine kicked in and posted an animated version of the album cover, along with a message highlighting the 30th anniversary. An hour later, a further message was posted announcing that rapper and producer Q-Tip was to host a special radio show on Apple Music to mark the occasion. Two further message came after. One with a YouTube link to the Diamonds and Pearls music videos, and the other containing four drawings (posted by the Paisley Park account) illustrating Prince’s look during this era, and that was it! A radio show and a handful of social media posts! Further posts relating to Diamonds and Pearls came throughout the week, but no music.
What went wrong? Were the rumours unture? Was Diamonds and Pearls not the next intended release? It turns out that the rumours may not have been wrong after all. Also on the day of the anniversary, Minneapolis based radio station The Current interviewed two of Prince’s former band members (drummer Michael Bland and keyboard player Tommy Barbarella). It was during this interview that Michael Bland mentioned in passing the work that was being done on the Diamonds and Pearls box set. “I’ve been speaking to Mike Howe about the re-release of Diamonds and Pearls they’re working on”. This was the first clear cut confirmation of work being done on this set specifically. So what the hell happened? How long would fans have to wait for more unheard Prince music? Well, it turned out not to be long at all.
Two weeks later, on 14th October 2021, a Prince anniversary release did materialise, but it was far from anything that the fanbase were expecting. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the album Controversy, The Prince Estate and Warner Records released the demo to Prince’s renowned ballad Do Me Baby onto streaming services and digital music stores. Furthermore, pre-orders opened for a 7” single (again with an etching on the reverse, rather than a B-side track) and a limited run of cassette copies.
This beautiful demo (which was recorded in 1979 and had never been heard by the fanbase at large prior to release) was a welcome addition to Prince’s discography. Having said that, it seemed clear to many that it was being used as a distraction from the larger elephant in the room.
November 2021. As the year drew to a close, it seemed obvious to everyone that there was to be no expanded box set this holiday season, leaving fans confused and disappointed. However, the year wasn’t to end without the reveal of some more, previously unheard Prince music.
On 20th November 2021, Paisley Park hosted a special screening of Prince’s 1986 movie 'Under The Cherry Moon’ as part of their cinema series, with special guests (former band members David Z and Matt Fink) available for a question and answer session. It was during this session that something extra special happened. The audience were treated to some exclusive snippets of previously unheard recordings from the Parade era.
The three unreleased recordings featured were as follows…
* A beautiful early rendition of Sometimes It Snows In April.
* A piano and vocal take of An Honest Man.
* Most exciting of all was a dance track recorded in the Camille vocal style entitled Evolsidog. This song had been known of and documented for decades prior, but very few of us had ever heard what it sounded like up until this point.
Within hours of the event ending, covert mobile phone recordings of these clips began circulating online and were a huge hit amongst fans. It was clear that what we were hearing was a sample of what had been worked on while compiling the now shelved Parade Super Deluxe. As magnificent as these clips were to hear, it also amped up the frustration as the fans were no closer to owning these amazing tracks for themselves.
2022: The Year of the Re-Issue
2022 will forever be remembered in Prince history as the year of the re-issue, however it was actually in December 2021 when pre-order offers began emerging online. Now that Legacy Recordings had the rights to distribute more of Prince’s back catalouge stateside, reprints of many Warner era albums were to be released under the Legacy Recordings label. Most of the catalogue was to be re-issued on CD, with a selection of albums also being made available again on vinyl. Although this wave of re-issues was rather extensive, there were a few notable absences.
The soundtrack albums were not expected as these still fell under the purview of Warner Brother's, however on 9th December 2021 former Prince PR man Dr. Funkenberry spoke on a YouTube livestream about the significance behind the absence of both Diamonds and Pearls and the 1992 Symbol album. He spoke hypothetically about the Diamonds and Pearls box set, and the possibility of The Prince Estate including the Symbol album as part of the package.
Although this was only mentioned “hypothetically”, the suggestion of combining albums within expanded box sets did cause some division. Since The Estate only seemed to be remastering albums that were getting the Super Deluxe treatment, the idea of combining albums would lead to the release of more remasters at a faster pace. In the case of Diamonds and Pearls, the Symbol album would have been a nice way to book end the set, providing that the unreleased material covered the work recorded between Diamonds and Pearls and Symbol. However, there were also concerns that combining albums in this manner would drive the price of the set up, and not leave sufficient scope to dive into the recording sessions and live material associated with each album individually.
4th February 2022. The Legacy re-issues are released, much to the dismay of the fanbase. As expected, the music wasn’t any different from the prior Warner Bros. releases. We were not expecting remastering or bonus tracks of any sort, but the problems didn’t stem from the music, but instead came from the artwork.
Two of the albums, Controversy and Come, contained errors. We’re not talking about one or two minor typos in the liner notes either. In the inlay card for Controversy, the song ‘Jack U Off’ was reffered to as ‘Get U Off’. How the hell did that happen? How do you get the title of a song wrong in this manner? Where was the quality control? Doesn’t anyone proof read this artwork before it goes to print?
Getting the title of a song wrong is one thing, but the typo on Come was significantly more egregious. Prince’s original intention for Come was for it to be the last album of new material that he would release under his given name. As such he used the album’s internal artwork to kill off the Prince persona. On the front of the album, underneath his name, Prince included the years of both his birth and his fictional death, ‘1958 – 1993’. On the cover of the Legacy version these dates are correct, however on and within the spine the dates are wrong, ‘1953 – 1993’. It’s amazing how nobody spotted this as both the correct and incorrect dates are both simultaneously visible from the front of the package.
This wasn’t the first time that Sony’s artwork had contained these sorts of errors. Back in 2021, the Record Store Day edition of The Truth contained incorrect credits. John Blackwell, Rhonda Smith, Renato Neto, Najee and Greg Boyer had been credited as musicians on the song The Other Side of the Pillow, when it was in fact a solo recording. The credits applied to an unrelated live recording of the song that was released on Prince’s One Nite Alone… Live album.
Between music containing audio flaws, vinyl etchings, errors on album artwork, and incorrect personnel credits, fans were becoming increasingly more worried about the Sony distribution deal.
February 2022. The release list for Record Store Day 2022 is published with a pleasant surprise. Prince’s long out of print 1995 album The Gold Experience was due for release on 18th June 2022. The reason this release was so significant was because the album’s most popular single had been tied up in legal purgatory for several years. In 1995, two song writers named Bruno Bergonzi and Michele Vicino filed a plagiarism lawsuit against Prince, claiming that the song The Most Beautiful Girl In The World was heavily based on their 1983 song Takin' Me To Paradise released by Raynard J. After a court victory, Prince’s #1 UK hit single was effectively banned in Italy, with repercussions spreading to other regions.
It turns out that the issue had been settled by The Prince Estate in March 2022 but had largely gone unnoticed by the fanbase.Over the days that followed, The Most Beautiful Girl In The World steadily returned to streaming services and digital music stores the world over. In addition to the Record Store Day vinyl, it was later announced that a standard retail CD would also be put back into production. The fact that this legal matter had been resolved had opened several doors moving forward.
The news about The Most Beautiful Girl in the World was positive, but it paled in comparison to what was discovered shortly after. It turned out that on 3rd February, Paisley Park Enterprises, Inc. had applied to register two trademarks. One was ‘NPG Music Club’ and the other was ‘Prince Vault’. Both trademarks were marked with the same description…
“...trademark registration is intended to cover the categories of musical sound recordings; musical video recordings; audio and video recordings featuring music performances; downloadable digital audio and video files featuring musical performances; motion picture films featuring music and musical entertainment; educational software featuring instruction in music and guitar playing; computer application software for mobile phones for use in providing musical and live entertainment”
This news was cause for celebration as NPG Music Club was by no means a new endeavour. Back in 2001, Prince had launched npgmusicclub.com as a members only service for fans to receive monthly downloadable music and video. It was a groundbreaking concept, years ahead of it’s time. Despite being the home to some of Prince’s greatest music of the 21st century, the platform didn’t flourish quite the way Prince had initially intended. According to one of Prince’s former employees, Prince had originally intended on using NPGMC to release much of the content he had recorded under contract with Warner Bros. Unfortunately, after releasing the 1985 recording Splash, Prince received a cease and desist letter from WB, forcing him into limiting the content to his independent recordings and live material which he held the full distribution rights to. After a few revisions to the site’s format, NPGMC closed in 2004.
Since Prince’s passing, a streaming service / online store has been in much demand from fans who do not want to see Prince’s content bottlenecked by the limitations imposed by physical releases and media. Was the NPG Music Club finally going to return?
In other news, the Diamonds and Pearls re-issue was briefly mentioned in the February issue of UK music magazine Classic Pop, stating that it was apparently slatted for a 2022 release.
Early March 2022. Things finally appeared to be turning around. The next box set appeared to suffering from a delay, but was still on its way by all accounts. One of Prince’s most important 90s singles was no longer caught up in legal limbo, and there was a distinct possibility that The Prince Estate were seriously considering the launch of an online store for Prince content. However, for me personally, none of this compared to the blue lightning bolt that was about to strike in the form of American rock star and vinyl enthusiast, Jack White.
In an interview for Mojo magazine (issue #342) it was revealed that Jack owned a much converted and ultra-rare Prince record, The Camille album (recorded and pressed in late 1986). Never released officially, the album only exists in the form of a tiny handful of test pressings which Prince gave away to colleagues and VIPs. Although the exact number of circulating copies is unknown, it is believed to only be around a dozen. Without delving too far into this albums history (I’ll save that for another time), this album has only been witnessed for sale three times in total. Jack was the winner of one of these auctions and paid just short of $50,000 for his copy. However the most exciting piece of news was that Jack claimed to have been granted permission to release Camille officially through his own Third Man record label. Was Camille, a record that has been on many a hardcore collectors wish list for decades, finally going to see the light of day? Although there was no release date or further details, the wheels appeared to be in motion.
18 March 2022, and the ghost of Syracuse refuses to die. It is announced that Legacy Recordings would be releasing a newly remixed and remastered edition of Prince’s 1985 Purple Rain show Prince and the Revolution Live! It sounds good on paper, so what’s the problem? The problem was that this would be the third release of this particular show since Prince passed away in 2016. Originally broadcast live on TV on 30th March 1985, and later released on home VHS and laserdisc, Syracuse is amongst Prince’s most renowned live recordings. A DVD of the show was included in the 2017 deluxe edition of the Purple Rain album, and an audio only version was later released on digital platforms in 2020. By the time this latest edition was announced by Legacy, the concept of relentlessly milking Syracuse had become a bit of joke. So why did Sony choose re-release this show?
The answer may lie in the fact that Sony didn’t have the right to distribute the Purple Rain soundtrack. By issuing this upgraded version of Syracuse both physically and digitally, they would have the opportunity to cash in on some of that Purple Rain capital.
As incredible as the Purple Rain tour show is, the fanbase were starting to get sick of seeing it get released on such a regular basis. One felt as if it was being abused. Having said that, the Legacy Recordings version was seemingly more than just a lazy cash grab. For this latest edition, Legacy hadn’t just remastered the final mix, but had instead gone back to the original stems to give the show a brand new mix, allowing them to present the music in a way that had never been heard before. Turning up sounds that were previously buried in the mix and suppressing issues like speaker feedback. In addition to high-res audio, CDs and vinyls, the video was also upscaled to high definition for a Blu-ray disc. Naturally this degree of upscaling (from broadcast quality) did present some janky results at times, especially during the long shots, but the close ups looked fantastic.
In addition to the home version, there was talk of a worldwide cinema release for a limited time during May. Bizarrely, the cinema version was scheduled to also include 15 minutes of bonus material in the form of a music set from DJ Rashida (Prince’s former tour DJ). However, this was seemingly cancelled before it was even announced, possibly as a result of fan backlash towards the re-release.
22 March 2022. Posters of Prince’s symbol begin appearing in Chicago, with photos being posted on social media. The following day it was revealed that Chicago would be host to an immersive exhibition titled Prince: The Experience. Here fans would be able to step onto recreation of Prince’s video sets, have their photo taken in the style of the Purple Rain album cover, remix Prince’s music on a studio mixing desk, plus various other things. There would also be an exclusive line of merchandise available. I was personally particularly taken by this Parade / Crystal Ball style T-shirt. The Experience was scheduled to open in June.
20 April 2022 – Pleased to meet you too!
April, and there is more Camille news. Jack White appears on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where the subject of Prince’s Camille album springs up again. He explains how the songs had been released over time, but that the album as a piece had not been released before.
Excited by the discussion, I took a clip of the show and posted it to my twitter timeline. Clearly this was something that was of at least modest interest to the fanbase (garnering over 300 likes and 50 retweets), however this also resulted in a strange interaction with a Twitter user whom up until this point I was unaware of.
Jack White of @thirdmanrecords discussing #Prince's #Camille album.— Vas Christian (@TheFunkBible) April 22, 2022
I really hope the @Prince estate doesn't keep us waiting too long for this. I'm looking forward to seeing this body of work enter the discography as a complete project. pic.twitter.com/GR7f9JwwrE
In reply to the clip, a gentleman by the name of Charles Spicer (stick a pin in this name, as he’ll pop up again later) posted the following… ‘Prince said it best himself, “What if half the things ever said turned out to be a lie.” Apparently people are being hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray by misinformation.’
I asked him for further clarification, but didn’t receive any additional reply. I dismissed what he’d said since naysayers are not uncommon on social media. Until further details emerged I was under the impression that Camille was on it’s way.
Celebration 2022. The annual Prince exhibition at Paisley Park went off without a hitch. The line up of guests included band members and personnel that Prince worked with in the early 90s during the Diamonds and Pearls / Symbol album period. One feature was a band ‘play along’ to a 1992 live Glam Slam show. As a free gift, ticket holders were given a Celebration exclusive 7” single containing two live tracks. Diamonds And Pearls (Live At Glam Slam) & Nothing Compares 2 U (Live At Glam Slam). The event wasn’t entirely focused on this era of Prince’s career, but there was definitely a notable theme emerging.
30 June 2022 – Jack White conducts a short interview with MSN to discuss plans for the Camille album. He explained how he acquired a copy of the test pressing for himself, and opened up channels with The Prince Estate and Warner Records to get the green light for a release.
"We’re finally going to put it out. Prince’s people agreed – almost too easy.”
One quote that did cause concern was Jack expressing the intention to ‘re-edit’ the album. This choice of words caused some concern, however he also explicitly state that he was going to “re-edit it as it was originally planned”, essentially using his authentic copy as a guide to sequence the album as intended. This begs the question, what has happened to Camille’s original master tape?
Later that same day, Jack took to Instagram to clarify what he meant by ‘re-edit’…
“This headline is misleading, and I want to make sure the message is clear: Neither I nor Third Man Records have any intention of 'editing' or 'remixing' Prince's music. I was referring to simply putting the songs in the original order that the album Camille was in, as those songs have been put out in multiple releases since Camille was first taken off the presses. I would never mess with Prince's music. Hopefully, that clears up any misunderstanding, and this album can see the light of day in its original form”
Everything seemed very positive, however a few days later there was a worrying development. Jack deleted his Instagram message with no explanation as to why. He seemingly went silent on the topic of the Camille album altogether.
Towards the end of July, Dr. Funkenberry hosted another livestream to document updates regarding The Prince Estate. It was during this livestream that a member of his YouTube chat brought up the subject of Camille.
“Still waiting on Camille? You’re gonna be waiting a while. You know, sorry Jack White, you don’t have that info yet. Look, who wouldn’t want to work with Jack White? But whoever was telling him that it was happening was doing you guys a disservice.”
Camille was dead once again! How could this have happened? Did Jack White misunderstand The Estate’s intentions? Was he communicating with someone who didn’t have the authority to green light the release? Or was it something else entirely?
29 July 2022 – Under New Management
The final court hearing regarding the distribution of Prince’s assets had ended. Comerica Bank & Trust, who had been granted temporary jurisdiction over the management of Prince’s affairs, brought The Prince Estate to a close.
Initially, Prince’s assets were split evenly between six of Prince’s then living siblings. (Sharon L. Nelson, Norrine P. Nelson, John R. Nelson, Alfred Jackson, Tyka Nelson and Omarr Baker).
At the time of the final hearing, Prince’s assets were divided into two camps...
Three of Prince’s siblings, (Alfred Jackson, Tyka Nelson, and Omarr Baker) sold their shares to music publishing company Primary Wave. Alfred and Omar sold their shares in full, however Tyka chose to retain a small percentage for herself. With the exception of Tyka’s small retention, Primary Wave own just short of half the shares.
The three remaining siblings, (Sharon L. Nelson, Norrine P. Nelson, and John R. Nelson) who retained their shares at the time, went on to form a holding company named Prince Legacy LLC. (Not to be confused with Legacy Recordings.)
Note from the author: Although at this point The Prince Estate by name had technically ended, I still find the expression useful as a term to describe the union between Primary Wave and Prince Legacy LLC. I just wanted to make that clear to avoid confusion.
After the hearing, Sharon Nelson was seen leaving Carver County Court alongside two men. To her right was Prince’s former lawyer Londell McMillan (now advisor to Sharon and Norrine), and to her left, accomplice Charles F. Spicer Jr. (told you!) It turns out that both Londell and Charles had been hired to help drive Prince Legacy LLC forward.
It was outside this court that Sharon uttered the now infamous quote regarding her brother’s music.
Sharron: “What’s the most important thing that you think about when you think of Prince?”
Press: “The Music.”
Sharon: “Absolutely, and where is it? It isn’t here! So we’re gonna bring it back. That’s what we’re gonna do. Once we have the music they’re gonna get the real good sound that they should have had six years ago. We’re gonna bring his original music out.”
Specifically, Sharon was referring to Prince’s master tapes when saying “it isn’t here”. Prince’s tapes had been moved to secure facility, Ion Mountain in Los Angeles, where they could be kept safely, recovered from some of the deterioration that they had experienced over time, and be converted digitally for preservation. Her intention was to bring the tapes home to Paisley Park in order to continue the work. Her comments drew concern as many questioned whether Paisley Park was a suitable facility to carry out this job, but her message regarding bringing out “the real good sound” was encouraging.
During the same livestream where Dr. Funkenberry confirmed the ill fate of Camille, he also discussed the new administrations intentions. “Whatever was planned under the old regime, don’t expect it now!” The new management had hit reset on everything that was in the works! It was unknown as to what the new administration was planning to release next. However, if there was one thing that was a guaranteed, it was further delays.
FOUR MONTHS LATER...
21 November 2022. The first new merchandise drops under the new administration. Five silk scarfs, each one with a price tag of $130! The reveal of these scarves went down like a pan of cold sick.
The patterns were criticised for containing inconstant graphics. There were Purple Rain themed scarves containing Prince’s symbol, combining images from the 1984 album with mid 90s branding. A Parade (1986) themed scarf, combined with 1998 New Power Soul style symbols. The whole range was a mess.
The promotion of merchandise was nothing new or novel by this point. Since Prince’s passing, his official website had often sent out email bulletins to fans on their mailing list, announcing what was new up for sale. Up until this point the majority of what was being pushed was vinyl, CDs and T-shirts, but something about these scarfs rubbed the fanbase up the wrong way. Had the market been flourishing with new music at the time, I’m sure no one would have taken a blind bit of notice. However, given the mountains of disappointments that had piled up until this point, these scarves were an insult. How did the new administration respond to the blowback?
12th January 2023 – Prince Pyjamas
27th January 2023 – Prince Hoodies
2nd February 2023 – A large new line of T-Shirts (actually a lot of these were pretty good to be fair)
8th February 2023 – Designer sunglasses (priced at $425!)
17th February 2023 – Baseball Caps, Socks, Umbrellas and Water Bottle
22nd February 2023 – Lounge-wear
24 February 2023 – Bomber Jackets
10 March 2023 – Basket Ball Jersey
18 May 2023 – More Hoodies
And at some point during the mist of all this, a Purple Rain Jigsaw Puzzle!
November 29th. It is announced that Sharon Nelson would be hosting a New Year’s Eve event to celebrate “The Dawn of a New Era”. Titled Enlightenment, the event would be produced by OMG Studios (I’d never heard of them either) and would feature The Time’s frontman Morris Day. The graphics used to promote the event didn’t inspire confidence.
31st December 2022: The year of the re-issue ends without the release of a single studio track. Even during Prince’s rare quite periods, it is almost unheard for an entire calendar year to pass in this manner. The drought in Prince’s music continued to linger on, with no signs of ending it sight.
2023: The “Big Year”
January 2023 and something unusual starts to happen. Charles Spicer begins replying to disaffected fans on Twitter with cryptic messages revolving around the number 7. There are a lot of numbers that fans associate with Prince based on song titles and lyrics. 1999, 17 Days, 319, 3121, 200 Ballons, 101, 2045: Radical Man (it’s never an easy task guessing a Prince fan’s pin number). Having said that, 7 seemed to have a spiritual significance.
In addition to the 7 references, Spicer also proclaimed that “It’s a New Year and great things will be coming!” and “Here is a fact for you 2+0+2+3= Big 💜Year!”. So what exactly was the grand plan?
26 January 2023, and Paisley Park releases a ‘save the date’ teaser for Celebration 2023. The video contains dissolving numbers counting from 1 to 7. The music accompanying the video is a breezy, jazzy piece with Prince ad libbing over the top. It was a piece that had never been heard previously by the fanbase at large. The teaser raised a lot of questions, but successfully placed a spotlight on Celebration 2023.
16 February 2023 and some disheartening news. The listing for Record Store Day 2023 was released, with no Prince involvement for the first time since he passed away. Although The Estate was under no obligation to participate in the event, which had been affectionately dubbed ‘Wrecka Stow Day’ (an in joke amongst fans), Prince’s absence really hammered home how bad the situation had got. New merchandise was plentiful, but where’s the music? It isn’t here!
25 February 2023. Paisley Park announces that they will be holding an artwork competition to create a poster for Celebration 2023. Again, the advert featured the same jazzy music as the ‘save the date’ advert. When fans began questioning what the piece was called, Londell replied with “Ya’ll will know soon…”.
The following week, comedian Chris Rock hosted a live Netflix special titled Selective Outrage. Throughout the performance, Chris can been seen wearing a Prince symbol neckless. Charles Spicer posted a photo of Chris from said special with a simple message, “Big Year”. What was going to be so big about it? Little did we all know, we were days away from part of the puzzle.
7th March 2023. It really isn’t uncommon for news of a new Prince album to break before it’s official announcement. Sometimes it’s via a screenshot, or through a pre-order offer that’s broken an embargo, but nothing prepared us for our first glimpse of the Diamonds and Pearls re-issue. Where did the fanbase see the record for the first time? It was being sold on eBay???
An American eBay seller had both the remastered Diamonds and Pearls and Symbol vinyl up for auction. (I have to admit, I didn’t see that one coming!) Christ knows where these came from or how the seller got hold of them, but there they were, up for the highest bid. The albums contained hype stickers featuring serial numbers which matched Sony’s numbering convention. At first, some fans were sceptical of their authenticity, however Angelo Schifano (somebody with a hand in the quality control of many recent Prince vinyl releases) was able to confirm their authenticity by posting a photo of the related test pressings.
Days after the shock sale of both standard edition records, the same seller upped the ante by auctioning a deluxe edition Diamonds and Pearls vinyl. The remastered set contained 4LPs consisting entirely of previously released material, although one track is significantly difficult to own a legit copy of (the rare original promo version of Gett Off), and one track had previously only been available on home video (the re-recording of Willing and Able). I’m uncertain as to whether this auction was able to run it’s course, or whether the item was pulled from sale prematurely. Either way, the listing no longer exists on the site.
Something positive to note is how these releases contained logos for both Legacy Recordings and Warner Records. Given how both companies retained distribution rights to Prince’s music (to varying degrees), I was concerned that a lack of co-operation would hurt Prince product (when it ever comes out!) To see evidence of both companies co-operating gave me hope. All was not lost.
Several weeks later, a social media video clip from French vinyl pressing plant revealed that 7inch singles were being pressed with a sleeve matching that of Prince’s D&P era single, Money Don’t Matter 2Nite. It’s been speculated that these records were being pressed for a 7inch singles box set to accompany the Diamonds and Pearls deluxe edition.
Despite these images leaking over four months ago at the time of publishing this, there has still been no official word on any of these releases. If the lack of music wasn’t killing fanbase enthusiasm, a lack of transparency certainly was. Teasers were not serving us any more as our confidence has been too badly shaken. As the 7th anniversary of Prince's passing drew closer (a time of year which many fans find daunting) we finally got a peak behind the curtain of what was happening with Prince Legacy LLC... and it was far worse than we imagined.
8th April 2023, and Sharon Nelson posted a tweet which sent panic through the fanbase. Usually Sharon mainly used her Twitter account to post bible quotes, but today was a rare exception.
Sharon L. Nelson has no voice or involvement in— Sharon L. Nelson (@Sharon_L_Nelson) April 8, 2023
decisions made in the # Prince Estate matters.#slave
What the hell was going on? Were Prince Legacy LLC and Primary Wave caught in some kind of stand off? Was there a mutiny happening amongst the share holders? Is this something to do with why Prince’s unreleased music was stuck in gridlock?
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT!!!— Sharon L. Nelson (@Sharon_L_Nelson) April 20, 2023
Unfortunately, I take full responsibility for
bringing Londell Mc Millan and Charles SpIcer
in to assist me in settling the estate, however, I
did not give them the right to take over my family's
name or my brother's legacy. #RIP PRINCE
Prince’s affairs had been mixed up in legal dispute for years already at this point, and now Sharon was publicly butting heads with the legal advisors that she brought on to help resolve such disputes?
The video discusses aligation of contractual disputes happening within Prince Legacy LLC. It is unclear to what extent Sharon endorses the allegations within this video by posting it online herself, but presumable she does to some extent. So far it has only been Sharon who has aired these grievances publicly, as such it’s difficult to judge whether or not the other remaining heirs within Prince Legacy LLC share her sentiment.
Londell responded to the post as follows…
“Lies and BS. Shameful how people lie and scandalize others’ names. These comments are false. Stop disrespecting people and Prince with lies and evil. Have my own fortune. Peace”
Charles also responded…
“The Prince Estate is run by Prince Legacy, LLC which includes Sharon, Norrine, John’s children and Primary Wave. It is not a dictatorship that allows one member to make decisions just because she thinks she is entitled to do so and wants to disregard everyone else. #truthmatters”
It is unclear as to where each party now stands and whether these disputes have since been resolved or not.
Wasted Kisses / Groovy Potential
There is no doubt in my mind that Prince’s work hasn’t been given the care, attention and due diligence that it deserves over the past few years. Releases have been thin, and when they have come out we’ve seen all manner of problems. Audio glitches, wasted wax, cover art errors, overpriced packages, the same show being released time after time, box sets getting delayed, box sets getting shelved, albums being discussed in interviews then mysteriously disappearing. The sheer abundance of merchandise and public infighting amongst management hasn’t lent any confidence to the situation either.
Having said that, despite all manner of problems, The Prince Estate has demonstrated potential.
Take Syracuse for example. Yes, it has been released three times in five years, but look at the effort that Legacy Recordings went to for the last revision. Going the extra mile to completely revolutionise the sound and upscale the video to HD and 4K. If they could do that with Syracuse, how about other broadcast shows such as Detroit ‘86, Dortmund ‘88, Tokyo ‘90? The last revision of Syracuse was a tremendous package in it’s own right, and had this been the only version to be released this century, I’m sure it would have received a much warmer reception.
What about Welcome 2 America? It’s fantastic that The Estate recognises the demand for projects that Prince sequenced in his lifetime (in addition to what has been compiled on his behalf after the fact). If Welcome 2 America is on the table, why not the original Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic (1989), why not The Dawn (1997)? There are dozens of potentially complete albums ready to go. Personally, as a fan, I’d like to hear more of the sequences that Prince constructed himself. Even the unfinished or preliminary ones made for album that eventually did get released, such as early versions of The Gold Experience and Exodus.
Speaking of The Gold Experience, think what can be done now that The Most Beautiful Girl In The World is now clear for release again. How about a career spanning Greatest Hits package that covers more than just the Warner years? How about getting the incredible Beautiful Experience TV movie on YouTube or other streaming service? The most exciting prospects come from the types of box sets that can be green lit now. A Gold Experience Super Deluxe? How about a Dawn box set covering both Come and The Gold Experience, since they were sequenced at the same time and share a lot of cross over tracks. How about a complete studio session set from 1993-1994?
If The Estate can get their act together, the potential is there! Will they go to the effort to deliver on any of this?
On the 1st June 2023, I made the following statement regarding the upcoming Celebration exhibition…
“After a huge dry spell in discography entries, the constant messaging of having to be patient, the promises that 2023 will be such an important year for Prince, and the frequent merch drops, this better be incredible. This is sink or swim time for the new administration.”
However, The Prince Estate managed to throw a curve ball that took them from sinking to floundering.
7th June was Prince’s birthday, and the day immediately before the launch of Celebration 2023. There was some speculation amongst fans that the announcement of the Diamonds and Pearls set would fall prior to celebration, otherwise there would have been a huge elephant in the room during the exhibition. Despite the logic behind it, nothing was announced.
During the exhibition, those holding VIP tickets (which sold for $1,000+) were invited into Prince’s studio for an exclusive listening session. Here VIPs were able to listen to a selection of previously unheard tracks, recorded throughout Prince’s career, in their entirety.
* The Rain and You (Spring / Summer 1981)
* 7 in E flat (8/9 August 1992)
* Everything Could Be So Fine (7 July 1987)
* The Rock that Keeps Rolling (7 Aug 1992)
* All the King's Men (2002)
* I Believe I Love You (27 July 1987)
* Don't Play With Love (28 June 1985) with John L. Nelson
* Della Black Heart (4 April 2006)
* U’re Such A Tease (2006)
* All A Shared Together Now (4/9 Sept 2006)
* Soft and Wet (Estimate 1976)
This was a wonderful opportunity for those who could afford it, and as Londell said, fans did discover the title of the jazzy piece was playing during the promo videos, All A Share Together Now. But what about the next release?
Wednesday 7th, no announcement. Thursday 8th, no announcement. Friday 9th, no announcement. Saturday 10th, and the curve ball lands!
Staff at the event hand out free gifts to everyone in attendance. What first appeared to be a cassette tape turned out to be a USB storage device containing two tracks that were featured during the VIP listening session. All A Share Together Now and 7 (E Flat Version).
The fact that two of Prince’s songs were released in this manner was great news, but the best news was actually what was printed on the spine. ‘Vault Series Vol. 1’. The Estate hadn’t just released some of Prince’s music. They were launching an entire series of previously unreleased material. No further details were offered at the time, however according to a press release made on June 12th “both tracks are set for a worldwide DSP release on July 7, 2023”.
The 7th Day, The 7th Month, and as Charles pointed out, 2+0+2+3 = 7.
Less than 24 hours after these rare gifts were distributed, the two newly released tracks began circulating online, however something was off. The circulating files were extremely compressed 128kb MP3s. It was assumed for a time that whoever first shared the files must have servery downsampled them (for whatever reason), as surely there was no way that the official files could sound as bad as the circulating ones. They were in fact identical.
Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm receiving word that the two Celebration songs have been supplied as 128kb MP3s???— Vas Christian (@TheFunkBible) June 11, 2023
When I said "bring back NPGMC" I didn't realise the estate would be this faithful.#Prince #Celebration
The first track, All A Share Together Now, didn’t sound too bad, compression considered. However the biggest offender was the alternate version of 7 which sounded like “a damaged tape being played through a toilet” according to UK based Prince YouTuber Mr. Ant.
During a livestream hosted by Prince news channel Funkatopia, Charles Spicer sent a direct message to host Mr. Christopher, stating that...
“The concern about the 128kb mp3 quality was intentional because I knew it would be bootlegged and there will be those who want to press it up illegally etc.”
This sort of practice is commonplace amongst private traders, leakers and bootleggers as a method of preserving the value of their original source copies, but never before had such a stunt been pulled when it came to an official Prince release.
Day 7 is swiftly approaching. The Estate earned a small reprieve with the soft launch of Vault Series Vol. 1, but what does the future have in store for this series? Will we only see the release of these two tracks on Friday, or was the USB stick a sample of a wider release? What will the sound quality be like in comparison to what has been released so far. Will The Estate deliberately self sabotage again in the future?
As for Diamonds and Pearls, Londell did respond to the subject of box sets, shortly after Sharon went public about her contractual disputes.
Question: Why has the date not been shared on next iconic Prince Box set?— L Londell McMillan (@LondellMcMillan) April 30, 2023
Answer: The record distributors asked we hold on the announcement to maximize the “set up” We are being collaborative but coming soon 💜
The decisions involve multiple parties.
What’s amazing is that the concept alone of a Vault Series (or something equivalent) is something that the fanbase has been pleading about for years now. Despite this, the buzz just isn’t there any more. The fanbase has learnt to expect disappointment. There should be far more energy surrounding 7th July, instead fans are feeling drawn out and depressed.
Two weeks ago I was reading through a discussion amongst a group of fans on Discord who were sugesting a boycott of The Prince Estate (not that there is a lot to boycott). The idea appeared to have legs and many were in support of the concept, although cooler heads prevailed and suggested they wait to see what came of day 7. There was even talk of naming the boycott ‘Prince Fans United’ after a similar boycotting effort that emerged during Prince’s lifetime by frustrated fans. Just the fact that boycotts are even being suggested in a cursory manner reveals a lot about the sentiment towards The Estate at this time.
Can The Estate even begin to make up for the past three years at this stage? We’ll learn more this coming Friday.
To be continued...