Prince and The Revolution
Mountains 12″ extended remix
1986 Warner Brothers 0-20465
45 RPM 12-inch single
Alexa de Paris (4:56)
Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed with Click Repair (manually auditioned) and individually with Adobe Audition 3.0; resampled using iZotope RX 2 Advanced SRC and dithered with MBIT+ for 16-bit. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.
In Matt Taibi’s eulogy for Rolling Stone magazine, he mused that maybe the world had grown too angry of a place for Prince. After waking up to today’s news headlines from Orlando, and having done some work on this post over the last few days, I keep thinking about that and wondering if maybe he’s right. Who is going to write celestial tunes like this one, when we need them most?
Love will conquer if u just believe
I think I can measure how important the “Parade” album was to me by the fact that it was the last of Prince’s classic back catalog hat I listened to after his death. It’s like I had to work myself up to it. For one thing, it ended up being a swan song for this phase of Prince’s creative arc, as he dissolved The Revolution afterwards and lost a little (but not all) of the dreamy gauze of psychedelized folk-funk that took place in that unique musical alembic. As great as the music still to come would be, I recall being distinctly bummed out when I heard that he’d fired nearly everyone. “Parade” also marks the introduction of more pronounced jazz influences into Prince’s music, helped along by the presence and influence of Eric Leeds and Sheila E. There’s an art-house aesthetic going on too, with the monochromatic cover art (and film, which I didn’t see for years until after the record came out)… But let me save some of this energy for a full post on the Parade album (is that a promise? Sort of, I’m notoriously bad about keeping my promises here..) and get to talking about this single.
Mountains (extended mix)
Co-written with Revolutionaries Wendy Melvoin & Lisa Coleman, the song “Mountains” encapsulates a lot of what I find so enchanting about the record. For whatever reason, after the news of April 21 broke, it’s the song I wanted to hear. “Sometimes It Snows In April” occurred to me instantly, but it seemed almost too obvious, and anyway I wasn’t ready to hear it yet. “Mountains” for me always embodied the warmth and transcendence that Prince & The Revolution were capable of at their best. It’s truly one for the purple hippies out there. Propelled by a Mu-Tron modulated bass riff and chugging rhythm guitar, it has an implied drone through it, which emerges fully with a tamboura-type sound at the three and 1/2 minute mark, after the bebop-inflected instrumental bridge. On live bootlegs from 86, you can hear that they would often precede the song by an extended faux-Indian drone using this synth patch. Prince plays finger cymbals on the tune. The lyrics, which can be a little hard to make out as his falsetto gets enveloped by the sonic mountains, are cryptically mystical ‘love conquers all’ stuff. In the music video he is seated cross-legged on a carpet in the middle of the band with a pair of maracas, wearing his bolero hat. At this point Prince was a master of mid-tempo funk, and this tune lopes along like some sort of troop formation marching through the valleys of Neptune for an assault on the Holy Mountain or something else suitably epic. The single immediately preceding this one from Parade was the number one smash Kiss, and the lush soundscape here contrasts sharply with that tune’s austere minimalism. In comparison this song did poorly on the charts, only reaching 23 on the Billboard Hot 100, and some fans blame that for an even worse chart performance of the next single, Anotherloverholenyohead, with some arguing that the latter is a better song and should have come first. I can see their point. From one perspective, “Anotherlover” is perhaps a more immediately engaging song, a bit more melodically and rhythmically complex than “Mountains,” and it definitely has more dynamic tension. In fact I always thought “Mountains” was the last single released from the record, maybe because it has a ‘coda’ kind of feel to it, like it should be at the end of a cycle (hell, it plays during the final credits of Under the Cherry Moon, so apparently they felt it worked as a coda too).
The extended version features Eric Leeds playing some saxophone solos worthy of the Parker Brothers (Charlie and Maceo), and some choice trumpet breaks by Atlanta Bliss. A brief, fat-tone-with-the-treble-rolled-off jazz guitar solo bubbles up out of nowhere and quickly disappears. There is some kind of wood flute piping out riffs that sound like some lost Traffic jam. Dr. Fink gets to drop a few squalls of synth leads. In all, this is one of the more interesting extended mixes in Prince’s catalog. In fact, it’s not just extended but fully remixed. Compared to the album version, this mix is a lot more robust and dynamic. (edit: Actually the vocals are a lot clearer on the album version, while this mix has more of everything else…)
From an unfinished book by Prince fan “madhouseman”:
After the original session on Saturday, November 30, 1985 at the Washington Avenue Warehouse in Minneapolis, some additional work was done on the track in Minneapolis and it was shelved until Friday, March 28, 1986, when it was edited for the 7-inch and 12-inch mixes for release (the 2nd released from PARADE). “Mountains, a song on the Parade album that I always loved which was Wendy and Lisa’s song, the horn parts on the album version are pretty sparse,’ remembered Eric Leeds. “There’s a couple of lines, but we did a 12-inch version of that which is my favorite 12-inch that Prince ever did. I think it’s a great, great performance, just the whole idea of the 12-inch. There’s nothing particularly heavy about the horns on that, but I just really like some very simple stuff. I just remember the whole thing, and just being a part of that was just really nice. I guess the horn parts in themselves don’t really stand out as being anything special, but it was just cool.“
The additional horns were overdubbed for the song on April 1, and more mixing and editing followed on April 6, 22, and 27th.
It was eventually released on May 7 1986 (single release) and the 12 inch was released on May 21.
On the flip side of this single is the instrumental Alexa de Paris which was not included on the album. For anyone who lamented the absence of any extended guitar workouts on Parade, well then here’s a tune for you. Although conditioned to expect the unexpected, I wonder how many fans anticipated an unabashed progressive rock -influenced track that sounds like it could have comfortably fit on a late-70s Genesis or Camel record. The drumming is pretty unmistakably Sheila E., with her proto-metal kick and snare fills that are, again, a little unexpected from somebody who got their start playing jazz, jazz-funk, and salsa with Herbie Hancock, George Duke, and her dad Pete Escovedo. Clare Fischer, whose understated string arrangements play a prominent role on the LP, apparently wrote charts for this entire song, but it sounds like they were only used for one brief section, settling in well like an extension of the band. There’s a flashy drum solo near the end, but sorry – no break beats in this one.
Alexa de Paris
Although Alexa de Paris is a cult favorite among fans, rarely performed live, and is great fun to listen to, I’m glad it wasn’t included on the album proper. One of the things I really love about “Parade” is that, perhaps more than any other record in his back catalog, it sounds like it could have been recorded at any time in the last 30 years. In 1986, it sounded to me like the kind of thing they could have put on the Voyager satellite to introduce Earth’s civilization to our extraterrestrial neighbors. It’s an almost seamless patchwork of the past and future. I am still unsure how Prince and his engineer Susan Rogers achieved some of the sounds on the record. “Traditional” instruments often sound abstracted and processed, “synthetic” instruments sound organic and warm, and they achieve a real density to the sonic palette worthy of any of today’s avant-knob-twiddlers. And remember this was still being done on analog tape, before the days of non-destructive digital editing. Okay, I guess the Linn drums are unmistakable 80s trademarks, but they are retro-cool again so that doesn’t count. Anyway my point is that Alexa de Paris just screams mid-1980s in its aesthetic and doesn’t date as well as the Parade material.
On to more mundane things. The impetus that prompted me to finally leave Blogger was discovering a blog that a friend tipped me off to, Fun With Vinyl. My friend, like many an unfortunate soul who either ran out of space or swallowed the industry propaganda of the time, sold or gave away all of his records at some point in the 1990s. He’s been going back and finding all the extended 12″ Prince singles that he used to own. I have a handful, but truth be told, although I’m plenty OCD about music in other ways, I have never been a completest collector of any single artist (that way, there is always more to discover!). So, there is stuff on the Fun With Vinyl site that I don’t have and even things I’d never heard. I was impressed by the clean look and easy functionality of the place, struck up a new online friendship with DJ Ritchie who runs the blog, and started planning my escape from the shackles of Blogger.
Apparently every June at Fun With Vinyl has been a Paisley June for years now, with special Prince-related posts, in honor of his June 7 birthday. This year is obviously poignant, as he would have turned 58. DJ Ritchie has decided to highlight the treasure trove of 12″ singles, which include many remixes and non-album cuts, by inviting guest bloggers to post their write-ups on individual releases. It’s a great and fun idea, and there are lots of personal reminiscence and anecdotes from these bloggers – the kind of stuff I like. I highly recommend you all check it out if you’re interested.
Today I’ve opted to share my own needledrop here, because it is something I enjoy doing and I have a near minty-fresh copy of this one. I’ll probably post more of these singles from my stash, though not necessarily in the month of June, so head on over there to continue the celebration.