Prince’s first major crossover album gets the reissue it deserves
Prior to the late 1982 release of his double album 1999, Prince had only made the pop top 40 once, with 1979’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” which peaked at #11. (It also spent two weeks atop the Soul singles chart; he’d had a further three Soul top 10s since.)
He’d already released four studio albums, one per year starting in 1978, but 1999 was clearly multiple steps forward, not only a double album but a highly ambitious one. (For the backstory on the gestation and making of the album, I highly recommend the Current’s four-part podcast, Prince: The Story of 1999, made in conjunction with the Prince Estate.)
And surprisingly to some, it sent Prince into the pop mainstream in a major way, peaking at #9 on Billboard’s pop albums chart (#4 Soul) and spinning off a trio of singles that made the top 15 of the Hot 100: the title track (#12), “Little Red Corvette” (#6), and “Delirious” (#8).
Now the Prince Estate has given 1999 the super deluxe treatment: original album remastered, one disc of edits, remixes, and b-sides, two discs of unreleased songs, an entire live show from the 1999 tour, and a DVD with another show from the same tour. Plus gorgeous packaging, extensive essays and liner notes, and a cool little box to hold it all. You already know, if you’re reading this, that 1999 is a fabulous, legendary album. I mean, if you don’t, I can’t help you. So why should you shell out for this new set? I’ll tell you.
A.) Early/alternate versions of songs you may already know. There’s a live-in-studio take on “International Lover” with Morris Day on drums and Prince at his loosest; a similarly live-in-studio voice-and-piano version of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” that’s breathtaking in its, simultaneously, simplicity and rawness; “Bold Generation,” which would eventually be revisited and turned into Graffiti Bridge’s “New Power Generation” years later (spoiler alert: this one’s superior); and “Possessed,” which turned up on the deluxe edition of Purple Rain a couple years ago — but this is a completely different take on the song, keyboard-heavy where the ‘84 version rocks hard. This are all different enough that Prince fans will want to hear these, and should.
B.) Previously unreleased material that smokes. “Rearrange” and “Purple Music” are astounding and totally could’ve fit on 1999. “No Call U” is, musically, a brother of “Jack U Off.” And the new wave “Do Yourself A Favor” is not only superb, but features an early appearance by the same Prince alter ego from The Black Album’s “Bob George” — the first time I heard it was a genuine thrill, a double-take-worthy “whaaaat!”
C.) The physical packaging on this thing is luxe, truly worthy of Prince. All of the essays add something to your enjoyment of the box’s contents — including the surprising inclusion of one from Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan, who has some Prince stories of his own — and Prince recording expert Duane Tudahl’s liner notes for the unreleased material alone are worth the price of admission. (His Prince and the Purple Rain Studio Sessions is a must-read for any serious Prince fan.)
D.) The live material from the 1999 tour is so *chef’s kiss*. There’s an audio disc of the late show from Detroit on 11/30/82 which makes clear that those who think Prince only reached the peak of his powers as a live performer circa Purple Rain are dead wrong: he was already there. And then there’s a DVD of 12/29/82 Houston concert, which is a marvel to watch. Seeing his cockiness, and confidence, while he sings “Do Me, Baby” is something: he knew what was happening. He knew he was gonna rule the world. The video quality isn’t incredible, but the show was filmed multi-cam, and you can see it all.
I mean, really, I don’t know how else I can say it: if you’re a Prince fan, you need this. Kudos to the Estate for the job they did with this, and here’s hoping future deluxe editions (word is that Parade is next) show this much care and love. Prince 4ever, y’all.
AUDIO/VIDEO: Prince 1999 (full remastered album)