The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

Prince Week Day 4: The Reissue Conundrum

with 8 comments

Talking about Prince on a blog devoted to back catalogue music usually results in three considerations: 1) Prince really should allow remasters/reissues of his astounding discography, 2) Prince won’t ever allow remasters/reissues of said discography and 3) why the heck not?

As many of his fellow contemporaries (Madonna, Michael Jackson, Rick James, etc.) and other luminaries (The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, even The Beatles) have enjoyed remastering and rediscovery on compact disc, Prince has not. Even more disturbing is that he may never – and worse yet, no one quire understands why.

Some artists have their reasons for being reluctant to mine their own back catalogue: they don’t want to revisit that particular time in their lives, they feel the work hasn’t held up over time, they have a particular enmity with the label that controls said recordings and so on. Prince seems to suffer from all of those afflictions at one time or another. He consistently discusses looking forward instead of back and his decade-old conversion to the Jehovah’s Witness faith has curtailed his tolerance of those somewhat raunchy early LPs. Then there’s his ongoing hatred of Warner Bros., which at its apex drove him to unpronounceable madness.

Does Prince have the wrong idea about reissues? Is he waiting for something? How would such reissues even work? Let’s speculate after the jump.Of course Prince is wrong. On so many levels. That whole “I-look-forward-not-back” routine is embarrassing in the hands of any artist. If you really refuse to look back, you’ll never play your old songs. Particularly not during a Super Bowl halftime show. And especially not in the same set where you play soul and R&B songs that are older than your career. Seeing as how Prince has done all three of those things, the argument loses its merit.

The LOtUSFLOW3R disaster didn’t help either. For the promotion of his last release, a Target-exclusive multi-disc set, Prince jumped back into the Internet with a new Web site promising content unlike any other in his career. As one of the Web’s earliest adopters – he was selling CDs on his sites in the late 1990s and started offering downloads well through the first half of the next decade – this was a tough act to follow, particularly since his NPG Music Club was shuttered without warning a few years back.

Fans were understandably expecting something big. Not long before, he was systematically scrubbing himself off the Internet and threatening to sue whoever didn’t comply. So fans lined up to join the Web site (and pay a $77 subscription fee) and got…a digital download of the album and a few bootleg quality clips (most famously, a Japanese-subtitled dub of the Warner-era Sacrifice of Victor concert). And a t-shirt (well, the ones that actually ended up on fans’ doorsteps). Then, almost a year later, the Web site shuttered, but that didn’t stop some fans’ credit cards from automatically resubscribing.

Basically, if this is how Prince is going to look forward, then someone wake me when it’s 1986.

So let’s assume that Prince knows that reissues should happen while anyone still buys CDs. What is he waiting for? It’s highly unlikely that he’ll wait to buy or receive his master recordings. (He probably won’t get them if Warner Bros. wrote out Prince’s contract like one might expect them to, placing recordings on a work-for-hire basis; refer here for a more thorough explanation.) Even if he did, he’d probably overdub over them and scrub all those dirty words out of the tracks. The only way anyone can seem to answer this question, then, is “who the hell knows?” And that’s sad. Prince was a game-changer extraordinaire as far as rock music is concerned, and for him to forbid his old label from celebrating that legacy past a few compilations is rather unfortunate.

But let’s say at some point Prince has a change of heart. Will Rhino (Warner’s catalogue label) have a good plan to satisfy literally years of pent-up demand? One could imagine they have a planned track list, liner notes author and mastering engineer ready to go at a moment’s notice, but who knows? And how would they tackle such a project?

Me personally, I actually would keep the initial stages of a Prince catalogue project to reissued albums bolstered with only previously-released content (B-sides, remixes, etc.). The many, many outtakes of Prince, or unreleased live concerts, would work great on a box set instead, where the listener wouldn’t be forced to consider the lesser-heard material against the classic, previously-released stuff.

Of course, this is just crazy speculation on my part. But I’m sure The Second Disc will be able to provide the best reportage on any upcoming Prince reissues, should they happen in the next 50 years. What would you want to see from Rhino regarding Prince reissues? Do sound off below.

Written by Mike Duquette

June 7, 2010 at 12:37

8 Responses

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  1. Exactly like you say here: reissue the original albums, with their b-sides and 12-inch versions as the bonus tracks, even if that means doing a 2nd disc for each. The unreleased material should indeed be filtered down to a box set, even if that means a large expen$ive one through Rhino Handmade. So much of the unreleased material has circulated on bootlegs and online that it seems superfluous to release it with original LPs. Plus, anything that came out on vinyl should take on first importance. The other thing they should consider strongly is reissuing his protege projects, such as Vanity 6, The Family, Apollonia 6 and the whole series of The Time albums with single versions or 12-inch versions as bonus material (just as a for instance, there is a super-rare 7-inch edit of the 12-inch version of “Drive Me Wild” that has not only been never reissued, but hardly anyone even knows about). Prince’s proteges were often as interesting as his own albums, I think particularly of his foray into Jazz with his Madhouse projects. It is really a shame he is being so stubborn about reissues, it is quite a disservice to his fans – his fans are not all that interested in his current work and the early CD issues just don’t sound as good as Prince should. But, definitely, Rhino should do 2-CD “Deluxe Edition” collections if Prince ever allows them to — starting with “Controversy” on through the end of his Warner Bros tenure, there are plenty of b-sides, 12-inch versions, remixes and uncollected *released* material to more than make up fantastic packages.

    Marty

    June 7, 2010 at 18:40

  2. Yeah…what Marty said! Prince fans are “hardcore” and will purchase just about anything especially a well done “Deluxe” or box set. Being one of those fans, I know that Prince can change his mind at a moment’s notice and decide this would be the right thing to do.

    Jeremy Pirtle

    June 7, 2010 at 19:06

  3. I don’t know if any of you have seen it, but there is a good Prince story on the scond DVD of “An Evening with Kevin Smith.” That should give all a peek into Prince’s mind. As for me, I’d love to see a complete soundtrack for PURPLE RAIN and a deluxe 1999.

    John Phillips

    June 7, 2010 at 23:40

    • I saw that Kevin Smith dvd. And though I love Prince, he is a little touched.

      Myklstarr

      August 20, 2012 at 16:14

  4. The Japanese SHM reissues from this past year sound VERY good.

    Jeff

    June 8, 2010 at 10:55

  5. Sadly, I think it will take Prince dying for much of this to come about. Not that I want to happen of course but the man is sooooooo bad about business decisions at times. He’s truly an artist and has some of the worst business sense ever. And weird ideas. Guitar Hero approached him about making a Prince specific game and he turned it down b/c he thinks people should play the instruments rather than fake play. Totally missing the point of how this would be a chance to celebrate his music and how much fun it would be for fans. That would have been an AWESOME game BTW.

    Think of all the live recordings he could sell but has issued ONE live album in all his years. Do you know that you can download EVERY Metallica show that they play. Do you know how incredible that is if you are a fan of a band? Prince would make a killing on that but NOOOOOO.

    My point is, its going to take someone other than him to make these changes and authorize these remasters. He truly does not get it. His entire history shows he has little regard for fans, at one time calling them FAMS b/c fan is short for fanatic and that bothered him. Chasing after the bootleggers, chasing after the website operators. Love the man’s music my whole life, it truly is an impressive and unique body of work, but he is truly an infuriating guy to like at times.

    gittesjake

    June 8, 2010 at 22:42

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