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Prince Fans Get First Look At His Vault With 'Piano & A Microphone 1983'

Prince's first posthumous release, <em>Piano & a Microphone 1983</em>, proves the singer approached everything, even an unfinished idea, as a performance.
Allen Beaulieu
Courtesy of the Prince Estate
Prince's first posthumous release, Piano & a Microphone 1983, proves the singer approached everything, even an unfinished idea, as a performance.

More than two years after Prince's death, his fans got their first album-length glimpse into the famed vault. Piano & a Microphone 1983features nine songs Prince recorded solo on cassette in his home studio, spilling fascinating secrets about his approach to songwriting.

Like many artists, Prince made demos to capture the basic outlines of his songs — the melodies, the chord sequences — but he didn't stop there. He left specific clues about how he wanted the song to feel. On "17 Days," we hear Prince ad-libbing at the piano and emulating small finishing touch details, like echo and other studio effects. We hear him testing out all kinds of vocal personas, sometimes even singing the drum groove he's hearing. These are intangible moments. They don't show up on the sheet music.

Early on, Prince understood that these elements were essential to his sound and part of the songs themselves. He approached everything, even an unfinished idea, as a performance. "Wednesday," a gorgeous chamber tune, was recorded for Purple Rainbut trimmed from the final album.

This is the first full offering of previously unreleased material from Prince's storied vault and it's sure to upset some die-hard fans in part, because much of this set has been available in bootlegged form for years. But the Prince Estate had to start somewhere, and these intimate demos, — blueprints to the vast sonic worlds he would develop in the studio later — offer a window into his process. When he started working on a song, Prince looked beyond the building blocks. He chased moods, the deeper and more conflicted, the better. Turns out the iconic singer didn't need a fancy studio or even his trusty guitar for that — all he needed was a piano and microphone.

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Tom Moon
Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.