Posts Tagged ‘Prince’
January 8, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
On D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and the disappearance of R&B groups.
The last number-one R&B single from a group was “Independent Women,” by Destiny’s Child. Since it slipped from Billboard’s top slot in January 2001, only solo acts have held the position.* Groups have all but disappeared from the mainstream in every genre, but their absence is especially apparent in R&B, where, in 1994, for instance, four of the ten number-one singles were by groups, and in 1974, thirteen R&B groups made it to the top of the charts. Now, zero—for fifteen years, solo artists have dominated music. Who knew the thesis of Bowling Alone applied even to this, our most collaborative art form?
Anyone can rattle off the names of big R&B groups: Earth Wind & Fire, the Isley Brothers, TLC, Boyz II Men, the Supremes, the Pointer Sisters, the Force MDs, Jodeci, and on and on. What these groups foregrounded—and what’s noticeably lacking in present-day R&B—were vocal harmonies. Obviously the Top 40 is still loaded with backup singers; I don’t mean to say that vocal harmony has gone extinct. But a certain kind of performance has gone missing from the charts, a choral style for trios, quartets, or quintets, where the harmony was just as essential as the melody. In songs like these, you could hear the genre’s connection to jazz and especially to gospel.
Not that you have to be a music scholar to enjoy the sound of people singing together. At the risk of getting all Kumbaya about it, isn’t it just sort of nice to hear voices working in harmony? To me, the sound of a group has always been more approachable than that of a soloist—a collective is bound to be more welcoming than an individual, especially if they’re a collective of really pretty voices. I think pop music at the moment is as inventive as it’s ever been, but still: Where have our great R&B groups gone, and why have they ceased to capture the public imagination? Read More »
June 25, 2014 | by Bob Stanley
Recalling the heyday of Prince and Madonna on the thirtieth anniversary of Purple Rain.
Twenty-four-hour music television, the brainchild of a TV-spawned pop star, the Monkees’ Michael Nesmith, began broadcasting in August 1981 with the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” MTV was everywhere within eighteen months. If new pop and postpunk had gleefully and rapidly rewritten rules, taking music forward in a constant revolution of purpose and invention, their aftermath was an era of momentum for its own sake. Things got ever shinier, greed and need replaced innovation: conservatism was a force and a problem both outside and within eighties pop.
Two new names appeared in this froth of newness. Both stood out from the crowd, both clearly demanded attention, worship, devotion: Prince and Madonna. These were names that couldn’t have existed at the dawn of modern pop, names that baited royalty and religion.
Both based their sound on electronically processed dance music, allowing them the opportunity to change style from record to record in a way that seemed innovative, one step ahead of the pack, like Dylan or Bowie before them. Both had egos the size of mansions. Both had a new hunger for success, for money. Both used MTV to become stars, and both used movies (Desperately Seeking Susan, Purple Rain) to make the jump from stardom to superstardom. Sex! Religion! Gigolo! Whore! Purple! Cone bra! No one could accuse Prince or Madonna of underplaying their hands. And, eventually, both challenged Michael Jackson’s place at the very top of the pop empire; by the eighties’ end Madonna had (arguably) toppled him in the popularity stakes, and Prince had (certainly) creatively eased past Jackson with the most streamlined, silver-finned R&B of the decade. These were their similarities. In other respects they were quite different.
Prince had first appeared with the itchy falsetto disco of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (no. 11, ’79) and was presented—not least by himself—as a teenage prodigy. He grew up in the largely white city of Minneapolis: “The radio was dead, the discos was dead, the ladies was kind of dead. If I wanted to make some noise, if I wanted to turn anything out, I was gonna have to get something together. Which was what we did. We put together a few bands and turned it into Uptown.”
He wanted to be everybody’s lover and—unlike most disco acts—was quite at home with lyrics about oral sex, incest, and Dorothy Parker. This set him apart. By 1983 he was channeling Sly Stone and the Beach Boys on “Little Red Corvette,” and a year later Newsweek was calling him “the Prince of Hollywood” as Purple Rain—starring Prince as the Kid—grossed $80 million. Read More »
June 24, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- George Saunders talks “about his family’s sense of humor, the connection between satire and compassion, his early comedy influences, and how he came to embrace the funny side of his writing.”
- Some words that men are likelier to know than women: claymore, scimitar, solenoid, dreadnaught. Some words that women are likelier to know than men: taffeta, flouncing, bodice, progesterone. The conclusions are yours to draw.
- “I Was a Digital Best Seller”—the horrifying true story!
- It sounds like a spinoff of DeLillo’s The Names: a journalist named Rose Eveleth becomes obsessed with a small town that shares her name: Eveleth, Minnesota. She visits it only using Google Street View.
- Spending time with Prince at a listening party for his new record: “When you arrive at Paisley Park, you switch to Prince time. After nearly an hour’s wait, I was ushered into Studio B [at] about one a.m. … My next two hours at Paisley Park would be filled with funk, frustration, and funny lines—all courtesy of Prince.”
February 11, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The Iowa Writers’ Workshop: brought to you by the CIA. (Also herewith: Frank Conroy’s derisive pronouncements on everyone from Melville to Pynchon. “Of David Foster Wallace he growled, with a wave of his hand, ‘He has his thing that he does.’”)
- Haruki Murakami had a jazz club. It closed in 1981. What you’ll find there today: “A drab three-story cement building. Outside … a restaurant had set up a sampuru display of plastic foods. Above it, an orange banner advertised DINING CAFE.” Jazz!
- Tracking the fluctuating sales of Library of America classics: “Who would have thought that Ben Stiller’s movie remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty would triple sales of the LOA’s James Thurber edition. Or that the film version of On the Road would increase sales of the Kerouac volume that contains the novel by more than thirty percent?”
- While we’re on Kerouac: a German college student took all the locations from On the Road and plugged them into Google Maps. The resulting driving directions—On the Road for 17,527 Miles—are available for free. My personal favorite part is “Take exit 362 to merge onto I-180 N/Interstate 25 Business/US-85 N/US 87 Business toward Central Ave.”
- A must for your reference shelf: every Prince hairstyle from 1978 to 2013, in one easy-to-read (and purple, of course) chart.
January 10, 2014 | by The Paris Review
I’ve been marveling over Jeet Heer’s In Love with Art, a monograph on Françoise Mouly, an editor (The New Yorker, RAW) and publisher whose significance has long been underappreciated. Trust Heer not to make that mistake; he credits Mouly as having had “as massive and transformative an impact on comics as Ezra Pound had on modernist literature, Max Perkins on early-twentieth-century American novels or Gordon Lish on contemporary fiction.” No small claim, but Mouly is truly without peer. She made her way through the male-dominated comics scene by helping to carve out a place for that work in the world. She not only edited and designed and colored the covers of RAW, she manned the presses. In fact, the photographs of Mouly helming the Multilith press she and Spiegelman had in their loft are pretty great. What can’t she do? —Nicole Rudick
I was the last of three siblings to move to New York—and was very much a beneficiary, when I finally arrived, of my brother and sister’s having made a familial haunt of B&H, the longstanding East Village diner. (Never been? Brave the cold and treat yourself to a bowl of New York’s very best borscht.) I came upon a brief history of the place this week on Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, which features photos from the collection of Florence Bergson Goldberg (the daughter of founder Abie Bergson—the “B” of B&H) and reminiscences from longtime counterman Leo Ratnofsky. Profiled in a Talk of the Town piece in 1978, Ratnofsky had this to say on the last morning of his thirty-eight-year stint: “I don’t feel bad about leaving the place. I’ve got bad feet, my fingernails are being eaten away from squeezing oranges. But to leave all these people—that makes me feel like crying. These actors and actresses, the hippies, the yippies, the beatniks, the bohemians, people who’ve run away from God knows where—I’ve always felt an attraction to them. Especially the starving ones.” —Stephen Andrew Hiltner
Purple Snow is a four-LP salute to the progenitors of the Minneapolis Sound, a brand of synth-driven R&B that came bounding out of the City of Lakes in the late seventies—it was a flurry of creativity that culminated in the rise of Prince and the propulsive, eminently danceable pop of the eighties. Jon Kirby wrote the compilation’s prodigious liner notes, which come in a handsome clothbound book (purple, of course). Full of photographs and interviews, the notes are smart and disarmingly personal: they tell the story of an ambitious, competitive, and deeply intimate community of musicians who left an indelible mark on music, even if only one of them went on to superstardom. —Dan Piepenbring Read More »
November 8, 2011 | by Trinie Dalton
Gang Gang Dance was founded in Brooklyn in 2001 by Lizzi Bougatsos, Brian Degraw, Tim DeWit, Josh Diamond, and Nathan Maddox. Informed by hip-hop, eighties pop and goth, and a wealth of international traditional musical styles, the band blends disparate sounds into a global amalgam. This collage approach has garnered attention from the art world; the band’s mixed-media work was included, for instance, in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, and Bougatsos’s installations and collages have been shown at James Fuentes gallery in New York. Last May, Gang Gang Dance released their sixth album, Eye Contact, a tribute to the many loved ones the band has lost—including Maddox, who died in 2002 when he was struck by lightning on a Chinatown rooftop—and a fusion of large, swaggering beats, polyrhythmic sampling, and Bougatsos’s raw, personal lyrics.
“Glass Jar,” on the new album, opens with a sample of a couple phrases that are clearly audible, and then goes through a movement that sounds like it’s contained in glass. The song feels as if it’s hermetically sealed.
It is its own ecosystem, a geo-dome. You can create your own world with your surroundings.
Does music produce common experiences with others?
Music is universal, and extending your music to somebody is about sharing it. But it is also about how they receive it and how a message travels back to you. The best way to receive information about your music is when people talk about it through experience. We have a spiritual adviser named Babylove who travels with the band. And Tony Cox has been documenting our performances for a long time now. When he photographs us, he calls the experience a sphere.