Delve deep into the making of Prince's 1987 double-LP masterpiece, 'Sign 'O' the Times.'Sign 'O' the Times is Prince's recorded apex, the summation and greatest articulation of all the musical fusions he'd alchemized up to that point. It's the album where he does it all – combining his synth-drums and meta-funk explorations with psychedelia, rock-guitar heroics and mainstream pop on the order of 1999 and Purple Rain. Reflecting both hip-hop's early cutting edge and his own restless muse, with new twists on old themes, Sign 'O' the Times was at once more confident, rangy and visionary than its predecessors. It took Prince's beat-centered, future-forward songcraft not just to the next level but to multiple levels.
Tellingly, the album is a distillation of many projects that exploded from Prince's imagination during the most creative year of his life. The first was Dream Factory, an aborted double album begun with the Revolution in December 1985, just as they were wrapping up Parade. That same month, he wrote a song for Miles Davis ("Can I Play With U?") and recorded an album's worth of jazzy-funk jam sessions – with Sheila E., her bandmate Levi Seacer Jr. and Eric Leeds – that were slated for an instrumental LP, The Flesh, which was also eventually shelved. "On any given night he might just gather us and we'd go in and just play," says Leeds. "He would always say, 'Maybe I'll put this stuff out.'"
In March 1986, Prince inaugurated his new state-of-the-art home studio in Chanhassen, Minnesota, with "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker," an avant-garde slow jam with stuttering electro beats and vocals that flash like fractals, with different effects and voice tones, as Prince plays the roles of both Ms. Parker and himself, singing a bit of Joni Mitchell's "Help Me" and even voicing the ring of a telephone. "Prince had this dream where he thought of this song – the dream of the bathtub and all that – and he came downstairs and told me, 'Let's go. Let's record,'" says Susan Rogers, Prince's staff engineer and production right hand on Sign 'O' the Times. "The console hadn't been tested yet, so while we were doing 'Dorothy Parker' I'm thinking, 'God, this is awful,' because there was no high end. But I couldn't test it because he was working. Typical of Prince, our session lasted roughly 24 hours. We didn't get out of there until the next day. And he was totally happy. The seed of the song came in a dream anyway, so he used that artistically – he just let the whole thing be kind of muffled."
Prince then recorded "Starfish and Coffee," a song built around piano, co-written (and co-sung) with his fiancée, Susannah Melvoin, and a number of other tracks. By April, he had an 11-track version of Dream Factory assembled on a cassette, and he was even toying with the title as a new name for the Revolution. That month, he had the Number One song in the country, "Kiss," and the Number Two, the Bangles' version of his "Manic Monday."
Touring Europe that summer, Prince was writing at such a clip, he recorded new songs during a Paris soundcheck jam and show. This was the genesis of Sign 'O' the Times' solo-heavy, brass-plated funk jam "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night," though Sheila E.'s "Transmississippi Rap," recorded over the phone, was added later. There was even talk about creating a Dream Factory musical; Prince was working on a script.
Search for A Flock of Seagulls on the internet or mention them in conversation to certain generations and two things will almost certainly crop up. Lead singer Michael Score's hair and the fact the band are referenced in Pulp Fiction. Their huge hit Wishing (I Had A Photograph of You) still gets heavy rotation on radio stations around the world, but the rest of their musical legacy is rather less well known than Score's extravagant 80s quiff.
Here, in a lovingly put together collection, there are 7 inch and 12 inch versions of songs from their heyday in the early to mid eighties. Seventeen tracks across two discs, including many that haven't been issued on CD before. What is telling though is the surprising variety and adventure, indicating a band that were not as limited as their 'one hit wonder' tag might suggest. I Ran (So far Away) and Space Age Love Song stand up pretty well alongside their bit hit, which is tellingly featured here four times in various versions.
Through much of the collection you can hear evidence of how their sound has been transported into the noughties and beyond, with bands like White Lies definitely influenced by the layered guitar and keyboard mix. Remixes and Rarities is a slightly niche release, but there is plenty here that entertains and surprises. The artwork in the booklet is excellent too, covering all their lyrics and discography.
In the majestic setting of the Teatro Municipale of Piacenza, as part of the PiacenzaJazzFest, a very well received festival with wonderful jazz artists present this year such as Benny Golson, Kenny Garrett and Regina Carter, it was the turn of Incognito to grace the rather big stage.
The legendary London based band formed by Jean-Paul Maunick (alias Bluey) in 1979, along with Brand New Heavies, Galliano and Jamiroquai to name a few, created and led the Acid-Jazz movement of the mid 80’s and early 90’s that led to mainstream notoriety.
Being in the throes of a jazz festival with a sophisticated and enthusiastic jazz friendly crowd, tonight Bluey and his 12 band members play a very varied set allowing much space for his musicians to shine with solos, ad lib band sequences and grooves in the captivating 2 hours on stage. But with 4 vocalists, Imaani, Joy Rose, Katie Leone and Gary leading the way, the soul/disco element is very much alive too. The singers are simply mesmerizing each one in their own way, making the songs come alive, cajoling the audience to participate as well. Indeed in the latter part of the concert there is a crowd dancing, footloose and fancy free, which rarely happens certainly in this edifice, but such is the fun being had on stage amongst the band members , it becomes contagious, enticing many to get out of their velvet lined seats and ‘get down’! It’s a mission for Bluey to “make you smile” for two hours plus. Happiness indeed is an Incognito concert.
Tonight’s set opens with ‘Echoes Of Utopia’ with just the band strutting their stuff in this funky jam which builds and builds ably led by Matt Cooper and his cool chords on keyboards and Bluey’s rhythm guitar. As the singers join the band, the soulful melodic songs of Incognito like ‘1975’, ‘N.O.T’ and ‘Good Love’ come to the fore each of the girls taking lead vocals in turn. ‘Still A Friend Of Mine’ is a dream of a track with Imaani and Gary trading vocal licks perfectly. The fantastic ‘Colibri’ follows each of the band musicians taking centre stage and indeed the sax licks of Andy Ross and Francis Hylton’s bass solo are certainly as exalting and of quality as any of the jazz musicians solos performed during this festival.
A fascinating drum (Francesco Mendolia) and percussion (Joao Caetano) combo follows acting as an interlude for the absolutely stunning ‘Deep Waters’, echoes of EW&F ‘Can’t Hide Love’ thrown into the proceedings with all performers absolutely in the moment as they gel tightly together.
Then it’s time to dance as ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing’, ‘Always There’, ‘I Hear Your Name’ and ‘Everyday’ all enthrall. The evening closes with the cover ‘Night Over Egypt’ and as Bluey sends out messages of love and Peace and how we should respect human life its abundantly apparent that Incognito have accomplished their mission; there is a smile on everyone’s face :)
Boy George will perform with Paul Weller for the very first time on Weller’s upcoming album ‘A Kind of Revolution’.
‘A Kind of Revolution’ is the 13th solo album for Weller and marks the 40th anniversary of his debut with The Jam ‘In The City’ in 1977.
The Boy George track ‘One Tear’ is described as funky.
Weller has a variety of guests in on the record including Josh McClorey of The Strypes back for three tracks, legendary singers Madeleine Bell and PP Arnold on the opening track ‘Woo Sé Mama’ and Robert Wyatt (out of retirement) for the song ‘She Moves With The Fayre’.
Written and recorded at de facto HQ Black Barn Studios in Surrey, UK, A Kind Revolution was produced and arranged by Jan ‘Stan’ Kybert and Paul himself.
The album is released on CD, Standard & Deluxe Downloads and is available to Stream. Bonus tracks include full album instrumentals, plus alternate versions and remixes. For full details see http://www.paulweller.com/akr.
A KIND REVOLUTION TRACKLISTING
1. Woo Sé Mama
3. Long Long Road
4. She Moves With The Fayre
5. The Cranes Are Back
7. New York
8. One Tear
9. Satellite Kid
10. The Impossible Idea
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