Prince and the B-Sides: a love story

Courtesy of Tony Kiene

Thirty-five years ago this month, Warner Bros. Records released the soundtrack to Prince’s debut motion picture Purple Rain. The first record to officially be credited to Prince and The Revolution, Purple Rain yielded five hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart including two number-ones (“When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy”) and the title track which peaked at number two.

Yet by this time, the songs that graced each Prince album — as good as they were — did not always fully satiate the most hardcore fans who knew there was more to be heard. That’s because Prince started to employ what noted author Michaelangelo Matos adroitly refers to as a “Prince’s B-side strategy.”

Instead of delivering singles that contained an additional album track as its B-side, Prince would offer a brand new song to accompany most of the singles he released.

Granted, Prince was not the first artist to do such a thing. However, unlike other artists, the songs that Prince chose as B-sides were almost never deemed “throwaways” or “filler;” these tracks were gems, some of which are now considered all-time fan favorites.

Not to mention that many of these non-album cuts were presented as extended mixes on the much anticipated 12-inch versions of Prince singles.

The first song to receive this treatment was “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About),” the B-side to the 12-inch edition of Controversy’s “Let’s Work” in early 1982. Next, three of the five singles from Prince’s double-album 1999 possessed original B-sides, including the remarkable piano ballad “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore,” which has been covered by the likes of Stephanie Mills and Alicia Keys among others.

But with Purple Rain, the first four singles would all contain new B-sides with “Prince heads” incessantly wondering what might be next.

The B-side to Purple Rain’s lead-off single (“When Doves Cry”) was the stellar “17 Days.” Opening with a mesmerizing bassline, the song finds Prince lamenting the apparent loss of his girl as he sing, “You’ve been gone 17 Days, 17 long nights. The main drag is knowing that you’re holding someone else tight.”

Long-time Prince associate Alan Leeds once referred to “17 Days” as a “closet hit in search of an album.” To this day, many consider it among Prince’s all-time best compositions, B-side or otherwise.

Nearly as notable is “Erotic City,” which accompanied the album’s second single “Let’s Go Crazy.” Inspired by Parliament-Funkadelic’s historic 1983 performance at LA’s Beverly Theater, Prince wrote what would become one of the most talked about tracks of 1984 both for its unrelenting groove and brazen sexuality.

“Were Prince and Sheila E. singing ‘funk’ or another four-letter word?” wondered some. And, in spite of its content and not being a commercial single itself, the popularity of “Erotic City” garnered it extensive airplay, resulting in FCC fines to several radio stations across the nation.  

The third single off of Purple Rain was the title track that also featured the song “God” as its B-side. Punctuated by its rhapsodic and ear-piercing screams, Prince’s vocal version of “God” (the long-unreleased and much longer instrumental served as the “Love Theme” on the film’s score). And although Prince had incorporated religious and spiritual themes into much of his work already, this track represents the first of what would become several direct tributes to the Almighty and/or His Son (along with “4 The Tears In Your Eyes,” “The Cross,” “Anna Stesia,” and “God is Alive” in the 1980s alone).

The final original song that shows up on a single from this soundtrack is the soulful tear-jerker “Another Lonely Christmas” (B-side to “I Would Die 4 U”). As with “17 Days,” Prince is grief-stricken over the loss of his lover, although this time not in light of her infidelity but rather death (she having passed on December 25 seven years prior).

“Every Christmas night for seven years now, I drink banana daiquiris ‘til I’m blind. As long as I can hear you smiling baby, you won’t hear my tears. Another lonely Christmas is mine,” he sang.

This track, performed live on only one occasion (December 26, 1984, at the St. Paul Civic Center), fades out with a riveting guitar solo, prodigious drums, and Prince’s trademark piano playing before giving way to the somber sounds of a synthesizer.    

And so it was with Prince, who continued to delight the faithful with an assortment of distinguished B-sides through the ’80s and into the ’90s until the art of the remix spilled over into pretty much every genre of music.

Among those classic tracks are “She’s Always in My Hair,” “  or $,” “Shockadelica,” “Escape (Free Yo Mind from this Rat Race),” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll is Alive! (And it Lives in Minneapolis).”

For those truly interested in the stories behind the songs from Purple Rain, its B-sides, or for that matter, every song Prince recorded in 1983 and 1984, look no further than Duane Tudahl’s exhaustively researched and critically acclaimed 2017 text, Prince and The Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions.

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One Comment on “Prince and the B-Sides: a love story”

  1. I absolutely love Prince and his music! I fell in and out of love (my relationships) with his music! It’s like he and I was living the same life!

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