I know I have mentioned this before, but we really need to note the pace of production from our purple friend in the eighties. Around the World in a Day dropped ten months after Purple Rain, and eleven months after that Prince was back with a new album, Parade.1 Everything about the cover signaled another change int the direction. Prince is back on the cover, the bright and colorful illustration of the previous album succeeded by a glorious black-and-white shot that shows off his physique and his cross.
This was the period I got Prince albums the day they were released, and I do remember being confused by the sound of it, especially those first four songs. “Christoper Tracy’s Parade,” “New Position,” “I Wonder U,” and “Under the Cherry Moon” are each less than three minutes, but the tracks segue into each other, so it works as an eleven-minute opening suite. It wasn’t until I began to dig around for articles on the recording of the album that I learned that Prince recorded the drums for all four in a single take, and then built the songs around that.2 It’s a dense and complicated sonic landscape, and it took me a few listens to really hear everything. Listening again in sequence, I could hear how the production style builds on the sound of Around the World, adding layers of strings and orchestrations, all arranged by (wait for it) the uncle of the drummer for Rufus.3
It’s a fantastic opening: Prince has managed to create this kind of dense, jazzy, also sort of classical-ish, funk universe. It’s also unlike anything he had done before, and not just because of the the production style. The lyrics are more opaque (who the hell is Christopher Tracy, and why should I care about his parade?), which helps create this otherworldly feel, and when Wendy Melvoin takes lead vocal on the brief and wonderfully odd “I Wonder U,” it almost sounds like a different band. The last two songs on Side One, “Life Can Be So Nice” and “Venus De Milo,” have a very similar mood, and I’ve always wish that “Girls & Boys” had been left to the end of the side, so the six could all be strung together. Or maybe “Girls & Boys” could have just been cut. It’s twice as long as anything else on Side One, and feels even longer than that.4
Side Two has a more traditional sound—at least to a point. “Mountains” is the most immediately accessible track to this point, and for another jazzy piano number, you get the one-two punch of “Kiss”and “Anotherloverholenyohead.”5 “Kiss” is, of course, of the top ten best singles the man ever wrote.6 It wasn’t until years later that I learned he’d given it to another band, but when he’d heard their arrangement went ahead and, well, took it back.7 “Anotherlover” gets my vote for album’s deepest funk groove, and even has an old-school Prince spoken outro (“There’s gonna be a riot, if you don’t clap your hands”). The second side then shifts gears dramatically, ending with “Sometimes it Snows in April,” seven mournful, stripped down minutes. It never drags when I listen to it, though, thanks that lovely melody in the chorus, and the way the piano keeps moving.
This is the album that has gone up most in appreciation as a result of this Project. Two equally strong, yet very different sides—and two sides that also still cohere and work together well. There’s a clear and consistent mood, even across the record’s many different styles, and I think it manages to sound fresh, and unique, 35 years later. It sounds very much like the work of an artist at the top of his game—or maybe I just think that because I know he’s about to go make what I often call my favorite Prince record.
In the meantime, enjoy this live clip, an example of the way he opened most of the tour for Parade: the first songs of each of the last two albums, with a sexy black outfit, a tambourine, and big band behind him.
1 It’s also known as the soundtrack to the movie Under the Cherry Moon, but we don’t have to talk about that. For those who have never seen it, here’s ninety seconds that gives you an idea of the look (which was cool) and the acting and script (which was, um, less cool): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAHyGxYqO10
2 The Prince Vault is where all the obsessives wind up: http://www.princevault.com/index.php?title=Album:_Parade
3 There are now lots of articles on how Clare Fischer worked together. There’s a good starter interview here: https://www.housequake.com/clare-fischer-interview/ I found it interesting to learn Prince trusted Fischer enough to give him artistic freedom. As Fischer notes, that’s a smart move: “It is a wise man who after he hires someone, does not interfere with his product.”
4 Put down your spears, fans of the most straightforward funk song on Side One: I like it fine. I just think the side would have been weirder (and stronger) without it.
5 I mean it as a compliment when I say that jazzy number (“Do U Lie?”) could fit nicely on the second side of Night at the Opera.
6 Not Top 10 songs, for me, overall, but of his singles? For sure.
7 There are lots of versions of this story out there: for example, https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/the-story-behind-prince-song-kiss/