Fifteen Tracks Originally Intended as Demos for Other Artists
Pictured in the cutting room are (L-R) mastering engineer Bernie Grundman and mix engineer Niko Bolas. Photo by David Goggin.
The Prince Estate, in partnership with Warner Bros. Records and TIDAL, has released “Originals”, a 15-track album featuring 14 previously unreleased recordings that illuminate the vital, behind-the-scenes role Prince played in other artists’ careers. The tracks were selected collaboratively by Troy Carter, on behalf of The Prince Estate, and JAY-Z.
“When the tapes arrived from Minneapolis at Iron Mountain’s storage facility in LA, Greg Parkin, Director, Digital Solutions hired me to build a control room so that the assets were secure and never left the building,” explains Niko Bolas, the mixing engineer on the Prince project, who worked closely with Estate archivist Michael Howe. “I was responsible for the mixes for review, which went very well, before mastering the album at Bernie Grundman’s in Hollywood.”
Prince will forever be remembered as a commanding live performer, chart-topping recording artist, and music business revolutionary. Yet for all the time he spent in the spotlight over his four-decade-long career, Prince also worked tirelessly behind the scenes to nurture talent and pen songs for the rising artists he respected.
“Some of the tapes were finished releases,” Bolas continues. “We re-mixed them with Prince’s vocals, the guide vocals. We soon learned that whoever the artist was that had the original single tried to use his phrasing exactly.”
On June 21st, Warner Bros. Records released this extraordinary body of work, sourced directly from Prince’s vast archive of Vault recordings, via all download and streaming partners and physically on CD, while 180 gram 2LP and limited edition Deluxe CD+2LP formats will follow on July 19th.
Bernie Grundman mastered Prince’s debut album, which was recorded and mixed by Tommy Vicari at Record Plant recording studios in Sausalito. “I was there when Prince first came on the scene, Grundman recalls. “Of course, none of us had any idea of who he was or what he was going to be. I just got the tapes and went ahead and mastered it. The recording had a really great feeling to it, as did the subsequent albums. He always did a great job with that. That feeling connects you to the music better, in combination rhythmically.”
By the mid-1980s, Prince was dominating the charts even as a writer/producer with songs he’d composed and recorded for others. In addition to releasing nine of his most commercially successful full-length albums, he also wrote and recorded endless reels of material for proteges The Time, Vanity 6, Sheila E., Apollonia 6, Jill Jones, the Family, and Mazarati.
“When I first met Prince, It was hard to tell just how dynamic he was or how interesting his music was. You wouldn’t know it, at least back then when I first met him, because he was very quiet, very withdrawn. But he was very accomplished from the very beginning in developing his uniqueness. For his debut, Tommy Vicari knew what to do and he did a great job. When we were mastering, there were some touch ups here and there and minor adjustments, but Prince didn’t say much at all.”
Niko Bolas recalls the beginning of Prince’s career: “One of the greatest things that happened in the early days was when Warner Bros. sent Ray Parker Jr. to check out the studio with this new artist Prince. Nobody knew who he was, and Ray listened and said, ‘You don’t need me. You don’t need anything. Just let him do what he’s doing.’ That kind of set the tone.”
Occasionally, Prince’s original demo recordings would be used as master takes on other artists albums, with only minor alterations to the instrumentation and a replacement of the vocal tracks. Other times, artists would rely on his demos to guide them through their own recording process, with Prince’s initial take informing their final version of his song. The aggregate effect was a complete saturation and transformation of the pop music landscape, with Prince both leading and subverting mainstream culture.
“I know most of the original engineers,” Niko Bolas explains. “The first thing I did was call David Leonard, Susan Rogers and Peggy McCreary. I asked all three of them, ‘What did you do? What do I do, and how can I honor this?’ They all told me what equipment they had in the control room at the time and what was going on. The greatest thing for me was when Peggy McCreary sat down and listened to one of my mixes. She said, ‘It’s a great mix, but it’s not what he would like. You have to sing the words and dance to it, and that’s all he would want.’ Once I reframed my brain around that, it was actually really easy to do, because everything’s recorded so well. It was already there.”
Several of the iconic songs found on “Originals” were considerable hits for the artists who recorded them. Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life” reached #1 on the dance charts in 1984, while the enormous success of “Manic Monday” propelled the single and its accompanying album, The Bangles’ Different Light, to the #2 spot on the pop charts. The Time’s “Ice Cream Castle”, featuring the top 20 “Jungle Love”, spent 57 weeks on the Billboard 200. And in 1991, Martika enjoyed international success with “Love… Thy Will Be Done”, a top 10 hit in France, Australia, the UK and the USA.
“Originals” album cover.
Bernie Grundman remembers mastering numerous albums for Prince. “He didn’t want anyone giving him any direction. That why he didn’t want to hang out with a lot of the people at the record company, because they were always telling him what he should do to make a hit record. They were trying to help him and they meant well, but he didn’t want anyone to interfere with what he wanted to do, what was important to him. That’s why he would always hightail it back to Minneapolis. He might be one day with me, and then he’d go back after we mastered. For all the albums we mastered, he’d be here in LA for one day and then he’d go back to Minneapolis. We would then have telephone conversations and send reference disks back and forth. He didn’t want to stay around and have that kind of pressure and influence.”
Originals pulls back the curtain to reveal the origins of these familiar songs, in addition to deeper album cuts such as Vanity 6’s “Make-Up,” Jill Jones’s “Baby, You’re a Trip,” and Kenny Rogers’ “You’re My Love.” The album also features Prince’s majestic original 1984 version of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” released in 2018 as a standalone single.
Niko Bolas concludes, “He was a genius. It blows my mind when I go through these recordings. It’s very humbling.”
Learn more about Niko Bolas at: www.neeks.com
ABOUT THE PRINCE ESTATE
The Prince Estate passionately presents Prince’s life and work, and cultivates opportunities to further his legacy. As the singular, authoritative source on all things Prince, The Prince Estate inspires and educates fans, celebrates Prince in his totality, and stewards Prince’s legacy into the future.
Official Website: prince.com
ABOUT BERNIE GRUNDMAN MASTERING
The name Bernie Grundman is synonymous with Mastering. His world-renowned facilities, responsible for a consistently large percentage of chart recordings, were launched in 1984. In 1997, Grundman opened his Tokyo mastering studios and in 1998 relocated to expanded facilities in Hollywood. Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood is a complex of six studios, including dedicated 5.1 Surround and Lacquer Cutting rooms. Virtually any analog or digital format can be played back thanks to a deep inventory of modern and legacy equipment. The facility provides high quality vinyl masters, pre-masters for CD, and file masters for standard and high-resolution digital distribution and streaming. http://bgmastering.com