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[Book review] Prince and the Parade and Sign o’ the Times Era Studio Sessions: 1985 and 1986

Posted in Uncategorized by C. on May 6, 2021

When the first volume of Duane Tudahl’s Prince Studio Sessions series appeared on bookshelves four years ago, scholars of the Purple One’s life and work were put on notice: to properly understand an icon, you must be “willing 2 do the work.” A labor of love over twenty years in the making, Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 boasted a “fly on the wall” view of Prince’s recording regimen at the dawn of his superstardom, crafted through Tudahl’s extensive research and engaging approach to storytelling. Never before had readers and fans seen such a nuanced look into the intimate processes of an artist who lived, breathed, and was music. Put simply, this book could not be topped.

Or so I thought.

Prince and the Parade and Sign o’ the Times Era Studio Sessions picks up where Book 1 left off, continuing the story of one of the most prolific and enigmatic musicians in history. Following a beautifully written Foreword by the legendary Sir Elton John, readers are once again privy to extraordinary insights and delectable morsels of info to feed our curiosity for all things Prince. Studio logs are illuminated by tales from people closest to him at the time (such as engineer Susan Rogers, saxophonist Eric Leeds, and drummer Bobby ‘Z’ Rivkin), and flavored with expertly chosen quotes from the man himself, which are presented in boldface to emphasize their importance.

As a testament to the quality and integrity of Tudahl’s first book, a host of Prince insiders granted him even more access to their stories, experiences, and thoughts—and it shows. If the first volume was exhaustive, this one can only be described as overwhelming in its breadth and scope. From his work with side acts The Family, The Flesh, and Madhouse, to directing, scoring, and editing his second feature film Under the Cherry Moon (and recording its soundtrack album Parade), to producing songs for Kenny Rogers, The Bangles, and Deborah Allen (among others), Prince had so many projects going on simultaneously that even to read about them requires a healthy dose of Dramamine! I’m exaggerating of course, but in all seriousness, the effort involved in documenting so much activity is a Herculean task for which Tudahl should be lauded—it’s a Prince-like feat in and of itself.

Readers are taken on a deep dive into the writing, recording, and sequencing of Prince’s seminal 1987 double album, Sign o’ the Times, a magnum opus exploring themes of social and spiritual awareness, joie de vivre, and the search for romantic commitment. More than a simple artistic statement, the project is essential to his legacy. “[T]he pressure of his life created Purple Rain,” attests engineer Susan Rogers, “but the pressure of his legacy created Sign o’ the Times.”

Beyond feeling more expansive, this book also feels deeper and richer than its predecessor in the way it explores Prince’s psychology. Readers are compelled to ponder what it must have been like for Prince to put on (and sustain) a superstar persona while facing tremendous pressure from the public, the executives at Warner Brothers Records, and (perhaps most of all) himself in the wake of Purple Rain’s breakout success. “[I]t was hard for him to decide when he could be just Prince, the guy, and when he had to become Prince, the superstar,” muses Lisa Coleman, keyboardist in the Revolution. “He gave himself so thoroughly to it.”  

There were not only professional issues to work through, but also personal ones. Susannah Melvoin, twin sister of Revolution guitarist Wendy, was Prince’s first fiancée and one of the most influential ladies in his life outside of the two women he would eventually marry. Through a myriad of revelatory quotes from her, readers learn about a man obsessed with control, afraid of abandonment, and unable to take any responsibility for wrongdoing in personal relationships. “There was no ‘being good’ at [monogamy],” she admits. “He wasn’t.” While details like these might upset his more ardent admirers, they are vital to the understanding of Prince as a human being. “[Y]ou can’t understand his music unless you understand the man,” Susannah says. “I think that everyone’s interpretation is valid of him as the musician, but to really understand the music, is to understand who he was.”

Like the first volume, this book is an invaluable piece of reference material which is important not only in the context of Prince’s legacy, but also in terms of the history of music as a whole. Since Prince’s passing in 2016, outside of academia, few people have gone to great effort to give his life and work the attention it deserves. Tudahl is doing the heavy lifting here, conveying facts while at the same time keeping the legend alive. You can almost hear the music as you read. “My greatest wish,” he writes in the book’s introduction, “is that this book puts you in the room when these sounds were born and lets you feel as if you are sitting next to the maestro, whose rigorous training and skills make it appear as if he is pulling music from the air.” If I may be so bold, Duane, I would say that for me, your wish has come true.

Prince and the Parade and Sign o’ the Times Era Studio Sessions: 1985 and 1986 (728 pages) is out June 10 from Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

2 Responses

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  1. Prince Undeleted said, on May 6, 2021 at 11:25 pm

    U R an incredible writer Chris. Thank U for the literary journey U just took me on, and I look forward to reading this book! 🙏🏽☮️💜♊😎

  2. Mr Me! said, on May 7, 2021 at 4:52 am

    Thank you. I am so excited about this book. I enjoy your insight into Prince!

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