Across 10 LPs and a DVD, the vaults of this breakout album have been raided to produce a deluxe edition boxset of pitch-perfect proportions. John Earls wallows in Prince’s 1982 otherworldliness…
Let’s make this clear immediately: what Warner have done with the first true deluxe edition of a Prince album is perfect. It’s the platonic ideal of a vinyl boxset. It takes 10 LPs and a Blu-Ray DVD, but here is everything from the CD/streaming edition of 1999 on six hours of vinyl. As Prince’s estate manager Michael Howe told Long Live Vinyl: “We’re big fans of vinyl. It’s a more satisfying experience so, when it came to making everything available, we said, ‘Great, let’s make the vinyl boxset complete’.”
Howe’s attitude helps make 1999 the year’s best reissue. Whereas the expanded Purple Rain reissue from 2015 was a frustrating compromise, the 23 demos and alternative takes on 1999 show the rumours of how much brilliant music Prince was making in the 1980s are true. Alongside a more intimate version of International Lover and a breathless early run-through of Purple Rain rarity Possessed are 17 songs Prince never released at all. True, you can hear him get bored of Bold Generation halfway through singing it. But a dozen songs could have made another brilliant Prince album in their own right. Lyrical iffiness aside, Vagina and Feel U Up are prime Prince filth in the mould of Lady Cab Driver. Rearrange is Raspberry Beret’s hot cousin. Prince rarely did straight-up better than Yah, You Know.
You’ll get lost in those demos for days, and they comprise just four of the 11 discs. A homecoming Detroit show a month after the album’s release is a joy, as you can sense Prince realising he’s finally about to become a superstar in a performance that’s teasing and playful even by his standards. This goes double for a Christmas gig in Houston on the Blu-Ray, where you can see just how otherworldly Prince’s brilliance was in 1982.
If there is a petty quibble to be had, it’s that the B-sides and remixes discs shouldn’t be so strictly chronological – hopefully, Warner will spread the songs out a bit next time, rather than have mono/radio/alternative edits of the same hit bleed interchangeably into each other.
With Howe having confirmed to LLV that similarly thorough expanded Prince albums are on the way, it’ll be interesting to see whether or not they’ll be released chronologically. Whatever happens, 1999 is a great album to start with. Not only are there so many wonderful extras, but the original album is wonderful and, in hindsight, an odd phenomenon.
Brilliant singles as the title track and Little Red Corvette are, how did a 70-minute double album become the one to make Prince stellar? The short answer is because there’s something to keep every music fan of 1982 happy. There’s a lot going on in 1999 and it really does need that loose running time to hold it all in. After all, we know 1999 could have been a 6LP studio album and it still wouldn’t have been a second too long.