Piano & a Microphone 1983 is the first collection of material compiled exclusively from Prince‘s famous vault to be released since his 2016 death. Below you’ll find a brief track-by-track guide to the entire album, as well as links to more in-depth stories about each song from DIffuser’s 365 Prince Songs in a Year series.
The nine songs, which were recorded at the studio at his then-home on Kiowa Trail in Chanhassen, Minn., include one of his biggest hits, a pair of covers, a few tunes he wrote for his friends but eventually kept for himself and some that don’t appear to have been revisited again. Four of the tracks are appearing on a Prince album for the first time.
Prince penned “17 Days” for Brenda Bennett to sing on Vanity 6’s second album. But when Denise “Vanity” Matthews left and was replaced in the group — and in Prince’s affections — by Apollonia Kotero, he decided to keep it for himself. He re-recorded the song in Hollywood in January 1984 with Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman and it became the b-side of “When Doves Cry.”
One of Prince’s most famous songs, and the tune most frequently chosen by his fellow musicians to cover after his death, “Purple Rain” served as the redemptive catharsis in the movie of the same name. But what exactly was the meaning behind the imagery? “When there’s blood in the sky – red and blue equals purple,” he said. “‘Purple Rain’ pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith / God guide you.”
“A Case of You”
Prince’s love of singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell was an open secret. He surrounded her first name with stars on the back cover of Controversy and the title of the Time‘s third album, Ice Cream Castle, was a reference to her “Both Sides Now.” Plus, there was that reference to her “Help Me” on Sign O’ the Times’ “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker.” Arguably her greatest song, “A Case of You” was found on 1971’s Blue, and Prince released his own version on 2002’s One Nite Alone… (Solo Piano and Voice by Prince), retitling it “A Case of U.”
“Prince attended one of my concerts in Minnesota,” she said in 2005. “I remember seeing him sitting in the front row when he was very young. He must have been about 15. He was in an aisle seat and he had unusually big eyes. He watched the whole show with his collar up, looking side to side. You couldn’t miss him—he was a little Prince-ling. [Laughs.] Prince used to write me fan mail with all of the U’s and hearts that way that he writes. And the office took it as mail from the lunatic fringe and just tossed it! [Laughs.]”.
“Mary Don’t You Weep”
A gospel standard that dates back to before the Civil War, “Mary Don’t You Weep” was sung by enslaved African Americans, drawing a parallel between the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and their own hopes of emancipation. Prince took the framework of the tune and put his own lyrics to it, including “I guess you know me well / I don’t like winter” — the opening lines to the song that follows it, “Strange Relationship.” Prince’s version was also used at the end of Spike Lee‘s BlacKkKlansman.
Because it was released on Sign O’ the Times, it could have been assumed that “Strange Relationship” was about Susannah Melvoin, his girlfriend at the time. But Jill Jones said that it was written about Vanity after she started seeing other men. Prince worked on the song with Wendy & Lisa in 1985, but after he broke up the Revolution, he buried or removed their contributions and sped up his voice with the intention of including it on an album by his female alter ego, Camille. Two other songs slated for Camille, “Housequake” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” also found a home on Sign O’ the Times.
As with “17 Days,” Prince had originally written “International Lover” for one of his proteges — in this case the Time — before pulling it back. The ballad wound up being the closer of the 1999 album and, on the ensuing tour, served as the second-to-last song of the main set, where he would perform a striptease in a bed that appeared from the top tier of the stage. The song earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Performance.
“Wednesday” was written for Jones to sing in the Purple Rain movie as a way of furthering her character of a waitress who was in love with Prince. “If you’re not back by Wednesday / There’s no telling what I’ll do,” she sang. However, the scene didn’t make the final cut and the song remained in the vault until now.
Read More: Prince Can’t Wait Until ‘Wednesday’
“Cold Coffee & Cocaine”
On the jazzy “Cold Coffee & Cocaine,” Prince declares that he’s no longer eating at his girlfriend’s place, because the title’s items are all she has in the house. Not much is known about the song, but PrinceVault notes that he sings it in the voice that he used for Jamie Starr, his pseudonym for songs he wrote and produced for the Time, suggesting that it could have also been intended for them.
“Why the Butterflies”
Piano & a Microphone 1983 closes out with the enigmatic “Why the Butterflies.” The six-minute tune features Prince playing around with only one chord and less than 20 words that don’t provide an easy interpretation. PrinceVault is unaware of any other recording of the song besides this.
Read More: Prince Strips Down for ‘Why the Butterflies’