Prince’s vault is well known and immensely speculated about. We know there’s lots of stuff in there we’ve never heard. We also have to accept there’s lots of stuff in there we may never get to hear. Thankfully for us, but maybe less so for Prince while he was alive, vault leaks and bootlegs have been part of the musical lore for decades.
The collection of songs in this post are significant and exciting because they make up some of Prince’s earliest recordings. These were songs he was fleshing out for his debut album, For You, most of which never found their way onto that seminal recording or any other recording, for that matter. The fact that Prince had several songs that never made the cut, many of which would have made for welcome additions as B-sides to the For You era singles such as “Soft and Wet” or “Just as Long as We’re Together,” just proves that his propensity for productivity was evident early.
I want to give a special shout-out to the YouTube channel run by BrothaCharles Ward, as this has been a huge resource for Prince vault material, and I wanted to thank him for the access. Subscribe to his channel if you haven’t already. I’ve linked the video where these tracks can be heard, and you’ll notice I skipped talking about early versions of songs that eventually made the cut, “Soft & Wet,” “Just as Long as We’re Together,” and “My Love is Forever.” Hearing these tracks in their earliest forms is very rewarding but not my focus for this post.
Jelly Jam (Instrumental) – The bones of what would eventually come to be known as the second half of “Just as Long as We’re Together” are evident in this instrumental. You can hear the roots of that final section of the well-known For You track right here, in its most pure form. On the upside, it sounds super funky. The downside, it sounds super dated—fun to listen to but not much of an actual song.
We Can Work it Out has a similar sound to “Jelly Jam,” and like that track, this is another exercise in musicianship with lyrics that act as mere placeholders instead of words meant to evoke emotion or tell a story. “Making music naturally, me and WB!” Prince declares throughout the song, giving more credence to my theory this was never actually meant to find its way onto a record with these lyrics intact. I’m not sure what the explosion sound effect at the track’s end is meant to signify other than maybe a Prince’s career = Big Bang or Nuclear hyperbole.
Donna – Prince uses an acoustic guitar to delve into ballad territory to tell a story about a pretty object of affection who is already with someone else. “Donna” is not your typical early Prince ballad, as the song’s tempo is a bit quicker than one might come to expect. The lyrics contain only a few lines, and I’m sure if this track were ultimately earmarked for the record, it would have received a bit more lyrical work, but the groove is there. “I guess it’s not meant to be” might be a key line in the song, but it also perfectly sums up the status of “Donna” as a finalized recording. I would have loved to have heard this, as unpolished as it is on this vault recording, as a B-side from a For You or Prince single.
Instrumental – This unnamed instrumental (starting at 21:50 on the BrothaCharles Ward YT link) is all guitar and bass noodling but damn if it doesn’t sound amazing. This could, nay should, have been used as the basis for a soulful rock ballad. It had the potential, with the right lyrics and emotion, to stand out. As it is here, it’s much too short and unfinished to really tell what could have been, but my imagination tells me this would have been special. As it stands, this instrumental still gives me chills.
Neurotic Lover’s Bedroom – Freaky as hell Prince, the Prince we won’t get on record for another couple of years, is in full force on this sleaze fest of a song that covers bondage, asphyxiation, and general debauchery. Nothing on his first two albums could prepare you for this. With that said, this is a funky jam that shows off some severe techno groove stylings that he wouldn’t master until he got his hands on that Linn LM-1 drum machine in a few years.
Kiss Me Quick – Disco-pop Prince is in full swing for this short burst of dance funk that would have made an excellent B-side to “Sexy Dancer.”
Baby, Baby, Baby – Prince retreats to ballad territory for this one. The recording is a little shaky, as are Prince’s lyrics about being intimidated by his feelings of love for the titular woman. He eagerly expresses love for her and nervously awaits her response—short but sweet, but also a tad forgettable.
Make it Through the Storm – This is one of the closest things to a finished song than most of what is found on this early vault material. “Make it Through the Storm” has clear, distinct verses, choruses, and even a bridge, indicating it was a (probably) finished track (minus overdubs). If this had made it on the final album tracklisting, it would have been a nice addition although I don’t think it would have been one of the album’s strongest tracks. It should have been a B-side, however.
Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me – Prince implores us to “look into my big, brown eyes” on this heavy synthesizer and drum machine mid-tempo jam. Another song that appears to be pretty close to being finished; I think this would have been a strong addition to the For You track listing or, at the very least, a B-side. Prince’s confidence and swagger are evident throughout the lyrics as he tells a prospective lover that he’s what she’s looking for in a man. The Stevie Wonder and Parliament influences are strong with this song, and maybe that’s why it didn’t make the cut. “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me’s” infectious groove hypnotizes throughout its lengthy run time, but I never got bored of it—a winner for sure.
Nadara – Prince reverts to familiar, upbeat territory for this track. His ethereal voice fades in with quick, poppy guitar licks following closely behind. As the song’s simple name might imply, “Baby, Baby, Baby” is another early vault track that is more of an exercise in creating music than creating a piece with captivating words or a catchy chorus. This is a lovely track if you want to hear Prince make beautiful guitar-based music. Otherwise, it’s very raw and difficult to hear an actual song.
Miss You – Acoustic ballad in the same vein as “Nadara” or “Crazy You,” Prince lists off the things he misses (the ocean, the time they made love under the stars, etc.) in the song’s only verse. Most importantly, he misses “you,” which makes the top of any list he ponders. Another very short ballad with impeccable musicianship with his guitar playing in top-notch form (which it always was). Beautiful but gone too soon. Just like Prince.