Prince’s Vault Material – 1980 to 1981

1980-1981 is a bit of a mystery when it comes to Prince’s vault material. The late ’70s was a boon for vault track bootleg collectors, with many of Prince’s early demos having been leaked, plus the shelved Rebels tracks were widely distributed over the years. Then we got the deluge of tracks Prince was working on in late ‘81 into ‘82 for the 1999 album. Almost all of these vault tracks became officially available on 2019’s 1999 Super Deluxe release, and it was glorious. But what about the Dirty Mind-Controversy era?

From left: Brownmark, Dr. Fink, Dez, Prince, Lisa, Bobby Z

This is where info on his vault tracks gets dicey. Depending on who you ask, some tracks that I would consider as part of the Prince-era vault fall into this timeframe. However, I look at it this way. If the songs were recorded before the album came out, I put them in the vault era for the album that followed. All of the songs in this post were recorded, according to Prince Vault, after the release of Prince and before the release of Controversy. That is to say, there isn’t a lot here, to be fair. Either Prince wasn’t as prolific from late ‘79 to mid ‘81, OR there are many songs in the vault that simply haven’t made their way into the hands of those who have shared his unreleased material.

Broken – An interesting Dirty Mind era demo that sounds very little like the rest of the music that came out during this period. Prince does the jazzy big band thing on this fun vault track dating back to 1980. Musically, it’s bouncy and upbeat despite it being a song about his broken heart.

Hard to Get – A re-recording of The Rebels track of the same name that Andre Cymone originally sang; this version has cleaner guitars and a more pronounced synth line. Overall, the production value here is improved and sounds more like a song that fits the early ‘80s sound instead of the ‘70s. Supposedly, there is a more extended version out there with extra verses that we desperately need access to!

Lisa – Prince applies a sick synth groove for this hypnotic and humorous song about luring a woman away from her man. Possibly named after new band member, Lisa Coleman, but it could also just be a coincidence.

Rough – Another Dirty Mind era track about a fine girl with a serious edge to her (“She’ll take your money, your self-respect, and personality”). The sound of this song is as rough as the title indicates. A cleaned-up version would be nice, but what we have is a funky, quirky synth and drum jam that’s a bit of a companion piece to a tough and dangerous girl in “My Medallion,” which Prince would record decades later.

The Second Coming – Part vault song, part Controversy tour opening prayer, this song is a strong contender for the coolest way to start a tour. Give the audience something they’ve never heard before and can’t recreate on an official recording! Its overt religious and spiritual themes may have caught fans by surprise after the secular and sexual nature of Dirty Mind’s lyrics. Prince’s vocal performance is fire, and impossible not to get goosebumps while listening.

She’s Just a Baby (version 1) – Yeah, the lyrics about an older man in love with a younger woman can be a bit cringe-worthy at times, but overall, this simple, slow song is both beautiful and soulful and worth a listen.

She’s Just a Baby (version 2) – A shorter but cleaned up re-do of version 1; this version sounds more like it was ready for inclusion on an album. Like “Hard to Get,” it sounds like there’s more of this song out there that hasn’t been unearthed. 

Strange Way – A short and quirky (like its creator) bubblegum new wave synth-pop ditty that has a demo feel to it, but in the best way possible. This could have been a banging Vanity 6 track without a doubt in my mind.

Tick, Tick, Bang – Punky, new-wave Prince will always be one of my favorite versions of him and this is a big reason why. This first version of the song that would eventually get reworked for the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack is fast, furious and raunchy. All of the things that attracted me to Prince’s music 38 years ago.

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