The Infamous Black Album

 

 I debated what should be the first Vinyl/album I discuss? Should I go in chronological order? Popular albums first? Deal with specific eras? To make things a little more interesting I plan to use none of the aforementioned criteria. I imagine some posts might need a part 1 and part 2 because at times I’m sure there will be a lot to unpack or discuss in relation to some of his works and what was going on not only musically, but what was affecting him personally, legally as well in certain instances record label politics, (cough, cough Warner Brothers). There would be many occasions even for albums that met the criteria length wise that fit into one album parameters that were asked to either be shortened or push back the release date because they felt at times he was flooding the market with “too much” material, whether his own music, or those of his protégé’s.  All those issues withstanding at different degrees throughout his career, my first post will be discussing an album where a lot of those issues weren’t present, but others were in the creation and distribution of the infamous “The Black Album”.

 

 If anyone is a certain age. They will remember that the Black Album (A.K.A. “The Funk Bible) was officially released twice 1987, and later in 1994. Initially it was to be a follow up to “Sign O’ the Times” but was scrapped due to Prince calling the album “Evil” because of a epiphany, how that epiphany came about is a story in itself. The epiphany allegedly came about while being influenced using the drug MDMA. MDMA  initially was created by big pharma for counselors/psychologists to use with clients that had a hard time opening up, or being unable to express or access empathy within. It was actually legal for medical purposes only for a while.

 I know this article isn’t about the history of mdma, although I think it is important to explain what type of drug it initially was. For many years it wasn’t illegal to use. Many counselors used it in their sessions, and a handful to this day who are not afraid of the legal consequences continue use currently in sessions, although it is now very much considered an illegal substance whether you are using it under the care of a counselor, dr. etc. or not. The drug slowly made its way to the club scene in the late ‘80s and that is when problems began. Many deaths occurred because people would take the drug before going dancing, or rave type parties. People would overheat and not properly hydrate themselves and would OD and end up in the hospital, or worse dead. Backlash ensued, and it became an illegal substance. Over the years the drug would still be available and evolve just under different names, and now cut with different things as it was no longer being produced by big pharma. The name Ecstasy would follow and at times be interchangeable with mdma…..mdma would come back name wise, but some say obviously the purity and effect  wasn’t the same, as well as side affects that previously didn’t exist occurring.  Most recently called mdma once again, and then later molly as well. Although the composition of Molly and the effects were very different than the previous incarnations, or you could say very different from the root (mdma/ecstasy) of the tree that gave birth to molly which seems to be the popular version of the once pharma only produced mdma/ecstasy.

Whether alleged influences of the drug mdma/ecstasy are true, or there were other contributing factors to contribute to his “epiphany” for Prince to decide that the album was “evil”, and that “since one can die at any time” what if his last work would be “The Black Album”? He didn’t want that, so he decided to go in what he decided was the opposite direction of “The Black Album” content, concept wise, which gave birth to “Lovesexy”.

 Only one song from “The Black Album” was included on “Lovesexy”, a ballad seemingly about a relationship of two who are in a deep, spiritual,  monogamous relationship. The song fit in perfectly with the themes of “Lovesexy”. Positivity, religious affirmation, spirituality, love in all forms were the themes weaved throughout “Lovesexy” not so much on “The Black Album”.  Unlike usual Prince fashion of being able to combine the spiritual and sexual in ways that some considered graphic, overtly sexual or filled with sexual pun’s or entendre’s, “Lovesexy” may be one of the few exceptions of Prince’s discography of not coming across lurid, shocking, hedonistic, lustful, overtly sexual, or filled with sexual pun’s or entendre’s when dealing with sexuality, relationships, or love.

                  He ordered Warner Bros. to destroy whatever copies they had, promo or otherwise even though many promos and a few originals had already slipped through the cracks.  Prince had this epiphany after the album was totally finished, in Warner Bros. hands and in the middle of distribution and promotion. Whatever deal, or  compromise Prince and Warner Bros agreed upon, the end result was the remaining copies promo or otherwise were to be destroyed and copies that were not sold at record stores shipped back.

In 1994 (7 years later) it was officially released and distributed through record stores as a limited edition re-release of sorts.

Now on to the info the vinyl heads and collectors probably care the most about in regards to this album. Since 2016 three of the original 1987 pressings of “The Black Album” were sold for 15,000, 27,500,  and the highest amount  42,298. All of those were in vinyl form, and one being a promo vinyl(The one that sold for 15,000).  The Black Album being one of the most bootlegged albums of all time and having various factual, and not so factual information thrown around of how to determine if one has a original copy from 1987, 1994, or merely a very good replica a.k.a. bootleg. I will try my best to help you out and list the undeniable factual things that I have come across to be able to differentiate between an official copy or bootleg.

                  Do you have a 1987 original, promo, or bootleg? If you bought your copy in 1994 is it worth less? To shortly answer. I have yet to see any evidence of any 1994 releases promo or otherwise, vinyl or otherwise being worth more than a 1987 promo, original or vinyl. The following will tell you or at least get you on the right path for your search of an authentic Black Album or being able to in some way verify what you actually own.

                  If your Black Album has the catalog number 45793 printed on the disc, a copyright date of 1994 (excluding “When 2 R in Love” because it was officially released on “Lovesexy” first in 1988 therefore the song has a copyright of 1988). The catalog number 45793 is also printed on the spine of the vinyl/cd etc. of the 1994 Officially re-released limited version by Warner Bros. The 1994 album became officially deleted from the Warner Bros catalog. Despite this it would later turn up on the streaming site “Tidal” posthumously in 2016. Another interesting fact about the 1994 re-release, that anyone with a bootlegged copy, Warner Bros. offered to give one a free copy of the 1994 release if they mail in their bootlegged version, it applied for the first 1,000 to send in their bootleg version. Now onto the real gold, the original.

The original 1988 release was extremely limited and has mostly only been discovered in vinyl form in European and U.S. markets, as it was very early in it’s release when Prince demanded it to no longer be released and to destroy any remaining copy’s that hadn’t been sold in record stores or distributed. Yes, some record stores were ordered to pull their unsold copies and ship them back. The 1987 promo-only release had no printed title, artist name, production credits or photography printed. A simple black sleeve accompanied the disc. On promotional copies, only a song listing and catalog number 25677 were printed on the disc itself. The official version only has a catalog number printed in pink on the spine. The original compact disc pressing was made by Sony DADC not WEA manufacturing. It was officially released on December 8, 1987. I throw that date in there incase one specifically remembers purchasing it in or close to that date, or possibly receiving it as a gift and having a hard time pinning down the date of when you obtained/purchased/were given “The Black Album”.

            While there are many fascinating stories that have accompanied the songs on “The Black Album”, that in itself would definitely require another lengthy post on another day. I will say out of the various stories that surround the actual art of “The Black Album”, the most surprising to me was where some of the inspiration behind the creation of “The Black Album” was derived from. Prince’s feelings towards the increasingly popularity of Rap which a lot of artists at the time thought was a fad, and in Prince’s case (as well as other artists) didn’t see talent in people who couldn’t play instruments or sing. (Read lyrics to “Dead on It”). He was also facing criticism from some music journalists of having become “too pop”, “selling out” and “no longer having his black fan-base or catering to them”. While his material has spanned multiple genres, themes, concepts, and in some cases have fused multiple genres to create something so totally original sonically, it’s pretty much impossible to use one definitive word, adjective, or genre to describe some of his works. Having said that, I’m beyond tired that music not only has to be classified, but that race is occasionally inserted to determine if something has “crossover appeal”, become too “pop” or too “mainstream” or shortly “too this” or “too that” or not knowing “how to promote”.

I feel for the artists that have managed to create something that many people for whatever reason were able to resonate with, like, or even love. The cross to bear with that mainstream (or crossover) success is now the “Casual Fan”, critic, journalist who is not familiar with an artist’s body of work or temperament, will often slam the artist when the follow up to a mainstream success is stylistically totally different and inconsistent with how the previous album sounds, promoted, as well as other factors. Numbers sold, or the skin color of the people purchasing music should never be something that is used as a barometer or valid argument to determine the quality or if it was a “crossover” of what is created whether it be good, bad, or somewhere in between.

 It’s very easy to see through and logically pick apart something to prove if the end goal from the beginning was to cater or relate to the biggest market possible in order to make the most money. The type of promotion, using current trends or “hot producers” for an album is one of the easiest tells, catering to whatever is popular and acceptable in mainstream pop culture at that particular moment in time and making it easily relatable to most people in one form or another, or lastly catering to what the all mighty algorithms reveal by their calculations of the demographic who spends the most money on music and unabashedly promoting and pushing the end result to that specific demographic.