Years before Prince’s passing, we were told the enigmatic artist had a vault—an actual, physical bank-size safe—in which he stored a literal treasure trove of unheard recordings; enough material to release for 100 years.
Last year’s intimate demo album, Piano & A Microphone 1983, was a tantalizing first taste of the Vault’s untold riches, but it didn’t quite live up to the level of hidden masterpiece. More than three years since the Purple One’s untimely demise, the new posthumous Prince project, Originals, represents first true fulfillment of the myth.
In addition to being one of the biggest stars of his time, behind the scenes, Prince was a prolific songsmith for others. You probably knew he wrote Sinéad O’Connor’s 1990 hit “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and maybe you knew he wrote The Bangles’ “Manic Monday.” But you probably weren’t aware of the scope of his ghostwriting.
Compiled by Prince Estate advisor Troy Carter and none other than Jay-Z, and consisting of 15 demo versions of Prince-penned songs made famous by other artists, Originals is the kind of treasure trove we dreamed of coming from the Vault.
With the exception of stars like O’Connor, The Bangles and Kenny Rogers, most of these songs were for frequent collaborators like Sheila E. and Jill Jones, close associates like The Time and Mazarati, and bands he assembled himself like Vanity 6 and Apollonia 6.
And let’s be clear about what “songwriting” means here. Prince didn’t just scribble down some words for these artists to figure out themselves; he composed the entire thing. These “demos” are more finished than many artists’ final pieces.
Fully arranged, complete with congas and a funky breakdown, a song like “Holly Rock” is as complete as a Prince song can get, and yet he heard that it would be more fully realized with Sheila E. singing and rapping instead of him. How many pop stars write themselves out of their own hit?
As if we needed new evidence of Prince’s exhaustive genius, Originals is a remarkable reveal of his raw talent as a writer of song, his vision to see who should perform it, and his generosity to actually give it away.
And when you hear Prince performing these songs, you may very well wish he had kept them for himself.
His woozy, Purple Rain-styled rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U” is no less stunning than Sinéad O’Connor’s. His version of Apollonia 6’s “Sex Shooter” is as catchy as any track on 1999. Jay-Z supposedly had to fight to have Prince’s jaw-droppingly beautiful version Martika’s 1991 single, “Love… Thy Will Be Done,” included on the album.
The fact that a track like that almost didn’t make the cut, and given that nearly all these tracks were recorded just between the years of 1981 and 1985, we can only imagine how much untapped material remains locked up in Prince’s Vault…for now.
Ryan is a writer, editor and vinyl collector currently based in Los Angeles. He started Mini Music Critic in 2017.