By Maria Lubanovic, Copy Editor
Key Tracks: “Purple Rain”, “International Lover”, “Cold Coffee & Cocaine”
Prince’s Piano & A Microphone is exactly what it sounds like. It’s Prince, in the studio, all by himself. Released posthumously, most Prince fans will take any snippet of material from the prolific performer that they can. Piano & A Microphone gives us 34 glorious unheard minutes of a studio session in 1983.
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This album surfaced from a single cassette tape found in Prince’s estate. The only thing that seems to have been done to the recording was it being split into different tracks. We can hear Prince call out in the recording and ask if they could hear an echo or if they could turn things up or down. We can even hear him sniffle through “International Lover”. His foot keeps time on the floor on “Cold Coffee & Cocaine”. It’s an intensely intimate experience, like Prince could be sitting in your living room.
We already knew how brilliant Prince was. What this album does is solidify him as the true piano player and artist that he is. Prince can play piano better than pretty much any other pop musician. The piano sings with him and for him. When Prince doesn’t have an effect, he will make it himself. He beatboxes at the end of “International Lover”.
“Purple Rain” is especially bittersweet. Probably one of Prince’s most well-known songs, when it’s stripped down to its essence, it’s simply one and a half minutes of glittery piano and one vulnerable line of the song. It’s not the six-minute epic that we’ve come to know. “Purple Rain” was released in 1984 and recorded in late 1983, so it’s possible that at the time, the track it would become was just a glimmer in Prince’s eye.
“Mary Don’t You Weep” is probably the most interesting track to be included. Known as a traditional gospel song, Prince changes the words and tightly sings in a falsetto over the piano. He plays like he’s been playing gospel all of his life. It’s one of the more religious tracks that Prince has made, not counting “God”, the B-side to “Purple Rain”.
This whole album feels like a hidden gem, with shards of tracks that wouldn’t even be fully fleshed out for years. “17 Days” and “Purple Rain” would eventually be released on Purple Rain. Still, there are others that were never released, like “Wednesday”, “Cold Coffee & Cocaine” and “Why The Butterflies”. We will probably never know how Prince would have wanted to flesh out those tracks. Maybe other tracks from the vault will enlighten us someday.
Most of the time, we will take what we can get when it comes to artists that have gone to the purple rain cloud in the sky, but with Prince, it doesn’t feel like we have conceded. Piano & A Microphone opens the door to a more intimate side of Prince that we may not have seen before.