Piano & a Microphone 1983
You are forgiven if you feel a little uncomfortable listening to these recordings; you were never meant to. Unearthed from roughly the period between 1999 and Purple Rain, these raw cassette demos of Prince accompanying himself on piano, as advertised, are less songs than sketches. (The one that grew up to be the most famous, “Purple Rain,” is more like an exquisite doodle at about a minute and a half; ditto his cover of Joni Mitchell's 1971 “A Case of You.”) Which is why they are, in some ways, more revelatory and astonishing than so much of his actually finished work: This is what one of the most talented humans ever to live, at the cusp of his creative and commercial peak, sounds like when he's barely even trying. It's no huge surprise that some of these songs never got further than his home tape recorder—“Cold Coffee & Cocaine” sounds like cold coffee and cocaine and not a whole lot else just yet. But the experience of hearing this impossibly careful artist so unguarded, singing and noodling around on a piano and trying to discover in real time whether something may be leading him somewhere special, feels intimate to the point of invasive.