New Prince Album Reveals the Creative Process; Slash Just Rocks the Joint on His Return

In the world of music, there is nothing that is more interesting than the creative process. Hell, with ANY artistic endeavor, the most interesting thing is the process of bringing disparate parts together into a cohesive and entertaining form. The late Prince Rogers Nelson were arguably one of those people that had a tremendous artistic process, something that he often kept in secret for simply privacy’s sake. With his new CD, Piano and a Microphone 1983, we see the artist just before his big explosion on the musical scene, working out the kinks on some compositions that would go on to be huge for his career and some that have never seen the light of day. On the other side of the dial, Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash is continuing on without Axl Rose (again) and his new collaboration, his third time teaming with Alter Bridge singer Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, just flat out rocks.

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In 2016, the music world lost one of its greatest voices and one of its greatest creative musicians when Prince passed away from an opiate overdose. But back in 1983, Prince wasn’t the icon he had become by 2016; Prince was still a man looking to make his mark in the music world. Coming off a highly successful double album in 1999, the man known as the Purple One was considering his next step. One night, with only a microphone and a piano as accompaniment, Prince put some of those ideas onto a simple cassette tape.

The result of the recording session was the latest release from “The Vault,” the treasure trove of Prince material that was locked up for decades in his Paisley Park home. Entitled Piano and a Microphone 1983, the nine-song CD clocks in at less than 40 minutes (37, if you’d like the exact number). But what Piano and a Microphone 1983 shows is the artist in the midst of the creative process as well as some of the genius behind that process.

Leading off the album is “17 Days,” one of your typical Prince-type songs that one would expect but, stripped down to just the piano, is riveting. The fact that it is a “Prince-type song” isn’t surprising as Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin, who were part of The Revolution, helped in the writing of the song (along with Revolution keyboardist Matthew “Doctor” Fink). From there, Prince goes into a little noodling of what would become “Purple Rain,” but the version found on this album is melancholier then you might expect. Other songs that Prince would become known for – “International Lover” from 1999 and “Strange Relationship,” which would show up on 1987’s Sign O’ the Times, also make their experimental debuts here.

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It is when Prince delves into new material that the CD takes on a life of its own. Prince performs a cover of the African-American spiritual “Mary Don’t You Weep,” with a blues styling for the song bringing out so much emotion you can actually feel what Prince is trying to say. The song was used in director Spike Lee’s latest film BlacKKKlansman because Lee felt it was perfect for the film. After unveiling the emotions for “Mary Don’t You Weep,” Prince then goes back into his “funky era” with a song called “Cold Coffee & Cocaine,” complete with James Brown-esque yelps and howls. He wraps up the compilation with a beautiful song called “Why the Butterflies,” an amazing coda to a short practice session.

Even though it is fascinating to listen to the creative process that Prince is going through with the creation of this music, I’m still a little bit disappointed. It is obvious that Prince never meant for these tapes to be released; at certain points in the recording, he clears his throat, speaks directly to the technician in the studio recording this session (surprisingly, Prince tells him to turn the tape over, as if he knew how long he had been playing) or clears his throat with a cough. For Prince’s family to release these songs from “The Vault” as the first posthumous music from Prince, I feel it takes a little bit away from not only the man himself and his tremendous process in creating such wonderful music but also cheapens what should have been a grandiose occasion.

Even with this criticism, Piano and a Microphone 1983 is a priceless piece of music from what was one of America’s greatest artist. Prince may not be with us anymore, but “The Vault” should provide us with decades of music to come. Just imagine what jewels await us from Prince? Piano and a Microphone 1983 is simply the first chip off the diamond that Prince and his music was.

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Somebody who may be as prolific as Prince in the musical output department is Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. While Axl Rose was sitting around for the decade or so after Guns N’ Roses’ last release in 1993, Slash would go on to do his own music with a dizzying array of talent backing him up. Counting the five albums he did with the Gunners, Slash has also put up two albums with Velvet Revolver, two with Slash’s Snakepit, and one straight solo album, not to mention guesting on several songs by such artists as the late Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Bad Company’s Paul Rogers and Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies, Alice Cooper and Rhianna. Slash’s latest album is Living the Dream (technically his 13th studio release) and it features some of that talent in vocalist Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge and an array of talented musicians called The Conspirators, who are joining Slash for their third album together.

Although his time in Guns N’ Roses has made him a hard rock and metal icon, Slash goes into his own style when he picks up with Kennedy and The Conspirators, a simply hard driving, blues-based rock and roll approach that you really don’t hear much of anymore. From the start with the song “The Call of the Wild,” Slash and Kennedy groove together instantly, with Kennedy’s soaring vocals only outdone by Slash’s crunching guitars. This continues on through such songs as “My Antidote”  and “Mind Your Manners,” but there are two songs in particular that deserve mention from this record.

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First song of note from Living the Dream is “Lost Inside the Girl,” a very good up-tempo rocker that is a love song about a lady that has entranced Kennedy. The song that is really the piece de resistance on the album is its first release, “Driving Rain.” It is a typical trope for rock musicians – a song about being out on the road and having to come through a whole lot of pain and torture to get to the one that you love  – but it displays both Kennedy and Slash at the top of their game. Both of these tunes are well worth the price of admission for Living the Dream.

Whether you’re looking for the remembrance of a great artist that has passed far too soon or you’re looking for something from a rocker who is still cranking it out at 53 years old, you can’t go wrong with these two releases.  Piano and a Microphone 1983 from Prince and Living the Dream from Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, while offering greatly diverse material, will give you plenty of enjoyment if you’re willing to take the ride.

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Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time, Part 1- The 1960s/70s

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Rather than delve into the delusion that currently is supposed to oversee this country (and trust me, there’s plenty to call the Tangerine Ignoramus out on simply from this last weekend alone), I’ve decided to start something that will definitely be much more fun. Since college basketball is deciding the 64 teams (OK, 68 teams because of those simply idiotic play in games the NCAA conducts) that will compete for their championship, thought it would be fun to do the same but in a different arena – the genre of hard rock/metal music.

As it is one of my personal fortes, hard rock/metal music is essentially celebrating its 50th Anniversary since the release of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” which contained the lines “Get your motor running/heavy metal thunder.” With this in mind, I’ve put together a compilation of the top 64 hard rock/metal bands from four different eras – the 1960s/70s, the 1980s, the 1990s, and the 2000s/10s – and split them up in accordance with those eras into “regions.” We’ll break down the matchups in each bracket and, with hope, readers will make their own comments and vote on the matchups and perhaps they’ll be some sort of prize at the end – the management here (re:  me) is still trying to come up with that prize.

What are the criteria for consideration? First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

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Without further ado, here’s the breakdown of the 1960s/70s bracket, with the seeding by each band/artist name.

Led Zeppelin (1) vs. Steppenwolf (16)

Led Zeppelin as the #1 seed was about as much of a lock as you could expect. They never had a #1 song and they might lack the longevity of some of the other competitors (Zeppelin’s heyday was 1968-80, only a scant 12 years). But they make up for those deficiencies in every other area under consideration – their “tour behavior” became the stuff of legends and they had the musical chops to back it up (“Stairway to Heaven” is widely accepted as one of the greatest songs of all time), their popularity was outstanding and they were inducted into the R&R HOF on the first ballot in 1995 (minimum of 25 years after first album release). Although Steppenwolf coined the term “heavy metal,” Led Zeppelin lived it, thus they should move to the next round.

Rush (8) vs. Queen (9)

These are the fun matchups where the smallest thing can push one of the competitors past their opponent. Throwing these two against each other is roughly akin to picking a favorite child as both are outstanding and legendary groups that click all the boxes. Rush pulls ahead slightly on the longevity front – they’re still active today, while Queen disbanded after Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991 after a two-decade career, but Queen has the epic “Bohemian Rhapsody” that is arguably better known than any Rush track. Queen is arguably more influential than Rush, especially given Mercury’s soaring vocals over Geddy Lee’s vocal individuality. Both have their accolades to lie back on, but Rush waited quite some time before being inducted into the R&R HOF. Deciding a winner here could come down to a few votes.

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Judas Priest (4) vs. Scorpions (13)

Some may debate ranking Scorpions that low in the region, but it goes to demonstrate how tough it is to even get on the rankings. The Priest has been a monolithic machine that has rumbled since the early 70s (and are still at it today, albeit with an adjusted roster), while Scorpions have been up-and-down since the latter part of that decade. As far as the definition of “heavy metal,” Judas Priest for many would be the template to go with – the “leather and chains” look was patented by Judas Priest front man Rob Halford. What may tip the scales is that Judas Priest is in the R&R HOF; at this moment, Scorpions have not even been considered. It’s unfortunate that one of these giants of the genre doesn’t get to move on in the competition, but which will it be?

Black Sabbath (5) vs. Motörhead (12)

The 5/12 matchup is always one ripe for an upset and this battle is no exception. Black Sabbath were extremely influential on burgeoning metal bands, but Motörhead has their own legion of followers. The front men for both bands are iconic, with Ozzy Osbourne as the first singer for Sabbath followed by the legendary Ronnie James Dio and Motörhead featuring the late, lamented Lemmy Kilmister. Sabbath never got the critical recognition that Motörhead did – yes, if you’re asking, hard, fast, and loud can be critically appraised! – but Sabbath has been recognized with more accolades than Lemmy and Co. Perhaps Sabbath might win for their “Stonehenge” moment, but it will be a tough fight between this twosome – and, once again, a travesty to see one out of the competition.

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AC/DC (2) vs. Thin Lizzy (15)

Critically acclaimed Thin Lizzy had a handful of hits (“Cowboy Song,” “Jailbreak,” “The Boys Are Back in Town”) before decadence and the untimely passing of leader Phil Lynott ended their run in 1983, but they are running into a buzz saw coming from “Down Under.” AC/DC is still going strong 45 years since their creation, although some might think the road has come to an end without Brian Johnson’s vocals (and, prior to him, Bon Scott) heading the riffs of lead guitarist Angus Young. Influences? Accolades? Longevity? All the clicks go in the corner of the Australians over the Irish in this one, but we’ll see if an upset is brewing.

Van Halen (7) vs. Aerosmith (10)

Another difficult matchup between two U. S. bands that have been part of the backbone of the genre. Both have influenced the “up and coming,” especially Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler’s sound (it is arguable he might have had an influence on a young David Lee Roth from Van Halen), while band namesake Eddie Van Halen is recognized as one of the great guitarists of all time (no shame to Joe Perry for coming up second-best in that comparison). Both bands have awards and accolades, critical respect, and longevity as seminal parts of their being – who can come out on top when the competitors are almost dead equal?

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Deep Purple (3) vs. KISS (14)

For some reason, I smell an upset brewing here. KISS has been around it seems since the dawn of time, but Deep Purple was one of the formative bands of the hard rock genre in the late 60s and 70s (and even a bit into the 80s). Deep Purple’s constantly shifting lineup, however, might be a detriment to them…KISS has kept two of its four members, singer/guitarist Paul Stanley and bassist Gene Simmons, intact since its creation and, for the most part, has had all four original members (lead guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss) for a sizeable segment of the band’s history. KISS has had more of an influence on perhaps the stage performance side of the equation that Deep Purple didn’t have, but Deep Purple had the critical love. Which will be enough to provide the edge in this race?

The Who (6) vs. Jimi Hendrix (11)

There might be some chirping from the crowd on these two picks but, for their time, they were considered as “hard rock” as you can get. The tipping point in this battle may be the longevity question – The Who lasted well into the 1990s (for better or worse), while Hendrix’s stay was short-lived (he only released three albums while alive with the Jimi Hendrix Experience; his work with the Band of Gypsies was released posthumously), which should push them ahead (Hendrix arguably was Winehouse of the 1960s). But when you’re running up against the man the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame calls “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music,” you’re going to be in for a fight.

That’s it for the first “region” of our tournament. Later this week, we’ll look at the 1980s and over the weekend perhaps we’ll delve into the 1990s and the 2000s/10s (and be thinking of who could be the #1 seeds for those “regions” – would love to hear those opinions). Don’t forget to vote by replying here and I will compile the responses – and maybe award a prize once a champion is crowned to a reader!