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Prince Gets Back to His Old R&B Ways on ‘A Million Days': 365 Prince Songs in a Year

NPG Records / Columbia Records
NPG Records / Columbia Records

To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.

Prince’s “A Million Days,” a tender ballad that evolves into a torrid cry for love, arrived during a period of stability and retrenchment.

He was then happily married to Toronto native Manuela Testolini. At the same time, Prince’s journey toward a new faith had helped center him, both personally and professionally.

“Musically, I think I’ve evolved by the simple fact of working on my spirit as a human being,” Prince told CNN. “I’ve been studying the Bible as of late, and it’s begun to play a major role in my life. So, it’s going to affect everything, especially the music, because music is so dear to me. That said, I don’t know if I’m getting to be a better guitar player or a better singer or anything like that, but I feel more confident in my gifts.”

It’s not hard to imagine some sense of displacement. After all, Prince’s new life with Testolini in Toronto’s exclusive Bridle Path neighborhood led to some of his first sessions outside of Minnesota in memory. But Prince, in keeping with his all-in image, completely immersed himself with this new phase. Musicology, the 2004 studio project that includes “A Million Days,” even featured the city’s skyline on the back cover.

Musicology is the first record I’ve recorded in Toronto,” Prince told the Globe and Mail, “and I can really feel the difference. It has a completely unique sound that came from the total disregard for what’s happening in American music, and for the workings of the American music industry. It doesn’t sound like anything else that’s out there right now.”

Be that as it may, Prince actually ended up producing an album that sounded more like Prince than any he’d recently released, creating his own little corner of Minneapolis some 950 miles away. Musicology, despite the stodgy title, was an approachable but focused, R&B-shaped project – and that’s borne out on “A Million Days,” with its lyrical, Santana-esque guitar lines and quick-building sense of final release.

Fans responded, ending a multi-album slide in which Prince had failed even to chart. Before the Top 5 reception for Musicology, Prince’s most recent Billboard entrant was 2001’s The Rainbow Children, a religious-themed project that stalled at a dismal No. 109.

Truth be told, Prince put his lace-gloved finger on the scale – and not just by playing it much safer than he had in years. He paired the new album with tickets for his sold-out Musicology tour in 2004, giving record sales a huge boost. The project likely would have sold a million copies anyway, but this canny gambit more than doubled those projected sales. Prince agreed to give his one-time distribution partner, Sony, a portion of the ticket income to cover their costs, but he once again kept all of the song rights.

“One advantage of writing ‘slave’ on my face back then is that when I meet with a label now, they already know they’re not going to be owning anything,” Prince told the Guardian. “Maybe at one time they could get Little Richard for a new car and a bucket of chicken. We don’t roll like that no more.”

Billboard balked, eventually changing the rules to make sure fans had an option to buy the album before sales could be counted toward chart positions. By then, however, Musicology had already completed a six-month run that neatly coincided with Prince’s tour.

Back then, it was easy to see “A Million Days” as a kind of love letter from the road to Testolini, but engineer H.M. Huff places the sessions for this track back at Paisley Park Studios in 1995 – well before Prince’s second marriage. It’s unclear if the song had been considered for albums released prior to Musicology, but it fits perfectly with this multi-platinum project’s utterly mainstream vibe.

Prince’s commercial fortunes continued to rise and fall, but his position in the culture was fully restored. The gold-selling followup 3121 became his first U.S. No. 1 album since Batman in 1989. Unfortunately, by then Prince was in the midst of a divorce with Manuela Testolini, but he remained connected to Toronto – and to the Billboard charts.

Guitarist Donna Grantis – a member of both the New Power Generation and then 3rdEyeGirl – hailed from the city. Prince’s final public appearances, a pair of surprise shows announced only 48 hours earlier, were also at Sony Centre in Toronto. Meanwhile, all but one of his next five albums debuted in the Top 5, and Prince finished with a final Top 40 hit in 2015’s HITnRUN Phase Two.

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