Was ‘Had U’ Prince’s Angry Farewell to Warner Brothers?: 365 Prince Songs in a Year
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.
For the opening track on his 1978 debut album, Prince composed a brief, gorgeous multi-layered a cappella song entitled “For You,” in which he pledged to do everything possible to share the full wealth of his musical gifts with the world.
Eighteen years later, he concluded his final album of “new” material for Warner Bros. – the label he had grown to believe was keeping him from fulfilling that promise – with a similarly short but much nastier song entitled “Had U.”
While he never said the highly poetic track was a kiss-off to his former record label, the symmetry of the two musical bookends does not appear to be a coincidence.
Upset that he didn’t own his master recordings, and furious at not being allowed to release music at a pace of his choosing, Prince began waging a very public battle against Warner Bros. and the music industry in the early ’90s. In 1993, he went so far as to paint “slave” on his face in public appearances, and changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol.
A compromise was eventually reached. Following the July 1996 release of Chaos and Disorder – which was described in the liner notes as music “originally intended for private use only” – Prince was freed from his deal. (Warner Bros. was also allowed to release another collection of unreleased Prince music, The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale, in 1999.)
Rather than feeling like warmed-up leftovers, Chaos and Disorder is a surprisingly cohesive, spontaneous-sounding collection of funk-rock, with a heavier than usual emphasis on Prince’s guitar playing.
The tone changes a bit for the brooding and highly poetic “Had U,” the final 86 seconds of the album. On the surface, the lyrics – which consist entirely of a series of verbs followed by the word “you” – seem to chart the rise and fall of a romantic relationship.
Of course, it’s not hard to read this courtship-to-breakup tale as a metaphor for Prince’s time with Warner Bros. In particular, the song’s last couplet ( “f— you / had you”) was interpreted by many fans as a parting shot from Prince, who rarely unleashed this level of anger in his music following the spiritual awakening that birthed 1988’s Lovesexy.
The selection of “Had U” as the B-side of “Dinner with Delores,” the only single released from Chaos and Disorder, could also lead one to believe its author was hoping to deliver one last message before moving on to his new life. And that’s exactly what Prince did five months later with the release of his not-at-all subtly titled triple album Emancipation.
Prince Albums Ranked in Order of Awesomeness