Remembering When Life Wasn’t So Sad in ‘Paisley Park': 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.
“There is a park that is known for the face it attracts,” Prince sang on “Paisley Park”, the first single (outside of the U.S.) from his seventh album, Around the World in a Day. The verse ends with a nod to his friends (as Prince loathed the word “fans” for its link to “fanatic”), “They’ve taken a lifetime lease on Paisley Park.”
At the time of the song’s release, Paisley Park, the recording studio, concert hall and future Prince museum was nothing more than a field in the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen. During his landmark interview for the Sept. 12, 1985 cover of Rolling Stone, Prince drove writer Neal Karlen past the field, providing a symbolic moment for the future symbol-named singer, as “Paisley Park”, the song, was pretty much his take on the Beatles’ ”Strawberry Fields Forever”.
According to the Prince Vault, early tracking took place in September 1984 at Prince’s recording facility at the Flying Cloud Drive Warehouse, a place Prince had dubbed “Paisley Park” at the time. In the Rolling Stone interview, Prince was first to defend the name as a place that lives within all of us, “Paisley Park is in everybody's heart. It's not just something that I have the keys to. I was trying to say something about looking inside oneself to find perfection. Perfection is in everyone.”
In their 1985 review of the album, The New York Times referred to “Paisley Park” as “Prince's version of a 60's 'love in,' and invitation to a (presumably) imaginary place.” They called the album “an instrumental and stylistic tour de force, Prince's finest hour - for now”. About the album’s left turn from the commercial breakthrough of Purple Rain, Prince told Karlen it was by design, “Wouldn't it be cool to be able to put your albums back to back and not get bored, you dig? I don't know how many people can play all their albums back to back with each one going to different cities.” Much of Around the World in a Day was conceived or recorded prior to the release of Purple Rain.
Prince Vault notes an intriguing irony about “Paisley Park,” both the song and the complex. Although the track is credited to Prince and the Revolution, the Revolution would never work at the studio while Prince was alive. He dismissed Wendy, Lisa, Brownmark, and Bobby Z. prior to the facility’s opening in 1987. Matt Fink stayed on for a while longer. Only Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman appear on the track, providing backup vocals, along with Novi Novog on violin.
Beyond the Paisley Park campus, where most of Prince’s music, movies and videos were recorded from then on, Paisley Park also served as the name of Prince’s record label. Vanity labels were handed out to established artists all the time to keep them happy with their parent companies. But Paisley Park, run by Prince’s manager Alan Leeds, never really took off. Besides the Prince records of the era (starting with Around the World in a Day, ending with 1992’s Love Symbol album), the rest of the label’s signings were Prince side projects (the Family, Madhouse, Jill Jones, etc.) and records by artists who were more successful elsewhere in their careers (Mavis Staples, George Clinton, Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons). Madonna’s Maverick Records fared infinitely better during its run with hit records by Alanis Morissette (16x platinum Jagged Little Pill), Candlebox, Muse, Lillix and the Prodigy among others. For Prince, when Paisley Park folded, NPG Records took over to release his music with a variety of distribution partners.
While singles and B-sides from Around the World in a Day benefited from some of the most ambitious remixes and extensions of Prince’s career, “Paisley Park”, released as a European 12-inch single, was given a simple, almost peaceful remix, the most notable change being the addition of cascading ocean waves.
In the '00’s, Prince gave “Paisley Park” a bluesy makeover in his live sets, even adding the politically charged verse “Democrats and Republicans, who said that elephants were stronger than mules?”
For much of the rest of his life, Paisley Park was Prince’s refuge, a place where he could record, rehearse, create and perform around the clock. Only the Vault will reveal the true extent of what he recorded with others and during long stretches of solitude. “Paisley Park is the place one should find in oneself, where one can go when one is alone,” Prince told Rolling Stone. “I think when one discovers himself, he discovers God. Or maybe it's the other way around. I'm not sure. . . . It's hard to put into words. It's a feeling – someone knows when they get it.”
While time – and tunes from the Vault – may be the only thing that heals the wounds of Prince’s premature passing, friends can take comfort in knowing he is at peace and out of pain. And also, perhaps he passed the way he always intended. In the 1985 interview, Prince says, “One of my friends worries that I'll short-circuit, “ he said. “We always say I'll make the final fade on a song one time and . . . [Laughs, dropping his head in a dead slump].”
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