Prince Proves He’s ‘Willing and Able’ to Make Big Changes: 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.
Most artists would be thrilled with the response Prince received for 1990's Graffiti Bridge. The album hit No. 6 on the charts, sold over 500,000 copies in the United States alone, spawned one Top 10 single with "Thieves in the Temple" and another ("Round and Round") that missed by just two spots.
But Prince is not most artists. Whether motivated by the steady downward sales trend of his post-Purple Rain albums, strictly by his own creative muse or some combination of the two, he decided big changes were in order.
The puzzle pieces started falling into place as Prince toured in support of Graffiti Bridge with a band that included new recruits Rosie Gaines on vocals and keyboards, as well as drummer Michael Bland.
As explained in the liner notes to his 1993 The Hits / The B-Sides collection, "during the tour, live drums became for Prince’s music what Lovesexy had earlier been for his soul – a revelation. By tour’s end, Prince had completely lost interest in the technology required to devise 'contemporary beats.' Intriguingly, he rediscovered his taste for acoustic rhythms at a time when most successful producers were doing their best to utilize the very electronics he’d grown weary of."
Or, as he put it more simply in a 1991 interview with Spin: “Everybody else went out and got drum machines and computers, so I threw mine away.”
Gaines and Bland were joined by keyboardist Tommy Barbarella, bassist Sonny T., and guitarist Levi Seacer Jr. (who had previously occupied the bass spot) in Prince's new backing band, the New Power Generation. Energized by this new stripped-down approach, the group quickly began making big contributions in the studio.
"Willing and Able" is one of the best examples of Prince's new warm, organic approach. Led by Bland's skittering drum work, the New Power Generation deftly builds from simmer to a rolling boil. For much of the song, Prince's controlled falsetto serves as a wonderful contrast to their energy - and of course the moments when he gives in and shares their excitement are even better.
The song evolved from a late summer 1990 jam session in which Bland began playing a drum pattern from an unknown song by the band Rockpile, according to Prince Vault. Seacer added a bass line, and Prince joined in on guitar.
Obviously eager to show what his new group could do live, Prince recorded an entirely new version of "Willing and Able" for the song's official video (above), expanding the NPG for the occasion with a five-piece horn section and backing vocals from gospel group the Steeles.
Oh, and whether he was looking for it or not, Prince got his commercial comeback. Diamonds and Pearls sold over two million copies and generated four hit singles, including the chart-topping title track.
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