‘Free Urself’ Rides the Crest of Prince’s Final Tidal Wave: 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.
“Free Urself” was the last non-album single Prince released during his lifetime. It serves as an unintentional epilogue to his life and career. “How did we get here? / How did we get this far?” he sings over a jubilant synth melody that would have fit right in as a “Raspberry Beret” b-side. “Free yourself, but save a place for me.”
The theme of freedom, the importance of which he sang about decades earlier on the 1999 track "Free," potentially also alludes to the peace he made with Warner Bros. Records at this time; when they fell on bad terms 20 years prior, he infamously scrawled the word “Slave” on his face.
One of Prince’s main beefs with working within the record label system was the length of time it took a song to leave his hands and wind up in the hands of his fans. Even at the brisk one album per year pace kept up in the '80s, he was always working several albums ahead of the label, radio and retail. By the '90s, he started to release non-album singles – both in the physical form on independent labels (“The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”, “When Will We B Paid?”) and in the digital form via his pioneering NPG Music Club.
While the NPG Music Club shuttered in 2006, Prince re-launched it in spirit nine years later via Tidal – a Norwegian streaming service purchased by Jay-Z and a host of other artists. Much like the NPG Music Club, the site offers two ways to access Prince’s music: streaming (via subscription) and download (no subscription necessary).
The Tidal store also offers FLAC (lossless quality audio) downloads of NPG Music Club-era albums that were originally released as lower quality, compressed audio MP3. The FLAC library also includes out-of-print Prince albums (including 20ten, Indigo Nights, and The Rainbow Children) plus new tracks that Prince gave exclusively to Tidal (Piano & a Microphone tour versions of “Black Sweat," “Joy in Repetition” and a rousing, rearranged medley of “Little Red Corvette" / "Dirty Mind”). For fans that can’t wait to have CD-quality versions of these essential Prince tracks, the Tidal store provides immediate gratification.
It is assumed “Free Urself” was recorded at Paisley Park early in 2015. It was released to Tidal as a stream on Sept. 28, 2015 before going on sale two days later on iTunes and Tidal. According to PrinceVault, Judith Hill likely provides backing vocals. Prince played the song regularly on the 2016 Piano & a Microphone tour, and based on the quality of the four tracks from that tour currently on Tidal, entire shows are recorded and will hopefully make their way to the public someday.
“Life is what you make it; be the best that you can be,” Prince sings as he passes the torch, “Now’s the time, take your place in history.”