Prince Laments the Fate of ‘People Without’ Love: 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.
“People Without” has an unusual place in the Prince canon – it’s one of the rare Prince unreleased originals that apparently only exists as a live recording. According to PrinceVault, it was likely played only twice, on Aug. 19, 1988 at the Paard van Troje in the Netherlands and on Aug. 31, 1988 in Hamburg, Germany during the Lovesexy tour. The former show would be immortalized in what is widely agreed upon to be the best Prince bootleg of all time, simply titled Small Club.
Matt Thorne’s Prince: The Man and His Music is one of the few books on the market that covers Prince’s full career in explicit detail; his account of the Small Club gig, an after show following his concert at the Stadion Feyenoord in Rotterdam, is one of the best on record: “That Prince had the mental and physical stamina to create such an overwhelming experience in the middle of the night for the favored few after what must have been an extraordinarily draining show in front of 30,000 people is a feat beyond any other (pop) musician.” Thorne notes that even saxophonist Eric Leeds was too tired to make the set that became one of the most essential Prince gigs of all time. “I didn’t ask him about this when I spoke to him," Thorne admits. "It seemed tactless.”
Small Club is celebrated for its sound quality – so pristine it ranks among Prince’s best studio productions – and two qualities that usually contradict each other: spontaneity and cohesiveness. For the rest of Prince’s career, fans with enough inside connections to find about Prince’s “secret” after-shows didn’t come to hear the hits; the after-shows were where the unexpected was highly anticipated. “It is this show that most contributed to fans’ awareness of how his after-shows would differ from the main concert,” Thorne writes.
The late night set began with a nearly 13-minute instrumental jam, similar to the Madhouse style jazz/funk jams from the previous tour, with the added rock element of a guitar line that would eventually form “Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic," officially released a decade later. For most of the gig, Prince plays keys, Sheila E. plays drums and Levi Seacer Jr. plays bass. Elsewhere in the set, Matt “Atlanta Bliss” Blistan plays trumpet and Boni Boyer sings.
“People Without” arrives four songs and close to 30 minutes into the set, right after a loose version of “D.M.S.R.” and a cover of the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” that includes one of the best, longest and most emotional guitar solos of Prince’s career. As the audience catches its collective breath, Prince says, “Let’s do this next one in the dark.”
“People Without” allowed those in attendance, and everyone who heard the recording, to witness the creation of a Prince song in real-time. Most of the song is instrumental improv, including sections that would not sound out of place on a Kraftwerk album. Prince only sings only in the 4th and 5th minute of the song. Sadly, what he says foreshadows the dark days to come.
“People without / Do cocaine,” he sings rather abruptly before mumbling another line and coming full circle to his first thought, “People without / Do ecstasy / People without love.” Sermonizing was also part of Prince’s main stage set on the Lovesexy tour; during “Anna Stesia”, Prince would often go on for 10 minutes while the musicians played in circles to keep the rhythm going. “It was overkill,” said Matt Fink to author Alex Hahn in the book, Possessed, later updated as The Rise of Prince: 1958-1988. “I thought it was a big waste of time, and the audience didn’t get it.”
Thorne is equally unimpressed, writing “”’People Without’ makes me sad, and uncomfortable. It reminds me of the much later ‘PFunk’ in which Prince’s scattershot approach seems to equate disease, ugliness and poverty.”
“People without / Walk around with their head in their ass,” Prince adds. Much of this frustration could be attributed to how Lovesexy was faring on the charts. Two days after the Small Club show, Prince phoned his manager, Alan Leeds. “He was almost in tears,” Leeds told Hahn, “It was almost as if he was saying, ‘How can you sit here and fiddle while Rome is burning?” By the time the expensive and ambitious Lovesexy tour came back to U.S., it was running out of steam. “In some places, he was playing to half empty houses,” Warner Bros. executive Marylou Badeaux told Hahn.
Despite his negative opinion of "People Without," Thorne mentions that fellow Prince historian, Per Nilsen (author of Dancemusicsexromance), likes the song, one that singer/dancer Cat Glover claims credit for inspiring. “She told Nilsen the attack is on people who ‘take for granted what they have, while there are others who don’t have anything.” In this passage, Glover also tells Nilsen, “He was making all this up as we went along.” Thorne reveals that the next time Prince played it, the song changed, “The menace had gone; in this version he’s almost paying penance for the cruelty of the first rendition.”
While this was a dark period in Prince’s life, there were many more bright days to come. Prince would eventually return to the top of the charts and his concerts sold out throughout the rest of his life.