Prince Sings the Revolution’s Swan Song in ‘Power Fantastic’: 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 many, “Power Fantastic” stands as the last official release from Prince and the Revolution. It came out in 1993 on the treasure-packed third disc of the generically titled The Hits/The B-Sides. But it was recorded many years before, on March 16, 1986, at the height of the band’s creative peak, and months before its untimely demise.
With Paisley Park under construction, Prince was in one of the most collaborative phases of his career, giving more and more power to Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman in the studio, mirroring the storyline in the film Purple Rain where the Kid finally listens to their demo tape. “Power Fantastic” started off as a Wendy & Lisa composition titled “Carousel," which they wrote when Prince gifted them some solo studio time. “A lot of songs were test studies, to hear how something sounds,” Lisa recalled to Matt Thorne in his book, Prince: The Man and His Music.
According to PrinceVault, the full track was laid down at Prince’s recently completed Galpin Road home studio. Unlike previous in-home setups used to record much of his previous work, this studio was big enough to record the full band, all at once. “It was a world-class studio,” engineer Susan Rogers told Per Nilsen in his book, DanceMusicSexRomance, “We could have competed with anything.” In the book, Rogers revealed that Susannah Melvoin created stained glass windows for the control room, adding to the magic and creative energy of the space.
A few days after recording “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” for the blossoming Dream Factory project, the Revolution laid down “Carousel,” with Wendy Melvoin switching from rhythm guitar to take on Brown Mark’s role on bass. Bobby Z handled drums, Eric Leeds played flute and Matt “Atlanta Bliss” Blistan delivered a masterful trumpet part that was so haunting, many thought it was Miles Davis. Prince’s piano was too large for the space, so Lisa played it in the living room upstairs. After rehearsing it in a warehouse while Prince wrote the lyrics, the band nailed the recording in a single take. “It was one of the most stunning songs we ever did,” Eric Leeds told Nilsen. “It showed the sophistication of his material and Prince’s vocal is absolutely spellbinding.”
Unlike other tracks from the era, including “Witness 4 the Prosecution”, that have multiple takes and steadily evolved from demo to final form, there are only two versions of “Power Fantastic” in circulation – the edited version that was officially released, and one with an additional, flute-heavy, psychedelic instrumental introduction.
If Around the World in a Day was Prince and the Revolution’s Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Dream Factory album was Revolver and The White Album rolled into one. After tracking a single- and then double-album configuration, Wendy and Lisa left the Revolution that summer. Prince quickly abandoned the project – and much of the Revolution’s contributions to it – by turning his attention to a triple-disc set of reworked songs called Crystal Ball. Many of the tracks were eventually released on Sign ‘O the Times, The Hits/The B-Sides and 1997’s vault-bonanza that finally carried the Crystal Ball name.
The intensely intimate lyrics to the song carry on the central, interwoven themes of Prince’s music at the time: God, music and sex. “Minor G is the chord of pleasure / It will be played eleven measures,” Prince sings in an angelic falsetto. “In your room is something you're afraid of / Life or doom is what this feeling’s made of.” In many ways, the lyrics recall themes of fear and salvation heard in another vault gem, “In a Large Room With No Light”.
It would take another decade before “Power Fantastic” made its way into Prince’s setlist. The last known time he sang it live was a special club show in 20111 at the Troubadour in Hollywood.