Prince Hands ‘Shhh’ to Tevin Campbell, Then Takes It Back: 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.
Although Prince gave many songs to artists over the years, "Shhh" holds a rare place in his catalog as one of the few tracks that he put out as his own after someone else had released their version of it. The sexy slow jam first appeared on Tevin Campbell's 1993 album I'm Ready, and then Prince reclaimed it on 1995’s The Gold Experience.
According to Prince Vault, “Shhh” was first tracked in early 1992 during a London stop on the Diamonds & Pearls tour. The backing track included the New Power Generation's Michael Bland (drums), Sonny Thompson (bass) and Tommy Barbarella (keyboards). Prince fleshed out the song later that year, once he was brought on to assist with the Tevin Campbell project. The two worked together previously, on 1990’s hit single "Round and Round," and although Prince was absent from Campbell’s debut full-length in 1991, he wound up contributing four tracks to the young singer’s sophomore effort, 1993’s I’m Ready. Along with “Shhh," Prince penned “The Halls of Desire”, “Uncle Sam” and “Paris 1798430." Those tunes marked the last he would record with another Warner Bros. artist before he and the label developed irreparable cracks in their relationship. All songs were credited to “Paisley Park,” rather than Prince or the symbol that he adopted as his name in 1993.
Tevin was still in high school when “Shhh” was recorded, and Campbell’s image up to that point had been fairly well-scrubbed. Hearing Tevin croon about wanting to “do you after school like some homework” and growling “What’s my name” like a baby Teddy Pendergrass must have been jarring to some fans, and as it turns out, even Tevin had some reservations. In the March 1994 issue of Vibe, he stated, “I don’t like moaning and groaning in the studio. You know, it’s uncomfortable.” He and Prince reached an agreement during the sessions for “Shhh” in which Tevin recorded the song only if everyone was kicked out of the studio, the lights were shut off and the curtains were drawn.
When I’m Ready was released, fans gravitated to “Shhh” despite it not being officially released as a single. A promotional single was serviced to DJs, but fans looking for the ballad had to purchase Tevin’s entire album. Garnering airplay alongside more pop-friendly concoctions like the Babyface-composed smash “Can We Talk,” "Shhh” reached a very respectable No. 8 on Billboard’s R&B airplay list and even made it to No. 45 on the pop airplay chart, helping push Tevin’s second album to double-platinum status by the end of 1994. I’m Ready was the biggest selling of the four albums Tevin recorded before going into semi-retirement at the turn of the 21st century.
Shortly after Campbell’s version began getting widespread airplay in early 1994, a version recorded by Prince at Paisley Park found its way onto the playlists of some radio stations. That particular iteration of “Shhh” made it up to No. 62 on the R&B airplay chart. Prince made the song a staple in his concert playlists that year, turning it into a passionate hybrid of rock and soul and featuring a typically fantastic guitar solo in the bridge.
It wasn't the first time Prince had given his own take on one of his songs after it became a hit for someone else. A few years earlier, he put out "Nothing Compares 2 U," but that was a live recording tacked on as a new track to lure people into buying The Hits/The B-Sides. And many fans were reminded fans of how "Kiss" was originally intended for Mazarati (a Paisley Park signing in the mid-‘80s discovered by Revolution bassist Brown Mark) before he decided to shelve their take and put out his own instead.
Prince never spoke publicly about the conception of the song or his re-recording of it, and Tevin and Prince did not work together again following the I’m Ready album, possibly because of Prince's feelings about Warner Bros. Nevertheless, "Shhh" went on to become a regular in Prince's concert setlists and an outlet for some of his most blistering live guitar solos.
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