All We Got Was a Fleeting Glimpse of ‘The Dawn': 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.
After a decade of tantalizing hints and teases, in May of 1997 Prince finally shared "Welcome 2 the Dawn" as the b-side to "The Holy River," with the cassingle's notes saying that it was from the upcoming album called The Dawn. Unfortunately, that would be the only song the public ever got from that iteration of the project.
The phrase "May U Live 2 See the Dawn" began popping up in the credits of Prince's albums and movies as early as 1984's Purple Rain. While it initially seemed to be strictly a spiritual message -- an expansion of the thanks he gave to "God and U" on his previous albums -- the Prince Vault reports that in the early '90s Prince (who was then using the "love symbol" as his name) began working on a triple-album named The Dawn. For unknown reasons, the project was scrapped, with many of the songs instead ending up on the flurry of albums Prince released at the height of the much-discussed battle to escape his Warner Bros. contract - including Come, Chaos and Disorder and The Gold Experience.
While he dismissed the first two of those albums as contractual obligations -- specifically noting in the credits that Chaos and Disorder was "originally intended for private use only" -- The Gold Experience, released in September of 1995, finds Prince seemingly predicting and advance-celebrating his impending freedom. The music is bolder, fresher and more experimental; in retrospect it might be his best and most cohesive album since Sign O' the Times.
He clearly considered it an important benchmark, because in a brief spoken word segue between the first two songs we are greeted with this message: "Hello. Welcome 2 the Dawn."
Five months later, on Valentine's Day 1996, Prince launched his first-ever website, named, you guessed it, TheDawn.com. That November, he finally released a triple album (after being convinced not to do so for 1987's Sign O' the Times) as his first post-Warner Bros. release, Emancipation.
While promoting that album, Prince revealed that he had starting working on a brand-new version of The Dawn, acknowledging that he perceived the project as something special. “I wrote a song for Dawn,” he told Rolling Stone. “It was so much better [than] what I’m doing now that I thought, ’I’m gonna have to wait to put this out... . I worry whether people are going to be ready for what I do.'"
The take on "Welcome 2 the Dawn" that surfaced on "The Holy River" was acoustic, and it also turned up several months later as the final track on Prince's first ever all-acoustic album, The Truth. According to Prince Vault, an electric version of the track was recorded, with a portion of it being used as the hold music on Prince's 1-800-NEW-FUNK phone service at one point.
However once again -- and again for unknown reasons -- Prince quietly put The Dawn aside. He certainly hadn't lost his taste for ambitious projects; in 1998 he masterminded a three-headed campaign featuring new albums by himself (under the New Power Generation moniker), Chaka Khan and Larry Graham, and in 1999 he attempted to replicate Carlos Santana's chart-busting formula with the star-studded Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic.
Perhaps he realized that the word could describe something both larger and more personal to him, instead of being used as the title of an album. In a 1997 interview with the Minnesota Monthly, he finally offered an explanation of the "Welcome 2 the Dawn" phrase, claiming that he himself hadn't fully understood it until that point. “I just knew I had to write it back then," he said. "Today I see that this is what it’s all about, the dawn is here, a time of greater consciousness and spiritual understanding."