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Prince’s acrimonious two-decade long battle with Warner Bros. Records, the label for which he recorded all of his ‘80s classics and a couple ‘90s releases as well, appears to have finally come to an end. On Friday, Warner Bros. announced a new deal with Prince that will grant him the ownership rights to his master recordings — something he has long sought. The statement also promised a new studio album, a deluxe reissue of his classic Purple Rain in time for its 30th anniversary this summer which will include previously unreleased material, and additional future reissues of his back catalog. The terms of the agreement were not released, but Prince issued a statement declaring himself happy with the result of the negotiations. Later Friday evening, Prince dropped a new single via iTunes on Warner Bros. called “The Breakdown.” It’s a beautiful ballad with a vocal performance that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Prince can still deliver the goods.
News of reconciliation with Warner Bros. is something that fans have fondly dreamed of for years. Prince’s back catalog is perhaps the most neglected of any major artist. There have been no reissues, no remasters, no special editions of his classic albums. Plus there is the tantalizing prospect that some of his vast library of unreleased songs — commonly referred to by fans as “The Vault” — will finally see the light of day. Dozens of unreleased studio recordings from his ‘80s prime have been circulating for years, often in poor sound quality. The possibility that these tracks, which include fan favorites such as “Moonbeam Levels,” “Extraloveable,” “All My Dreams,” and “In a Large Room with No Light” just to name a few, might see the light of day is a Prince fan’s dream come true.
Of course, we don’t know what will actually happen. Prince’s mercurial nature makes it difficult to predict what a 30th anniversary edition of Purple Rain might entail. There are a couple tracks that are thought to have been originally intended for the album but replaced by others — “Electric Intercourse” and “G-Spot,” specifically. There are also extended versions of several tracks, most notably “Computer Blue” — multiple long versions of it circulate among collectors, including one that’s nearly 14 minutes and contains protracted guitar solos. Will any of these be included? It also seems likely there is plenty of other material to draw from that has never leaked that fans know nothing about.
There is also the question of his side-project, protégé acts that were associated with the film. Will there be reissues of albums by The Time and Apollonia 6 as well? What about projects like The Family, which contains the original version of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” or Vanity 6?
Prince’s battle with Warner Bros. is legendary. In the mid-90’s he was so unhappy that he famously took to writing the word “Slave” on his face, and even changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol at one point in a fruitless effort to bypass his Warner Bros. deal. He and Warner Bros. finally agreed to part ways in 1996, and since then Prince has released a voluminous amount of newly-recorded material on a variety of labels and in a variety of methods. Prince’s long hold-out appears to have paid off for him. He gets control of his master recordings, and Warner Bros. gets to mine his catalog for reissues that will no doubt be snatched up quickly by fans who have been clamoring for remastered versions of his classic albums for years. Prince and Warner Bros. had to know they were sitting on a gold mine, and if handled properly Prince, Warner Bros. and his fans will all benefit.
How this will all play out remains to be seen. Fans on message boards are already speculating on possible track-listings for the promised 30th anniversary edition of Purple Rain. But just the fact that he and Warner Bros. are partnering again is news that Prince fans have been waiting to hear for many years. Only time will tell what the fruits of the agreement will end up being, but the possibilities are indeed exciting to contemplate.
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