Seven Writers Cut Prince’s ‘Emancipation’ Down to 45 Minutes
Prince spent a lot of time declaring and celebrating his independence on 1996's massive Emancipation. The triple-CD set is getting its first-ever vinyl release next month, which will require six full albums.
But what if he had to cut it down to just one?
Can these 36 songs and exactly three hours of music be whittled down to the 45-minute run time allowed back in the original heyday of rock albums? It's the biggest challenge our 45-Minute Album Police have ever faced. There are seven separate and often wildly divergent attempts below. At the end, we ranked which songs got chosen the most times among our writers.
1. "Jam of the Year"
2. "Somebody's Somebody"
3. "Betcha by Golly Wow!"
4. "In This Bed Eye Scream"
5. "Sex in the Summer"
6. "The Holy River"
1. “Jam of the Year”
3. “Right Back Here in My Arms”
4. “Sex in the Summer"
5. “My Computer”
6. “Sleep Around"
7. “Face Down”
8. “Get Yo Groove On”
The most direct way to get to a 45-minute length on Emancipation is to tighten up the songs, which were sometimes pointlessly stretched out in order to fit Prince's preconceived time constraints for each disc. Did “Jam of the Year” and “Sex in the Summer” need to be six minutes long? Nope. “Get Yo Groove On” and “Eye Can’t Make U Love Me” six and a half? Absolutely not. “Joint 2 Joint” and “Sleep Around" almost eight? No again.
Most of the fat on this album comes in the form of noodling around, if we’re being honest. Still, that would be an entirely different exercise. So, we’ll skip the she’s-having-my-baby songs (which went from cute to devastatingly sad following their loss), the covers (though some of those deletions were very difficult) and the songs where he's bitching about his former label.
When you do that, what you basically end up with is a party record. Oh, there are a few sexy moments and some blistering put downs. But for the most part, the emancipation here has to do with your rear end.
The title track to Emancipation ended up on the cutting-room floor along the way. That actually gives us a chance to pick something that better conforms to our new upbeat theme. (How about Jam of the Year? That was also the name of the accompanying tour.) Making this edit also positions Prince to join a grand tradition of acts who placed similar songs on subsequent recordings.
Led Zeppelin didn't release the track "Houses of the Holy," which served as the title of their 1973 album, until 1975's Physical Graffiti. The Doors issued an album called Waiting for the Sun in 1968, then added a track of the same name to 1970's Morrison Hotel. Queen did it with "Sheer Heart Attack," Hall and Oates did it with "Bigger Than Both of Us" and Def Leppard did it with "On Through the Night." So, Prince would be in great company.
1. "Sex in the Summer"
4. "Right Back Here in My Arms"
5. "Somebody's Somebody"
6. "Soul Sanctuary"
8. "One of Us"
9. "The Love We Make"
2. "Joint 2 Joint"
3. "In This Bed Eye Scream"
4. "Somebody's Somebody"
5. "The Holy River"
6. "Dreamin' About U"
7. "Let's Have a Baby"
8. "The Love We Make"
1. "New World"
2. "Get Yo Groove On"
3. "Face Down"
4. "One of Us"
6. "My Computer"
7. "Joint 2 Joint"
8. "The Holy River" (radio edit)
Discarding 75 percent of a three-hour, 36-track album is a drastic, daunting proposition, as is sorting through Emancipation’s funky grinds and vulnerable ballads, musical love letters and middle fingers.
Any attempt I made to focus on a single concept sounded thin, so I’m going big, including as many facets of the record as possible in sequencing an Emancipation Distilled, not necessarily a simple compilation of the best 45 minutes of the record in isolation.
Thankfully, Prince gave us a template to follow, saying upon the original release of Emancipation: “I'm a free man, I'm a happy man, I'm a married man and I'm a clear man.” That’s a lot of ground to cover while trying to be concise.
This iteration of the record certainly celebrates his artistic autonomy and break with Warner Bros., but also points to his status as a partner with his wife, a self-aggrandizing bandleader and a child of God. In other words, it fits right on the shelf with other Prince albums.
I didn’t expect to open this set (which is heavily re-sequenced) with the sparse “New World,” but I’m drawn by his optimistic thesis that “love 4 1 another” will be the guide in what really had become a new, personally chaotic world for Prince. (It doesn’t hurt to plug his 1997-era foundation and website at the same time).
The best of several options, “Get Yo Groove On” is my set’s party jam, while the brilliant, bitter and profane “Face Down” is crispy funk, a conceptual bridge from Prince’s previous release, the tense Chaos and Disorder.
There simply isn’t room for four covers – especially when discarding dozens of originals -- but Prince had waited long enough for the freedom to release songs by other artists, so “One of Us” makes the cut, giving the record a live rock anthem the rest of the set was missing, as well as a more transparent religious edge. Its reworked lyrical twist makes it an easy thematic lead-in to “Slave.”
The escapism of “My Computer” – a song that should resonate more in 2019 than in 1996 – gives way to the chaotic “Joint 2 Joint,” replete with a tap-dance solo, a rap sample and cereal chewing (Cap’n Crunch, with soy milk).
“The Holy River” concentrates the original LP’s “I’m a married man” storyline into one song. A caveat: I’m using the single’s radio edit -- which clocks in at 4:00, nearly three minutes shorter than the album version -- in order to sneak in this set at less then 45 minutes. Sure, it’s a technicality, but I know at least one person who changed his name to get around restrictions.
The set concludes like the original: with Emancipation’s title track, confirming Prince’s liberation circling back to familiar territory – he’ll “see U in the purple rain.”
I tried feverishly to find space for “In This Bed Eye Scream,” “Damned If I Do” and “Sleep Around” – among other songs -- but failed because of time and thematic restrictions. With his own label, Prince would have just released a follow-up record a few months later anyway.
2. "Damned If Eye Do"
3. "The Holy River"
4. "Let’s Have A Baby"
5. "White Mansion"
6. "Soul Sanctuary"
7. "Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife"
8. "In This Bed Eye Scream"
The problem with cutting Emancipation down to one disc is that there are so many different ways to do it. You could make a half-decent covers EP out of it, as well as a dance album, a sorta hip-hop album, an album of '90s R&B, a religious record. At least two tracks sound like they were written for Janet Jackson. And one song has the immortal chorus “www dot emale dot com." (Removing that one was heart-wrenching.)
The most predictable thing to do is to cut the album into a more conventional Prince album of funk/rock/pop/soul music. So that’s what I’ve tried to do.
Kicking things off with the title track is the most important thing here. It’s one of the funkiest songs Prince produced outside of the '80s, and it sums up what the album was about. It’s a crime it was originally buried at the end of three long hours.
With the rest of the track listing, I’ve tried to model it on albums from Prince’s "classic" period, even though the back half has come out a little ballad-heavy. Ending with "In This Bed Eye Scream" -- possibly Prince’s best song of the '90s -- is the other choice I’m most excited about. It’s songs like this that make wading through the three-CD set worth it.
1. "Slave 2 The System"* (unreleased)
2. "Right Back Here In My Arms"
3. "I’m a DJ"* (unreleased)
4. "Dreamin’ About U"
5. "Sex in the Summer"
6. "New World"
7. "My Computer"
9. "The Holy River"
When Emancipation finally came out, Oprah wasn’t the only one who was a bit too excited for the release. I had feverishly read stories about Warner Bros. being the dam to Prince’s holy river of new music, and even though I thought the word “slave” was a bit excessive for someone stuck in a voluntarily signed $100 million record contract, I was over the moon that we would soon get the very first Prince triple album, a work of genius unencumbered by notes from the suits at the big bad label. And then I listened to it.
Hmmm ... perhaps Prince needs an editor. It wouldn’t be until a few years later when Crystal Ball came out that I realized Prince left a lot of great stuff in the Vault. Years after that, when hundreds of other unreleased tracks spilled onto the internet, it dawned on me that perhaps Prince’s greatest work has yet to be formally released. This realization makes the track selection he made for Emancipation all the more puzzling. If this was indeed his big chance to prove to the world what he could artistically accomplish without interference -- he vaulted low and didn’t stick the landing. Emancipation should have been the defining moment of his career, a work of such staggering genius we’d still be in awe today like we are with Purple Rain. The fact he chose so many tepid covers, and everything else either sounds saccharine or angry, is sonic proof Prince was not in a good place during this era. Based on the sound, he seems as angry at acts like Boys II Men for ruling the charts in the '90s as he is with the label that shepherded him to superstardom. But look at it this way: Motown didn’t give Boys II Men five albums to break big.
If left to harvest the plums off this giant tree, my 43-minute Emancipation (retitled New World) includes two callbacks that were reportedly on early sequences of the album. I kick off with “Slave 2 the System," an unreleased jam from this era that didn’t make the final cut; it sets up the darker “Slave” later on. Combined, these tracks address the emancipation theme without overkill. “I’m a DJ” is a much fresher and brighter party song than “Jam of the Year” (one of Prince’s worst high-profile songs); it owes some rhythmic similarities to “New World”, another Disc 3 gem that I included here as my dream title track. I felt both of Prince’s collaborations with Kate Bush were underwhelming, but “My Computer” still has its charms, so we keep it. Finally, “Sex and the Summer” keeps the heartbeat of Prince’s tragically lost son alive for eternity; considering how this sad chapter in Prince’s life turned out, I just can’t listen to Disc 2’s “Let’s Have a Baby”.
MOST POPULAR SONGS
1. "The Holy River" - 6 inclusions
2. "Sex in the Summer" - 4 inclusions
3. (Tie) "Jam of the Year," "Somebody's Somebody," "In This Bed Eye Scream," "Slave," "Emancipation," "Right Back Here in My Arms," "My Computer," "Face Down" - 3 each
4. (Tie) "Get Yo Groove On," "Soul Sanctuary," "One of Us," "The Love We Make," "Dreamin' About You," "New World," "Let's Have a Baby" - 2 each