Prince Offers an A Cappella Hello on ‘For You’
At age 13, he was playing guitar. At 14, he added the drums. Then Prince began playing the bass, then an organ, a clavinet, and a bank of synths. But the very first song on For You, his very first album, found Prince alone without that army of concealing sounds, offering an invitation to join what would become a lengthy musical journey.
"All of this and more is for you," Prince sang, displaying a raw vulnerability. "With love, sincerity and deepest care, my life with you I share." The only problem had been figuring out which label would help him get there.
Neither ABC or Robert Stigwood's RSO Records were interested. A&M, meanwhile, was only offering a two-album commitment. After an in-studio audition, CBS pitched a three-album contract, but only if Verdine White of Earth, Wind and Fire came on as the producer.
The strong-willed Prince held firm until he got the deal he wanted with the artist-friendly Warner Bros, which included a three-album stint and full artistic control. “While everybody was wining and dining,” manager Owen Husney said in Jason Draper's Prince: Chaos, Disorder, and Revolution, "[Warners executive] Russ [Thyret] took us back to his house, sat on the floor, and talked music with us.”
Even then, Prince was firm about doing things his own way. For You would arrive in 1978 with a soon-to-be-familiar credit line on the back cover: "Produced, Composed, Arranged and Performed by Prince." He played all 20-plus instruments on the project. Only "Soft and Wet," a Top 20 R&B hit, mentioned anyone else – co-writer Chris Moon, who'd engineered Prince's initial demos at his Minneapolis-based Moonsound Studios.
"I thought I knew my material better than any other producer," Prince told Right On magazine in 1979, "and it seemed like I was best suited for the job."
He was said to be the youngest person to ever produce a Warner Bros. album, but only after the label staged a secret studio tryout. Before agreeing to the deal, producer Ted Templeman and A&R man Lenny Waronker actually posed as disinterested janitors while Prince took advantage of some "free studio time."
"You could not only tell there was talent, but there was a vision," Waronker later told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "He went out and played guitar, then overdubbed drums. By the time the drum part was recorded, it was clear. We didn't want to insult him by making him go through the whole process, but he wanted to finish."
Still, that pain-staking approach took time – this title track for For You found Prince singing amid more than 40 other taped vocals, forming a romantic reverie – and occasionally led to some youthful overthinking. Prince ended up breaking his budget, reportedly spending the bulk of what had been allotted for the entirety of his three-album agreement.
"For You" was initially recorded as a 1976 home demo, straight to cassette, then was redone at the Record Plant in Sausalito during sessions for Warners held between October and December 1977. Those massive overdubs took place in January 1978 at Sound Labs in Los Angeles.
"For me, there’s nothing like working in a recording studio: It's satisfying; it’s like painting," Prince told Insider in 1978. "You begin with a conception and keep adding instruments and laying tracks down. Soon, it’s like the monitors are canvas. The instruments are colors on a pallet, the mikes and board are brushes. I just keep working it until I've got the picture, or rather the sound that I heard inside my head when it was just an idea."
That attention to detail was what had initially attracted Moon and then Husney, however, and it would eventually propel the quickly maturing Prince toward wider fame. Husney, when presented with Prince's original demo tapes, memorably said: "Not bad. Who are they?" Moon replied, "It's one 17-year-old kid."
By then, Moonsound – an eight-track studio that was charging $35 an hour back in the mid-'70s – had become Prince's playground. "He'd stay the weekend, sleep on the studio floor," Moon told Rolling Stone in 1983. "I wrote down directions on how to operate the equipment, so he'd just follow the little chart: You know, press this button to record and this button to play back. That's when he learned to operate studio equipment. Pretty soon, I could sit back and do the listening."
He wasn't the only one. A self-titled album arrived the next fall, nearly breaking the pop Top 20 on the way to platinum sales, and Prince was on his way. But he never forgot "For You," recording a follow-up a cappella song called "The Second Coming," using the original track as intro music before his shows at the turn of the '90s, and sampling it for "Million $ Show" on 2015's Hitnrun Phase One.
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