How Prince’s ‘Turn Me Loose’ Literally Became a One-Night Stand
Prince appeared on The Tonight Show's April 25, 2008 episode to promote his headlining set the following night at the Coachella festival. A more conventionally business-minded artist might have taken advantage of this highly coveted slice of national television airtime by playing one of their most famous songs, or perhaps a track from his most recent album.
Of course, that's not what Prince did.
Instead, he uncorked a previously unreleased and totally dazzling burst of horn-charged retro-funk rock named "Turn Me Loose." It featured some of his most randy sexual boasts in years (you don't want to know what happened to that poor woman's blankets) and a guitar solo that owed as much to surf rock as it did to Jimmy Nolen.
From the fan-waving backup singers who began the song in rocking chairs, to keyboardist Renato Neto's Bernie Worrell-style synthesizer solo, it was all amazing, and you can and should watch it for yourself as often as possible.
For Prince fans who were lucky enough to catch this live, naturally your first thought was that this performance would be the start of a new promotional campaign. Perhaps the next morning we'd get the studio version of "Turn Me Loose," and maybe we'd find out that the gorgeous group photo hanging behind the band was the cover of an about to be released new album.
He didn't even find time to play the song again at his highly praised Coachella set the next night, instead sprinkling surprising covers such as the B-52's "Rock Lobster," the Beatles' "Come Together" and Radiohead's "Creep" in among the expected classics.
Five months later, a studio version of the song - admittedly, one somehow lacking the magical spark of the Tonight Show version - was premiered on internet radio. But it was never made available for sale, and when Prince's next studio albums (2009's Lotusflow3r and MPLSound) were released, "Turn Me Loose" was nowhere to be heard.
For Prince fans, this brief episode was yet another reason to marvel at Prince's creative process, and to wonder about the vast quantities of bootlegged or never-heard gems that must lurk in his vault. Why give this song such a spotlight, only for it to basically never be heard again? Was he simply never fully satisfied with the studio version? Did a new wave of inspiration, another batch of songs, push it aside in his mind?
(Actually, given that the song itself is about a one-night stand – "We can never be more than friends / Speaking of which, you'll need a lot of them / Never come back again*" – perhaps the entire thing was an elaborate meta-joke by Prince, a notorious prankster.)
Even if Prince's uncompleted autobiography The Beautiful Ones is ever released, it's highly doubtful we would have gotten the answers to those specific questions about such a minor footnote in his career. But as treasures such as "Moonbeam Levels" and "Deliverance" make their way into the marketplace, and as his former collaborators open up about their experiences working with him, we're sure to be spending years if not decades learning more about the methods behind his amazing body of work.
UPDATE: A reader told me I've got the lyrics wrong, and that they are actually "Speaking of which, u need 2 learn how 2 dance, or never come back again." He may be right, but I like my version better.