BY JIM WALSH
The New Power Generation was on the second encore of its first-ever appearance at First Avenue on September 14, when lead singer MacKenzie and rapper Tony Mosley (a.k.a. Tony M) implored the crowd to pay respects to their fallen leader, Prince. As the crowd and band cheered at the night’s first mention of Prince’s name, bassist Sonny Thompson (aka Sonny T), who began his live music career playing with The Sonny Thompson Band in the 7th Street Entry next door, gleefully shouted out, “Wherever he is! Wherever he is!”
Along with fellow original NPG members Mayte (Prince’s first wife), Morris Hayes (a.k.a. Mr. Hayes), Tommy Barbarella, and the NPG hornz, Prince’s spirit was alive and wild and in the house that hot Thursday night. The grief over Prince’s death has given way to acceptance and, this night, real joy—the kind of joy that’s driven by live music, not nostalgia or even reverence for its dearly departed creator. “The music,” is how Prince simply answered when I asked him what he wanted people to know about him, and it was the music this night that lifted most every soul in the joint, especially scintillating dance work-outs like “Sexy MF,” “Get Wild,” “Daddy Pop,” and “DMSR (Dance Music Sex Romance).”
Many of those old tunes are now finding new ears, which was part of the reason I was eager to publish Gold Experience: Following Prince in the ‘90s, my clip-by-clip account of arguably the most overlooked years of Prince’s prolific career. It’s also a thumbnail history of the New Power Generation, one of Prince’s all-time greatest bands (“I’m not a judge,” he told me once when I asked him what his favorite band to play with was in terms of generating live heat; “I don’t set foot on a stage unless it’s hot”). To be sure, I have a special place in my heart for the NPG and Prince’s great album “The Gold Experience.” I was passionately covering Prince and the NPG for the St. Paul Pioneer Press when he asked me to write the liner notes for “The Gold Experience,” released in 1995 and debuted at number 6 on the Billboard charts, and rarely heard of again, despite it featuring Prince’s last chart-topping single, “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.”
These days, Prince’s first band The Revolution has been paying tribute to all His Royal Badness’s greatest music of the ‘80s, and the hole in everyone’s soul is starting to fill in and being replaced with wonder, amazement, and living in the now. We all pay tribute in our own way, and when Prince died I eulogized him here and here, and, to ensure that his work in the ‘90s was given its proper due, Gold Experience: Following Prince in the ‘90s via the University of Minnesota Press.
I was a champion of Prince then, and now, which is why I’m thrilled to know that more people than ever are hearing “The Gold Experience”—many for the first time, since to this day it still feels like an underground release. The good news is that last month, the Prince estate and Sony released 23 long unavailable albums digitally, including “The Gold Experience,” along with the compilation “Prince Anthology: 1995-2010.”
Though never afforded the mythological status of, say, “The Black Album,” “The Gold Experience” nonetheless carries with it a similar man-versus-machine storyline. His last record for Warner Bros. Records, “The Gold Experience” was made and released at the height of Prince’s war with the media giant, and therefore it received little promotional push. At the time, Prince was an early expert adapter of the digital music revolution that was fully underway, and a visionary who saw the future we’re now living out, embodied by artists like Chance The Rapper, a truly independent artist who sells out tours and wins Grammys with little help from the dinosaur that is the major label/media/music business.
Delicious irony, then, that “The Gold Experience” is today available all over the world—for FREE (cue Prince cackle here), via streaming sites such as Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Pandora, and Last.fm, which concluded of “The Gold Experience”: “The album is considered by some fans to be the ‘Purple Rain’ of the 1990s.”
Curiously, the artist’s biggest hit from that period—‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,’ which reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April of 1994—is not included, although it was part of the original tracklist for ‘The Gold Experience.’ Reps for the estate and Sony declined comment, but a source close to the situation tells Variety that the song is ‘on legal hold as a result of existing litigation.’ (The song was originally issued on the indie Delmark Records after Prince’s label at the time, Warner Bros., with whom he was publicly sparring, reportedly declined to release it; after its chart success, the song was included on Prince’s next album for Warner, ‘The Gold Experience.’)
Assembled and curated under the auspices of the Prince estate, ‘Prince Anthology: 1995-2010’ opens with the title track from 1996’s ‘Emancipation’ (‘This is my most important record,’ Prince said of his first album released after he’d left his original label, Warner Bros. Records) and closing with the anthemic ‘We March’ from 1995’s ‘The Gold Experience’).”
Fresh and freaky to this day, “The Gold Experience” is a tour-de-force of funk, rock and soul, and captures the NPG at the height of its powers. As Mr. Hayes told Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current recently, “ ‘The Gold Experience’ album was like this band had really just got into that crunched-down, super-tough, well-rehearsed band that was like a powerhouse band.”
Likewise, critics and fans are discovering or rediscovering the greatness of “The Gold Experience.” Last year, the Hello, My Treacherous Friends blog opened this reassessment with “It might be an unpopular opinion, but Prince’s criminally out-of-print ‘The Gold Experience’ is my favorite of all of his albums. Released 22 years ago today, ‘The Gold Experience’ saw Prince at his funkiest, raunchiest, slyest and sexiest while delivering a collection of songs that easily match previous high points like ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times.’”
Around the same time, careful listener and ever-reliable critic Keith Harris, music editor at City Pages in Minneapolis, ranked “The Gold Experience” #4 out of Prince’s 32 albums (his top five: 1. “Sign O’ The Times,” 2. “Dirty Mind,” 3. “Purple Rain,” 4. “The Gold Experience,” 5. “1999”), writing, “By 1994 ‘The Artist Formerly Known as Prince’ was better known for not having a name and for accusing his label of reducing him to a ‘slave’ (as he had emblazoned on his cheek) than he was for making hits. It was a weird time to release a masterpiece, but damned if that’s not what ‘The Gold Experience’ is. The NPG’s attack is streamlined to a hard funk punch on the feminist celebration ‘Pussy Control’ and the hard-hitting ‘Endorphinmachine,’ and Prince even tacked on the lovely ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,’ the 1993 top 10 hit he didn’t yet know would be his last.”
So what are you waiting for? The time is right for all Prince fans to discover or rediscover the carnal funky joy of such would-be classics as “Pussy Control,” “Endorphinmachine,” “We March,” “319,” and “Billy Jack Bitch.” As Prince wrote to me after I wrote an open love letter to him as my time covering him wound down, “Go and get your gold experience/peace love march…”
Jim Walsh is a Minneapolis-based writer, journalist, columnist, and songwriter. His books include Gold Experience: Following Prince in the ’90s; Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes; and The Replacements: All Over But The Shouting: An Oral History.
“Jim Walsh was front and center for one of the most prolific and controversial eras in Prince’s career, and Gold Experience offers an intimate, real-time account of this critical chapter in the evolution of a generation’s greatest musician.”
—Alan Light, music journalist and author of Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain