Inside The Recording Of Prince’s Originals Album

Inside The Recording Of Prince’s Originals Album

prince 1984
Prince,  Chicago 11th November 1984. The Purple Rain Tour (Photo by Mike Maloney/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

It’s the afternoon of 26 July 1984 and Prince’s engineer Peggy McCreary is excited. Not only is Purple Rain, the new Prince album she worked on, currently sitting in the Billboard top 10 (on the way to peaking at number one and selling more than 20 million copies), but the film of the same name is set to premiere this very night on Hollywood Boulevard. Having recommended to Prince he hold the exclusive screening at the famous Mann’s Chinese Theatre, she’s buzzing as she puts on a new outfit for her first film premiere, only to be interrupted by a phone call from Prince’s tour manager, Alan Leeds. 

“Alan tells me, ‘Okay Peggy, you’ll be in the truck for the afterparty’,” McCreary says. “I never even got to see the Purple Rain film that night – I was doing the technical stuff for the party!”

While she missed out on rubbing shoulders with Eddie Murphy, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic and David Byrne at the premiere, the Sunset Sound engineer played a pivotal role in the creation of the iconic soundtrack. Responsible for recording Purple Rain hits as well as Prince-penned songs by The Time and Apollonia 6 featured in the film, McCreary was initially unaware the songs would soundtrack Prince’s Hollywood debut. 

“We were recording what would become the Purple Rain album and Prince kind of stopped in the middle of it and said, ‘I’m going off to make a movie’. I was like, ‘Errr, okay’ and off he went for a few months. He came back with more music and more of an idea of what he wanted. “He brought me to the house he rented in Bel Air and he showed me the first cut, which I felt was more personable and showed more of his [true] life story. There was one scene where his mother didn’t like that his given name was Prince, so she instead called him Skippy. I thought it was interesting that was actually in the film, as I thought that fact was a sore point for him. He’d revealed it in the first cut of the film, but then it ended up being taken out. Prince went back and shot more scenes and that was what we ended up seeing in Purple Rain.”

The release of Prince’s Originals album has given McCreary a new opportunity to reminisce on her time spent in the recording studio with the Minnesota icon. Originals brings together 15 Prince songs he wrote and demoed before passing each of them on to affiliate artists. Unveiled for the first time are incredible Prince versions of The Bangles’ “Manic Monday”, Martika’s “Love… Thy Will Be Done” and the sexy sax skronk of Sheila E’s “The Glamorous Life”. The set also includes Prince’s studio draft of “Nothing Compares 2 U”, initially released by The Family and subsequently a 1990 number one hit for Sinead O’Connor.

McCreary was the stressed engineer on hand for many of these recordings, but one session stands out over the others.

“”Manic Monday”,” McCreary says. “I worked on The Bangles version of it too, so that was kind of fun. Before we recorded “Manic Monday”, we had been working on Prince’s songs until 6am. He called for us to come back for a session that night at 6pm. I go home and go to bed and get a call from the studio at 10am telling me Prince is coming back in at noon! I’m like, ‘Oh my God!’, so I get down there, get the machines cleaned and get everything set up for him. As he walks in I’m glaring at him and he looks at me. He has these sheets of lyrics in his hand and says to me, ‘I told myself that if I dreamed another verse I’d come in’. I said, ‘Oh my God! You dream your songs?’ and he told me, ‘Sometimes’. And that was “Manic Monday”. It made it kind of a fun day in the way it came about, but the fact he dreamed his songs, he was just music all the time.”

In fact, McCreary suggests, despite the long hours spent with Prince at Sunset Sound working on albums such as Around The World In A Day, 1999 and Controversy, there was little downtime to engage with the ‘80s superstar. 

“When you spend 18 hours a day with someone you’d think there would be a little conversation, but there wasn’t that much with Prince. It wasn’t like working with a band, because I’ve worked with tonnes of bands and you get to know them, socialise a bit and go out with them for lunch every now and then. There was none of that with Prince, it was just work. There was no ‘Good morning’, there was no ‘How was your day?’, there was no ‘Good night, I’ll see you tomorrow’. He’d never want to eat, but one time I said I was going to order some food. He said, ‘You just want me to eat so I’ll get sleepy and go home!’. I said, ‘No, actually I’m just hungry!’. He’d exist on coffee and Vicks cough drops, but sometimes I’d feed him. There was one really great soul food place I could send somebody out for and once in a while he’d eat from there, but he didn’t like to eat.”  

When Prince was struck by new inspirations while recording at Hollywood’s Sunset Sound, the songwriter would scribble down ideas for lyrics on whatever scraps of paper were on hand at the time. Routinely discarded by Prince after the sessions, McCreary has a small selection of these rough artifacts in her possession.  
“I do have some - I have the lyrics to [1999’s] “Lady Cab Driver” on the back of a track sheet, but that was about the only thing I kept. I would come into the studio one morning after recording with him and be told he’d already gone back to Minneapolis. I’d be told to pack everything up, so the lyrics we’d worked on were basically seen as trash.”

There’s one even more memorable memento McCreary has in her collection – a song that has so far remained tantalisingly unreleased… 

“There was one time Prince called me in to Sunset Sound on my birthday, which I wasn’t too happy about – he could have at least given me my birthday off! He came in and was dressed totally different. He was wearing a white T-shirt, when he never wore T-shirts, and jeans, which he never wore, with a black leather jacket and black high-heeled boots. He came in and we cut You’re All I Want, this rockabilly song. At the end of the night I made him a cassette, gave it to him and began cleaning up. As he’s leaving he’s smiling at the doorway, then tosses me the cassette and says, ‘Happy birthday’. So I do have an unreleased Prince song in my collection - it was my birthday song. Typical Prince, I didn’t even know it was a birthday song until the end of the night.” 

Prince’s Originals is available now on CD, download and streaming services, with the 180g 2LP edition and deluxe set available from July 19. Get your copy here.

Listen to Originals by Prince on Spotify

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