16 March 08.
I am fairly hardcore when it comes to Prince. Especially so for the Revolution years. So I’m willing to pound pavement and expend some effort to hear sounds that that paisley madman has seen fit to lock away from the rest of us mortals. One of the holy grails of Revolution mythology (not quite as apocryphal as "Wally," but harder to track down than "Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden," which are both worthy of their own blog posts at future dates) was a jam called "Billy’s Sunglasses," or just "Billy."
It’s a free-form jam between Prince and several members of The Revolution, and it runs about 51 minutes long. I know this because I listened to it at the remote fortress of House Pomeroy in Murfreesboro, and between the drive to and from the Boro and the 51 minutes of Revolution, time means almost nothing to me at this point.
I was never a Grateful Dead fan, but I got into some Phish stuff in college, and I still think "Strange Design" is a gorgeous song- certainly one of the best songs for driving and groping that I know of. But the jam band aesthetic was never really one I bought into. Even some of Prince’s more lengthy sessions can grate on me after awhile (the 30-minute "I Would Die 4 U" live studio recording with Sheila E, the 12" version of "America," "Cloreen Bacon Skin," "Soul Psychodelicide," anything from The Flesh sessions), but I find that with those it’s more because of the tempo- everything seems so frenetic that it’s hard to get into any sort of groove. They’re still valuable and fun sometimes, but not as a regular thang.
Not so this one. "Billy’s Sunglasses" is a midtempo experience that you can actually get into and zone out with. The improvised lyrics deal with a Revolution associate’s new sunglasses, and little else. Do you like prince’s guitar solos? Well, this has about ten of them. Bobby Z and the Linn drums keep it all exact, but this groove is massive, and it feels like something you can curl up with and cling to on uncertain evenings. Toward the end, you can even hear a guitar riff that would, just a couple of years later, become "Strange Relationship" on the aborted Dream Factory album, then on the aborted Camille album, and then finally surface on Sign "O" The Times.
When you’ve got an hour to spend with Prince putting it in your earhole, you should check it out. It’s definitely something to experience.