The Black Album
1987 - Welcome to the Funk Bible
No album with this name was planned. No name of the artist could be found other than "Somebody" on Warner’s release schedule. Just a record with a production code printed in orange lettering on the spine of the black sleeve. Although the original title 'Funk Bible" was mentioned, buried in the mix, at the beginning of the first song "Le Grind", it was never used as record title and of course it was dubbed "The Black Album" because that's what it is...
The history of this album appears to start at the end of the European leg of the Sign ‘O’ The Times tour. Prince seemed to be frustrated about the weak sales figures of the Sign ‘O’ The Times album and the accompanying criticism. Although he received positive reviews on the prolific double album some critics started to say that Prince had become too pop-oriented and had lost his ability to write good music.
In October 1987 Prince starts to work on an album to prove that everybody is wrong. This would become the Black Album a.k.a. Funk Bible . He records ‘When 2 R In Love’ and updates some other songs, which date back from September 1986 to March 1987. The use of older songs is actually a funny move when you think about he motivation of this album. It doesn’t prove the point about his capabilities at that point but more of those in the past. But then most people knew little about Prince’s vault with songs. In the middle of November the album is finished and the tape is sent to Warner Brothers for mastering.
In December 1987, one week prior to the album's release Prince reconsidered the project, cancelled it and recalled all copies for destruction. 500.000 copies where already pressed and waiting to be shipped out. By then many promotional copies where out in world (estimates state roughly hundred) which contents soon would serve as a basis for the most bootlegged album ever.
Rumours of this recalled secret Prince album hit the streets and fans started to look for it. Very soon different, bad and incomplete copies circulated on tapes among collectors.
On March 6, 1988 a German DJ., Ruth Rockenschaub played the record in her nightly radio show Nachtrock. This was repeated in the evening three days later in that station’s show Soul Train. The local division of Warner, WEA was not amused and sent out a telex to warn them that they would be fined DM12.500 when playing the record again. Other stations in Europe like Veronica’s Countdown Café in the Netherlands followed some weeks later.
Before the official release in 1994 copies could fetch crazy prices from
$5.000 up to an alleged DM22.000/$12.000 at a shop in Hamburg, Germany,
in the beginning of the 90’s.
Any verifiable information on that would be welcome.
There was much speculation about the reason of cancellation. It was thought that Warner didn’t like the album for it’s tone and content. There was also the consensus that Warner objected to the fact that so much Prince music was made available to the public in so few years. They didn’t have enough time to stretch out the release of an album and cash-in accordingly.
It was all different though. Prince had pulled the plug himself. In April
1988 that fact became evident for the general public. Aware of all bootlegging
he asked the fans, in the video for "Alphabet St.", not to buy
The Black Album. Unfortunately it was done through a very hidden message,
in a held up walking cane in a split second of the clip, so many missed
He also tried to make a point during the LoveSexy Tour. Some of the unreleased
songs where played live in the ‘Lust’ section of the show.
The songs were Dead On It, Bob George & Superfunkycalifragisexy.
Further on down in this story you can find the reason and timestamp for
its decision to cancel.
It is notable that he actually sacrificed the character of Camille to tell this story and not himself as being Prince. Most songs on the Black Album didn’t relate to Camille at all. The songs for the also unreleased Camille album were different songs from the same recording sessions.
This part has been confirmed by several people surrounding Prince but he only hinted at it so parts can be or just are speculative. Some years later stories started to emerge about Tuesday December 1st, 1987 and the preceding evening when Prince went to the club Rupert’s. He asked the DJ to play the new album and observed the responses of the people in the club. That night he met Ingrid Chavez. She is a poet, singer, songwriter and nowadays wife of singer David Sylvian. The two went to Paisley Park and had an intense conversation. Apparently Prince already had some doubts about releasing the album. Somewhere that night he decided against it’s release. The decision appeared to be made after experiencing some heavy hallucinations when using the drug Ecstasy. In what he has called a vision the letter G O D were hovering over a field. It made him realise that it was his responsibility not to release this dark and negative album to kids. He also didn’t want this album to be his legacy in case he died after the release.
1991 - This chair goes round and round
In the next years there where often plans to release The Black Album. In 1991 it was suggested to be released as extra disc together with a greatest hits compilation as a means to compensate for badly selling Graffiti Bridge album. The idea was to sell older songs instead of over saturation of the market. Maybe that was the reason to abandon this altogether and shelve the record again.
1994 - Manage rock stars
November 22, 1994, The Black Album is officially released to the world but for a limited time. For many people it’s release came out of the blue. No one knew that a month before, on 25th of October, Warner was negotiating a $4 million deal with Prince about the release of three albums. Which were The Black Album, The Gold Experience and a soundtrack for a yet to be determined Warner Brothers film. The deal fell through but the release of The Black Album was saved by a $1 million check that went into Prince’s direction.
At it’s release Prince stated that he spiritually was against the
album. Some fans were pleased that the album was released but also didn’t
understand the contradiction between his spiritual remark and the fact
of the fat cheque. They felt that Prince could have blocked the release
if he really wanted to. It became very clear that Prince’s wanted
to get rid of the Warner’s contract that held him back. With this
release he fulfilled one album of the four that he still had to release.
Sales were much less than expected and the album dwindled fast out charts. It was to late. In 1987 it was raw, provocative and daring but seven years later looked tame and pale against the aggressive tone of the music of that day. It was just overtaken by gangsta-rap, grunge and hardcore punk.
At this moment the album is out of print.
On all records that go around these 8 songs appear in this order (4 on each side, exception being the 1987 US DJ promo where the songs are divided by 2 over 4 sides.
Official pressings / releases
Here are the known pressings that where supposed to be released
German version (Cat: 925 677-1)
The German pressing is well known among collectors but hard and expensive to get. After cancellation rumours surfaced that a box of fifties copies made his way out of the Alsdorf record plant. The contents of the box or part of it surfaced in Belgium around mid 1988 and where offered to me and some other people for FL 150 / 3.000 BF / $75 (cross rates of 1988). At that point, as a student, I didn't have the cash to buy one and it wasn't completely clear that the album would remain in the vault. Rumours of it's imminent release where still circulating. Also the doubt/possibility of the record being a bootleg did hold me back.
The sleeve is plain black and barely holds any information. The backside shows a sticker on the right-hand top corner with the necessary catalog numbers, copyrights and info on the pressing plant. At the bottom (straight below the sticker) an indented Warner Bros. "W" can be found. The side of the sleeve shows in orange lettering: UK: WX 147 925 677. The label on the record doesn't hold any information on the artist except the titles, copyright, catalog number (all in orange) and an orange triangle with "33" of the RPM in white. There is an serial number in the dead wax : R/S Alsdorf 925677-1-A2 and R/S Alsdorf 925677-1-B plus some extra etchings.
US version (Cat: 25677-1)
In former years the consensus was that less than six US vinyls survived.
However according to Alan Leeds, who was Prince's former tour/production/paisley park manager, personal assistant and coordinator there are surely more than six. But they are not out on the collector's market. He claims that Prince had at least hundred and gave away most of them to band members, friends and other artists like Madonna, Miles Davis, Sheena Easton, Sheila E and Kim Basinger. Also many of the Paisley staff took one each. He's also thinks that the some Warner employees also managed to get one, although Warner's did go on a sort of lockdown the day it was cancelled and an executive was given the responsibility to gather whatever advance copies were floating around their offices.
According to a post in a forum from philly1247, who worked at a WEA's distribution facility, several original US non-promo copies survived. Several co-workers took some copies when they heard that the release was cancelled.
US DJ version (Cat: 25677 DJ)
For promotional club and DJ use Paisley Park / Warner Bros intended to issue the album as two 12" EP discs with two songs on each side, playable on 45 RPM. The photos are from the copy that has the first four songs. The plain white labels are from Allied Record Co. in L.A., who pressed for Warner Brothers. The hand written label stickers are dated 11/13/87 and read "1-25677 - A DJ - SH1" and "1-25677 - B SH1". The record is housed in a plain black sleeve US version (Cat: 25677-1). However the inscription in dead wax is different: B-29657 and B-29658.
German version (Cat: 9362-45793-1)
There are only German pressings of the retail version. It’s interesting to see that the style of the label is different than the 1987 German pressing. That one differed also from the 1987 US vinyl. In this case the US and German label are quite alike (except for the details like GEMA/BIEM and stereo). The plain black sleeve has only a catalog number. Next to that there are two or three stickers each containing some info. In this case the biggest sticker actually mentions that this is a Prince album (Prince The legendary Black Album Limited Edition). You can actually make a point out of the fact that legendary appears to be included in the title. On the copies that where sold in the US an additional sticker “Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics” was placed.
The 1994 release of the normal Black Album was accompanied by the release of four different coloured 12" LP US promos. The colours of the vinyl being black, grey marbled, white and peach marbled. The last three all have the same catalogue number but are each distinguished through their colour.
US Promo (Cat: PRO-A-7330)
The black vinyl promo is housed in a common plain black sleeve with a big hole in the middle. On the sleeve and label there is no mention of Prince. Only a mention of the controversy music ascap below the song titles. The label is a plain white Warner standard with their logo imprinted in colour and shaded as watermarking.
US Promo (Cat: 1-45793 - grey marbled vinyl)
Only 50 were pressed and they were meant as give-away for Warner Brother Records Executives only.
Each disc is separately numbered from 001 to 050 through a gold-stamp on the white label. Besides the number the label only contains the WB logo and tracklisting in orange print. The record is housed in a plain white sleeve. The side only contains the Warner Brothers address and record catalogue number 1-45793 (also in orange). The vinyl is pressed with a random grey marbled pattern that renders every piece unique as a fingerprint. The photos on the site can be used to authenticate the item.
After mentioning the idea on HouseQuake Yormeister picked it up and started tracking the copies of the grey marbled vinyl. Soon it became apparent that there were more than 50 copies. Some repeated numbered and also unlabelled and unnumbered copies surfaced.
The repeated numbers where dropouts from quality control and at that point they were not shipped but after selling the inventory to rockaway records in Los Angeles they appeared in public. The unlabelled copy was an unfinished test run and the ones without a number where used in the Prince store in Minneapolis for promotional purposes.
US Promo (Cat: 1-45793 - white vinyl)
According to a Dutch Warner representative, who I spoke too in march 1995, only 300 copies of this white vinyl where pressed. They were meant as give-away for business relations of the Warner Brother Records.
Each disc is separately numbered from 001 to 300 through a gold-stamp on the white label. Besides the number the label only contains the WB logo and tracklisting in orange print. The record is normally housed in a plain white sleeve. There are indications that sometimes a black sleeve is used (for instance number 070) The side only contains the Warner Brothers address and record catalogue number 1-45793 (also in orange).
It's possible that there are little more than 300 floating around. When tracking the grey marbled vinyl some extra copies surfaced. They where dropouts from quality control. At that point they were not shipped but after selling the inventory they appeared in public.
US Promo (Cat: 1-45793 - peach marbled vinyl)
Information circulating about this release always mention that 1.000 copies where pressed. The record was sent as promo to DJ and radio station. Occasionally you could find it in a shop. I know cause I missed out on two cheap copies by not checking the vinyl colour and someone else called me too say he bought two peach ones (15 minutes after I left the store).
The vinyl is pressed with a random peach marbled pattern The colour is very beautiful when held in the light. The label only contains the WB logo and tracklisting in orange print. The record is housed in a plain black sleeve. The side only contains the Warner Brothers address and record catalogue number 1-45793 (also in orange).
A cover version sung by a german band appeared in the spring of 1989. In my opinion it was quite a funny try but my guess it was meant serious as a way of releasing the music to the people. It’s release even sprung a cdsingle of the song superfunkycalifragisexy in different remixes. The proud owner also received a sticker which stated ‘I Own The Black Album’.
(2006-08-13 More text soon. Editting rest.)