The Official Annotated Prince Discography put together by the good folks at the Prince Estate (princeestate.com) is fucking amazing. Spending a minute on the site wondering why Prince hadn’t been able to do this himself whilst still with us. He had tried with his NPG Music Club and other online ventures, most of which ended up being one-off websites that may have promised access to a library of music and video, but were ultimately just publicity tools for the latest album which would be stop being updated shortly after the albums release, and usually totally shut down within a year.
It was so frustrating to listen to Prince rail against the record industry and music business year after year and how badly he wanted and needed total control over his music, not only it’s production but it’s distribution and use. One just wanted to grab him by his ruffled collar and yell, “Dude! You were lucky enough to be born right about the time the internet happened, which enables you to do exactly what you want to do! Total vertical integration. You write, record, produce, license, and distribute your music entirely in house, and keep virtually all the money. Retain all the rights. Pull things offline if you feel like…throw something new you just finished on there and see how people react. Total control. It could have been perfect. But he never seemed to be able to get his digital shit together.
But now, his estate has quietly pulled it off. The website is beautiful: clean, easy to navigate, but very Princely. Even the cursor (a familiar drawing of Prince’s eye (which shifts from right to left depending on what side of the screen your cursor is on)) is brilliant. Here you will find all of Prince’s Studio Albums, Legacy Releases, Live Albums, Compilations, as well as albums that he produced, listed and annotated with reviews, quotes, pictures, and videos. It’s actually a rather dangerous time-killer for some of us, but that’s likely because suddenly, instead of employing a cadre of attorneys to constantly patrol YouTube and issues take-down orders like parking tickets, the estate is organizing and encouraging participation, which is rather a sudden shift.
The only “fault” I can find with the website is that it is somewhat less complete than what I’d hoped the actual estate could put together, and I’m not entirely sure why. When Prince started experimenting with alternate distribution methods and unorthodox arrangements with traditional record labels, his albums got difficult to find, and my personal collection reflects that: I’ve got everything right up to “Crystal Ball” and things get spotty. Some stuff was never released on CD at all, some CDs were only distributed with the purchase of a concert ticket. Some albums were distributed in weekly newspapers in the U.K., and never even released in the States. Most of the albums on the site have track listings, and if you click on any song, a 30-second snippet plays. So you can click on the first one, let it play the entire album in 30-second snippets while you’re reading the material below…it works out well. But it turns out the estate’s collection has the same limitations I do: no track listings for certain rarer albums. I can only assume that this is due to licensing issues, and I’m hopeful that these issues will be resolved. The same issue is true for all of the albums listed in the Major Albums Produced by Prince. Some of them I understand: the actual artist was on a different label, and now they’re dealing with licensing issues. But the early stuff by The Time, Sheila E, Vanity, Apollonia, etc, was all Prince, on the exact same Warner Bros. contract. But this is clearly a work-in-progress, and the estate makes it very clear that this is just a beginning.