Early this morning on the day his Welcome 2 Chicago shows get underway, Prince released yet another track exclusively at Dr. Funkenberry's site. This one will be instantly recognizable to long-time fans, a new rehearsal version of "Old Friends 4 Sale". Drenched in live horns and featuring the NPG lineup he'll be joined by in Chi-Town, this is to my knowledge the first time a live recording of the track has surfaced. Could it make the setlist of one of the Chicago shows? We shall see.
This song has had one of the more frustrating paths in Prince history. Originally recorded in 1985 as a response to some of the turmoil in his life after the massive success of Purple Rain, the first version of "Old Friends 4 Sale" was one of the most personal lyrics Prince had recorded. Referencing former associates, band members and managers, Prince opened up like he rarely does with a look into his world and those he felt stabbed him in the back after he made it big. Sadly, this version of the song was never released, although thankfully it is widely circulating in perfect quality amongst collectors. It is one of the best lyrics Prince has ever written and it is an absolute shame it was never officially released in this form.
"Old Friends 4 Sale" was re-worked in 1991 and offered to Joe Cocker, but Prince changed the lyrics making them less personal and completely taking the emotional power out of the song. It was finally released, unfortunately in this inferior form, on the 1999 contract filler album The Vault...Old Friends 4 Sale. So on the surface, it is cool to see it reappear again, and it is easy to look at it as just a surprise and gift for the fans right before the Chicago craziness starts. But this is Prince we are talking about, we need to dig deeper.
If you remember, before his Welcome 2 Australia tour earlier this year, Prince shared another rehearsal jam with Dr. Funkenberry. There were rumblings that Terry Lewis of The Time, now The Original 7ven, and representatives for fDeluxe, formerly The Family, had contacted Prince about opening for him during the Australian run of shows. Prince's response came in the form of a jam on both The Time's "Ice Cream Castles" and The Family's "Mutiny".
Listening to the re-done lyrics of "Mutiny, taking back the ship. Mutiny, should have been a little more hip", it's obvious this was Prince's way of telling both bands, 'I don't need you to open for me playing songs I wrote, produced and played on for you anyways.' Yes, Prince's sly sense of humor may be incorporated in there, but there is no question this was also a well placed shot at both bands. St. Paul Peterson of fDeluxe responded less than a week later with "Hot Summer At Menards", a take-off on Prince's less than stellar track "Hot Summer", turning it into a radio commercial for the hardware chain Menards. In other words, 'your song is little better than and sounds like a crappy radio jingle'. There has been no public response from Terry Lewis, but I am sure he was less than thrilled with Prince's dig at his band.
So what does all this have to do with this new "Old Friends 4 Sale"? On September 17th Sheila E. sent a number of Tweets responding to fans on Twitter on whether she would join Prince for the shows in Chicago. Although she hints it is because of something Prince did, she leaves a vague response that certainly suggests something is wrong between the two, without revealing exactly what that is.
After this Tweet, Sheila sent another one that just said 'Because Prince...'. Followers of the situation know that something went down between Prince and Sheila back in May of last year during the California leg of his Welcome 2 America tour. Sheila Tweeted, "I will not be performing with Prince anymore. I thank u 4 ur support", on May 30th, 2011 and that has led to much speculation amongst fans about what went down as she had been joining him during the shows. Suddenly on May 29th, it was Nikka Costa joining him onstage for "A Love Bizarre" and not Sheila. Then the next day she dropped the bomb she would no longer be performing with Prince. Her recent Tweets about Chicago got the rumor mill swirling again about exactly what happened.
Now it is not for me to speculate or dish exactly why these two old friends are suddenly on the outs. But is it REALLY a coincidence that less than a week after Sheila Tweets she will not be performing in Chicago with Prince and hints it is because of something he did, Prince puts out a new version of "Old Friends 4 Sale", a song he has NEVER performed live before? We all know Prince does not like former associates talking about him in this way. Even though Sheila did not come out and state any specifics, her Tweets are a public comment that something DID go down, she blames Prince, without saying exactly what it is. She got her message out there. So now, in my opinion, Prince is getting HIS message out there through the words of this song.
You truly have to understand how the man thinks to make this connection. Check the recent interview in the Chicago Tribune. Prince hints at writer Greg Kot that criticism, especially from former band members and employees, stings and that hurt stays with him, often pushing him to prove them wrong and respond. Do you really think Prince is going to let Sheila's public comments go unanswered? He'll answer them in his own way and, I believe, has done so by releasing this version of "Old Friends 4 Sale". It's a perfect Princely response. A bit of a dick move buried under a gorgeous arrangement that makes it easy to slip by those not paying attention. Can I prove it? Not unless the man grants me an interview and we know that is not happening. But does his track record make it feasible, even likely? I believe so. Put your SCUBA gear on, get deep and think about it.
Make sure to check out this new rehearsal version of "Old Friends 4 Sale", exclusively at DrFunkenberry.com , always the first site with Prince exclusives.