Why I Love Christopher Tracy’s Parade
I’m unexpectedly back home for the weekend and taking the time to catch up on some listening while I work. The major item on the list is something that has been on my mind for a week: Prince’s 1986 album Parade.
Last weekend when I wasn’t feeling so well, I pulled a book off the shelf that I had bought on a lark in a used bookstore: DanceMusicSexRomance: Prince, The First Decade. I frankly didn’t expect much from it. How wonderfully surprised I was that the author had gone out of his way to interview recording engineers in addition to everyone else. While there wasn’t as much detail as I would have liked, he did engage in some serious discussion of sound processing and equipment (detailing Prince’s early ’80s obsession with the Linn LM-1 among other things). More than any other records, I found myself wanting again to hear one from what I regarded as P’s most fertile period on record: the time including and between Purple Rain and Sign o’ the Times.
Listening to the best and most consistent of those four recordings, the aforementioned Parade, I’m reminded why this is my favorite. The individual tracks are so…, well, strange and so unlike one another. Despite that, the record still sounds remarkably unified. Maybe it’s the relative sparseness and harshness of most of the mixes. Maybe it’s the live feeling of the drums on most of the tracks relieving finally the creeping sonic and rhythmic monotony of his drum programming using the LM-1 on previous records. Maybe it was in part the result of his brief sojourns in France and England. Maybe it was, as suggested in the book, his increasing openness to contributions by members of the Revolution, especially Lisa and Wendy.
Whatever combination of things is the answer, the question needn’t have a reply. This is simply a brilliant recording. The subtle touches, of course, get me as much as the more obvious things. Dig the odd sound of the drums on the first few tracks; the finger cymbals and baritone saxophone on “Girls and Boys”; the couplet “Happiness in its uncut form / Is the feeling that I get in your warm warm” from the same song; the dirty dissonance, persistent cowbell and harmonic loopiness of “Life Can Be So Nice”; the percussion, brass and woodwind flourishes in the Weillian “Under the Cherry Moon”; the lyrical Lou Reed reference and interlocking guitars and pianos on “Mountains” (a song where the LM-1 sounds more than appropriate); the jazz and cabaret influences evident in “Do U Lie?” as well as the perfectly pitched background vocals; the Bill Evans-style piano voicings (compare his intro to “On Green Dolphin Street” from Miles Davis’s Jazz at the Plaza) and the dissonance (especially on the word “wish”) of “Sometimes It Snows in April”; and, especially, the phrase structure, harmonically wandering bridge, melodic bass line, and overall soundscape of “Anotherloverholenyohead.” Those observations, mind you, are just the things off the top my head.
If you own this recording, take it down and give it another listen. If you don’t, borrow it from a friend or a library or, better, buy it. The sound-processing centers of your brain will thank you.