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Prince Dusts Off ‘Tick, Tick, Bang’ for ‘Graffiti Bridge': 365 Prince Songs in Year

Warner Brothers
Warner Brothers

To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.

Throughout his long and prolific career, Prince would tirelessly construct certain songs only to abandon them before anyone else ever got to hear them. Sometimes he’d later revisit and rework them for release; other songs would remain orphans forever.

There’s enough leftover material from 1985-86 alone to support two or three double albums. Some of those songs appeared on the 1998 odds-and-ends box set Crystal Ball; some showed up on 1999’s similarly patched-together The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale. And a couple showed up on 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, a soundtrack album that pulled together a handful of other tracks from Prince’s vault, including one that dated back to 1981: “Tick, Tick, Bang.”

Prince originally recorded the song during the sessions for his 1981 album Controversy and was earmarked for his girl group Vanity 6. But like other tracks from the era, “Tick, Tick, Bang” sat on the shelf for almost a decade before Prince pulled it down, dusted it off and re-recorded it at Paisley Park in 1989 for Graffiti Bridge.

He also added new lyrics to the song. But the sentiment, even in the late ’80s and early ’90s, is pure 1981 Prince: “You’re such a bombshell / And if I ever get ya / There’s no telling how long I’d last before I tick, tick, bang all over you.

Musically, “Tick, Tick, Bang” — which at one time was considered as a Graffiti Bridge single but eventually scrapped — falls somewhere between the two periods in which it was conceived. On one hand, it sounds an awful lot like the spare, synth-driven R&B jams that dominated the early part of Prince’s career; on the other, the updated version features new jack swing beats that incorporate a sample of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis: Bold as Love album track “Little Miss Lover.”

It certainly fits the grab-bag approach to Graffiti Bridge, which included guest spots from newcomer Tevin Campbell, future Paisley Park Records client George Clinton, soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples and the Time, the group Prince assembled in Minneapolis that piggybacked on Purple Rain‘s success in 1984. In addition to being the soundtrack companion to Prince’s third and final movie, the album features the first mention of his new band New Power Generation, which made its debut on his next record, 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls.

Graffiti Bridge’s track listing includes songs that go back almost a decade. “Tick, Tick, Bang” was the earliest recorded number, but other songs originated from 1982 (“Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got,” which was then reconsidered in 1986 for the aborted Dream Factory album), 1983 (“We Can Funk,” first known as “We Can F—“), 1985 (“The Question of U” comes from the sessions for another soundtrack, Parade), 1986 (“Joy in Repetition,” from the original, and unreleased, Crystal Ball project) and 1987 (the title track).

This all makes for one of Prince’s most whirlwind records, as well as a tidy ’80s wrap-up and summation at the turn of the decade. It’s a celebration of both the past and the future at the tail end of Prince’s most productive and awe-inspiring decade. “Tick, Tick, Bang” makes the same point as the 68-minute album in three-and-a-half forward-thinking throwback minutes.

Prince Albums Ranked in Order of Awesomeness

Next: Prince Turns a Meme Into a Song

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