By the time The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale came out, in 1999, Prince had spent three years apart from Warner Bros and had been exploring ways of releasing music direct to his fans – including pioneering attempts to sell his records through the internet. His former label, however, still had the rights to issue a second collection of songs as part of their agreement to terminate his contract. The first of these, Chaos And Disorder, had appeared in July 1996, three months after Prince struck out on his own, and captured him in a furious state of mind as he thrashed his way through hard-rock tracks that expressed exactly what he thought of the music industry. The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale, however, found him in a more reflective mood. Though another collection of songs “originally intended 4 private use only” – as the sleevenotes put it – the album’s largely jazz-inflected material dated in part from Prince’s Purple Rain era and also revealed some of his more theatrical leanings.
Listen to ‘The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale’ here.
“He was very interested in theatre”
The songs’ recording sessions spanned more than a decade, from 1985 to 1996, though the majority of The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale was laid down with The New Power Generation in the early 90s, during a period in which Prince also created the “Love Symbol” album – “rock soap opera” which, in turn, inspired a narrative-driven live show that brought the record’s storyline to the stage. In a public statement at the time, he expressed further wishes to work on “alternative media projects, including live theatre, interactive media, nightclubs and motion pictures”.
Lifted from this era, The Vault… songs The Rest Of My Life, My Little Pill and There Is Lonely had been recorded as part of a batch of tunes intended for the 1994 movie I’ll Do Anything, which had initially been conceived as a musical before being stripped of all its set pieces and refashioned as a straight comedy-drama. Alongside the likes of 5 Women (given to Joe Cocker for his 1991 album, Night Calls) and When The Lights Go Down, they found Prince comfortable writing narrative-driven tracks with swinging horn arrangements suitable for any Broadway chorus line. “He was very interested in theatre,” Prince’s first wife, Mayte Garcia, told this writer for the book Lives Of The Musicians: Prince. “He didn’t want to just be a ‘rock star’… that was something he wanted to conquer.”