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Prince’s groundbreaking album “1999” is getting a huge reissue—and that’s great for music

Hasit Shah
Prince, 1999

This week, Warner Records and The Prince Estate announced that an extended version of Prince’s landmark album, 1999, will hit shelves and streaming platforms on Nov. 29. It will include 35 previously unreleased tracks, as well as archive concert footage and other rare items.

1999 altered the direction of pop music in the early 1980s, and its reissue is perhaps the most important album of the year.

After performing at major venues, Prince would often host special after-parties, where he’d jam with local musicians, play covers, and give his most dedicated fans intimate, raw versions of songs they’d only ever heard on scratchy bootleg tapes. These shows were difficult to get into and there was no guarantee Prince would even turn up. The upcoming 1999 extended edition is the closest most of us will ever get to that experience.

“I feel heard,” Arthur Turnbull, lead voice of The Music Snobs podcast, told Quartz. “This treatment is what’s needed for an artist of his caliber. 1999 was an incredibly important album for Prince; it’s his Revolver [considered The Beatles’ biggest leap forward]. It set the tone for pop music for the next three to five years.”

Prince’s mythical vault, from which these bootlegs sometimes emerged, contains thousands of unreleased recordings. After he died of an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2016, the vault was opened and the administrators of his estate began sanctioning a steady stream of reissues and previously unreleased material. In addition to the 35 new tracks and concert film, the 1999 reissue will contain handwritten lyrics by Prince and rare photographs taken by his photographer, Allen Beaulieu.

Apart from an unnecessary greatest hits compilation, the estate has mostly done a good job of continuing Prince’s legacy and curating the inevitable posthumous releases, which also include a remastered version of his best-selling album, Purple Rain and an album of Prince performing songs that he’d written but were made famous by other artists. Yes, he somehow made time for that, too.

During a lengthy conversation in 2016, Prince told me he was only interested, musically, in what he was doing in the present moment. He didn’t look back. As he says on the 1999 title track: “We could all die in a day.” Still, it’s a wise move by Warner Records, with whom he fought in the 1990s, to release these rare tracks to a new generation of music fans.

1999 is an extraordinary record: dark, funky, soulful, and inventive. It’s Prince’s first true crossover—the album that ensured everyone, not just the black audiences who’d discovered him first, knew what he was capable of. The extra songs are bootleg classics that diehard fans have been talking about for years. Now, we all get to hear them with excellent sound quality and in the broader context of the musical era from which they emerged.

If you haven’t already, go and listen to it. The album changed everything. It might just change you too.

 

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