How Prince’s Last Top 10 Hit And Album Vanished For Decades

In the months and years since Prince’s death, fans have raced to fill holes in their Prince collections, especially promotional and limited-edition oddities and rare overseas pressings. But one of the more unusual releases to spark renewed interest among collectors was ‘The Gold Experience’, Prince’s 17th album, first released in 1995.

To be clear, “Gold” was not an obscurity, but a mass-produced release by Warner Bros. which exceeded half a million in sales. It also included the last Top 10 single of Prince’s career. Eventually it had quietly sold out and new copies hadn’t been available for decades.

Prince’s out-of-print 1995 album “The Gold Experience” will be reissued on CD June 17 and on vinyl the following day. (Courtesy of Legacy Recordings)

On June 17, “The Gold Experience” will once again be available on CD. The following day, Legacy Recordings will release a double LP version pressed on translucent gold, with five bonus remixes, for Record Store Day.

‘The Gold Experience’ comes from a particularly tumultuous time in Purple One’s career in the early 90s. He was still charting hits – ‘Cream’, ‘Diamonds and Pearls’, ‘My Name Is Prince’ , “7” – but his longtime label Warner Bros. began to worry about oversaturating the market. In 1993, he baffled his label and his fans by changing his name to the unpronounceable symbol of love, which he had previously used as the title of his 14th album. He also started scribbling the word “slave” on his cheek during public appearances, a move that raised eyebrows considering he came from a multi-millionaire superstar.

The following year, Prince convinced the label to give him one-time permission to release the single “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” independently, under the name of the symbol of love. Prince wanted to prove he didn’t need Prince’s name to sell records, and it turned out he was right. The single, a lush throwback to 70s soul, was a worldwide hit, giving it what would be her last Top 10 single in the US and her only UK number 1. (Rumors at the time suggested that Prince’s staff were buying copies of the single wholesale at retail to help jump-start his chart position.)

Despite the success of the single, Warner Bros. backtracked three months later when Prince delivered two new albums to the label, “Come” and “The Gold Experience”, with the label request “Come”, credited to “Prince: 1958-1993”, followed a few weeks later of “Gold,” credited to the symbol of love. His idea was that “Come” was old news and “Gold” was his future. To sweeten the deal, he added “Most Beautiful Girl” to the tracklist.” Gold”.

Such a chaotic album rollout might not seem so unusual today – see, for example, the recent activity of One Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, whose latest album is not available only to stream via a $200 standalone device – but at the time that was essentially unheard of, especially for a major label artist with millions in sales. Back then, album releases were carefully planned, multi-pronged campaigns launched months in advance. The conventional wisdom was that fans wouldn’t or couldn’t follow all of this if the label followed Prince’s game plan.

Warner Bros. finally agreed to release “Come” in August 1994, followed by “Gold” about 13 months later. Filled with some of the darkest and most unconventional music of his career, “Come” was a relative flop. “Gold” fared slightly better at retail and received warm reviews, with some critics calling it her best effort since 1997’s “Sign o’ the Times.”

On “The Gold Experience,” Prince flexed his artistic muscles with a series of songs expertly performed in a variety of styles. The gleefully explicit “P Control” is one of his last “dirty prince” epics, as a few years later he became a Jehovah’s Witness and gave up his most raunchy addictions. The disc also included “Billy Jack Bitch”, a stab at former Star Tribune gossip columnist Cheryl “CJ” Johnson, as well as liner notes written by former Pioneer Press music critic Jim Walsh.

So why is “The Gold Experience” sold out? Blame a lawsuit for “The most beautiful girl in the world”. Two Italian songwriters sued Prince, claiming the song plagiarized their 1983 European hit “Takin’ Me to Paradise”. The case went all the way to the Italian Supreme Court, where the judges sided with the songwriters. While the ruling only applied to Italy, where ‘The Most Beautiful Girl’ was banned, someone (Prince? Warner Bros.?) thought the easiest thing to do was to leave” The Gold Experience” disappear in its entirety.

When Prince’s estate released its catalog of streaming services in 2018, “The Gold Experience” was finally readily available to fans again, although “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” was not on the tracklist. Apparently the estate struck a deal with the songwriters last month and “Most Beautiful Girl” finally hit streaming services shortly after, along with a new remastered version of the music video (shot in Paisley Park in early 1994) first added to Prince’s YouTube channel.

As always, one can’t help but wonder what Prince would think of all of this. And yet, he was a strong supporter of retail stores. One of the last times Prince was seen in public before his death in April 2016 was his trip to the Electric Fetus for, yes, Record Store Day. And he wasn’t there to perform, but to buy physical copies of the music he loved.

Prince has become a big part of Record Store Day, when exclusive, mostly vinyl reissues are only available in physical stores (and, hours later, at inflated prices online). Last year, Legacy released the obscure, mostly acoustic (and not exactly championed by fans or critics) 1998 album “The Truth” on vinyl for the first time. It shot to No. 1 on Billboard’s vinyl album charts and landed at the top of the best-selling charts of 2021 on fan-centric music resale website Discogs.

If nothing else, it proves that in a world of streaming, Prince fans not only still want physical media, they will pay for it. And I think that would make him very happy.

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