Prince’s First Album, ‘For You,’ Turns 35
On April 7, 1978, Prince released his first record, ‘For You.’ The boldly prophetic lyrics of the opening a cappella title track made it quite clear that this 19-year-old “one-man band” sensation planned to stick around for a long time:
“All of this and more is for you / With love, sincerity and deepest care / My life with you I share.”
Thirty-five years and at least that many studio albums later, some might debate just how much of his life this awesomely talented but notoriously reclusive, self-mythologizing music legend has shared with his audience. (Try searching for one of his songs on YouTube and you’ll see exactly what we mean.)
What can’t be argued is the enormous impact Prince made on popular music and modern culture, even if the somewhat modest songwriting on this particular record only offered small hints at the genius, daring innovation — and of course, controversy — that would soon help him conquer the world.
In 1977, Warner Brothers beat out several other labels to sign the Minneapolis-raised teenager, who many viewed as “the next Stevie Wonder” due to his ability to write songs, play a wide range of musical instruments and produce his own records. That last part was still a bit of a sticking point for the label, who at first preferred that someone more experienced was behind the boards for the ‘For You’ sessions.
However, after a secret studio tryout that reportedly found legendary producers Ted Templeman and Lenny Waronker posing as janitors while Prince assembled a track, it was agreed that the youngster would be allowed to make the record himself, with only an executive producer — who he would apparently mostly shun and ignore — to aid him.
In the end, and as the back cover proclaims quite proudly in large type, ‘For You’ was “produced, arranged, composed and performed” entirely by Prince, with each of the dozens of instruments he performed on its nine songs exhaustively detailed inside.
Compared to his later triumphs, the 33-minute long record features a surprisingly smooth and eager-to-please sound. In retrospect, the modesty displayed in the lyrics is especially surprising. There’s little talk of sisters, head or “masturbating with a magazine” here — except of course, for the album’s first and highest-charting single, the still somewhat subtle (at least for him) double entendre ‘Soft and Wet.’
Instead, Prince spends most of his time declaring that he’s yours, explaining how he’s blue without you, promising that his love is forever and declaring that everything will be OK just as long as you’re together. Think of it as the promises he’d make to a nervous father before strapping his daughter to the back of a motorcycle for a big night out.
Musically, the record is largely comprised of upbeat, danceable R&B tracks and acoustic guitar-tinged love songs. Standouts include the extended disco-funk instrumental showcase ‘Just as Long as We’re Together,’ the insanely catchy ‘Soft and Wet’ and the dramatic album closer, ‘I’m Yours.’ The latter offers a tantalizing first taste of the hard rock guitar pyrotechnics that would eventually become such a crucial part of Prince’s sound, and perhaps the key to his crossover success.
One early trademark of Prince’s sound that emerged nearly fully formed on ‘For You’ was the use of synthesizers in the place of horn sections. As he told the Minneapolis Tribune in an April 1978 interview: “By not using horns on this record, I could make an album that would sound different right away. So I created a different kind of horn section by multi-tracking a synthesizer and some guitar lines.”
The album was a modest sales success, and garnered Prince some national press attention, often focused on the “one-man band” angle. The next year on his self-titled sophomore album, Prince got more adventurous both lyrically and musically, and in 1980, he blew the doors down, delivering his first stone-cold masterpiece with the raw, lyrically provocative funk-and-punk blend of ‘Dirty Mind.’