Less than 60 seconds of a tune called “Modernaire” is heard in Purple Rain, the 1984 film starring Prince. The group performing the song, led by Prince’s former guitarist, is on screen all of fifteen seconds. For my best friend at that time, those tantalizing bits left him—and others (myself included)—wanting more. My buddy became obsessed with hearing the full track, and hunted high and low for a copy, but to no avail. After a while, we had to wonder: Is it even for sale? This was the pre-web days, when finding answers to questions like this wasn’t so easy. Turns out, it wasn’t obtainable, and decades would go by before “Modernaire” was released.
Dez Dickerson was the lead guitarist in Prince’s band from 1978 until 1983. During this period, Prince usually performed all of the instruments on his records, but that’s Dez playing the guitar solo on “Little Red Corvette.”
Dickerson departed the Prince organization after the 1999 campaign ended in the spring of 1983. Though Dez was leaving to pursue a solo career, Prince still wanted the guitarist to be involved in the Purple Rain project. Dez was offered screen time in the film, which would highlight his new group and one of Dickerson’s songs.
Prince and Dez during the ‘Dirty Mind’ tour, c. 1980.
It’s believed that “Modernaire” was recorded in May 1983 at Prince’s home studio. At the time, Dickerson was in Minneapolis for a performance at the Minnesota Music Awards on May 16, which would be his last gig with Prince. The recording of “Modernaire” was very much a collaboration between Dez and Prince, who co-produced the sessions. Prince played all of the instruments and sang back-up vocals. Jill Jones, who was part of the Prince camp, recited a couple of lines from Romeo and Juliet, which are heard in reverse on the finished track.
In the fall of 1983, Warner Bros. expressed their interest in releasing “Modernaire” as a single. Prince even arranged for his managers to represent Dez, but a deal couldn’t be worked out with the label or any other. There was also talk of including it on the Purple Rain soundtrack album, but in the end, only Prince’s material was included. During the subsequent Purple Rain mania, Dez received a call from the Warner Bros. requesting a B-side and artwork, as they planned to put it out. But, ultimately, a “Modernaire” 45 never materialized.
Though the song was shaped to fit with the other music in Purple Rain, and wasn’t really reflective of his style, Dez grew to like the tune. Dickerson has said “Modernaire” is about “someone who is not just ahead of the curve, but around it already.”
More after the jump…