There has, since Prince’s death, been much discussion of a rumoured ‘vault’ of unreleased music at his Paisley Park home and studio in Minnesota. There are currently reports that the vault has been drilled open, because Prince had the only key.
But what might this mysterious vault contain? A BBC Radio Four documentary asked this very question just weeks before Prince’s death. Speaking at the time, Prince’s former sound engineer Susan Rogers claimed to have started the vault in 1983 and said: “I wanted us to have everything he’d ever recorded. I called up the studios he’d been using and said: ‘Have you got any Prince tapes’? This is his legacy. We need to protect these things.’ Rogers went on to explain that “it’s an actual bank vault with a thick door” and sits beneath Paisley Park.” Rogers’ work with Prince concluded in 1987, by which time Rogers reckons “it was nearly full.”
So the mind boggles as to what The Purple One might have added to the fault in the three decades in between. After Prince’s death, MTV co-founder John Sykes tease that the late musician had “a plethora of music that we don’t even know about yet,” plus “tens” of music videos.
The list of unreleased Prince project is long and varied, from the 1986 three-LP album Crystal Ball, which was shortened and turned into ‘Sign o’ the Times’ when the studio said it was too long to be released. There’s a rumoured album with jazz great Miles Davis. In 1987 Prince recorded but did not release an album with the singer Sheila E. You could list projects these for hours and still be chastised for leaving something out.
Because vault-hunting has been a Prince fan pastime for a while now. According to his former manager Alan Leeds, the musician was “careless” with tapes and would leave them in car glove compartments or give them away to friends and girlfriends. The records would then circulate as bootlegs, until illegal downloads replaced bootleg tapes and Prince was able to clamp down on leaks.
This would seem to suggest that Prince never wanted to music to be heard. And perhaps there’s an argument that it should stay that way. Prince collaborator Brent Fischer has said that “there are a lot of songs that were sent to us clearly with the idea that they would never be released”, describing said songs as “almost comical” muckabouts in the studio. Yet in 2012 Prince released a YouTube video that promise: “Every good thing in the vault… coming 2013.” It never happened, of course, and now the owners of his estate – still unknown because he did not leave a will – are left to debate their next move.
Given the current appetite for posthumous releases – see Kurt Cobain odds and sods compilation Montage of Heck – it’s highly likely that at least some of the vault’s contents will reach our ears. You could lament that fact, but no-one doubts that Prince was a genius – and doesn’t that make the music of historical importance, and too good to waste?