About a year ago, 60 Minutes did a piece on the Prince estate and the release of his upcoming posthumous album Welcome 2 America. During that piece, the reporter noted that there was enough music in Prince’s vault for the estate to release a new album every year for the rest of the millennium.
To think someone had the time and talent to produce that much music in their lifetime is mind-boggling and remember, we are just talking about his unreleased music! Well, there is someone who took on the daunting task to look at every track that was officially released by Prince.
The recently released book, Prince: All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track, tackles that challenge. The books author, Benoît Clerc, a Prince fan himself, painstakingly looks at every track with photos and vital information relating to each track. This is the third book in the All The Songs series. The first two books looked at the music of Queen and David Bowie.
For Prince fans around the world, they have been a bit skeptical when it comes to the release and the information contained in the book. We sat down with the author to discuss the book, the kind of research he did for the book and about the skepticism from many in the Prince fandom.
Pop Culture Principle – Your first two books in this series covered the songs of David Bowie and Queen. What made you decide Prince would be the next subject in your series?
Benoit Clerc – The Prince book had a long genesis. The French publisher in 2019 was Flavie Gaidon. I knew her, and she knew that I was a huge Prince fan. She first asked me if I wanted to do it, because this collection, “La Totale” (“All The Songs”), is about very important artists, like Bob Dylan, The Beatles or Michael Jackson. I told her that it was impossible because of his amount of songs.
As you know, Prince has recorded thousands of songs, so it didn’t fit with the collection, where no song can be forgotten. So I made “Queen, All The Songs”, because I’m a big Queen fan, too. She asked me again in 2020, but I told her no, once more, so I made the Bowie book. When she asked me a third time in 2021, I said “let me think about it”. 3 weeks later, I told her that it was possible on one condition: i could only write about the official songs, published by Prince or by the Estate, and only the songs with his voice as lead vocals. There were 684 songs! It was the only way for the book to exist.
Pop Culture Principle – Were you a fan of Prince and how familiar with him were you when you started working on the book?
Benoit Clerc – I’ve always been a huge fan. I was born in 1979, so I discovered him with Kiss when I was 7, and totally fell in love with his music with Batdance when I was 10. I listened to his records during all my teenage years, in my 20’s, and until now, he’s the greatest to me. I saw him in concerts many times in Paris, too. I knew his discography, but to be honest, I had some gaps with the cyber singles, the NPG Music Club years. So, I had to make an update to check all the song from his “internet period”.
Pop Culture Principle – Where you initially aware of the extent of the music he released during his lifetime?
Benoit Clerc – Yes, totally. With websites like Princevault.com, and in France Schkopi.com or Calhounsquare.info, it was easy to follow the evolution of his career, the news and the tours. I had his complete discography, but I didn’t know many of his unreleased songs, like some of the SOTT period.
Pop Culture Principle – From the initial idea of having Prince be the next subject of your All The Songs series to the book’s actual release, how long did it take?
Benoit Clerc – It took three years, and about a month to give my answer, after digging in his discography to make a song list, and to be sure that the book was able to be made. It took me about 14 months to write it, seven days a week, as a main job. And I am now working on another “All the songs” book.
Pop Culture Principle – As far as doing the research for this book and the sources used for the book, did you get the chance to speak to any of his bandmates, producers, engineers, other artists he worked with or any of his inner circle?
Benoit Clerc – As I was in France, the only way to contact his entourage was to use Instagram or Messenger to make contact. Some of his close entourage didn’t answer my questions, but many of his engineers did! Hans Martin-Buff, Jess Sutcliffe, Richard Furch, James Harley or George Ian Boxill answered to all my questions, with precise information on many songs. Because the biggest problem, with the Prince’s recording habits, was to know who recorded what. Only engineers were able to help me, and they did! Some arrangers like Michael B. Nelson or Adi Yeshaya helped me too. I thank them a lot for that.
Pop Culture Principle – Adding to the previous question, how accurate would you say the information in the book is?
Benoit Clerc – I think it’s very accurate, but it’s not as precise as Duane Tudahl’s books, for example! When you work for this collection, you have to keep two things in mind: first, you have to write the artist’s biography, because each album is introduced with a long explanation of the album’s context, and secondly, you have to explain each song. This book can’t be as precise as Duane Tudahl’s book, because it’s not only for the hardcore fans, it’s for every Prince fan. And keep you have to keep in mind that you have “only” 700 sheets of paper to do it ;-). A “Volume 2” was not an option, so it was a real challenge.
Pop Culture Principle – When some fans read the title of the book, they were disappointed that none of his unreleased tracks were covered in this book. Did you think about covering those songs as well and if not, why weren’t they covered in the book?
Benoit Clerc – No, they won’t be covered because this collection is about the official songs published by the artists. I totally understand the frustration of some fans, but you have to work with a framework in this collection. When I wrote the “Bowie, All The Songs” book, it was the same. I didn’t write about Bowie’s demos, because there were thousands, mostly recorded in very bad conditions. But it’s written at the back of each book, so it’s crystal clear.
Pop Culture Principle – Will you possibly look at doing a book on his unreleased music? The music he wrote for his proteges and other artists?
Benoit Clerc – No, I don’t think I’ll write it. But if someone does, I’ll be the first to buy it!
Benoit Clerc – The first thing I did was to make a list of all the photographers who worked with Prince during his lifetime. I gave the list to Sara Quemener, from ZS Studio, who made the researches for the book. Some of them were very happy to work with us, like Afshin Shahidi, Steve Parke or Robert Whitman, and I thank them for that. Some didn’t answer to our request, like Randee St. Nicholas or Terry Gydesen, and that was a pity because their pictures are amazing. And some didn’t want to work with us for many reasons, like Jeff Katz or Allen Beaulieu. But I understand them, and I love their work!
Pop Culture Principle – Will hardcore fans see any photos they haven’t seen before?
Benoit Clerc – I don’t think so, because many of these photographers made their own book, but all these photos in one book: that was our goal!
Pop Culture Principle – Looking back at putting this book together, what do you feel was the most difficult part about this book?
Benoit Clerc – The most difficult thing was to not forget a song. I hope it’s not the case. I read about a fan who is disappointed because “With This Tear”, written by Prince for Céline Dion, is missing. But Prince’s version is unreleased, some it doesn’t fit with the book. If there is an “Originals part. 2” album, so I’ll be happy to update the book!
Pop Culture Principle – Many hardcore Prince fans feel the book doesn’t offer anything new. What would you say to those hardcore fans that are on the fence about purchasing the book?
Benoit Clerc – I tried my best to find some information that no one knew before, for the fans to be happy. For example, I talked with Ophélie Winter about French sessions, some information about that could maybe please the fans. But you know, I talk everyday with French strictly hardcore fans, like Raphael Melki or Chak Odelika. These guys know EVERYTHING about Prince’s career, they saw him hundred of times in concert. They say to me “Benoit, even if the four hardcore fans don’t learn many things on your book, the thousands others will!” It’s the most important gift for me. But I hope fans will love it, nevertheless!
A big thank you to Benoît Clerc for taking the time to answer our questions. Prince: All the Songs: The Story Behind Every is available now online and in bookstores!