By the time The Gold Experience hit the shelves, in the autumn of 1995, Prince had already been promoting it for a year and a half – though not in the usual way. Rather than tell fans where they could buy the album, online posts came with “Release Date: Never!” warnings, while Prince explained that the only way to hear its songs would be to see him play them live. “From now on, Warner only gets old songs out of the vault,” he’d told Vibe magazine a couple of years earlier. “New songs we’ll play at shows. Music should be free, anyway.”
Listen to ‘The Gold Experience’ here[Linkfire].
“I’m going my way. Try and stop me”
Freedom was exactly what he had in mind when it came to The Gold Experience. Increasingly agitated at his record label’s reluctance to release new music as fast as he recorded it, Prince had changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol – dubbed “Love Symbol” – in 1993 as the first step towards extricating himself from his contract with Warner Bros. The second step was to prove he didn’t need any record label at all, resulting in a fractious public battle in which Prince claimed Warners were holding back his art.
Convincing the label to let him release The Most Beautiful Girl In The World – a soaring ballad with a heavenly falsetto that had no trouble holding its own in a golden era for R&B music – through his own NPG Records imprint on Valentine’s Day 1994, Prince scored his first UK No.1 single, and watched as the song raced into the upper echelons of the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B Singles charts in the US. “He did that prove to them that he doesn’t need them, they need him,” New Power Generation drummer Michael Bland told this author for the book Lives Of The Musicians: Prince. “These are the things that were involved with him finally saying, ‘I’m going my own way. Try and stop me.’”
Buoyed by the song’s success, he then pitched for Warner Bros to release two of his new albums on the same day – 7 June 1994, his 36th birthday and the one-year anniversary of his name change. Come would be a “Prince” record while The Gold Experience made credited to the “Love Symbol”. When the label opted to release only the former, to avoid the risk of splitting sales across two competing records by the same artist, Prince doubled down on the album which he felt truly represented him at the time.
“Do you hear this?”
Now making public appearances with the word “slave” written on his cheek in eyeliner, Prince took to the podium at the BRIT Awards in February 1995, to receive the Best International Male statuette. “Prince: best?” he questioned the audience, before adding, “The Gold Experience: better. In concert, perfectly free. On record, slave. Get wild. Come. Peace. Thank you.”
Less than two weeks later, he launched The Ultimate Live Experience tour: a month’s worth of shows throughout the UK and Europe, during which Prince unleashed many of The Gold Experience’s standout cuts. Setlists found the coruscating riffage of Endorphinmachine nestling next to the sultry slow jam Shhh, while fans, eager to hear the rest of the record, began leading chants in support of what had become, for Prince, a battle for ownership over his art. “Prince would turn around and look at us like, ‘Do you hear this?’” Michael Bland recalled.