(Featured Image: “This one goes to 11”; Nigel Tufnel’s custom Marshall stack in This is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner, 1984. © MGM Home Entertainment.)

Along with the Time tracks and “International Lover,” Prince also cut a few orphan songs at Sunset Sound in mid-January 1982. The first, “You’re All I Want,” was recorded on January 16: the day after an unreleased Time song called “Colleen,” and three days before “Wild and Loose.” The recording has never leaked into wide circulation, though Prince Vault reports that its synth line would later be repurposed for the 1983 B-side “Horny Toad.” Prince reportedly gave a tape to Sunset Sound engineer Peggy McCreary as a birthday present; later, the song would reemerge (retitled “U’re All I Want”) as a potential track for his and Eric Leeds’ jazz fusion project Madhouse.

The second orphan had a shorter, but arguably more fruitful history. Prince recorded “Turn It Up” on January 20, the day after “Wild and Loose”; it was the second-to-last track he recorded in Los Angeles before resuming the Controversy tour in Richmond, Virginia. And, while it also hasn’t received an official release at the time of this writing, it is in circulation as a bootleg: quite possibly the most widely-heard 1999-era outtake this side of “Moonbeam Levels.”

Joni Mitchell’s “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio,” a likely influence on “Turn It Up”; © Asylum Records.

As simplistic as it is irresistibly catchy, “Turn It Up” feels like a spontaneous creation; one gets the sense that it didn’t take the artist much longer to record than it took to write. The song opens with a false start, as a single bar of Prince’s rhythm guitar gives way to the Linn LM-1’s insistent kick drum, snare, and claps. An undulating bass synth leads into the main keyboard line: another of Prince’s synthesizers–most likely the ever-popular Oberheim OB-X–doing its best impression of a Farfisa organ on a ’60s garage rock track. That synth hook proceeds to drive the rest of the song, with Prince’s vocals mimicking its sing-song melody throughout. Even the “chorus” is less a distinct part of the song than a frequently-repeated chunk of verse: “Turn it up, turn it up, baby / Come and play with my controls / Turn it up, turn it up, baby / Work me like a radio.”

Given Prince’s longstanding affection for Joni Mitchell, it seems reasonable to assume that her 1972 single “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” was a source of inspiration for his own entry in the volume-control-as-extended-sexual-metaphor canon. But Mitchell’s song was steeped in irony: asked by her label to deliver a “radio-friendly” song, she’d planted her tongue firmly in cheek and written a song from the perspective of an actual horny radio. Prince, by contrast, dives into “Turn It Up” with impressive sincerity and single-minded intensity, as if “horny radio” was the role he’d always dreamed of playing.

The first version of “Turn It Up” (labeled “#1” on most bootleg compilations) goes nowhere in its three minutes and 40 seconds, but it has fun getting there. Prince runs through an undifferentiated cluster of chorus/verse, modulating his vocals from a simple plea (“My signal’s gettin’ kinda weak”) to an exaggerated simper (“Work it ’til my clothes are wet”) to a deranged shriek (“I wanna drown in your body’s sweat”). Then he lays back and lets the arcade-game synth-bass take over, uttering a few masturbatory hisses and gasps before starting the whole sequence anew. A few subtle elaborations–siren-like sustained synthesizers in the first half, a serrated-edge rhythm guitar line and ping-ponging phased keyboards in the second–play against the repetitiveness of the song’s structure. After the fourth repetition of the chorus (such as it is), Prince finally breaks the loop with a dramatic, half-spoken bridge: “Come on baby, what’s it gonna be? / Are you gonna do it or are you gonna leave it up to me? / Are you gonna stop? Are you gonna drop? / Kiss me! Kiss me!” A piercing gospel scream brings the song to its climax–followed, of course, by one more go-around on the chorus.

1981 publicity photo; © Warner Bros., stolen from Lansure’s Music Paraphernalia.

Presumably all too conscious of the song’s simplicity–or maybe just preparing for a 12″ mix that would never happen–Prince appended another minute and a half or so to mix up the formula, labeled on most bootlegs as “Turn It Up #2.” This “extended” section doesn’t add anything essential to the song, necessarily; it’s more like a cooldown, telegraphed by Prince’s self-command “Now turn it down!” A few snatches of relaxed guitar soloing melt into a new, vamping synth line and “Oh, ditty-whop” backing vocals–a contented, post-coital sigh. But Prince can’t resist a final display of stamina: building the song back to its original riff one last time before dropping it abruptly, leaving only a treated Linn beat that resembles a funky dripping faucet.

According to Prince Vault, “Turn It Up” was originally planned for inclusion on Prince’s fifth studio album, 1999. Given the proximity of its recording to several of the songs from What Time is It? and its undemanding midrange vocal melody (complete with a spoken-word breakdown!), I also wouldn’t be surprised if it was considered for Morris Day to sing; it certainly would have made as strong a Time song as something like “Onedayi’mgonnabesomebody.” In the end, however, it became another worthy victim of Prince’s own prolificacy: reportedly taken out of contention for 1999 after he’d recorded another unrelentingly autoerotic synthpop earworm, “Delirious.”

“Turn It Up” (Original Recording) YouTube
“Turn It Up” (Extended Version) YouTube