Meet Prince’s Short-Lived Pre-Revolution Rock Band, the Rebels: 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
Prince is primarily remembered as a solo artist, but if you ask fans to list all the bands he’s been in, it might take a while. There was Prince and the Revolution, the New Power Generation and 3rdEyeGirl, plus his jazz offshoot Madhouse, and the fact he played almost every note, including guide vocals, on albums by the Time, Vanity 6 and Apollonia 6. While Prince recorded most of these pop, funk and soul projects in Minneapolis or Los Angeles, he was also in a rock band, the Rebels, which briefly recorded together in Colorado.
The Rebels came together in the summer of 1979, with the other participants hailing from an early incarnation of the Revolution: Matt Fink and Gayle Chapman (keyboards), Bobby Z (drums), André Cymone (bass) and Dez Dickerson (guitar). Unlike the day gig, this band wouldn’t place Prince front and center. Everyone could contribute songs or take the lead.
In the book The Rise of Prince: 1958-1988, Alex Hahn discusses the likely reason the Rebels project took place soon after Prince’s self-titled sophomore album was recorded, “The next task was to improve the strength and cohesiveness of Prince’s live band so that Warners would authorize a tour in support of the second album.” Rather than rehearse the Prince songs, Prince wanted to create new work and perhaps a new project to present to the label.
According to PrinceVault, the 12-day session at Mountain Ears Sound Studio in Boulder, Colo. (July 10-21, 1979) yielded nine songs. Dickerson wrote and sang lead on “Too Long,” “Disco Away,” and an instrumental. Cymone wrote and sang lead on “Thrill You or Kill You," revisited from a session earlier in the year, plus an instrumental. Prince contributed three songs, “You," “If I Could Get Your Attention" and “The Loser,” but gave the spotlight to Chapman for lead vocals.
The final track, “Hard to Get," was co-written by Prince and Cymone; the pair also share lead vocals. The guitar heavy jam, closer to Foghat than Funkadelic, was by far the most brazen and interesting song in the set. Matt Thorne, author of the definitive career-spanning book, Prince: The Man and His Music, also notes the song’s new wave influences, “’Hard to Get’ is the most new-wave song, seemingly written under the inspiration of the Cars’ Candy-O album, which was released a month before the Rebels went into the studio.” Prince eventually worked the Cars’ hit “Let’s Go" into his live sets.
“Although the nine Rebels songs are cherished by collectors, the album was never released,” said Thorne, “But unlike many of Prince’s abandoned and unreleased side projects, this is a finished project, and as such is essential to understanding Prince’s early development.” Others involved with the project were much less impressed. “He wanted to try this punk rock, new wave thing with the Rebels because he was too afraid to do that within the Prince realm. It was an experiment,” said Fink in an interview with Per Nilsen for the book DanceMusicSexRomance, “I actually thought it was a waste of time. I was bored with the whole thing while we were out there.”
A stripped-down “Hard to Get” was revisited in 1981 and remains unreleased. “You” eventually morphed into “U,” found on Paula Abdul’s 1991 Spellbound album. “If I Love You Tonight," under two different Prince-stylized spellings, found its way onto albums by Mica Paris and Prince’s future wife, Mayte Garcia, who recorded it in English and Spanish. According to Nilsen, Prince used some of the studio time to work on an early version of “Head” that would make its way onto Dirty Mind the following year.