Prince Rages Against the Machine in ‘Golden Parachute': 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.
“Golden Parachute” was the fourth track on what is widely considered to be Prince’s 30th album, 2004's The Slaughterhouse. Subtitled Trax From NPG Music Club Volume Two, The Slaughterhouse is a collection of songs that were released sporadically as downloads in Prince’s pioneering online experience, the NPG Music Club.
The phrase “Golden Parachute” refers to the windfall executives get when they leave a company – regardless of their performance. While the song references Prince’s dispute with Warner Bros., it is primarily about Clive Davis, the music industry titan who worked with Prince immediately prior to getting ousted from Arista, the label Davis created.
Over a simple beat with jazzy flute and trumpet flourishes by Najee, Prince laments Davis’ fate, “Here's 50 million dollars, go and leave us alone / Do U wanna, do U wanna golden parachute?” In the next verse, Prince takes on the corporate beast itself, “In appreciation 4 all the creations we now own.”
Prince’s eulogy for Davis’ tenure, spoken from the point of view of the CEO, continues, “U brought us jazz, rhythm & blues, hip-hop, even soul / 2 own every piece of intellectual property - this is our goal.”
While seemingly reverential of Davis, the man who signed iconic artists ranging from Janis Joplin and Barry Manilow to Whitney Houston and Ministry, one can read some bitterness and bite into the lyric. When Davis signed Prince to a one-album deal to release Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic in 1999, he was hoping lightning would strike twice in the same year. When Rave came out, Santana’s Supernatural was the No. 1 album in the country, en route to selling 30 million copies worldwide. The album was credited at resurrecting Santana’s career, primarily through an infusion of fresh blood in the form of collaborators like Rob Thomas, Dave Matthews and Eric Clapton. The same formula would not work for Prince.
Davis brought Gwen Stefani, Chuck D, Eve, Sheryl Crow and Ani DiFranco into the studio, but none of the collaborations would yield a hit on par with Supernatural’s “Smooth." In Prince: The Man and His Music, recording engineer Hans-Martin “H.M.” Buff tells author Matt Thorne how Prince refused to take much of Davis’ advice for the record, going so far as to use Buff as the buffer between him and Davis. Buff recalls Davis rejecting a guitar solo on “Man'O'War," telling Prince that he would have difficulty getting in on urban radio. Prince responded with, “Well, I’m a guitar player.”
Soon after Rave’s disappointing run on the charts, peaking at No. 18 on the Billboard albums chart, Davis exited Arista with enough clout and capital to found a new label and continue a winning streak within the big machine that continues to this day. But Prince was so unhappy with Davis’ version of the album, he would release his own “remix” of the album, Rave In2 the Joy Fantastic, a few months later.
Prince closes out “Golden Parachute” by turning the spotlight back on himself, “17 years old, misled by so-called parachute / Down this cold road, into this web of deception.” He went on to self-release music for years, sporadically partnering with labels before reuniting with Warner Bros in the years before his death in 2016. According to Prince Vault, he only performed the song live once, at a July 2000 jam at Paisley Park.