Prince's Early Albums Return to Streaming Services, Label Reveals Details of Deluxe 'Purple Rain' Reissue

Prince performs at the Fabulous Forum on Feb. 19, 1985 in Inglewood, Calif.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Prince performs at the Fabulous Forum on Feb. 19, 1985 in Inglewood, Calif. 

As expected, the bulk of Prince’s Warner Bros. catalog returned to streaming services today (Feb. 12), pegged to the tribute to the late artist on the Grammy Awards tonight, which sources tell Billboard will feature Bruno Mars performing with The Time. 

The most popular of Prince’s 19 core albums from his initial 1978-1996 stint with the label are now available to stream on Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, Amazon Prime, iHeartRadio and others, including Purple Rain, 1999, Sign O’ the Times, Controversy, Parade and Dirty Mind, along with hits collections; and songs like “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Kiss,” “Little Red Corvette,” “Raspberry Beret,” “When Doves Cry,” ”Batdance,” “Diamonds and Pearls,” “1999” and “Purple Rain.” 

Missing are three albums from later in that period -- The Black AlbumThe Gold Experience and Chaos and Disorder -- which are under a different contractual arrangement, along with a couple dozen remixes, extended versions and B-sides that are not featured on the Ultimate Prince or The Hits/The B-Sides compilations (like the nearly 22-minute-long version of "America"). Also included in the catalog are two albums from Prince 2014 deal with Warner, Art Official Age and Plectrum Electrum, the latter a collaboration with his backing group 3rd Eye Girl. (Interestingly, the nine-track 1988 Lovesexy album is presented as a single 45-minute-long song -- i.e. the album must be played in sequence, without a listener being able to skip songs -- as it is on its original CD release.) 

From July 2015 until today, the only streaming service to host Prince’s catalog was Tidal, stemming from an arrangement the artist made with the service that is currently in dispute. Representatives for the estate were displeased when Tidal released 15 previously unavailable albums on June 7 (Prince’s birthday) last year, claiming that the service had no right to do so -- one of many unsettled areas of the estate that are due to the artist’s apparent failure to leave behind a will and the overall disorder of his business affairs; the albums, including many later titles that are not part of today’s wide release, are still available on Tidal.

While Universal Music Group announced on Feb. 9 that it had inked a deal for 25 later Prince albums and unspecified unreleased material, apparently the label was not able to execute streaming deals in the brief window before the Grammys.

In a statement, Warner chairman/CEO Cameron Strang said: "Prince recorded his most influential and popular music during his time with Warner Bros. and we are deeply aware of our responsibility to safeguard and nurture his incredible legacy. Warner Bros. is thrilled to be able to bring Prince’s music to his millions of fans around the world via streaming services, fittingly on music's biggest night. We'd like to thank Prince's estate, Universal Music Publishing, the Grammy Awards and all of the streaming services for their great collaboration in making this landmark event possible.”

Strang also teased details of the long-promised Purple Rain deluxe edition, which was originally announced as a 30th anniversary release, with remastering overseen by Prince, in 2014 but is now due on June 9 -- the Friday after the artist's June 7 birthday, which he often celebrated with special concerts or releases. Strang promises “two incredible albums of previously unreleased Prince music and two complete concert films from the Paisley Park vault.”

Billboard’s attempts to pry further details from Warner were initially unsuccessful, but a bounty of strong unreleased songs exist from the Purple Rain era, including long-bootlegged tracks like “Electric Intercourse,” “G-Spot,” “Possessed” and “Wonderful Ass,” along with B-sides like “17 Days,” “God” and “Erotic City” and Prince-helmed material with The Time and Apollonia 6.

Equally tantalizing are the concert films, one of which is presumably the long out-of-print Prince and the Revolution Live, a concert filmed in March 1985 in Syracuse, N.Y., toward the end of the Purple Rain tour and released on video later that year.  

In the meantime, fans will have plenty of music to tide them over until June 9.