Retroactive Review: For You (1978)

For context, my mom was just a little over a year old when a 19, nearly 20-year-old Prince released his debut album, For You, on April 7th, 1978. I’m a full generation after Prince’s initial audience, and yet the talent won me over. Sometimes something (or someone) is considered classic for a reason, and talent always wins out in the end.

Six of the nine songs presented on this debut (“For You,” “Soft and Wet,” “Just as Long as We’re Together,” “Baby,” “My Love Is Forever,” and “I’m Yours”) were re-recorded, having originally been recorded as demos in 1976 and 1977 by Prince at his home studio. His efforts on this album would be largely overshadowed by everything that came later, but I think it’s worth noting just how much of a fully formed songwriter and musician Prince already was at such a young age, and so early on in his career. Only three more songs were recorded to fill out a 33-minute run time (“In Love,” “Crazy You,” and “So Blue”), and every instrument and vocal, as noted on the LP inner sleeve, was played/performed by Prince.

Warner Bros. strangely didn’t trust Prince, and had a studio mentor help overlook the recording sessions between October and December of ’77. Originally, they wanted Maurice White of Earth, Wind, and Fire to help produce the album, but Prince had his foot firmly planted, determined to produce it himself. It sounds ridiculous, but he wanted to prove he was already a master of his craft, at merely 19, on his debut album. The album didn’t chart well, peaking at a meager #163 on the Top 200, and only stayed on the charts for five weeks, but he proved he didn’t need someone breathing down his neck to bring the funk.

His soul roots are on full display on this album, fitting considering the time. Soul, funk, disco, it’s all here, and with quality pop melodies ingrained in them; foreshadowing the Purple One’s eclectic taste for bending and fusing genres. The songwriting and compositions are fairly conventional, sounding more like a standard late ’70s soul album, but as noted before, I believe that was the entire point. Prince didn’t have an audience yet, the label had someone supervising him, and he was searching for an identity. When searching for a starting point, you go with what you know, and in Prince’s case, it was funky synth-soul that he knew best.

The lyrics are personal, full of declarations of love and acceptance, and sex, of course. Prince did manage to include the racy single “Soft and Wet” on this album, which includes the legendary opening line, “Hey, lover, I got sugarcane/That I wanna lose in you, baby can you stand the pain,” which is really just scratching at the surface of Prince’s sexual appetite. That isn’t to say “Soft and Wet” is a bad song, it’s the one that stands out to most casual fans on this overlooked album, as it’s incredibly catchy, and has an impressive synth solo that showcases Prince’s musicianship, but as far as lewd content goes, Prince would go on deliver much better material.

The rest of the album isn’t remembered as fondly as “Soft and Wet,” and none of the lyrics come close to its sexual release, or even the “I really wanna play in your river,” line from “In Love.” During the late ’70s, I would imagine this album probably didn’t stand out too much from the pack, as it really does play out as a fairly safe, straightforward funky pop music album. Dozens of records released at or around the same time sounded a lot like this, although the falsetto that’s present on every song definitely stood out, not much else did. That’s not to disparage the rest of the album, as “Baby” is a strong showing for Prince’s compositional skills, and the lyrics are intriguing, dealing with the issues of fatherhood and young kids having children. “Just as Long as We’re Together” is an uptempo disco jam, “Crazy You” and its infectious water drums and somber acoustic guitar rhythm hypnotizes me every time I listen to it, but most of these songs, as stated earlier, were originally demos. This was likely the material Prince felt was the best representative of himself and the soul scene he was involved with at the time, also likely being the strongest tracks he had made up to this point of his young, still-forming career.

The label saw the lack of chart success, saw he didn’t even have a band, and decided, logically, that he would not be able to tour this album. The lack of a tour hurt promotion, and pressure started mounting to come back stronger after a disappointing first release. In time, the slow ballads and clichés of love and sex became more spiritual, his personality began to shine through the lyrics and music, but for now, he was simply gnawing at the door, waiting for the chance to show he was capable of so much more.

Almost 40 years later, it’s ludicrous for me to try to assign this album a rating. For You pales in comparison to the mammoth albums Prince would later release, but stands on its own as a simple, warm, loving album. Hindsight is 20/20, and no one is clamoring for critics to rewrite their initial mixed response to the record when it was released, but I do believe this album has, in time, improved its initial standing. It showcases how talented Prince was early on before the mainstream got to him, and how despite all the coverage, it was always for you; for us, the fans.

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