Prince Takes the ‘Witness’ Stand Three Different Times: 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.
"Witness 4 the Prosecution" is not one, but three of the most amazing songs to have leaked from Prince’s legendary vault, and those are just the mixes that have surfaced to date. As with many of the unreleased tracks that have circulated for decades, this song evolved over time and was slated for inclusion on more than one Prince album that never came to be.
The original track, recorded on March 27, 1986, at Prince’s Galpin Road home studio (according to PrinceVault), showcases one of Prince’s fiercest electric guitar solos to date. While Prince had blistering guitar solos in his work all the way back to “Bambi,” this was one of his most straight-up rock tracks. While the casual fan heralds Prince’s solo at the end of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction as one of the all-time greatest, fans know even more wicked solos exist in Prince’s take on the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” (heard on the iconic Small Club bootleg) and throughout The Undertaker EP and Chaos and Disorder album.
When Prince took off to France to film some additional scenes for Under the Cherry Moon, Wendy and Susanna Melvoin, Lisa Coleman and Eric Leeds, along with engineer Susan Rogers, turned the track into a gospel rave-up. You can almost picture them singing their thundering backing chorus from the jury box in the video. In the book, Prince: The Man and His Music, author Matt Thorne discusses at length Prince's relationship with arguably the most important women in his life at the time (plus Sheila E.), writing, "he could present these four women with a lyric in which he defends his obsessive behavior and ask them to finish it off while he was in France."
The trust Prince had in these women, and the significant contributions they made to his songwriting, arrangements and performances at the time, makes you wonder what could have been if he kept them in his life. Would the undisputed genius era (Dirty Mind through Sign O' the Times) have continued?
Both versions of "Witness" were earmarked for various incarnations of the triple album Dream Factory, that was eventually pared down to form Sign O’ the Times. On Oct. 7, 1998, a dozen years after the Revolution broke up, Prince’s website announced that the band would be releasing a new album, Roadhouse Garden, in 1999. The announcement immediately dashed hopes of a reunion with the words "the group needn't b 2gether 2 release an album." Thankfully, PrinceVault still has record of this announcement; when one fan later asked if the album would ever come out, Prince replied "That's a ? better posed 2 Wendy and Lisa at this stage." Wendy and Lisa to this day deny being approached to work on this project. Two of the tracks listed in the proposed Roadhouse Garden sequence, the title track and “Wonderful Ass,” were finally released in 2017 as part of Warner Bros.’ expanded Purple Rain reissue.
In an ominous sign of things to come, Prince completely deconstructed “Witness” for an Oct. 6, 1986, solo recording that was laid down a day before he officially disbanded the Revolution. Gone are the rousing voices of his close collaborators – along with the passion, the pain and especially the guitar heard in the original arrangements. In their place, a funkier jam that would reflect most of his work that would follow.
Version three even added some new lyrics, presumed by Thorne to distract from the likely fact Susanna was the subject of the song: “This is the story of two childhood sweethearts / Inseparable, til one broke the other one’s heart / She wants to leave him, but I would die first / Baby don’t leave me, I didn’t mean to hurt you, by heaven I swear…”
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