How ‘Rockhard in a Funky Place’ Finally Found a Home: 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.
On Oct. 28, 1986, Prince recorded a slinky, horn-heavy song named "Rockhard in a Funky Place." It would spend the next 14 months lined up for release on three shelved albums -- and then vanish (legally speaking, anyway) for another seven years.
The song's distinctive horn line was crafted by saxophonist Eric Leeds. "It’s just the melody of a song of mine called ‘Pacemaker,'" he told the Prince Podcast. "Prince wanted this line for 'Rockhard in a Funky Place,' and I think I had it half done. He wanted something that was really out there. So I kind of completed the line for that."
Leeds says he was inspired by the '60s avant-garde jazz pioneer Eric Dolphy. "This cat was, like, really out there. He was an early influence on me. So I said, 'OK, I'm gonna try to be Eric Dolphy for a minute. It was very angular, almost a mathematical kind of thing. For every time the line went up, I wanted to turn it around and have it come down in a similar fashion, interval-wise."
"Rockhard" was originally slated – along with tracks such as "Housequake" and "Strange Relationship" – for Camille, an album that found Prince pitch-shifting his voice while adopting the titular pseudonym's female personality.
Scheduled for an early 1987 release, Camille was instead merged with Dream Factory, a double album Prince had been compiling with the Revolution, to create the triple-disc Crystal Ball. However, his label balked at the scope of this project -- and by some minor miracle, Prince actually took their advice.
"We decided that if he eliminated some things we didn't think were as strong, we would have a much better album," former Warner Bros. CEO Mo Ostin told Billboard. "Actually [longtime Warner Bros. president] Lenny [Waronker] had a conversation with him, and he went along with it." The resulting trimmed-down double album Sign O' the Times was an undisputed masterpiece, but did not include "Rockhard in a Funky Place."
The song - at least part of it - did come along for the accompanying tour, though. Leeds' horn line can be heard at the tail end of "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" in the Sign O' the Times concert film.
Suddenly eager to re-connect with longtime fans frustrated by his recent crossover success, Prince pushed past another round of label objections, nixed plans to tour in support of Sign O' the Times in the United States, and instead scheduled the dance-heavy, darkly themed The Black Album for release just nine months after Times. "Rockhard in a Funky Place" was finally going to get its day in the sunshine.
And then, just as quickly and for reasons that we may never fully understand, Prince cancelled the release plans, personally paying for the destruction over over 500,000 copies of the album. While it was quickly and widely available as a bootleg, it would be seven more years before he conceded to the album's official release - most likely as part of his long battle to be released from his contract with Warner Bros.
Leeds, who says he still plays 'Pacemaker' live with his current group LP Music, seems completely unfazed by the long road "Rockhard" took to get legally released. "It was more of an exercise than anything else. Prince was really open to that kind of stuff, I was just very fortunate that he gave me those opportunities."