Entertainment & Arts

Rare Prince album surfaces in Canada

Prince in concert Image copyright PA
Image caption The Black Album was one of the most-bootlegged albums of the 1980s

A rare copy of Prince's Black Album - one of the most sought-after vinyl records of all time - has been discovered in Canada.

Conceived as hard funk riposte to his pop persona, and containing some of the star's darkest lyrics, the album was slated for release in 1987 before Prince had a "spiritual epiphany" and demanded it be destroyed.

Five pristine copies surfaced in the US last year, with one selling for $42,298 (£31,500). Now another edition, only the ninth in existence, has been found.

It was owned by a former record pressing plant employee in Canada, who held on to a copy of the album when Prince's record label, Warner Bros, pulped the record.

After hearing about the sums fetched by previous copies, he contacted Jeff Gold, a former Warner Bros executive vice president who worked with Prince in the 1990s, and now runs the music memorabilia store Record Mecca.

"I know a lot about Prince collectibles," Gold tells the BBC. "So I was like, 'How could you have a Canadian one? Such a thing doesn't exist!'"

But his interest was piqued.

Gold, who sold the US variants of The Black Album earlier this year, inspected the record in person and undertook considerable research to establish its authenticity; and is now helping the owner sell the disc through the online marketplace Discogs.

As the record has been played several times, it isn't expected to sell for the same price as the sealed US versions - but it is still eye-wateringly expensive at $27,500 (£20,600).

"There are a lot of very, very serious Prince collectors and supply is greatly exceeded by demand," says Gold. "I think it'll sell quickly."

Image copyright Jeff Gold
Image caption The only-known Canadian copy of The Black Album, plus (bottom-left) artwork from the limited edition 1994 CD release

The Black Album was planned as Prince's 16th studio album, and a follow-up to 1987's Sign 'O' The Times.

It was apparently recorded, at least in part, for his percussionist Sheila E's birthday party - and tracks like Le Grind and Superfunkycalifragisexy are appropriately funky, off-the-cuff party jams.

Other songs are more sinister - notably Bob George, in which Prince plays a gun-wielding psychopath who accuses his girlfriend of having an affair with... Prince ("that skinny [expletive] with the high voice").

The record was scheduled for release in December 1987 but with just a week to go, Prince had second thoughts - allegedly after an experience with Ecstasy.

He ordered that the album be destroyed and Warner Bros complied - just as they had months earlier, when the star asked them to release the record with no name and no cover art in a plain black sleeve.

"It was a top security release," says Gold. "There was no single, there was no video, there was no announcement. Nobody knew it was coming. So because of that, there was a lot of security around it in the pressing plants.

"So when Prince decided it could not come out, it was relatively easy for the people at Warner Bros to say, 'Alright, destroy every one'. And I mean every single one.

"Prince footed the bill for that. He paid for over half-a-million copies to be destroyed out of his own royalties."

Prince warned fans off the album in the video for his next single, Alphabet Street - where a message scrolled across the screen reading: "Don't buy The Black Album, I'm sorry."

But the temptation was too great and album became one of the most bootlegged records of all time.

"I was working at a different record label when it came out; and everybody was calling people they knew at Warner Bros to try and get a bootleg. It was a very hot commodity," recalls Gold, who managed to get a copy on cassette.

Prince eventually relented and allowed Warner Bros to release the album as a limited edition CD in 1994, but it is long out-of-print and has never been released on vinyl - making it a highly sought-after item amongst collectors.

But Gold says there's another "lost" Prince album that could attract even higher prices.

"There's a test pressing of an album called Camille that he made for himself - it wasn't a thing Warner Bros made," he says.

There are thought to be just 17 copies of the album - which sees the star adopting a feminine alter-ego - in existence.

One copy was sold last October, fetching $59,000 (£44,000).

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