Whenever a performing artist passes away, there is a rush of interest in their music. Fans flood stores looking for a favorite album or their most recent album, suddenly making a mediocre record a best-seller (let’s call this “the Double Fantasy effect”). Its a phenomenon that may be as old as record stardom — Enrico Caruso continued to enjoy commercial success long after his passing with new recordings still making news into the late 30s.
Presently the treatment of unissued recordings is a central issue in the settlement of Prince’s estate. We have mixed feelings on the subject. As fans we’re eager to hear more recordings, but also as fans we respect that he may have chosen to set the recordings aside for a reason.
This past weekend we were listening to Marvin Gaye albums, including the first two which were released after he was murdered in April 1984. Some good songs came out on the albums. One of the best of these was “The World Is Rated X,” which appeared on the Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye LP but was first recorded for his ‘lost’ 1972 album You’re the Man.
Columbia Records, with whom Gaye had signed after his tumultuous split from Motown, and to whom he’d delivered the enormously successful Midnight Love in 1982, was first to capitalize on his passing with an album of unissued recordings. The album Dream of a Lifetime collected unissued material and contained the hit “Sanctified Lady,” partly covering Gaye’s debts at the time of his death. Motown’s album followed the next year and included material from as early as 1963. Many of the early recordings on Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye were overdubbed to feature a more contemporary drum sound (the so-called “fat snare’ sound of the era) and new backing vocals.