Prince was alone in this room with this microphone when he recorded ‘Kiss’. Fortunately, he told engineer David Z about it, and he told Dan Delaney, who wrote a brilliant Mix magazine article about it:
1) ‘Kiss’ was originally a country song. Prince recorded it on cassette and gave it to a band he was developing. They were called Maserati. The tape was just a verse and chorus with Prince singing and playing acoustic guitar. Maserati weren’t impressed.
2) The band worked on the track for a day, trying to make it work. They still weren’t impressed.
3) Early the next morning, Prince came into the studio and listened to what they’d done. He recorded the electric guitar part and his vocal. Then he threw the band out of the studio and stripped off most of what they’d recorded.
4) Like ‘When Doves Cry’, ‘Kiss’ has no bass line. Instead, the kick drum from a Linn 9000 is put through a backwards reverb patch on an AMS RMX 16, an early digital reverb.
5) There are just nine tracks of music and vocals on the record. It didn’t take long to mix.
6) Prince recorded the vocal in Studio B control room at Paisley Park studios, on a Sennheiser MD441 microphone. Why? Because Stevie Nicks had recommended it to him.
7) The record company were horrified by the track, saying it was too minimal, with no bass and no reverb. Prince was so powerful at the time that he forced Warner Brothers to put the record out, and it went to Number One in the US. That convinced him he was always right, and less than a decade later, he was walking round with ‘Slave’ written on his face.
UPDATE: NOVEMBER 2013: I just received this email from Duane Tudahl:
On Sunday April 28, 1985, Prince was recording the tracks “In All My Dreams” and “Evolsidog” at Sunset Sound in Studio 3, and David Z. and BrownMark were working on songs for Mazarati in Studio 2. “We were in the studios next to each other, checking each other’s progress,’ recalls engineer Susan Rogers. “And at some point they said that they needed a song. Prince stopped what he was doing, I remember this very clearly, he had a little boom box, a little pale green, Sharp one which he had to record ideas on, and he took it and an acoustic guitar to the next room, put it down, put in a blank cassette and he pressed record. On the acoustic guitar he then played "Kiss". It took a few minutes to get the lyrics; he recorded the guitar on one track and the vocals on the other track. He then took out the cassette and said: 'Here, finish this off.'"
“Prince gave us this straight version with just one verse, an acoustic guitar and voice, no rhythm’, explained David Z. ‘It was almost a folk song.”
“Nobody liked the song,’ recalled Mazarati member Tony Christian. ‘It sounded like a country version of something else.’
“I had that song for a long time,’ Prince would later claim. “Changed it around a lot.” The lyrics about confidence and extra time reflected Prince’s affection for Joni Mitchell’s track “Jericho”.
The song was transferred to 24 track and engineer Coke Johnson went to work. “I took that to studio 2’, recalled Johnson. ‘We started fiddling around with it. We used the same changes, but instead of using that acoustic guitar, we ended up gating that guitar and the hi-hat. That is the weird sound you’re hearing. It’s playing the same rhythm the hi-hat’s doing, but it’s doing the changes the acoustic guitar did. That is one of the biggest hooks with it. David thought of the idea, and I hooked up the gate. He was flipping the switch to throw the delay in and out, and actually created that sound for ‘Kiss’.”
Musically, the piano part was lifted from Bo Diddley’s 'Say Man,' and the backup vocals from Brenda Lee's 'Sweet Nothings.' Terry Casey’s vocals were added and most of the band left after 11pm. David Z., BrownMark, Johnson and Tony Christian stayed until the following morning adding depth to the song.
The following morning David Z. wasn’t happy with the results. “We were trying to build a song out of nothing, piece by piece. It was just a collection of ideas built around the idea of a song that wasn't finished yet. We didn't know where it was going. We were getting a little frustrated, and we were exhausted.”
Eventually, the results were revealed. Coke recalled the reaction. “We played it for Prince, who went ballistic, went out to the basketball court playing it loud on the ghetto blaster. He pretty much said: ‘This is too good for Mazarati.’ It pissed us off as we had been up all night working on it.”
Prince took the tape back into Studio 3 and began making his own changes. He quickly eliminated BrownMark’s bass (“It fills up the bottom so much you really don't miss the bass part, especially if you only use it on the first downbeat,” says Z.) and added the James Brown/Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag style electric guitar riff as well as his vocals, which he recorded an octave higher than Terry’s. David Z. asked him what was going on and Prince confirmed his earlier position on the song. “He said to me, ‘this is too good for you guys. I'm taking it back.’”
The track was completed on Monday April 29, 1985.
11 years later, Prince reflected on the song’s origin, but ignored the input from those in the studio. “You go to a higher plane (of creativity) with that. “’Kiss’ doesn’t sound like anything else. They aren’t conscious efforts; you just have to get them out. They’re gifts. Terence Trent D’Arby asked me where “Kiss” came from, and I have no idea. Nothing in it makes sense. Nothing! The hi-hat doesn’t make sense.”
In the end, the basic song was written by Prince, but without David Z., Coke Johnson, and BrownMark, the track probably wouldn’t have gone to #1 on the charts.
It would be the first (and possibly only) Prince track that he shared ‘co-producer’ credit with anyone, which reflects how much he respected the work done without his input.
(Info from early draft of PRINCE: The Studio Sessions by Duane Tudahl)