Ingrid Chavez – Heaven Must Be Near
Prince, unlike his superstar contemporaries, has consistently written amazing songs for other artists. Whilst some of his collaborations were a case of great songs but with less than stellar talent performing them, many were given to some genuinely talented singers, notably I Feel For You by Chaka Khan, Manic Monday by the Bangles, Love…Thy Will Be Done by Martika and The Glamorous Life by Sheila E. That’s one hell of a list of amazing pop gems.
However, one of his most experimental and least known collaborations was with Ingrid Chavez on her album May 19, 1992.
The story goes that Prince first met Ingrid in a Minneapolis nightclub soon after recording his legendary Black Album. She told him he should smile more and it was this brief encounter that made him re-evaluate his musical direction, shelve the Black Album and record the spiritual Lovesexy instead.
Ingrid – a poet and songwriter – became something of a muse to Prince during his most spiritual phase. Ingrid was ‘The Spirit Child’ speaking at the start of the Lovesexy album and was co-lead in the deliriously awful, but must-see 1990 Graffiti Bridge movie, playing the character of Aurora. Unsurprisingly it’s heavily hinted at that she is in fact an angel.
It was inevitable then that some form of musical collaboration was on the cards, but this was not another instance of Prince dredging some of his sex synth pop songs from out of his vault; this was to be a genuine artistic collaboration with Ingrid’s poems set to Prince’s music.
Now, spoken word pop songs are few and far between, and with good reason – they’re invariably awful – but there’s something beautiful about Ingrid’s voice and spiritual lyrics set against some of Prince’s most subtle production work. And the standout song is the glorious Heaven Must Be Near.
Originally planned as a full single release, with a promo video (one I dreamily re-enact whenever I play this song when wandering in the park btw), it slipped out as a promo single in the UK late in 1992. Prince had written the music and produced Heaven Must Be Near a few years earlier, with Ingrid’s spoken word parts lifted from her poetry readings. The song includes a repeated phrase of Ingrid stating “Clap your hands, stomp your feet” sampled from Lovesexy‘s opening track Eye No. It’s a dreamy, gorgeous thing, piano and synth drum led, gradually adding orchestral and additional instrumentation as the song builds (including some trademark Prince rhythm guitar at 2.20). Most notable throughout is Prince’s subtle production and vocal effects on the chorus, pre-dating and clearly influencing That’s The Way Love Goes by Janet Jackson by a good few years.
If the whole composition sounds strangely familiar, one mention of Madonna’s Justify My Love should immediately set bells of recognition ringing – especially when you learn that Chavez and Lenny Kravitz co-wrote that very song during the filming of Graffiti Bridge. Recorded after but released before Heaven Must Be Near, Ingrid was uncredited at the time but received an out-of-court settlement many years later.
Unsurprisingly, Warners Brothers balked at the idea of an album with no singing, insisting Ingrid add her vocals to some tracks. Prince refused, wanting to stay true to his vision, but for once, didn’t get his own way and subsequently abandoned the project altogether.
Despite Prince’s involvement, a trippy, dreamy album of poetry set to music was always going to be a hard sell, and the singles and album sold modestly at best. The disagreements over the album led to Ingrid Chavez eventually leaving the Prince camp. She has, however, always shown deep affection for the album and those Paisley Park days. Ingrid was later to meet (and subsequently marry) another musical great in the form of David Sylvian, and she has continued to record, creating a fascinating body of work which I would urge everyone to check out.
Heaven Must Be Near stands proud as a unique pop single, its beautiful strangeness sounding as wonderfully out of time now as it did back in the nineties.
Entered chart: was not released.
Who could speak this today and have a hit? The song is unique. I think for once, no one else could do it justice.