Prince Track by Track Presents Stevie Wonder Classics: “Big Brother”

Prince Track by Track Presents Stevie Wonder Classics: “Big Brother”

(Featured Image: Crowd scene from 1984, Michael Anderson, 1956; © Criterion Collection.)

Another short diversion before the next post on “Don’t Let Him Fool Ya”–here’s me again slightly outside my comfort zone, talking to Darren Husted about Stevie Wonder’s mid-’70s “classic era”:

Prince Track by Track Presents Stevie Wonder Classics: “Big Brother”

See you Thursday.

Now on Patreon: Lust U Always

Now on Patreon: Lust U Always

(Featured Image: “The Nightmare,” Henry Fuseli, 1781.)

Note: This post will be available exclusively to patrons for about a week, after which you will be able to read the full version here. Below, for now, is a small taste. Please be advised that both the excerpt and the full post contains frank and uncensored discussion of lyrics which explicitly reference sexual assault.

There are any number of reasons why Prince may have left a given song in the Vault. There were, of course, the basic limitations of recorded media formats: by 1982, Prince was producing more music than could possibly be accommodated on two 12-inch sides of vinyl–hence why 1999 ended up as a double album, and why his singles increasingly came backed with non-LP B-sides. There were instances where a certain song may have been deemed too similar to another that ended up making the cut on the album: see, for example, “Turn It Up,” which is believed to have been left off 1999 in favor of “Delirious.” There was also an even simpler explanation, per Prince himself: “If any track is unreleased, it’s because it’s not done,” he reportedly told Dan Piepenbring, the coauthor of his unfinished memoir, in 2016 (Prince 2019 16).

The particular song Prince was discussing with Piepenbring was “Extraloveable,” a widely-bootlegged track recorded at the beginning of April 1982 and not officially released until 2011. Taking Prince at his word that the song wasn’t “done” until Andy Allo rapped on it, I won’t be writing about it until we get to that point in our chronology; however, I will posit a theory that there was another reason why it didn’t see the light of day. As anyone who’s heard the original version can attest, the song takes a turn in the last minute and a half or so. After six minutes of gently cajoling the listener to take a bath with him, Prince suddenly becomes menacing: “I’m on the verge of rape,” he grunts, repeating himself for good measure. A blast of discordant synthesizer noise takes over the mix, as if the song itself has begun to malfunction. “I’m sorry,” Prince intones in his detached android voice over the ongoing din, “but I’m just gonna have to rape you. Now are you going to get into the tub, or do I have to drag you? Don’t make me drag you.”

Prince was obviously no stranger to aberrant expressions of sexuality at this point in his career: on “Horny Toad,” as we’ve discussed, he’d imagined himself as an obscene phone caller, a groper, and a stalker; perhaps most notably, “Sister” described an incestuous relationship of dubious consent. But the former song was obviously played for laughs, while the latter crucially depicted Prince as the victim of abuse, not the perpetrator. Interrupting an exuberant, sexy frolic to outright threaten sexual violence was clearly a bridge too far, even in the thick of Prince’s “Rude Boy” era. Which makes it all the more surprising that he did it again with another unreleased track recorded in the same year, “Lust U Always.”

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Horny Toad

Horny Toad

(Featured Image: Engraving of “The Frog King,” a.k.a. “The Frog Prince,” from a presumably 19th- or early-20th-century edition of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales; artist unknown.)

August 17, 1983: “Delirious” is released as the third U.S. single (and fourth worldwide) from 1999, an album nearly 10 months in the rearview mirror. Two weeks ago to the day, Prince and his newly-christened band the Revolution had played an epochal show at First Avenue in Minneapolis, where they debuted five songs (three of them master recordings) from his upcoming sixth album, Purple Rain. In less than a year’s time, the album would come out and achieve a level of commercial success which would make Prince’s previous breakout hit, the Number 6 single “Little Red Corvette,” look like a mere prologue. But for now, he’s in victory lap mode: riding the coattails of “Corvette”’s success with a second Top 10 hit, backed by a soundalike B-side recorded in his Kiowa Trail home studio the previous summer.

That B-side, “Horny Toad,” does not rank among Prince’s most renowned work. It’s rarely even singled out as one of the best tracks on The Hits/The B-Sides–the collection where, I’m willing to wager, most contemporary listeners first heard it. The closest thing to an official accolade I can find is its bottom-100 placement on the 500 Prince Songs blog (which seems about right)–unless, that is, you count a 2016 shout-out from Wired magazine’s Brian Raftery, who calls it “rollickingly stupid” (also correct).

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Prince Track by Track Presents Stevie Wonder Classics: “Keep on Running”

Prince Track by Track Presents Stevie Wonder Classics: “Keep on Running”

(Featured Image: Back cover of Music of My Mind, © Motown Records.)

I took a much-needed break from both externally- and self-imposed work on Monday and spent all day yesterday catching up, which means I’m tardy in sharing my latest appearance on Darren Husted’s miniseries of track by track podcasts on the “classic era” of Stevie Wonder. So, for those who are interested, here it is now:

Prince Track by Track Presents Stevie Wonder Classics: “Keep On Running”

For those who aren’t interested–and just simply for everyone’s information–a quick update: “Horny Toad” will be up on the blog tomorrow, with “Lust U Always” (the winner of our Patreon poll) following for patrons on Friday. If you want to read the post on this still-controversial track a week ahead of the general public, consider supporting dance / music / sex / romance on Patreon. I know things got inexcusably quiet in October, but I have some good stuff planned from now through the holidays:

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In any case, thanks as always for reading!