(Featured Image: “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” (“蛸と海女”), Hokusai, 1814.)

Of the three Vanity 6 songs originally recorded for the Hookers project in mid-1981, “Wet Dream” sets itself apart in a few key ways. First, unlike “Make-Up” and “Drive Me Wild,” it isn’t a hard proto-techno dance track, but a glistening synthpop confection in the “Private Joy” vein. And second, rather than Susan Moonsie, it features vocals by Denise Matthews–better known as the woman who put the “Vanity” in Vanity 6.

The singer on the original Hookers version of “Wet Dream” isn’t documented. Prince Vault assumes Jamie Shoop, which is as good a guess as any; it’s also possible that Prince simply laid down his own guide vocals, or cut the basic track as an instrumental. But whatever the specifics, he returned to the song in the spring of 1982 to add vocal overdubs by Vanity and Brenda Bennett. The results, like most Vanity vocal tracks, were mixed.

Vanity belts it out on Solid Gold, 1982; photo by Ron Wolfson.

Vanity often gets a raw deal from Prince fans for her limited vocal abilities, which is a fair but largely irrelevant criticism: she was chosen to lead the group for her firecracker personality, bedroom eyes, and ability to fill out a lace camisole, not for her powerhouse pipes. The trouble is that Prince wasn’t always good at selecting material that played to her strengths. Vanity sounds great purring seductively over a Linn LM-1 on “Nasty Girl”; she sounds significantly less great, however, belting out a conventional pop melody on “He’s So Dull” or “Wet Dream.” Still, both she and Prince do what they can with what they’ve got–including, in the latter’s case, bringing in the more conventionally gifted Brenda to help fill out the chorus.

One area where “Wet Dream” surpasses the other extant Hookers songs is in its ability to convincingly emulate a woman’s subjectivity–a trick Prince pulls off by simply swapping the genders on one of his own patented sexual-frustration anthems. The character Vanity plays here is a lot like the one Prince plays on songs like “When You Were Mine” and “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)”: a lovelorn neurotic, hopelessly hung up on “the number one star of [her] wet dream.” Because this is familiar territory for Prince, “Wet Dream” feels more emotionally authentic than the fembot sex talk of “Drive Me Wild” or the vampiric hooker patter of “Nasty Girl.” It’s even a little refreshing to hear a song about unrequited lust from a woman’s perspective–though the idea that Vanity, of all people, would have any trouble getting her lust requited strains credulity.

Of course, this being a Prince song, “Wet Dream” makes sure that we inhabit Vanity’s body as well as her mind: the opening line, “My lips start shaking when I see him walking down the street,” isn’t talking about the lips you can see on her face. Later, “I know he could deliver the dam to the river anytime” stands out as arguably Prince’s clumsiest reference to female sexual arousal since the For You album. By the middle of the song, when a thunderstorm sound effect shows up in a particularly horny example of the pathetic fallacy, it’s all started to feel like a bit much; we get it, Prince, she’s wet!

More oddly, “Wet Dream” shares with the Time’s “After Hi School” a nostalgic teenage theme. Vanity’s object of desire is the only one of the “boys at school” she wants to meet; at one point, she even time travels back to the 1950s with a “soda shop” reference. These high-school lyrics would make more sense if the allegedly underage Susan were singing; but even with a few years shaved off her actual age by Prince’s publicity machine, Vanity was being marketed as 19 years old. Her girlish persona here is difficult to square with the clearly adult woman behind “Nasty Girl,” and suggests that Prince’s original concept for the Hookers was even more overt in its “barely-legal” undertones.

Vanity 6 (L to R: Brenda, Vanity, Susan), circa 1983; photo stolen from Lansure’s Music Paraphernalia, © Warner Bros.

“Wet Dream” wasn’t released as a single–most likely because commercial radio would have balked at a song with that title in 1982. That’s a shame; with its airy synths and hummable melody, it’s the kind of song one could imagine Madonna having a hit with a few years later. Certainly, Prince seemed to recognize some unmet potential in “Wet Dream”: later the same year, he recorded another track, “Wet Dream Cousin”–named for its similar sound, not for any return to “Sister”-style incest themes–for possible inclusion on a second Vanity 6 album.

In many ways, “Cousin” cuts to the core of the original “Wet Dream”’s appeal: no iffy vocals, no awkward lyrics, just a bouncy drum machine rhythm and a keyboard line that sounds like it’s made out of clouds. Maybe that’s why Prince ultimately left it unfinished; adding words and melody would have just gotten in the way of the song’s swirling, psychedelic synthesizers. “Wet Dream Cousin” would be briefly considered for a potential Madhouse album in 1989, before being returned to the Vault forever: a weird, wonderful little nugget of instrumental pop perfection.

“Wet Dream” (Vanity 6, 1982) YouTube
“Wet Dream Cousin” (Unreleased, 1982) YouTube

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