Categories
Ephemera, 1981-1982

Horny Toad

“Horny Toad” works as a self-aware riff on Prince’s carefully-cultivated reputation as a pervert.

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).

© Warner Bros.

Here’s the thing, though: I kind of love “Horny Toad.” I love it in spite of the fact that it’s barely over two minutes long and comprised almost exclusively of spare parts from other Prince songs: the shuffling Linn LM-1 beat from “Delirious,” the adenoidal scream from “Jack U Off,” and a bouncy synthesizer line interpolated from “You’re All I Want.” I love it because I’m a sucker for Prince’s rockabilly/jump blues genre studies, of which this is a shining example. And I definitely love it for its daffy lyrical premise, which strikes me as an oblique reference to that other kind of Prince, the Prince Charming of fairy tale cliché. Like the protagonist of “The Frog Prince,” this Prince is looking for a kiss–or, more accurately, for the chance to “rub your body / Until you start to bleed.” But where true love’s kiss will transform the former back into his handsome human form, the latter has no interest in changing his ways: “I don’t love you,” he croons, “I’m just a horny toad.” In the end, the woman he’s seduced doesn’t seem to mind: she (at least in Prince’s febrile imagination) kicks her old boyfriend to the curb and shacks up on a “lily pad” with him.

Even if the fairy tale parallels weren’t deliberate, “Horny Toad” still works as a self-aware riff on Prince’s carefully-cultivated reputation as a pervert. In the first verse, he’s making obscene phone calls; in the second (quoted above), he’s promising frotteurism so abrasive it will break the skin; in the third, he’s threatening to “come right to your door… knock all day ‘til you let me in / And then… knock some more.” It’s a darker, more pathological variation on the sexually-obsessed character of songs like “Dirty Mind” and the aforementioned “Jack U Off,” and it may even be disturbing if it weren’t so obviously tongue-in-cheek. As it is, it’s hard to find much genuine menace in the song after you’ve heard an arena full of women react to the line, “the more you scream, the nastier I get,” pilfered to excellent effect during performances of “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” on the Purple Rain tour. He may be a horny toad, but they like him that way.

(This post has been slightly updated to reflect the release of “You’re All I Want” on 1999 Super Deluxe.)

“Horny Toad”
Amazon / Spotify / TIDAL

Zach

By Zach

Recovering academic. Music writing at Slant, Spectrum Culture, and elsewhere. Founder and editor, Dystopian Dance Party. Tweets @zchoskins.

Leave a Reply