(Featured Image: “The Nightmare,” Henry Fuseli, 1781.)
Note: Please be advised that this 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 had imagined himself as an obscene phone caller, a groper, and a stalker; perhaps most notably, “Sister” had 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.”
Where the original “Extraloveable” takes its time to go dark–hence its salvageability in the frothy 2011 and 2013 “Reloaded” remakes–“Lust U Always” feels from the start like the product of, in the words of biographer Matt Thorne, a “disturbed mental state” (Thorne 2016). A nervous, skittering Linn LM-1 beat sets the tone, ultimately cohering around a tentative, probing bassline. When the main riff comes in–punctuated with a raspier, more desperate variation on the gasp from the beginning of “Soft and Wet”–its de rigueur synthesizer is doubled by a sinister-sounding lead guitar. Lyrically, we’re in the familiar territory of Prince being overpowered by desire (cf. “Delirious,” “Dirty Mind,” hell, even the aforementioned “Soft and Wet”), but with an unmistakable malevolent undertone: “Touch me at your own risk,” he gulps, “I’m not responsible for anything I do.” On the chorus, over a nervy New Wave groove, his anxiety reaches a boiling point: “My analyst assured me that you were just a phase / But I just can’t stop this hunger, it’s been going on for days.”
Prince Vault pegs the “analyst” reference as a second-hand Joni Mitchell-ism, plucked from her 1974 cover of Annie Ross’ novelty jazz song “Twisted.” This seems likely–not only because Prince himself later recorded the song in 1998 and performed it a few times on the One Nite Alone… tour in 2002, but also because he uses the name “Joni” later in the song, during an unhinged monologue about a (probably) fictional “fourth grade teacher” whose “panty lines” he “wanted so bad to see.” Whether Mitchell would have been flattered by the homage is, to put it mildly, questionable; especially when, seconds before invoking her name, he barks out a line like, “My body reeks with lust, I will rape you if I must.”
Like the similar line in “Extraloveable,” Prince’s sudden intimation of violence feels oddly modulated: as if his hand had accidentally slipped while he was dialing up the “sexual menace” knob, sending the song lurching into unacceptable territory. By contrast, other parts of the aforementioned monologue could have come from the homologous breakdown in “Automatic,” with Prince dribbling erotic doggerel like, “Did you know that there was a little purple fire burnin’ in your eyes / I must admit for a moment it took my mind up off your thighs / Funny thing, but the thought of eating always makes me nauseous / If I think of eating food, your body is more what I had in mind / My darling, may I have a bite of you?” Later lines attempt to take the edge off with a reference to one of his recent musical manifestos: “That’s what purple music’s all about,” he croons, “I mean it ain’t rude, if you’re in the mood.” Which, fine, rape fantasies are some people’s kink; but that’s usually the kind of thing that comes with extensive, predetermined consent, not foisted upon an unsuspecting pop audience.
That Prince himself ultimately recognized as much seems to be the reason why both “Lust U Always” and the original version of “Extraloveable” stayed in the Vault–and, at least for the foreseeable future, will remain there, both tracks having been conspicuously left off the forthcoming deluxe reissue of 1999. Thorne argues that these songs–along with an early version of the Time’s “Jerk Out,” originally recorded in 1981, with disturbing lyrics about tying a woman up against her will–are evidence of the “relentless experimentation” with which Prince “constantly refine[d] his sexual persona; in this case, privately “indulging his more sadistic side.” The author writes that in order to write later, “brilliant explorations of sadomasochism” like “Computer Blue,” “Darling Nikki,” and “When Doves Cry”–a list to which I would also add more contemporaneous tracks like “Automatic” and “Lady Cab Driver”–“it’s easy to argue convincingly that he needed to visit these artistic extremes” (Thorne 2016). There’s also the possibility that he never intended to be the person singing these songs in the first place. Both “Extraloveable” and “Lust U Always” have been rumored to be Vanity 6 outtakes; having the more extreme lines come from a woman’s perspective would still have been problematic, of course, but it would at least have taken away some of their misogynistic bite. Nor would it have been the first time Prince used a female lyrical persona to threaten a (presumably) male subject with rape: see, for example, the Gayle Chapman-sung Rebels track “You.”
One argument that I simply won’t entertain, however, is that “Lust U Always” and “Extraloveable” are somehow the victims of 21st century political correctness or (ugh) “woke culture.” For an idea of how these songs would have gone over if they’d been released in 1982, one need look no further than the Parents Music Resource Center’s response to the much tamer “Darling Nikki” in 1985; if nothing else, had “Lust U Always” come out on 1999, Prince may have forced the issue of music industry self-censorship two years early. And besides, there’s something apropos about keeping these particular songs on the black market: these are grubby, guilty pleasures, better suited to the tape-trading underworld than to a glossy, mass-produced box set. If anything, a song this sleazy should be sold under the counter and wrapped in an unmarked paper bag; what’s the point of a guilty pleasure without some genuine shame?
“Lust U Always” did reportedly get one final chance at the spotlight: in late 1987, Prince, likely noting its coincidental similarity to hits like “Addicted to Love,” offered the song to English blue-eyed soul bellower Robert Palmer. Palmer, understandably, demurred. The song was also among those chosen to appear on a possible second volume of the Crystal Ball set in 2000, which famously never happened. Otherwise, its only heritage–aside from fan-community whispers about lyrics too controversial to see the light of day–is an undated, 10-and-a-half-minute instrumental which has shown up on bootlegs variously titled “Lust U Always” or “Divinity.” This track does have some similarities to the “real” “Lust U Always”–chiefly the squiggly main synthesizer line–but it’s unclear whether it was intended as a radical rearrangement, a la Prince’s 1984 version of “Possessed”; a spiritual successor, a la “Wet Dream Cousin”; or simply a coincidence. A fittingly murky end, I suppose, for one of the murkiest songs Prince ever recorded.