With his own album and the Time’s both more or less finished–emphasis, in the former case, on “more or less”–Prince finally turned his full attention to Apollonia 6 in early February 1984. The two songs he’d completed for the project to date, “Sex Shooter” and (soon to be reclaimed) “Take Me with U,” had focused on the group’s frontwoman and namesake, with some difficulty. Luckily, there were two other members to write for–one of whom could actually sing!
Brenda Bennett had long been the most bafflingly underused member of the Prince camp, arguably beating out even perpetual bridesmaid Jill Jones. An experienced singer with a smoky, blues-inflected voice, her backing vocals were the secret ingredient that made the, shall we say, less-schooled other members of Vanity 6 more palatable to the ear. Yet on the group’s self-titled debut, she only got to take the lead on two tracks–both of which, “Bite the Beat” and “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up),” were more rapped than sung. As a rapper, Brenda acquitted herself surprisingly well, harnessing her naturally deep voice with brio; but it still wouldn’t have been my first choice to highlight her talents. If there’s any one reason to recommend the Apollonia 6 album over its predecessor, it’s that Prince finally gave Brenda a chance to shine as a singer, with lead vocal duties on not one, not two, but three new songs.
The first of these songs, “Some Kind of Lover,” marked an even more notable milestone for Brenda: her first legitimate writing credit on a Prince song. Both the Vanity and Apollonia 6 records followed the typical Starr ★ Company convention of disguising Prince’s involvement in the songwriting process; “Bite the Beat” had also been credited to Brenda, for example, despite actually being authored by Prince and the Time’s Jesse Johnson. But “Some Kind of Lover” was a true collaboration: “Prince and I both wrote it,” Brenda recalled to sessionographer Duane Tudahl. “I submitted it to him and he kept 99 percent of it” (Tudahl 2018 249).
Brenda’s inspiration for the song was her husband (and Prince’s longtime stage lighting designer), LeRoy (Roy) Bennett. The couple had met in their home state of Rhode Island in 1974, when Brenda was singing with blues-rock act Tombstone and Roy was cutting his teeth as a lighting technician. “Tombstone had been on tour opening for Mott the Hoople and Queen and I was home during a break before we did our next leg,” she told K Nicola Dyes of the Beautiful Nights blog. “Some local musician friends of mine had joined a band from the Baltimore/Washington[,] D.C. area–the name of the band was Face Dancer–and they were in town doing a couple of gigs. I was free to go see them and that’s where I met this tall, adorable, sexy young man named Roy” (Dyes “Voice” 2014). Seven years later, they were married. “At the time, we had a perfect marriage,” Brenda told Tudahl. “I felt like people put us on a pedestal as an example of working together and being around each other and getting along very well” (Tudahl 2018 249).
The Bennetts’ romantic spark is clearly evident in Brenda’s lyrics, a sweet love letter to a man she describes as “the sunshine / That lights up my day in the nighttime.” Prince’s arrangement adds to the sultry, organically soulful feel, with live drums, electric piano, and prominent bass guitar alongside the omnipresent Purple Rain-era synths. Most impressive is the song’s (literal and figurative) climax, where Prince rides a rumbling groove on the bass while Brenda simulates an orgasmic phone sex session. According to Tudahl, they cut this part together at Sunset Sound on February 2, with Prince playing live alongside her vocal track. “After I got done,” the singer recalled, “he got up and he was like, ‘Goddamn, Brenda,’ because I put so much of me into this song” (Tudahl 2018 250). A similar reaction by Brenda herself can be heard on the finished track: at the end of her performance, she giggles, “I’m embarrassed!”
Like much of the Vanity/Apollonia 6 catalogue, “Some Kind of Lover” is a bit of a buried treasure in Prince’s extended oeuvre. It was released in late 1984 as the B-side for another Brenda track, “Blue Limousine,” but otherwise languishes in obscurity: an underexposed minor classic from Prince’s most overexposed period. Sadly, with the Apollonia 6 album still out of print–and, based on its ready availability for unlicensed streaming on YouTube, a clear lack of interest from the Prince Estate in protecting this piece of its intellectual property–that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. But for my money, at least, “Some Kind of Lover” is a banger, well worth the minimal effort to track down for anyone who can’t get enough of Brenda’s vocals or Prince’s bass playing (i.e., anyone with taste). Check it out if you haven’t already–and while we’re at it, Estate/Sony, how about giving Brenda and the girls their due? Even a streaming-only release would be better than the grey-market purgatory we have now, and this music is ripe for rediscovery.
I’ll be back very soon with another hidden gem from Apollonia 6, which is rapidly joining its older sister as one of my favorite Prince projects of the ’80s. As always, thanks for reading!