Prince’s Sunset Sound session on February 3, 1984 was highly productive, even by his lofty standards: After taking “A Million Miles (I Love You)” from jam session to finished track, he still had time to complete a second number for Apollonia 6. To date, his efforts to write for the group’s namesake had been dogged by her limited range as a singer. “In a Spanish Villa” was his most ingenious solution to the problem yet: Rather than spending another long night building Apollonia’s confidence in the vocal booth, he’d craft a song around one of the bilingual actress’ existing strengths–sounding sexy in Spanish.
As we’ve observed, the Vanity/Apollonia 6 project had always drawn liberally from pornographic archetypes: Susan Moonsie was the wide-eyed Lolita; Brenda Bennett, the cigarette-chomping bad girl. The new frontwoman’s Mexican American heritage allowed Prince to introduce another flavor to the mix: the fiery Latina. In the Purple Rain film, the studied blandness of Apollonia’s characterization never suggested she was anything but White; just listen to the way she pronounces “New Orleans.” But on the Apollonia 6 album, she’s clearly exoticized: The brief skit that precedes “Some Kind of Lover” refers to a “Spanish guy” she’s been seeing “in the Valley”; and on the following track, “In a Spanish Villa,” we get to eavesdrop on one of their encounters en Español.
As a non-Spanish speaker, I have to rely on machine translation to decode Apollonia’s sweet nothings, so I’ll spare you a direct quotation. The basic gist is, we open on Apollonia and her as-yet-unnamed paramour in the titular country house; she asks why he’s sitting so far away, and assures him she won’t bite. As he moves closer, she questions whether he’s hot, helping him off with some of his clothes. Now that he’s slipped into something more comfortable, the conversation turns to their romantic attachments, or lack thereof: She asks if he’s alone, then demurs, confessing that she never really feels alone, because someday the man of her dreams will come and find her. He takes her hand and, after she shares that she’s a good cook, asks her to marry him. She teases that she doesn’t even know his name, and he tells her it’s Oliver–an apparent attempt at conceptual continuity with the track “Oliver’s House,” albeit undermined by that song ending up on an entirely different album. Apollonia asks for a kiss on the lips–the Spanish word for which, I would be remiss not to note, is “labios”–and lets out a titillating sigh. Then, just as things are starting to get steamy, she bids him goodbye, breathing that it was a pleasure to have met him.
Like several of the songs on Apollonia 6, “In a Spanish Villa” bears a songwriting credit attributing the lyrics to Apollonia herself. It’s tempting to assume that this was just another case of the Artist Formerly Known as Jamie Starr disguising the extent of his involvement in the project; and many fans, including no less an authority than online studio Bible Prince Vault, have done just that. Yet, at least to my knowledge, fluency in Spanish was not part of Prince’s skillset in 1984; so this, along with “Some Kind of Lover,” appears to be a rare instance of the official credits on a Starr ★ Company release matching the actual division of labor.
The issue of authorship is notable since, as of this writing, many of the more Princely corners of social media are abuzz with Apollonia’s recently-resurfaced claims that she “co-wrote” “The Glamorous Life”: originally intended for her, but eventually (and with considerable success) given to Sheila E. In the same 2021 interview where she first circulated these claims (see above), Ms. Kotero also took credit for a song she remembered as Jill Jones’ “Mia Bocca.” As she recalled, “One night, I’m exhausted in my hotel room at the Holiday Inn, [Prince] calls me up and he says… ‘I need for you to write a story in Spanish’… he says, you know, ‘the girl, and this, and that, and the sex…’ I had to call my mom to make sure I had the correct spelling in Spanish” (Sunset Sound Recorders May 2021). The problem with this story, as some have observed, is that “Mia Bocca” is not Spanish at all, but rather (a primitive approximation of) Italian. If we assume that she’s simply misremembering the title, however, her account makes more sense: the “story” she’s describing is pretty clearly “In a Spanish Villa.” This may not validate her claims to “The Glamorous Life” (or “Manic Monday”!), but at least in this case, I find her credible.
Besides–and with all due respect to Ms. Kotero–for most Anglophone Prince fans, “In a Spanish Villa” may as well be an instrumental; it’s Prince’s music, more than Apollonia’s “story,” that makes it such a worthy part of his extended canon. Prince uses the song’s romantic Mediterranean setting–not to mention his blossoming creative partnership with Sheila Escovedo–as an excuse to explore a Latin-tinged sound, with a smoldering guitar lead inspired by his longtime idol, Carlos Santana. A little more than a year after recording “In a Spanish Villa,” he would acknowledge his debt to Santana when interviewer Neal Karlen asked what he thought about critics comparing him to another guitar hero, Jimi Hendrix: “If they really listened to my stuff, they’d hear more of a Santana influence than Jimi Hendrix,” he argued. “Hendrix played more blues; Santana played prettier” (Karlen 1985).
Prince certainly plays “pretty” on “In a Spanish Villa”–not to mention sultry, incandescent, and several other adjectives one might name. With just Wendy Melvoin’s sparse acoustic guitar and the overdubbed sound of crashing waves as accompaniment, his two-minute solo is among the most expressive he’d recorded to date; in a recent comment, longtime friend of the blog Arno adjudged it an instrumental performance to rival “Venus de Milo” from 1986’s Parade, and I’m inclined to agree. If nothing else, “In a Spanish Villa” is not quite like anything in Prince’s pre-1984 body of work: At times, one could almost mistake it for an outtake from a long-lost Ennio Morricone score. As sessionographer Duane Tudahl observes, it’s “the sort of song that Vanity 6 would never have attempted” (Tudahl 2018 252): yet another example of how Prince’s musical palette had broadened in a scant two years–and of how Apollonia 6 just may be one of the brightest hidden gems in his catalogue.