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#PrinceTwitterThread: “All the Critics Love U in New York”

Last Friday night, I broke my self-imposed hiatus to contribute to the latest #PrinceTwitterThread series on 1999. I used this opportunity to expand on one of my favorite posts I’ve written, “All the Critics Love U in New York,” zeroing in on the themes of Prince’s reciprocal relationship with Detroit DJ the Electrifying Mojo and, by extension, the early techno scene. I’ve been wanting to do a project around the Detroit-Prince connection for years, and to be honest, when I decided to do this thread, I didn’t think it would fill that gap for me; but I’m actually very happy with how it turned out, so if this ends up being my last word on Prince and Detroit, then I’m surprisingly okay with that.

In fact, I’m so happy with this thread that a part of me wishes I’d centered my paper at next (!) weekend’s #TripleThreat40 symposium around it, so I could already be mostly done with my personal projects this month instead of only half done. But that’s Burnout Zach talking; I have every confidence that by the time the symposium runs around, I’ll be glad I decided to pursue two cool ideas instead of just one. For now, please enjoy Cool Idea #1; hopefully I’ll see some of you when it’s time to unveil Cool Idea #2.

All right, here we go! My name is Zachary Hoskins, and it’s my pleasure to bring you tonight’s #PrinceTwitterThread on the penultimate track from Prince’s 1999, “All the Critics Love U in New York” #1999THREAD

First of all, thanks to @PrinceThread curators @deejayumb and @EdgarKruize for inviting me back. And thanks to my fellow Purple Avengers for setting the bar so high–I’m biased, because 1999 is perennially in my Top 5 Prince LPs, but I think #1999THREAD may be the best crop yet!

If you know who I am, it’s probably because you’ve read my blog, Dance / Music / Sex / Romance: a quixotic attempt to write in chronological order about every extant song recorded, written, and/or performed by Prince.

Given that title, it’d be fair to ask why I didn’t jump at the opportunity to write about “D.M.S.R.” (though hopefully no one’s still asking that after @AishaStaggers tore the roof off with her epic thread last week)

The simple answer is, I love “All the Critics” and feel it’s underappreciated in the Prince community–too often overlooked as a mere filler/mood piece, when it’s one of the finest examples of his early ‘80s “cyberfunk” aesthetic.

blade runner GIF

If you’ll forgive the shameless plug, I also think my post on “All the Critics”–written in those innocent, bygone days we know as early 2019–is one of my best. You can consider this thread a kind of expanded “Director’s Cut” of that piece.

One quick word of warning: in the double-LP spirit of 1999, I’m going to vamp a little on this one. So get comfortable, enjoy the ride… and don’t get my seat all wet.

seor GIF

Studio Bible Prince Vault tells us “All the Critics” was recorded at @sunsetsound in Los Angeles on January 21, 1982. But let's talk about New York.

http://princevault.com/index.php?title=All_The_Critics_Love_U_In_New_York

Like many Midwesterners, Prince had a complicated relationship with the Big Apple. In his earliest known interview, published in his school paper in 1976, he complains about Minneapolis’ provincialism compared to “big cities” like NY and LA

https://sites.google.com/site/prninterviews/home/central-high-pioneer-13-february-1976

Prince was born in Minneapolis. When asked, he said, “I was born here, unfortunately.” Why? “I think it is very hard for a band to make it in this state, even if they’re good. Mainly because there aren’t any big record companies or studios in this state. I really feel that if we would have lived in Los Angeles or New York or some other big city, we would have gotten over by now.”

Later that same year, he’d write one of his most accomplished pieces of juvenilia: A wistful, piano-led portrait of young love interrupted–and, just maybe, a farewell to his soon-to-be-ex-bandmates–called “Leaving for New York”

Shortly after, under the tutelage of aspiring producer Chris Moon, he made a real-life pilgrimage to Manhattan to shop his first solo demo tape to labels. Spoiler alert: It didn’t go well.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Prince’s early lack of traction in NYC shaped his feelings about the city. When he did sign to a major label the following year, it was with Warner Bros.–an imprint so “Burbank,” their record labels featured pictures of palm trees.

By his third album, Dirty Mind, he’d rejected both coasts in favor of making his own scene at home in “Uptown”: a real Minneapolis neighborhood, but more accurately an imaginary Twin Cities transmitted from his home studio in the suburbs.

Yet New York, as it is wont to do, remained stubbornly central to Prince's career. Many of his pivotal early live dates were there: at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village in February 1980 (pic from @PrinceMuseum), and at the Ritz in East Village in December 1980 and March 1981.

The first Ritz show in particular was a watershed moment in Prince’s rise to cult stardom: while the venue was reportedly half-empty, those who were there included a who’s-who of NY scenesters: from Andy Warhol and Nile Rodgers to Nona Hendryx and, uh, Gene and Paul from KISS.

A rapturous account of his performance that night provided the opening vignette for one of Prince’s most important early appearances in the rock press, this feature by Rolling Stone's Bill Adler from February 1981:

Snaking out from the wings toward center stage at the Ritz, prancing like a pony with his hands on his hips and then flinging a kick with a coquettish toss of his head, Prince is androgyny personified. Slender and doe-eyed, with a faint pubescent mustache, he is bare-chested beneath a gray, hip-length Edwardian jacket.

There’s a raffish red scarf at this neck, and he’s wearing tight black bikini briefs, thigh-high black leg-warmers and black-fringed go-go boots. With his racially and sexually mixed five-piece band churning out the terse rhythms of “Sexy Dancer” behind him, the effect is at once truly sexy and more than a little disorienting, and his breathy falsetto only adds to his ambiguity – for sheer girlish vulnerability, there’s no one around to touch him: not Michael Jackson, not even fourteen-year-old soul songbird Stacy Lattisaw. At age 22, Prince may be the unlikeliest rock star, black or white, in recent memory—but a star he definitely is.

Then, of course, there was this iconic performance of “Partyup”–recorded, you guessed it, “live from New York” on SNL, February 21, 1981.

You get the picture, but here’s one last thing just because I love it: Prince, in the middle of his Dirty Mind to Controversy transition, on the cover of punk/New Wave mag NY Rocker in June 1981, posed in a very familiar shower…

Anyway, my point is, New York was a crucial market for Prince at the turn of the 1980s, as expressed in this quote from @BobbyZ1999. And, because (Midwestern) game recognizes game, I have reason to suspect that didn’t entirely sit well with him.

Only when the critics, mainly in New York, wrote about it, saying it’s great, did something happen. The critics got it and it opened a new audience for Prince.

You can detect that ambivalence in the lyrics of “Critics,” which read as a set of affirmations for our intrepid rude boy. As I wrote in my post, they “take on the voice of a pep-talking industry type… to extol the cosmopolitan virtues of the Big Apple.”

Yet for every glowing promise–”You can dance if you want to!” “You can play what you want to!”–the inevitable conclusion “…in New York” has a deflating effect; as if to say, “all the critics may love you in New York, babe, but it’ll never play in Peoria.”

This, in a nutshell, is the Midwesterner’s complex relationship with New York. On the one hand, it’s a bona fide seat of American and world culture: A Mecca for creatives, nonconformists, and all manner of freaks from across the world.

Is Awesome New York GIF by Friends

But on the other hand, it’s a tedious hegemony: An overcrowded, overpriced, overrated bastion for solipsistic snobs who think of any place west of Staten Island as “flyover country.”

That tension is implicit in “Critics.” Prince is clearly smitten with the city’s energy, kicking off the track with bustling “street noise” SFX carried over from “Lady Cab Driver.” But he resents the way “making it” there (in the words of Ol’ Blue Eyes) demands his deference.

Midway through the second verse, the lyrics seem to shift perspective: Now Prince is giving his own pep-talk, counseling himself, “Purple love-amour is all you’re headed for, but don’t show it / The reason that you’re cool is ’cause you’re from the old school, and they know it.”

Im Good Enough Nighty Night GIF by Saturday Night Live

Who is this “they”? I’d venture he’s referring to the same cultural gatekeepers on whose influence–or sense of flattery–his crossover ambitions must hinge. Later, he murmurs, “Don’t give up… I still love you,” as if he’s back in 1976, talking himself up after another rejection.

Maybe it’s this ambivalence about NYC as the center of the cultural universe–both Prince’s and my own–that makes me associate “Critics” not with the titular New York, but with another city that was arguably even more important to Prince: Detroit.

Detroit GIF

As a proud product of Southwest Michigan, I’ve always been fascinated by the Detroit-Prince connection. I’m not a Detroiter myself (I was born in Port Huron, raised in a tiny town near Lansing, and went to college in Ann Arbor), but the city always loomed large in my imagination.

So much of my favorite music, from Iggy and the Stooges to P-Funk to the Dirtbombs, originated in the Motor City; and growing up in its shadow unquestionably shaped my tastes–which includes Prince, whose early punk-funk style fit right in with Detroit’s raw aesthetic.

In fact, Prince’s connection to Detroit goes back almost as far as his connection to New York: he first played Cobo Arena on the Fire It Up tour with Rick James in March 1980, just a few weeks after headlining at the Bottom Line.

That same iconic venue, less than a year later, was the site of one of my all-time favorite photos from the Dirty Mind era, taken by the legend Leni Sinclair #IYKYK

But my personal favorite pieces of Detroit-Prince ephemera are when his or his associates’ music would crop up on The Scene: a kind of regional take on Soul Train that, hilariously, my very white parents treated as appointment television before I was born.

Here’s one representative example from 1982 of The Scene dancers “throwin’ down” to the Time’s “Wild and Loose”…

…And here’s another one, featuring a guy I’m convinced is in Controversy-era Prince cosplay, complete with bolo tie and prop Telecaster.

But, I digress (don’t get me started on The Scene!). I suppose you might be wondering what all this has to do with “All the Critics”… well, first, by sheer serendipity, here’s a clip I found today of a dance line featuring that very song!

More broadly, though, I bring it up because its unique aesthetic is evidence of why Detroit was so ready for Prince–and, by the same token, why Prince was so influenced by Detroit.

Princedance Detroit GIF

Like downtown NYC in the same period, Detroit was fertile ground for exactly the kind of polyglot, genre-agnostic style Prince was developing. See, for example, Was (Not Was)–signed to NY’s ZE Records, but with a postindustrial vibe that was pure Detroit.

In that earlier clip from The Scene, the Controversy cosplayer was dancing to “Sharevari” by local electronic duo A Number of Names, which the Metro Times later dubbed “the first Detroit techno record” (P.S. Guess who’s mentioned in the opening paragraph)

https://www.metrotimes.com/music/name-that-number-2172681

With its grimy, mechanical rhythms, “All the Critics”–along with “Make-Up” and “Drive Me Wild” by Vanity 6 and the 1999 outtake “Purple Music”–is the clearest evidence we have that Prince had his ear to the ground when it came to Detroit’s emergent techno scene.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: What evidence can we possibly have that Prince even heard these obscure local records, let alone that he was influenced enough by them to alter his own musical trajectory? And to that I’ll simply reply: the Electrifying Mojo.

Mojo–pictured here in his natural environment, complete with Dirty Mind tour jacket (thx @HistoryLivesDet)–is a key part of the intersecting histories of Prince and techno. I’m sure you’ve all heard this famous interview from 1986:

Mojo also famously premiered Prince’s albums in full on his show. More importantly, he was the first radio DJ to play many of the formative Detroit techno records on the air, including the aforementioned “Sharevari” and Cybotron’s “Alleys of Your Mind.”

Given this intersection, it’s not hard to imagine Prince catching Mojo’s late-night “Midnight Funk Association” while he was in Detroit–say, on the way to the hotel after his Controversy tour date in December 1981–and hearing something that inspired him.

But even if “All the Critics” and Detroit techno are a parallel invention, there’s still Mojo’s show itself, which was not only the primordial ooze from which techno emerged, but also a fascinating reflection of Prince’s heady stylistic brew.

In preparation for this thread, I listened to a Mojo broadcast from April 1982 that’s been preserved on YouTube. I think it’s worth unpacking this piece of music history to give a sense of the similar aesthetic territory Prince and Mojo were exploring.

The clip begins with Mojo delivering an inspirational, stream-of-consciousness rap over waves of feedback from the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Third Stone from the Sun” (remind you of any other guitar solos you might have heard recently?)

The outro from “Third Stone” then transitions seamlessly into the B-52s’ buried gem dance-punk groove “Mesopotamia” (produced by David Byrne of Talking Heads)

Then it’s on to “We Got the Beat” by L.A. New Wave girl group the Go-Go’s–not so relevant to “All the Critics,” but EXTREMELY relevant to Prince’s parallel project Vanity 6

After that, a song that should need no introduction to #PrinceTwitterThread readers…

…Followed by another Mojo rap, scored by “Give Me Your Love” from Curtis Mayfield’s 1973 Superfly soundtrack.

Next Curtis gives way to Atlantic Starr’s 1982 slow jam “Let’s Get Closer”–which Mojo then interrupts with a call to order of the “Midnight Funk Association” (shades of Uptown, New Breed, Revolution, New Power Generation, et al.)

https://youtu.be/Cs6BawRqfnI

As Mojo instructs the MFA to dance–whether in their car seats or “on their back” in bed–the guitar solo from a live version of Funkadelic’s “Cosmic Slop” plays…

…Followed by “Bostitch” by Swiss avant-synthpoppers Yello (later of "Oh Yeah"/Ferris Bueller's Day Off fame)

Again, you get the picture. The point is, it's a whiplash-inducing mix of R&B, psychedelic rock, funk, New Wave, and more cutting-edge electronic innovations–all of which just happen to be squarely in Prince's sonic wheelhouse.

Or, as Mojo puts it, “From Beethoven to Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix to Prince… the Supremes to the Go-Gos, nude girls to rude girls, bellbottoms to no bottoms.”

If nothing else, I think Prince and Mojo saw themselves as fellow-travelers: sonic interlopers who willfully skirted stylistic and cultural boundaries to carve out their own, future-forward musical vision.

And I think maybe, the reason "All the Critics" seems to look more toward Detroit than its namesake is because Prince, of all people, appreciated that a "provincial" Rust Belt city could be the source of something so bleeding-edge.

Sheesh, that's a lot of tweets and I haven't even covered everything. I didn't even mention the debut of Prince's recurring "police scanner" gag ("he's definitely masturbating!") or the face-melting debut performance at Sam's (later First Ave) in March of 82.

I will, however, leave you with this: A remix/remake/deconstruction of "All the Critics" by Detroit's own @Moodymann313 called "U Can Dance If U Want 2"

Thanks for staying up with me tonight. Tomorrow, @RichardCole_NOW will take us all on a ride on his seduction 747. Fasten your seatbelts!

Originally tweeted by Dance / Music / Sex / Romance (@dmsrblog) on March 18, 2023.

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