Roundup: What Time is It?, 1982

Roundup: What Time is It?, 1982

(Featured Image: Morris Day checks his watch on the cover of What Time is It?, 1982; © Warner Bros.)

It’s been a much shorter time than usual since the last roundup post; I won’t pat myself on the back too hard, though, because this one has been a long time coming. Fortunately, the Time’s second album happens to be my favorite of their slender catalogue by a long shot: the perfect crystallization of the project’s lean, mean brand of Minneapolis funk, before the battle of wills between Prince and his reluctant protégés scuttled the whole enterprise. Here’s how I rank the tracks:

6. “Onedayi’mgonnabesomebody A trifle best remembered for its closing “We Don’t Like New Wave” chant (a raspberry blown in the direction of André Cymone), this nevertheless stands as proof that the Time were getting better: I’d take it over the worst of their first album any day.

5. “I Don’t Wanna Leave You My brain tends to lump together this one and “Oneday,” its fellow side-closer and filler track. But “I Don’t Wanna Leave You” actually gets stuck in my head once in a while, so it gets the edge.

4. “The Walk Deservedly considered a signature Time track, this still feels to me like a better comedy sketch than a song. As a comedy sketch, though, it’s the album’s–and maybe the Time’s–peak.

3. “Wild and Loose Yeah, the jailbait-baiting lyrics are a little icky, but that jackhammer of a rhythm guitar part gets me every time.

2. “777-9311 I’ll admit, this one dropped a bit in my esteem when I realized Prince had less to do with the drum programming than I originally thought. Still, props to Jellybean for actually figuring out how to play the damn thing.

1. “Gigolos Get Lonely Too Listening to the Time’s first album, who would have guessed that the best track on their second album would be a ballad? Certainly not me, and yet here we are. If you’re not sold, check out Prince’s original vocal track on this year’s Originals compilation and become a convert.

Not a tremendous number of changes to the tag cloud since last time–though “Sister” has made a belated appearance, most likely thanks to that episode of the Press Rewind podcast from a few months back. And for those keeping track, my What Time is It? posts averaged 1,377 words: about 40% more than I wrote for The Time, which is fair, because What Time is It? is just about a 40% better album.

A few quick updates before I sign off for the week: if you’re a Patreon supporter at the $5 level or above (or are willing to become one in the next couple of days), you can vote on the next song I cover. We’re still in a dead lock between “Horny Toad” and “Purple Music”–if no one breaks the tie by, say, Monday, I’ll have to break it myself. Also, as I noted yesterday, patrons can expect a review of of Morris Day’s new autobiography sometime early-ish next week. And then, of course, we have The Beautiful Ones to look forward to in the next few weeks as well. There have certainly been worse times to be an amateur Prince scholar!

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Roundup: Vanity 6, 1982

Roundup: Vanity 6, 1982

(Featured Image: Vanity 6 pose for Creem magazine, 1983; photo stolen from Lansure’s Music Paraphernalia.)

It’s been about nine months since the last time we completed an album around here–which, if nothing else, means that we’re just about keeping pace with Prince himself, who released Vanity 6 just under 10 months after his own Controversy. Let’s see if we can finish 1999 by October!

In the meantime, here’s how I rank the songs on Vanity 6:

7. “3 x 2 = 6 For the record, I don’t think this is a bad song; but I understand why a lot of Prince fans do. As I noted in my post last week, the arrangement is a bit of a slog, and Vanity’s karaoke-caliber vocals are, shall we say, an acquired taste. Still, the pathos of it all still draws me in.

6. “Wet Dream Another one that I actually like more than the consensus opinion, I think this one could have been a hit if Prince had given it to a stronger singer and kept the lyrics a little more PG-13. Also, any song that gives me a chance to reference Hokusai’s “Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” is okay by me. Also also, bonus points for “Wet Dream (Cousin),” a clip from the soundtrack for the most wholesome imaginary porno never filmed.

5. “Bite the Beat Maybe I should rank this below “Wet Dream,” but my enduring love for New Wave Prince means that I’m a sucker for that ersatz Farfisa. Besides, the song’s sexual forthrightness feels like the clearest evidence, save one obvious track, for the argument in my head about Vanity 6 serving as predecessors for today’s crop of hyper-explicit female rappers (cf. Cupcakke).

4. “Drive Me Wild I think I’m once again in the minority on this one, as I happen to prefer the other Susan Moonsie-fronted electro track on the album; I also know I’m in the minority for preferring the minimalist album track to the more conventionally funky–and much, much longer–12″ version. I guess I just feel like I have a lot of options when it comes to Prince’s extended robo-James Brown workouts; but if I want to hear him inventing electroclash, it’s basically this and…

3. “Make-Up Yup, that’s right, I’m the weirdo who was excited–almost to the exclusion of everything else on the album–to see this on the tracklist of last month’s Originals. And just for the record, it lived up to expectations. Fingers crossed that a Prince-sung version of “Drive Me Wild” comes out–either on an Originals-style compilation or, preferably, as part of an expanded Vanity 6 reissue–so I can reevaluate.

2. “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up) Whether or not you, like me, hear this song as a drag performance, I think most of us can agree that it’s a highlight of the album and one of the funniest songs in the extended Prince canon. Plus, that Terry Lewis bassline makes it a rare Vanity 6 song that actually sounds like it was performed by the Time.

1. “Nasty Girl Look, they can’t all be unorthodox choices. A classic is a classic, and if any song on Vanity 6 qualifies for that title, this is the one. I’d put “Nasty Girl” up against any Prince song from 1982–a claim I don’t make lightly, as the 1999 era is in strong contention for my all-time favorite.

With that, I hope that I’ve made my case for Vanity 6 as a worthy part of Prince’s early discography. It’s a scrappy, often sordid, borderline amateurish effort: a quick and (literally) dirty side project recorded mostly at home, with mostly nonprofessional singers, in a little over a month. But its scrappiness is key to its charm, and helps to make what could be a truly slick and exploitative enterprise feel, at minimum, genuine. I guess what I’m saying is, it may be smut, but at least it’s DIY artisinal smut.

Now, as we shift our focus to the other two albums Prince recorded in 1982, here’s a snapshot of the tag cloud:

The most significant addition is probably the Linn LM-1, which makes sense as we’re now firmly in Prince’s golden age for that particular instrument. Another interesting change to note: Sound 80 has officially fallen off the board, in favor of other recording locations–chiefly Sunset Sound, which we’ll be hearing about a lot more moving forward.

For my own reference as much as anything, I wrote about 1,269 words per post on Vanity 6; not too shabby for a side project, that’s only a little less than the 1,379 per post I wrote for For You and significantly more than the 833 per post I wrote for The Time.

It’s a short week for me with Fourth of July weekend looming, but thanks to supporters of the Patreon, I’m still committed to a post this week, and every other week moving forward! I will aim to publish my piece on “If It’ll Make U Happy” Wednesday. Meanwhile, my thanks to our newest patron, Anne Clark. If you’d like to join Anne and the 11 other supporters who have already jumped on board, please consider checking out the Patreon here. We’ve already reached our first goal–hence the guaranteed weekly posts–which means it’s time to start thinking about the second one. At the moment, I’ve said that if the Patreon reaches $100 a month I will go back to monthly podcast episodes, but I also know that that may not be what you all actually want. I plan on checking in with the patrons this week to determine whether or not that should be our next goal, so if you want to be part of that conversation, get your pledges in soon!

Meanwhile, though there haven’t been many changes due to Vanity 6 remaining out of print, here’s the Spotify playlist:

d / m / s / r Year Three in Review (and Patreon Announcement)

d / m / s / r Year Three in Review (and Patreon Announcement)

(Featured Image: “D.M.S.R.” U.K. 12″ label; © Warner Bros.)

On June 7, 2016, I launched this blog as a long-term writing project and, more importantly, as a way to process the inexplicable sense of loss I felt in the wake of my favorite artist’s passing. I often say that I’ve made less progress in these past three years than I would have liked, and that’s true; but on the other hand, there’s also no way for me to have predicted that I would still be doing this in three years, or–even more surprisingly–that people would actually want to read it.

That being said, let’s see what I accomplished since last June. My productivity did go up, though not as much as I wanted it to: I managed 26 posts–more than last year’s 20 but still significantly less than my first year’s 45. I had said I really wanted to get through more than two albums by this June, but I must have jinxed myself; in fact, I got through exactly two:

Controversy, 1981
Ephemera, 1979-1981

And, of course, this moderately increased writing productivity came at the cost of my putting the brakes on the d / m / s / r podcast. In 2017-2018, I put out 15 episodes, which makes me tired just thinking about it. Since then, I’ve done two, both from the latter half of 2018:

New Power: A Conversation with Takuya Futaesaku, Author of Words of Prince
Prince (1979) Revisited

All of which is to say, I want to do better, but I fear that I’m bumping up against my capacity for a pure labor of love. So, after three years and 91 posts, I’d like to propose an alternative arrangement: as of today, I’m launching a Patreon, which–if supported, obviously–will help me to justify the time I spend on d / m / s / r amidst my many other competing responsibilities.

Asking for money is something I’ve been mulling over for a long time, and I don’t take it lightly: I initially considered launching the Patreon around this time last year, but decided against it because I didn’t think the amount of work I had been producing justified the ask. I’m doing it now, in large part, because I want to help normalize the idea that people producing creative work–including music criticism–are compensated for their labor. The Patreon model has its flaws, but on the whole it seems like a reasonably fair way for readers to support writers whose work they enjoy–and, as paid freelance writing rapidly becomes as anachronistic a notion as pensions and other forms of traditional job security, I suspect it’s going to be something more of us will have to embrace moving forward.

At the same time, I also recognize that not everyone who reads d / m / s / r wants or is able to support me financially, so I want to assure you that I’m not about to put everything behind a paywall. After my 100th post, I will start making new posts Patreon-exclusive for a short time–say, a week–before sharing them with the public. Mostly, though, the Patreon will be a way for me to deliver more to the people who want it, while also allowing me to turn down other (paid) opportunities and focus on the stuff that, trust me, we would all rather I focus on.

There are other benefits, too: if there’s interest, bringing back the podcast on a more regular basis is one of my stretch goals. More enticingly, it’s long been a pipe dream for me to start revising my blog entries and putting them out in more permanent, tangible form (i.e., books). Once the Patreon hits a certain monthly level of support, I will be able to justify taking on such a time-intensive project. Obviously, if this idea becomes a reality, patrons will be thanked in the books and, if supporting at a certain level, will receive copies as they come out.

Just to make myself clear, I don’t plan to become wealthy or even financially solvent from the Patreon; I have never been under the illusion that writing about Prince will allow me to quit my day job or retire early. But let me put it this way: I have about 200 regular readers, and if every one chipped in a dollar a month, that $200 would make a big difference in my ability to make ends meet. So would half, or even a quarter of that amount–basically, if the Patreon can allow me to put even a couple more hours a week into this passion project, then it will be accomplishing what it’s supposed to. In return, you’ll be getting more regular blog posts, as well as more “ancillary” pieces for patrons: in the coming weeks, for example, I’ll have a review and some revised/updated posts around the new Originals compilation. And if that doesn’t appeal to you, hey, no harm done: you can keep reading without contributing a dime, and I’ll appreciate you every bit as much as I do now.

To everyone reading this–future patrons and others–thanks for making the first three years of d / m / s / r feel like a worthwhile endeavor. If you’re interested in finding out more about the Patreon, just click the link below or the one I’ll be adding to the left sidebar of the site. Otherwise, I’ll be back soon to put another notch on my “completed albums” tally for Vanity 6!

Patreon: dance / music / sex / romance

Roundup: Ephemera, 1979-1981

Roundup: Ephemera, 1979-1981

(Featured Image: How have I not used this one already?! 1979 publicity photo; © Warner Bros., stolen from Lansure’s Music Paraphernalia.)

I know I always begin these roundup posts with a reference to the obscene length of time since the last one, but this time I’m drawing attention to chronology for an entirely different reason. I wrote the first post in this roundup in April of 2017; the last one went up a week ago today. That year-and-a-half-long gap speaks to my abysmal writing pace, sure–but it also speaks to the sheer scope of non-album music Prince produced between 1979 and 1981.

When I originally decided to lump together these three years, I was concerned that I was casting too wide a net; but I think the posts collected here ended up telling an interesting story. From the recording of Prince in spring ’79 to the release of Controversy in fall ’81, Prince underwent a transformation–one that can’t entirely be explained by the album, Dirty Mind, that falls in-between. These posts trace the steps of that transformation: from reluctant R&B heartthrob to full-blown Black New Waver. It’s a fascinating journey to say the least. So, with no further ado, here’s how I rank the steps along the way:

13. “Everybody Dance” No surprise here: I said in my original post that “Everybody Dance” is barely a song. But it was a great excuse to write about his legendary debut performance at Sam’s (a.k.a. First Avenue), so I can’t begrudge it too much.

12. “The Loser” The dirty secret about the Rebels “album” is that, for all its importance to Prince’s artistic development, it really isn’t very good. The Gayle Chapman-sung “The Loser” isn’t even my least favorite track; that dubious honor goes to the instrumentals, or if those don’t count, the original version of “If I Love U 2 Nite” (sorry, Gayle, not your fault). But it is my least favorite of the tracks I’ve written about: by no means terrible, but thoroughly unremarkable, except perhaps as an early example of Prince flexing his songwriting muscles by experimenting in unexpected genres.

11. “Kiss Me Quick” This one, which I actually hadn’t heard until soon before I wrote about it, is also a mostly unremarkable genre exercise; but I give it the nod over “The Loser” because the specific genre (disco) happens to be one I think Prince was extremely good at. I can see why this was never properly released, but I also could have seen it ending up as an album track on Prince and being more than passable.

10. “Hard to Get” Another frankly mediocre Rebels track, but one I prefer to “The Loser” if only because my own personal biases lean more toward Stones-esque cock-rock than mild Bonnie Raitt pastiche. If there was a complete recording circulating of the ice-cold 1981 New Wave version, it would have been ranked higher… so, uh, what’s the hold-up, Sony and/or bootleggers?

9. “Broken” A very fun song in Prince’s subcanon of rockabilly/early R&B pastiches, but one that was easily replaced by “Jack U Off,” which was easily replaced by “Delirious,” etc. It isn’t necessarily a song that I reach for, but it’s a nice little bit of ephemera from the Dirty Mind tour.

8. “I Don’t Wanna Stop” This one is ranked as high as it is strictly because of potential: I like the version by Ren Woods enough to know that Prince’s version would surely be better. Maybe someday we’ll finally be able to hear it (ahem, Sony).

7. “Strange Way of Saying I Love You” Is this one too low? Yeah, maybe; it is kind of an earworm, especially now that the version in circulation doesn’t sound like it was recorded from a boom box outside a gymnasium where the song was being played. But I think we’ve officially reached the point in the list where my ranking is more arbitrary than usual.

6. “Rough” Is this one too high? Yeah, maybe; but I’m a sucker for the kinds of songs Prince wrote for the Time, as well as any moment when his Cars influence starts to peek through (listen to the synth bass on “Good Times Roll” at 1:05 and just try to tell me it doesn’t sound like “Rough”). That, and this post about Alexander O’Neal’s brief stint as a Prince protégé was just hella fun to write.

5. “She’s Just a Baby” One of Prince’s more conventional R&B ballads from this era, I’m even more fond of it now that I’ve formulated my theory that it was originally penned for the Time (but if that’s the case, why, oh why did he decide to use fucking “Girl”?!). Besides, whose heart doesn’t skip a beat or two thinking about a young (but not too young!) Susan Moonsie?

4. “The Second Coming” Yes, it’s only about a minute’s worth of multi-tracked a cappella Prince harmonies. But, counterpoint: it’s a whole minute’s worth of multi-tracked a cappella Prince harmonies. I’ve written before about the rapturous qualities of Prince’s falsetto; if that’s your type of thing, then “The Second Coming” might just be your own personal Rapture.

3. “You” Probably the one Rebels song that actually lives up to the hype, and definitely the only one ever covered by Paula Abdul. Coincidence? Probably.

2. “Lisa” An early glimpse of Prince’s synthpop phase dating from mid-1980, it wouldn’t have fit on the guitar-centric Dirty Mind, but boy is it a slapper. Bonus: if you can, try and track down the 1982 rehearsal version that recently entered circulation, with Prince vamping over clavinet-style synthesizer and his Linn LM-1 for damn near 45 minutes. It’s excessive, sure, but it just shows how hypnotic and tensile a groove this is.

1. “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)” I am an outspoken stan of New Wave Prince, so it should be no surprise that I highly rate this NWP gem from 1980. Imagine if Devo were sexual beings, or if the Knack weren’t total sleazeballs; then imagine either one of them with about 9,000% more soul. One of Prince’s underrated talents in the early ’80s was his ability to highlight the sexual tension in New Wave’s stiff, nervous grooves; this, one of my favorite B-sides/non-LP singles in his discography, is a shining example of that talent.

Since it’s only been a couple of weeks since my Controversy roundup, I don’t see much point in updating the tag clouds; there’s also nothing new to add to the Spotify playlist, since all but one of these tracks is not currently available for (legal) streaming. So I’ll just say that, while this week was largely occupied with what I hope to be an exciting upcoming project, I’ll be back next week to kick off 1982. See you then!

Roundup: Controversy, 1981

Roundup: Controversy, 1981

(Featured Image: 1981 promotional poster for Controversy; © Warner Bros.)

It’s a little hard to believe that I posted my Dirty Mind roundup almost exactly one year ago today. The ensuing year has been hectic for mostly day-job-related reasons, but I feel like I’ve finally hit my stride again. As always, thanks for coming along with me on this journey.

I have a weird relationship with the Controversy album; catch me at a moment when I’m wearing my critic hat and I’ll probably tell you it’s Prince’s second-weakest record of the ’80s (sorry, Batman). But it’s also an essential stepping-stone to his more anointed classics of that decade: it’s hard to imagine 1999 or even Purple Rain without Controversy there to lay the groundwork. And while it clearly has lower lows than its more-loved predecessor, it also has higher highs: no single song on Dirty Mind was as epochal as Controversy’s title track.

Anyway, here’s how I rank the Controversy tracks (at least for today):

8. “Ronnie, Talk to Russia” As recently as a couple of months ago, I would have put “Annie Christian” in the bottom spot. But over the summer while listening to Controversy on vinyl, I had an epiphany: “Annie Christian” actually kinda slaps. So I guess that makes “Ronnie, Talk to Russia” the album’s low point by default, and the shoe frankly fits: it’s short, silly, and pretty right-wing to boot. I kinda like the demented pace and delivery, though.

7. “Annie Christian” Look, I only said it “kinda” slaps. Still feels like a rough draft for better songs–namely “Something in the Water” from 1999, as frequent commenter Arno sagely pointed out–but it’s peak New Wave Prince, which means I’ll always have a soft spot for it.

6. “Jack U OffLet me be clear that I have affection for this song because: a) I love all of Prince’s rockabilly moments, and b) it is so goddamn stupid. But as much as I don’t condone throwing garbage at performers, I can kind of understand why the crowd at the Rolling Stones shows reacted the way they did. On the other hand, I can totally imagine Mick Jagger singing this song and killing it. Can Mick Jagger please sing this song?

5. “Sexuality” I suspect this may be my most surprising placement on this list, as I know it’s well-loved; I love it too, for its futuristic synthpop pulse and its introduction of the signature “Prince scream” (“IOWA,” as he memorably spelled it on Twitter). I guess I just feel like the “tourists” sermon, delightfully weird as it is, takes a little bit of the wind out of its sails. Anyway, anything in the top five is splitting hairs–it’s a great track.

4. “Let’s WorkBased on the album version alone, this probably would swap places with “Sexuality”; I’m giving it the nod for the 1982 12″ mix, which is 110% My Shit. “Hard dick and bubblegum is all you get!”

3. “Private Joy” Okay, maybe this one is my most surprising placement, and I can’t promise that it isn’t partly reactionary; it’s just that I so often see this song being dismissed as candyfloss filler, and it’s so much more than that. Not only the introduction of Sunset Sound and the Linn LM-1, two cornerstones of Prince’s mid-’80s peak, but also just a weird, densely-arranged pop concoction that only Prince could have made. Listen to all of the voices he uses in the mix! A low-key art-pop masterpiece and a preview of even better, weirder things to come.

2. “Do Me, Baby” The opposite of “Let’s Work,” this one would probably be lower if it weren’t for the completely bonkers denouement of the album version, in which Prince self-pleasures and self-soothes alone in the studio at Sunset Sound. This is a song that really separates the men from the boys, as it were: if you can’t hang with Prince after hearing him whimper, “I’m so cold… hold me,” then you probably can’t hang with Prince. Keep in mind, this is only track three of the album… he’s already come (at least) once, and there’s still a whole vinyl side to go!

1. “Controversy” (Parts 1, 2, & 3I guess I kinda showed my hand by citing it at the beginning of the post, but then, I’m sure the fact that I wrote a combined total of over 6,500 words on “Controversy” was a clue to my affection. If you want to know who Prince was–at least in the first half of the ’80s–just listen to this song. Preferably loud.

As always, I’ve captured the tag cloud for posterity:

timeroundupcontroversy-cloud

Not much change from The Time roundup back in May, though I did notice that Gayle Chapman snuck back in! Meanwhile Owen Husney (whose book I still need to read) and Pepé Willie (who should probably write a book) are still hanging on for dear life. We haven’t heard the last of either of them, incidentally. Also, to no one’s surprise,  Controversy was my most loquacious series of posts yet: approximately 1,758 words per song (counting “Controversy” as three) vs. 1,653 for Dirty Mind, 1,383 for Prince, 1,379 for For You, and a mere 833 for The Time.

Next week, I’ll be jumping back into Controversy-era ephemera with a quick post on a widely-bootlegged cut from 1981. Also, another review podcast with Harold and KaNisa! See you then.

Also, whoops, almost forgot the Spotify playlist!