Note: This is my third and last post on “Purple Rain”: a song of such monumental importance to Prince’s creative arc that I’ve opted to split my analysis into parts. If you haven’t already, please read Parts 1 and 2 first.
As most of you are no doubt aware, Erica Thompson has been a great friend and supporter of the blog since we met for a podcast to discuss her presentation at the University of Salford Purple Reign conference back in 2017. We’ve been talking for a while about my writing a guest post for her own blog, where she shares updates and research from her own work writing a book about Prince’s spiritual journey. Tomorrow’s special Record Store Day release of the 1998 album The Truth finally gave us the excuse we’d been looking for. So, here’s my review:
A Purple Day in December: “‘What if Half the Things Ever Said Turned Out 2 Be a Lie?’ – One of Prince’s Richest, Weirdest and Most Intimate Albums Gets a Limited Reissue”
While you’re there, you should check out the rest of Erica’s blog, and follow along with what is shaping up to be one of the most compelling projects in the burgeoning world of “Prince studies.” And yes, I’m still writing on here, as well: “Darling Nikki” will be available for patrons by the end of next week. Have a great weekend, and good luck snagging a copy of The Truth tomorrow!
Much as he had with his first backing group, Prince wanted each member of Vanity 6 to have a well-defined persona; but where the band dynamic held at least a veneer of egalitarianism, his vision for the girl group was unfettered by matters of subjectivity or nuance. He thus drew their characters straight out of porno archetypes: Vanity, the sensitive harlot whose tough exterior masks a heart of gold; Brenda, the chain-smoking, no-nonsense madam figure; and Susan, the jailbait. Only 18 at the time of their debut, the group’s youngest member shaved off two more years in early interviews–another trick borrowed from Prince’s early career–while projecting an aura of fetishized, all-too-corruptible innocence.
At the core of this dirty-schoolgirl persona was “Drive Me Wild,” another of the handful of songs originally recorded for the proto-Vanity 6 Hookers project in 1981. The story goes that Susan had written the song herself, and recited the lyrics to Prince in a chance meeting at a Minneapolis nightclub (one, apparently, that served teenagers). “He was just standing there drinking orange juice and we started talking,” she told Jet magazine. “I told him that I wrote songs, then gave him a sample of my lyrics: ‘Ooh, look at me. I’m a Cadillac. I’m a brand new convertible child, I’ve never been driven. You’re the first. Come on baby; drive me wild’” (Jet 1983 60).
Prince’s Los Angeles sojourn in January 1982 concluded with–and was likely scheduled around–the ninth annual American Music Awards, held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 25. He attended as a guest, not a nominee: the “Soul/R&B” category, for which he would have been nominated, was led by old-guard artists like Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson–as well as his rival of two years prior, Rick James.
Since the conclusion of the Fire It Up tour in May 1980, Prince’s and James’ career fortunes had diverged in unpredictable ways. Prince, as we’ve seen, had become a critics’ darling, trading the commercial success of his second album for the underground credibility of Dirty Mind and Controversy. James, meanwhile, had faltered with the flaccid Garden of Love–the album he’d allegedly recorded with a synthesizer stolen from Prince–but bounced back with the following year’s Street Songs: a masterpiece that finally made good on his “punk-funk” credo while leapfrogging his one-time usurper on the charts. Prince may have won 1980’s “Battle of the Funk,” but at the AMAs it was beginning to look like he’d lost the war, with James nominated for three awards–Favorite Soul/R&B Male Artist, Favorite Soul/R&B Album (which he won), and Favorite Soul/R&B Single for “Give It To Me Baby”–plus a proxy Female Artist nomination for his protégée, Teena Marie.
It’s thus intriguing that only a few days before the awards, on January 21, Prince recorded a song that both satirized and propped up his critics’ darling status, while also lightly mocking the cultural rivalry between L.A.–home of Sunset Sound, Warner Bros., and the AMAs–and its older, snootier cousin to the East, New York City. The song, one of the highlights of his fifth album 1999, was called “All the Critics Love U in New York.”
Over the weekend, I made another guest appearance on Darren Husted’s Prince: Track by Track podcast to discuss another song that Darren hates and I kinda love: “Cloreen Bacon Skin,” the longest (and possibly least consequential) single track in Prince’s officially-released oeuvre. Listen to my spirited, albeit slightly sheepish defense, which goes on for just over the length of the song itself, at the link below:
I’m still hoping to get another proper post out by the end of the week, but it’s gonna be a long one, so apologies in advance if it doesn’t make it until next week. I’ll do my best to make it worth the wait!