Lest anyone suspects I was exaggerating when I said I’m feeling inspired about the blog again, I’m currently just under 1,900 words into my post on “Baby I’m a Star,” which is on track to be the longest single post in the history of D / M / S / R. In the meantime, I’m also trying to wrap up the “bonus tracks” from our last chapter on the 1999 era. Here’s a peek at “Vagina”–which was not supposed to be a nudge-nudge, wink-wink joke, but what the hell, I’m leaving it:
Before last year’s Super Deluxe Edition of 1999, “Vagina” was known only by its title and its reputation–both of which were among the most tantalizing, and titillating, of any songs in the Vault. Few outside of Prince’s inner circle at the time of recording had heard it–and those who had, most notably former engineer David Z, described it as “obscene.”
It would have been impossible for any song to live up to such a reputation; “Vagina” certainly doesn’t, though it does stand as one of the highlights of 1999 Super Deluxe’s previously-unreleased Vault tracks. Recorded at his Kiowa Trail home studio in November 1981, the song finds Prince in stripped-down punk-rock mode–just him and his Hohner “Madcat” Telecaster; even the “percussion,” such as it is, is simulated with his mouth. As biographer Alex Hahn observed in a Facebook post soon after the passing of musician Andy Gill, Prince’s guitar work here “very much evokes” Gill’s playing with the English post-punk group Gang of Four–particularly when he “bangs the strings of his guitar in a percussive manner at the very outset of the song.” It’s a strikingly different sound from the rest of the music Prince was making ahead of his fifth album, which even in late 1981 was tending more toward synthesizers and drum machines than guitars–see, for example, the early versions of “Feel U Up” and “Irresistible Bitch” recorded in the same month.
If you want to read the rest, consider joining my Patreon at any level, which is where this and other “bonus tracks” will reside for the foreseeable future. And if you want to get a vote on which of the three remaining 1999-era tracks I tackle next–“Money Don’t Grow on Trees,” “Colleen,” or “You’re All I Want“–I just started a poll for patrons at the $5 level and above. I’m trying to avoid making promises I can’t keep, but based on my recent productivity, I feel pretty certain that the next post will be ready in less than the six months it took me to write this one. Thanks–and see you soon!
In case you missed it, yesterday I finally closed the book on the 1999 era for dance / music / sex / romance (well, almost… I still plan to write “bonus tracks” posts on “Vagina,” “Colleen,” “You’re All I Want,” and “Money Don’t Grow on Trees” for Patreon readers in the near future). This was the blog’s biggest undertaking to date: comprising 33 track posts and three albums, and taking almost 16 months from the first post (“International Lover,” way back in November of 2018!) and the last. As you know, I can be pretty tough on myself; but right now, I’m letting myself take some pride in what I’ve accomplished.
1999, as I’ve mentioned a few times before, is one of my favorite Prince albums; on a good day, it may even be number one, and it’s certainly near the top of my favorites by any artist. I won’t be so arrogant as to claim that I’ve done this masterpiece justice with 11 blog posts, but I sure as hell tried my best; so here they are now, in ascending order of my favorite tracks:
11. “Free” No surprises here, I’m guessing; I was pretty rough on “Free” in my original post, and it’s still the song I’m likeliest to skip when I’m listening to 1999 on a skip-friendly format. It ain’t so bad, really–any song as weird as this one is hard for me to outright hate–but it’s the weak point on an otherwise near-perfect album.
10. “International Lover” This ranking I feel a bit guiltier about, because “International Lover” really is a lot of fun: a chance for Prince to be sexy and silly in more or less equal measure, all while showing off his increasingly virtuosic vocals. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the live-in-the-studio first take on 1999 Super Deluxe, complete with barely-suppressed giggles by Prince and little-known session drummer Morris Day.
9. “Lady Cab Driver” This isn’t going to get easier, is it? Before you send me hate mail, know that I adore “Lady Cab Driver”–it’s just the textbook definition of an album track, there to add mood and menace (and, yes, funk) to the back half of 1999. If you’re wondering what I thought about “Rearrange,” one of the highlights of 1999 Super Deluxe, this post answers that question, too.
8.“Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)” Another of those moody disc two tracks: indispensable to 1999’s dystopian atmosphere, but not the first thing that comes to mind when I’m looking for a single track to play. I gave this the edge over “Lady Cab Driver” for the new life it took on in concert; see the long list of live reinterpretations at the end of the post.
7. “D.M.S.R.” It should tell you just how high in my esteem 1999 is as an album when the song I named my blog after doesn’t even make the top 50%. A great dance track, and an even better repository of weird little details: from “Jamie Starr’s a thief!” to Lisa’s blood-curdling scream for help.
6. “All the Critics Love U in New York” I know I might get some flack for ranking this above “D.M.S.R.” (and “Something in the Water,” and…), but “All the Critics” needs the boost. It’s an underrated snapshot of Prince at the cutting edge; a pitch-perfect homage to Detroit techno while the genre was still in its infancy.
5.“Delirious” As an avowed fan of Rockabilly Prince, who am I to deny the subgenre’s peak? “Delirious” may be 1999 at its most ’80s-dated, but I defy anyone to listen and not walk away with those damn keyboards stuck in your head.
4. “Automatic” My favorite of 1999’s darker, weirder second half, and maybe even the peak of New Wave Prince (another of my personal favorites, as readers are no doubt aware). If I had to pick a single track to explain why 1999 speaks to me personally–not the best or the most important song, but the one that scratches my own particular, deeply subjective itch–“Automatic” might be it.
3.“Let’s Pretend We’re Married” …Or, it might be this one. “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” is the album’s strongest showing for Dirty Prince, with his late-song monologue containing the most explicit language on the record; but for my money, the dirtiest thing about the track is the chugging, pumping bass-synth line, a retro-futuristic approximation of the world’s creakiest bedsprings.
2. “1999” Honestly, just call it a tie for first place. I’ve already expended a little over 4,700 words on “1999”–my longest single post to date!–so today, I’ll just say that the album version is a totally different beast from the radio edit: freakier, funkier, and still totally vital, even with the year 1999 (never mind the song) over 20 years in the rear-view mirror. Accept no substitutes.
1.“Little Red Corvette” Look, I’ve said before, my tastes as a Prince fan are pretty basic; and why not, since his biggest mainstream hits were as inventive as most artists’ avant-garde? “Little Red Corvette” may be the normie’s choice for best track on 1999, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that it’s a fucking masterwork: as much a work of literature as it is an exemplar of pop songcraft. To paraphrase my appearance on Jason Breininger’s Press Rewindpodcast, if “Little Red Corvette” doesn’t outlast us all on this planet, then the planet was overrated anyway.
To no one’s surprise, my 1999 posts had the highest average word count of any album to date: 1,964, versus 1,758 forControversy, 1,653 for Dirty Mind, 1,383 for Prince, and 1,379 for For You.
So, what’s next? In terms of the main blog, it’s on to Purple Rain; I’ll be starting that chapter with “Baby I’m a Star.” As noted above, I’m also tying up some loose ends from the 1999 era with Patreon-exclusive posts in the near future; and, speaking of Patreon, it’s past time that I wrote my first patron-requested post: an alternate-timeline scenario requested by Darling Nisi, which will handily help set up the Purple Rain era. Finally, speaking of Nisi, I’ve already recorded a long-belated Dirty Mindpodcast with her and Harold Pride, which I’ll be putting up (first for patrons, and then for everyone) once I’ve finished editing it.
All of which is to say, there’s a lot in the pipeline; I just ask for your continued patience as I work on it. The international COVID-19 pandemic has injected a lot of instability into my day-to-day routine: I didn’t even have the chance to write on the blog that I would be presenting at the DM40GB30 symposium, originally scheduled for next month, before it was postponed until an undetermined later date. And while you might expect a self-imposed quarantine to be a boon for my productivity, the fact that I’ll also be juggling remote work with entertaining and educating a seven-year-old whose school has been shut down means that I’ll probably be spread thinner than usual. These are strange times, and I don’t know what is going to happen next. All I can promise is that I will keep writing, and I hope that you’ll keep reading, too.
In the meantime, here are those growing playlists.
But it isn’t just its throwaway nature that makes this track feel like a callback to the early days of the Time. It’s also the sound: retro rock’n’roll with a dash of New Wave kitsch, not dissimilar from one of Prince’s formative influences for the group, the BusBoys–and, of course, more than a little reminiscent of his own contemporary material. In particular, “Oneday”’s squiggly main synth line recalls “Horny Toad”–another song recorded around the same time and later released as the B-side for “Delirious”–with all of the rough edges and, frankly, most of the appeal buffed away.
As I divide my writing time this week between d / m / s / r and the various year-end list obligations from my other side hustle as a freelance music writer, here’s the latest of my guest appearances on Darren Husted’s Prince: Track by Track podcast, talking about a nice-but-not-beloved song from a nice-but-not-beloved album:
Speaking of end-of-year stuff, I suppose now is as good a time as any to give some indication of how I see the rest of the month shaking out. I plan to get at least one or two songs into the Time’s second album–ideally starting this week, though the aforementioned freelancing obligations mean that next week is a safer bet. Before I shut down for the holidays, I also plan to post (by request!) a new installment in my series of alternate universe fan-fics masquerading as serious historical thought experiments. And I think I’m on the slate for at least two more episodes of Track by Track in 2018. My own podcast is currently dormant, but will return in the new year with, at the very least, another album review. And then we’ll be on to 1999 before we know it in 2019! As always, a heartfelt thanks to everyone who takes the time to read and/or listen to my thoughts–I know you have many choices when it comes to Prince-related commentary, etc., etc.
Over the weekend, I not only recorded an episode of my own podcast, but also a couple of guest appearances on someone else’s: Darren Husted’s Prince: Track by Track. If you haven’t listened to Track by Track, it’s another effort in song-by-song Prince chronology, albeit with much better time management than my own humble project: Darren is already done with Purple Rain and starting on Around the World in a Day this week. For my inaugural appearance on the show, we talked about a song that is obviously very near and dear to my heart: “D.M.S.R.” Check it out, and the rest of Track by Track, right here:
I believe I’ll actually be making another appearance on Track by Track before the week is out; I’ll also be posting my own podcast on Friday. And yes, at some point, I will write another proper post; Darren’s progress has filled me with the appropriate amount of shame to get my ass back into gear.