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Ephemera, 1981-1982 Roundup Posts

Roundup: Ephemera, 1981-1982

Like the last roundup post for the 1999 album, this one has been an especially long time coming: I wrote my first “in-sequence” post on 1999-era ephemera way back in November of 2018, when we were all about 50 years younger. It didn’t help, of course, that last fall’s Super Deluxe Edition of 1999 dropped a bunch of new recordings into our collective laps (not that I’m complaining, of course!). With this post, though, I’m finally putting 1999 behind me (at least until a Super Super Deluxe Edition makes the current one obsolete). Purple Rain awaits. But first, my ranking of these odds ‘n’ sods:

15. “Colleen If its abysmal showing in the Patreon polls that determined the order of the “bonus track” posts is any indication, my indifference to this funky, but slight instrumental is widely shared, at least among supporters of the blog. Also, Prince didn’t initially bother giving it a title… so, there’s that.

14. “Dance to the Beat This forgotten missing link between the Time’s first and second albums isn’t bad, but neither is it anything to write home about; there’s presumably a reason why, at least to date, no studio recording seems to exist.

13. “You’re All I Want This one made a very cute story (and a priceless birthday present!) for Peggy McCreary, and its hook led to another song you’ll see further up the list; on its own merits, though, I’d rank it as no better than “fine.”

12. “Money Don’t Grow on Trees I dig this one, and if my suspicions are correct and there’s a Brenda Bennett vocal track in the Vault, I’d love to hear that, too.

11. “If It’ll Make U Happy I really wanted the full version of this to do more for me after the leaked fragment left me slightly cold; but it’s really just more of what I’d already heard. A nice enough track, but I can see why it never found a proper home.

10. “You’re My Love I know I’m not the only weirdo with a soft spot for this croonfest, later gifted to Kenny Rogers; but I’m definitely in the minority. That just makes my affection stronger.

9. “Don’t Let Him Fool Ya Like I said in my original post, this is both a complete throwaway and an absolute banger. I can’t with good conscience rank it higher on this list, but what I can do is crank it in my car with my windows down on a sunny day.

8. “Vagina I’ll admit that I may be ranking this a bit lower than it deserves, just because it failed to live up to my (arguably unrealistic) expectations; still a fascinating oddity of a song, and one of the highlights of 1999 Super Deluxe.

7. “No Call U I went back and forth between giving the nod to this or the similar-toned “Don’t Let Him Fool Ya”; I ultimately went with this one on account of it having an actual chorus. Also, Jill Jones. I mean, am I right?

6. “Horny Toad Sometimes I feel like the lone voice in the wilderness on this song, but like I said about “You’re My Love” above, that just makes me love it more. Or, as Prince put it, the more you scream, the nastier I get.

5. “Turn It Up As always, the top five could basically be shuffled in any order and still be accurate; today, though, I’m leaning toward this being a great performance of a just-okay song.

4. “Purple Music (Welcome 2 the Freedom Galaxy) Honestly, this track getting an official release pretty much justified 1999 Super Deluxe single-handedly. I envy the people who got to have their minds blown by it for the first time last November.

3. “Lust U Always (Divinity) I know I’ve been relatively vocal about agreeing with the omission of this and “Extraloveable” from 1999 Super Deluxe, so my top-three ranking may come as a surprise; to that I can only say, look, I didn’t say I didn’t want to listen to it. The ultimate problematic fave.

2. “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore? I may never be able to fathom the reverence granted by some to the Alicia Keys version; but the original, I totally get. Proof that even at his most stylistically polyglot, Prince continued to make essential R&B.

1. “Moonbeam Levels This was technically the first 1982 outtake I wrote about, way back in 2016; so it felt like a milestone to finally reach it in my “proper” narrative. This was also one of the first Prince bootlegs I heard; you can probably thank (or blame) it for turning me into someone obsessive enough to try and write about every Prince song over a decade later.

So, there you have it. Tomorrow, my Alternate Timelines post about Prince’s path not taken after 1999 will be available for the general public. Next week, I’m hoping to have the long-delayed next episode of the podcast up for patrons, with the wider release to follow in early September. Also in early September, it’s back to the Purple Rain era with an updated post on “Electric Intercourse”: another track I wrote about at the time of its official release, but am now revisiting as I catch up to it chronologically.

In closing, I want to reiterate: I started 2020 at a creative low point, and I’m now heading toward 2021 feeling more inspired and invested in D / M / S / R than I’ve felt since this time four years ago. A lot of the credit for that turnaround goes to the people who continue to support the blog, whether formally through the Patreon or (just as importantly) simply by reading and caring about what I do. In particular, this week I want to shout out Arno, who joined the Patreon today; if this is, as I suspect, the same Arno who has been commenting on the blog, he’s one of the earliest supporters I can recall and someone who I really value as a reader, even without the added patronage (though, again, I appreciate that as well!). I didn’t get into this game to get rich or famous, but knowing that there are people out there who see value in what I do is a tremendous source of motivation. So thank you to everyone–past, present, and future–who is taking this journey with me.

Streams, for the streamers:

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Ephemera, 1981-1982 Patreon Exclusives

Patreon Exclusive Bonus Track: Money Don’t Grow on Trees

Prince’s first side project, the Time, began with a fundamental musical concept: They were a vehicle for the hardcore funk and R&B from which he had mostly steered away in his own career, with an added touch of New Wave rock and roll in the vein of contemporary acts like the BusBoys. Everything else about the group, from their boutique vintage wardrobe to frontman Morris Day’s tongue-in-cheek pimp persona, was an elegant outgrowth of this conceit. By contrast, Prince’s second side project, the Hookers, began with an image, and not an especially sophisticated one–the name pretty much summed it up. So it’s no surprise that the music he composed for the group in mid-to-late 1981 had a distinct whiff of throwing everything against the wall and seeing what stuck: There was minimalist electro-punk (“Drive Me Wild,” “Make-Up”), New Wave-ized girl group pop (“Wet Dream,” “Jealous Girl”), and, with “Money Don’t Grow on Trees,” even a dash of vintage R&B.

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Vanity 6, 1982

3 x 2 = 6

Just as he’d done for his own Controversy, Prince put the finishing touches on the Vanity 6 album at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. The last song he recorded for the album, on April 5, 1982, was also the last song on the track list: a gauzy synthpop ballad arithmetically titled “3 x 2 = 6.”

More than any other song on the album, “3 x 2 = 6” reflects the personal relationship between Prince and Vanity (née Denise Matthews), which had blossomed in the months since their first meeting. “Prince became like a father to me,” Matthews later recalled. “He loves playing dad. The first thing he did when we met was to nurse me, take care of me. I was very dependent on him, [‘]cause I needed a father because of the terrible insecurity I had experienced as a child” (Nilsen 1999 105).

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Vanity 6, 1982

If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)

As we’ve noted before, Prince credited the musical performances on Vanity 6 to his other protégé group, the Time–a fabrication that would later come true when they backed the girls from behind a curtain on the 1999 tour. Of the eight songs on the album, only one sounds particularly “Time-like”; but that one song fits the description to a T. With its Terry Lewis-written funk bassline and song-dominating comedic skit, “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)” could almost pass for an escapee from the Time’s own sophomore album, What Time is It?

Like the skits from Time songs “The Walk” and “Wild and Loose,” the one in “If a Girl Answers” unfolds from a simple, even stereotypical comic situation: in this case, working girls Vanity and Brenda trying to figure out transportation to a party on their night off. Brenda suggests that they call “Jimmy”–a male suitor, possibly Jimmy Jam from the Time, but more importantly a person with a car. Vanity expresses her doubts: “And what if a girl answers?” Brenda shrugs, “Hang up.” But Vanity isn’t satisfied by that answer; Jimmy said she was his girl. Well, Brenda offers, “if a girl answers, don’t hang up, just talk about her.”

The exchange that follows–a duel of escalating gibes between Vanity (and, later, Brenda) and Jimmy’s new girlfriend–draws on many of the same Black and blue comedy tropes as its counterparts in the Time’s catalogue. The larger-than-life performances channel everything from LaWanda Page in roast mode to Millie Jackson’s raunchy midsong monologues. The inventive vulgarity of their barbs evokes that traditional African American game of verbal combat, “the dozens,” with references to the other woman’s “dead daddy” taking the place of the more customary maternal ur-insult.

But while its roots in Black nightclub comedy and “dirty blues” are undeniable, “If a Girl Answers” also carries the lipstick traces of another, more subcultural source. In the song’s most remarkable stylistic choice, the titular “girl” on the other side of the phone is portrayed by none other than “Jamie Starr,” in all his queen-bitch glory. The endemic queerness of Prince’s performance–as close to straight-up drag as he ever came–conjures another vibrant African American comic tradition: a devastating display of rapier wit with origins in Harlem’s underground ball culture, known as the “read.”

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Revisit: Vanity 6

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably wondering where I am with my next Vanity 6 post. Well, with all the hubbub around Celebration 2019, I got the feeling that anything I posted last week would become background noise; then, a few freelance obligations caught up with me, so I had to turn my attention to those. Fortunately, those freelance obligations happen to be related to what I’m doing here–in this case, very related, as I decided to write about the Vanity 6 album for Spectrum Culture’s recurring Revisit/Rediscover feature:

Revisit: Vanity 6

If you’ve been reading my recent d / m / s / r posts, you’ll recognize a lot of familiar themes here; basically I’ve always wanted to evangelize on behalf of this album for a slightly more general audience, so I took this opportunity to regurgitate some of my recent thoughts. But this also gave me the opportunity to start thinking about a few of my upcoming posts, so expect to see a few of these ideas explored in greater depth here. As for when you can expect that, well, I have a review of the Ultimate Rave set in the pipeline for Spectrum on Thursday, so I’ll be back to my regularly-scheduled programming by Friday. See you then!