(Featured Image: Jill Jones and Lisa Coleman act out Prince’s sapphic S&M fantasies in the too-hot-for-TV “Automatic” video; © Warner Bros.)
By the beginning of May 1982, Prince had recorded more than enough quality new material to fill a single LP; but he was still only a little more than halfway finished with the album that would become 1999. “I didn’t want to do a double album, but I just kept writing and I’m not one for editing,” he later explained to Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times. “I like a natural flow. I always compare songwriting to a girl walking in the door. You don’t know what she’s going to look like, but all of a sudden she’s there” (Hilburn 1982).
The “girl” that walked in the door of Sunset Sound on May 2 was “Automatic”: the third–and, at nine and a half minutes, longest–of 1999’s extended electro-funk jams. Like its siblings “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and “D.M.S.R.,” “Automatic” unfolds over a rigid, knocking Linn LM-1 beat and a deceptively simple synthesizer hook–in this case, a sing-song four-note pattern perfectly honed to penetrate the cerebral cortex. But with its lyrical themes of emotion as technology, the song is ultimately closer in spirit to its more introspective neighbor on the album, “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute).” The key difference is that, while “Something in the Water” is all about (perceived) malfunction, “Automatic” finds both pleasure and unease in the machine working exactly as designed.
Continue reading “Automatic”
(Featured Image: A family picnics with giraffes in a 1982 ad for the Soviet VAZ 2101; photo stolen from Soviet Visuals.)
In late April 1982, the majority of the tracks Prince had completed for his fifth album fell under one of two categories: extended electro-funk grooves (“All the Critics Love U in New York,” “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” “D.M.S.R.”) and slippery R&B slow jams (“International Lover”). But the song he recorded on April 25, just five days after “D.M.S.R.,” was an outlier both on the album and in his career to date: a theatrical rock ballad with vaguely propagandistic undertones called “Free.”
From its opening moments, “Free” lays on the grandiosity, with the sound of a heartbeat overlaid by marching footsteps and waves crashing on the shore–clips raided from Sunset Sound’s library of sound effects, the same source as the traffic noise from “Lady Cab Driver” and “All the Critics.” Just as these sounds fade away, Prince enters the mix, his gossamer falsetto accompanied by a crystalline piano line. Bass and drums slip softly into formation, followed by dramatic guitar chords when he hits the chorus: “Be glad that U are free, free to change your mind / Free to go most anywhere anytime / Be glad that U are free, there’s many a man who’s not / Be glad for what U had baby[,] what you’ve got.”
Freedom, of course, was an emerging theme of Prince’s long before he’d decided to dedicate a full song to it. “It’s all about being free” had been the mantra of “Uptown”; “Sexuality” had exhorted the listener to “let your body be free.” Then there were the songs that preached freedom without using the word–notably “D.M.S.R.,” with its calls to “screw the masses” and “[d]o whatever we want.” But something about “Free” feels fundamentally different. Rather than an exhilarating promise of liberation, here Prince describes freedom as a solemn duty, more in keeping with the “freedom isn’t free” bromides of American conservatism than with the radical traditions that informed his earlier work.
Continue reading “Free”
(Featured Image: Cover art for the new Originals compilation; photo by Allen Beaulieu, © NPG Records/Warner Bros.)
Hello again! Last week was quiet on the d / m / s / r front because I was out of town on a family vacation, which was great fun but decidedly light on writing time. I did, however, get one thing done for supporters of the new Patreon: a review of the Originals compilation, which released on TIDAL early this month and on CD and other streaming platforms last Friday.
As I explained on the Patreon over the weekend, this is just one of the kinds of things I’ll be offering over there, but I’ll probably be keeping the patron exclusives Originals-related for the next month or so; my next exclusive post will be a full-blown song post on “You’re My Love,” which happened to be recorded right around the time I’m currently covering on the blog.
Also while I was out, the second episode I recorded for Jason Breininger’s Press Rewind podcast was released. Check that out if you haven’t already:
Finally, I am still writing a blog, and I plan on putting up the next post, “3 x 2 =6,” on Thursday. In fact, the Patreon has been doing so well that I wouldn’t be surprised if we reached my $50-a-month goal by next week–meaning that there will be a guaranteed four new posts in July. My sincere thanks to the latest group of patrons for helping make that happen: Cliff Dinwiddie, Marilyn Hinson, Jessica, Darling Nisi, and Kaitlyn. If you want to be the one to put us over the edge toward that first goal, you know what to do:
As always, thanks for reading! Coming back from vacation is rough, but I’m happy to return to this project.
(Featured Image: “This one goes to 11”; Nigel Tufnel’s custom Marshall stack in This is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner, 1984. © MGM Home Entertainment.)
Along with the Time tracks and “International Lover,” Prince also cut a few orphan songs at Sunset Sound in mid-January 1982. The first, “You’re All I Want,” was recorded on January 16: the day after an unreleased Time song called “Colleen,” and three days before “Wild and Loose.” The recording has never leaked into wide circulation, though Prince Vault reports that its synth line would later be repurposed for the 1983 B-side “Horny Toad.” Prince reportedly gave a tape to Sunset Sound engineer Peggy McCreary as a birthday present; later, the song would reemerge (retitled “U’re All I Want”) as a potential track for his and Eric Leeds’ jazz fusion project Madhouse.
The second orphan had a shorter, but arguably more fruitful history. Prince recorded “Turn It Up” on January 20, the day after “Wild and Loose”; it was the second-to-last track he recorded in Los Angeles before resuming the Controversy tour in Richmond, Virginia. And, while it also hasn’t received an official release at the time of this writing, it is in circulation as a bootleg: quite possibly the most widely-heard 1999-era outtake this side of “Moonbeam Levels.”
(Featured Image: Richard Gere in the poster for Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo, 1980; © Paramount Pictures.)
Prince may have taken back one of the ballads he wrote for the Time’s second album, but he was at least considerate enough to leave them a backup: “Gigolos Get Lonely Too” was recorded at Sunset Sound on January 11, 1982, three days before “International Lover” and the completion of “The Walk.” It was–along with another song that remains unreleased, “Bold Generation”–the first track completed for What Time is It? And, unlike its erstwhile sibling “International Lover,” it was destined for Morris Day to sing.
The concept behind “Gigolos Get Lonely Too” is pretty much exactly what the title suggests: Morris–and by extension, Prince–inhabiting the role of a sex worker who longs for the intimacy to “make love without taking off my clothes.” The conceit was something of a departure from the Morris Day persona to date, which read more as an aspiring pimp than a gigolo. But then, gigolos were experiencing something of a resurgence in the early ’80s: Paul Schrader’s neo-noir American Gigolo had released to some attention in early 1980, making a star out of both leading man Richard Gere and costume designer Giorgio Armani. It’s hardly far-fetched to imagine Gere’s character, with his taste for Italian suits and the high life, influencing the Time’s visual aesthetic; certainly his refusal to engage gay clients, however unconvincing, would have helped to mitigate male sex work’s homosexual connotations.