Categories
1999, 1982

Let’s Pretend We’re Married

Having completed the majority of the Vanity 6 album over a few weeks at his home studio, Prince was back at Sunset Sound by the end of March 1982. The first song recorded during this block of sessions was intended for his own fifth album–though its salacious lyrics and heavy electronic sound kept it stylistically aligned with his latest side project.

Let’s Pretend We’re Married” opens with one of the treated Linn LM-1 beats that had already become a sonic trademark for Prince, just seven months after his introduction to the machine. A driving kick and snare lays the foundation, with rimshots punctuating every other measure. On the tenth measure, a hiccuping conga hit creeps in, and the rimshots, now swathed in reverb, grow more insistent. Finally, a pair of churning bass synths enter the mix: one four on the floor, one double-time. Once again, Prince’s interest in the emergent electronic music that would soon be dubbed techno is evident in the song’s indefatigable pulse; music critic and biographer Dave Hill would describe it as “a long, agitated throb from start to finish” (Hill 130). But where the previous year’s “Sexuality,” for example, was all pulverizing rhythms, “Let’s Pretend” sprinkles on a heaping spoonful of pop sugar, with a tinkling keyboard line that precisely mirrors Prince’s vocal melody.

Categories
Ephemera, 1981-1982

Turn It Up

Along with the Time tracks and “International Lover,” Prince also cut a few “orphan” songs at Sunset Sound in mid-January 1982. “You’re All I Want,” recorded on January 11 alongside “Gigolos Get Lonely Too,” was a frothy rockabilly jaunt with a synth line he’d later repurpose for “Horny Toad.” “Bold Generation” from the following day would re-emerge almost a decade later as “New Power Generation” on the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack. “Colleen” from January 15, the same day he completed “The Walk,” was a funky but formless instrumental.

Each of these tracks would languish in the Vault and select tape-trading circles for decades, before finally seeing the light of day with the release of 1999 Super Deluxe in 2019. “Turn It Up,” however, has a longer pedigree. Recorded over 13 hours on January 19 and 20, it was the second-to-last track Prince cut before resuming the Controversy tour in Richmond, Virginia. And–before it, too, received an official release on 1999 Super Deluxe–it was in wide circulation as a bootleg: quite possibly the most widely-heard 1999 outtake this side of “Moonbeam Levels.”

Categories
Controversy, 1981

Ronnie, Talk to Russia

During an early 1981 interview with Chris Salewicz of New Musical Express, Prince “rather startlingly” changed the subject from his Dirty Mind anti-war song “Partyup” to the recent inauguration of President Ronald Reagan. “Thank God we got a better President now,” he said, with “bigger balls” than his predecessor Jimmy Carter. “I think Reagan’s a lot better. Just for the power he represents, if nothing else. Because that also means as far as other countries are concerned.” Salewicz, good leftist rock journalist that he was, didn’t know how to take this sudden detour into conservative politics. “Perhaps this is Prince’s Minneapolis background coming out,” he wrote (Salewicz 1981).

Indeed, as a Midwesterner who grew up in the shadow of the 1980s, I can attest to hearing more than a few anti-Carter rants like the one Prince engaged in–even, in my case, many years after the comparative merits of the Gipper and the Peanut Farmer had relinquished any claim to relevance. Yet it’s also hard not to read a subversive undertone into his abrupt political endorsement. As Salewicz pointed out, there was unmistakable homoeroticism in Prince’s singling out of the president’s “balls” for praise; you can almost hear him smirk when he goes on to say, “He also has a big mouth, which is probably a good thing. His mouth is his one big asset” (Salewicz 1981). But whatever Prince’s actual thoughts on Reagan’s mouth and/or balls, the Salewicz interview was an early indication that even this sexually and racially ambiguous libertine had a soft spot for the Ur-Republican president–at least when it came to the Cold War.

Categories
The Time, 1981

Get It Up

As of this writing, there is no public record of the order in which the songs on the Time’s first album were recorded (fingers crossed that Duane Tudahl can scare up some details when he gets around to writing his book on the 1981-82 studio sessions). It’s generally agreed, however, that the song Prince used to get Warner Bros. interested in the project was the one that became its lead single and opening track: “Get It Up.”

As a proof of concept for the Time project, “Get It Up” makes a lot of sense. It is, first of all, familiar territory. According to Bobby Z, the song came out of Prince’s jams with his touring band, and it shows: more than any other song on The Time, “Get It Up” sounds like the missing link between Dirty Mind and Controversy (Nilsen 1999 86). The brittle New Wave funk arrangement and wheedling Oberheim synthesizer–played, as on “Head,” by guest soloist Matt Fink–bear Prince’s immediately identifiable fingerprints–that, and the fact that his backing vocals are clearly audible throughout.

Categories
Dirty Mind, 1980

When You Were Mine

In early March, 1980–around the same time Rick James was absconding with their Oberheim–Prince’s band took a break from the tour to spent a day at Disney World in Orlando. “We asked Prince to come along, too, but he said, ‘Go ahead. Have fun,’” keyboardist Dr. Fink told journalist Mobeen Azhar. I remember leaving him sitting outside the hotel room on the balcony, with his guitar. By the time we came back, he’d written ‘When You Were Mine’” (Azhar 23).

If “Head,” as suggested last week, was “the foundation upon which Prince’s racial, sexual, and personal preoccupations of the next decade were built,” then “When You Were Mine” laid the groundwork for his musical expansion. It was his first real foray into crossover territory: a masterful capital-“P” pop song with all the literary value of contemporary New Wave troubadours Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. It wasn’t Prince’s first classic song–that, again, would be “I Wanna Be Your Lover”–but it was his first standard: timeless, durable, and rewarding of endless reinterpretations by other artists.