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#PrinceTwitterThread: “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”

As I’ve mentioned on this blog at least once before, this month DJ UMB and Edgar Kruize are curating the latest and largest of their excellent series of “Prince Twitter Threads” on–what else–Sign “O” the Times. As of today, we’re officially three-quarters of the way through, and we’ve seen threads by luminaries including Prince biographer Matt Thorne; friends of D / M / S / R Arthur Turnbull, Erica Thompson, and Jason Breininger; and, this past Tuesday, moi.

As you may imagine, the best way to experience a Prince Twitter Thread is on Twitter, using the #PrinceTwitterThread hashtag; half of the fun of these things is the conversations that come out of them (which remind me more than a bit of Q&A sessions after panels at academic conferences, right down to the occasional question-that-is-actually-more-of-a-comment and the brief, exhilirating moment of panic when you realize you now have to defend a perceived hole in your argument). But I realize that not everyone has room in their life for the uniquely 21st-century purgatory that is the bird site, and of those people I am envious; so I’m embedding my thread below for posterity.

If you are a Twitter person (my condolences), there’s still time to jump on board; Side 4 kicks off tomorrow, after what I am confident will be an enlightening thread by Edgar on the Sign “O” the Times tour today. In the meantime, I hope to be right back here by the end of next week with a post on “Cloreen Bacon Skin.”

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Ephemera, 1979-1981

I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man (1979 Version)

The first promotional single for Sign “O” the Times Super Deluxe, “Witness 4 the Prosecution (Version 1),” was an irreproachably safe choice: a well-known track in the bootleg trading community, remastered so that hardcore fans can hear the upgrade in sound quality and newer fans can hear what all the fuss is about. But it’s the second single that delivers exactly what I live for in these kinds of releases: a recording which even the most fortunate among us hadn’t heard of, much less heard, until the box set was announced.

Before last week, the accepted history of “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” went something like this: Prince recorded the basic track sometime in 1982, during the incredible burst of creativity that produced 1999 and planted the seeds for a number of other projects. Clearly at no shortage of quality material, he shelved the song for four years, then dug it back out during another creative renaissance on July 16, 1986: appending a smouldering guitar solo nearly the length of the original track, and transforming the spiky little power pop tune into a grandstanding album-rock setpiece. This extended version was slated for the unreleased Dream Factory and Crystal Ball projects, before finally seeing the light of day on Sign “O” the Times in 1987.

Categories
Controversy, 1981

Sexuality

With the title track of his fourth album, Prince cogently summarized his many complexities–so many, in fact, that it took me three full-length posts to even attempt to untangle them. But Controversy was about more than just self-analysis and myth-building. It was also, more than any other Prince album to date, engaged with the outside world: using the artist’s increasingly well-defined persona as the basis for a distinctive–if not always coherent–worldview.

The centerpiece of this new worldview was the album’s second track, “Sexuality.” Picking up with an ecstatic yelp, scarcely a beat after the final synth glissando of “Controversy,” “Sexuality” addresses the listener with a direct call to arms. “Stand up everybody / This is your life,” the singer announces. “Let me take you to another world, let me take you tonight.” His language draws deliberately on the gospel tradition: like the allegorical train in the Impressions’ “People Get Ready,” “you don’t need no money”–or, indeed, clothes; you just get on board. It becomes clear that this is no conventional hymn, however, once the chorus hits: “Sexuality is all you’ll ever need / Sexuality, let your body be free.”