Roundup: 1999, 1982

Roundup: 1999, 1982

(Featured Image: Prince’s mockup collage cover for 1999, of which only the title made the final cover; © the Prince Estate, stolen from NPG Underground.)

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-heavy 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 any 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, a fair amount of funk) to the back half of 1999. If you’re wondering what I thought about “Rearrange,” one of the highlights of the Super Deluxe set, 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 a seriously 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 Rewind podcast, if “Little Red Corvette” doesn’t outlast us all on this planet, then the planet was overrated anyway.


As you can see, the tag cloud has held pretty steady since our last round-up in October; the most significant drop-off is “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”, which appears to have been replaced by, of all things, “Jack U Off” (I suspect we can blame the aforementioned Press Rewind podcast for that). Meanwhile, to presumably no one’s surprise, my posts on 1999 had the highest average word count of an album to date: 1,964, compared to 1,758 for Controversy, 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 handily will help set up the Purple Rain era. Finally, speaking of Nisi, I’ve already recorded a long-belated Dirty Mind podcast 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. Bear with me on TIDAL, as I’m still adding tracks as of this writing:

Moonbeam Levels (The New Master)

Moonbeam Levels (The New Master)

(Featured Image: Outtake from the 1999 photo sessions, by Allen Beaulieu; © the Prince Estate.)

Note: Incredibly, it’s been just over three years since I first wrote about “Moonbeam Levels” for dance / music / sex / romance. That post focused on the song’s status as the first posthumously-released track from Prince’s Vault, and was colored by the then-recent passings of both Prince and David Bowie, who I still consider to be an unsung source of inspiration for the song. You can still read that version if you want; but here is what I now consider to be the official d / m / s / r take on “Moonbeam Levels.”

In early July 1982, after spending the latter half of the spring back home in Minnesota, Prince returned to Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. His goal, almost certainly, was to put the finishing touches on the album that would become 1999. But in typical fashion, he overshot that goal: instead, launching himself into the stratosphere with the appropriately extraterrestrial outtake “Moonbeam Levels.”

In some ways, “Moonbeam Levels” feels very much of a piece with the other songs Prince was recording in mid-1982. Like many of the tracks that would end up on 1999, it opens with a prominent Linn LM-1 beat: in this case, the mechanical pulse of a bass drum, punctuated by a hiss of synthesized exhaust. To this futuristic foundation, Prince adds Blade Runner synth pads and lyrics evoking space travel: his narrator fantasizes about “a nice condo overlookin’ the rings of Saturn” and asks for the titular “moonbeam levels,” a poetic turn of phrase that conjures up images of interplanetary transmissions and cosmic rays. Meanwhile, the ever-present threat of annihilation looms: Prince imagines a never-written novel with the capsule summary, “Boy loses girl in a rainstorm, nuclear World War III,” his pet themes of personal and global apocalypse summed up in a single, devastating line. The whole package feels custom-built for precisely the kind of science-fiction pop-funk epic Prince had spent the past six months assembling piece by piece.

Continue reading “Moonbeam Levels (The New Master)”

Patreon Exclusive: Preliminary Thoughts on the New 1999 Reissue

Patreon Exclusive: Preliminary Thoughts on the New 1999 Reissue

(Featured Image: The very shiny cover of the new “Super Deluxe” edition of 1999; © Warner Bros./NPG Records.)

When I saw yesterday’s official announcement of the long-rumored deluxe reissue of 1999–the album, to state the obvious, which I’m currently working through on the blog–I realized that my private goal to get started on Purple Rain by the end of the year had become, to put it mildly, complicated. If I’m going to hit a scheduling snag, though, a compilation with two new discs of previously-unreleased material is pretty much the best possible way for that to happen. If you’ve been reading my posts this year, you already know that 1999 is one of my favorite Prince albums: easily in the top three. So it goes without saying that I am very, very excited by this release, and have already spent money I don’t technically have to get my paws on that frankly excessive 10-LP configuration.

But I’m also a blogger, which means that I am duty-bound to turn this exciting new announcement into content. So, much like I did with the deluxe Purple Rain reissue over two years ago, I’ve written down some quick thoughts on the (very, very long) track list, which you can now read on the d / m / s / r Patreon:

Preliminary Thoughts on the New 1999 Reissue

Speaking of Patreon, thanks to Freek Claassen for becoming my 18th patron this week! If you’re interested in joining Freek and supporting the blog for just a dollar a month (or more!), you can sign up from the link above. It really does help me make time for writing, has massively increased my productivity, and starting this week, it will also allow you to read my song posts a week ahead of when I release them to the public! If you don’t care to become a patron–and seriously, no hard feelings if that’s the case–you can also support the blog by preordering 1999 Deluxe using these Amazon affiliate links for the CD, 2-LP, 2-CD, 4-LP, 5-CD/1-DVD, or 10-LP/1-DVD versions of the set. If you (quite reasonably) don’t want to line Jeff Bezos’ already well-laden pockets, that’s fine too; I appreciate all of you just for reading. Patrons, look forward to “777-9311” by Friday night; everyone else, see you next week!

Delirious

Delirious

(Featured Image: Courtship rituals of early ’80s French rocker gang the Del Vikings; photo by Gilles Elie Cohen, stolen from VICE.)

After a string of songs exploring, to various degrees, the darker side of his emotional spectrum, Prince capped off his late April and early May 1982 sessions at Sunset Sound with something light and frothy. Sonically, “Delirious” is cut from the same cloth as most of its predecessors on the album that would become 1999: from the driving Linn LM-1 beat to the sparse, but infectious synth line. Yet where songs like “Automatic” and “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” assemble these building blocks into complex, ever-shifting structures, “Delirious” offers more straightforward pleasures: it’s a simple eight-bar blues, as pure and elemental as Leiber and Stoller’s “Hound Dog” or Jesse Stone’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”

With its solidly retro foundation, “Delirious” is arguably the pinnacle of Prince’s brief, but intense infatuation with 1950s rock ‘n’ roll: an “obsession,” according to guitarist Dez Dickerson, that began when the band caught a show by rockabilly revivalists the Stray Cats while in London on the Dirty Mind tour. “We were all blown away with them,” Dickerson told Nashville Scene magazine in 2014, “the look, [singer] Brian Setzer’s amazing sound, just the sheer authenticity of it.” The experience inspired a handful of songs–most famously “Jack U Off” from 1981’s Controversy, but also tracks like the unreleased “You’re All I Want.” Perhaps even more notably, according to Dickerson, it also inspired both him and Prince to style their choppy punk hairdos into Little Richard-style pompadours (Shawhan 2014).

Continue reading “Delirious”