(Featured Image: Automotive engineer/cocaine trafficker John DeLorean and wife Cristina Ferrare, circa 1981; photo by Tony Korody/Sygma.)
Of the many unreleased tracks Prince recorded in 1982–enough to fill at least two additional double LPs beyond the one that actually did come out, as the new Super Deluxe edition of 1999 demonstrates–“Don’t Let Him Fool Ya” is not the most exciting; nor is it the rarest, the most ambitious, or the most thematically compelling. As the 500 Prince Songs blog noted back in 2017, it’s “barely even a song, more a tantric joy in bass-led repetition.” To say that it’s the kind of thing Prince could have written in his sleep does Prince, and sleep, a disservice; after all, we know by his own admission that “Little Red Corvette” came to him between “3 or 4 catnaps” (Dash 2016).
But for all that, it’s easy to see why “Don’t Let Him Fool Ya” was chosen as a pre-release single to promote Warner Bros.’ aforementioned 1999 reissue, following a live version of the title track from Detroit’s Masonic Temple and the live-in-studio first take of “International Lover.” Simply put, “Don’t Let Him Fool Ya” is a banger, with an infectious bassline and a sparkling, rhythmic keyboard part not unlike the one from the Time’s “I Don’t Wanna Leave You.” And while it’s also clearly a throwaway–the chorus literally goes, “Hey, hey / Hey, hey / Hey, hey, hey, hey”–I defy anyone to get through it without at least a head bob and a smile.
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(Featured Image: Sales brochure for the 1982 Chevrolet Corvette; stolen from the GM Heritage Center.)
Upon his return to Chanhassen from Los Angeles in May of 1982, Prince’s first task was to upgrade the basement studio in his home on Kiowa Trail: replacing the original 16-track console with a new 24-track Ampex MM1200 machine. According to biographer Per Nilsen, this project took about two weeks, overseen by Prince’s go-to home studio tech and engineer, Don Batts. Astonishingly, within hours of the new studio’s setup, Prince had recorded the basic track for one of his most enduring songs, “Little Red Corvette.” “It was incredible to build the studio in that short time and then come up with that tune so quickly,” Batts recalled. But, as he also acknowledged, “That’s how fast it generally went” (Nilsen 1999 100).
Indeed, much about “Corvette” seemed to emerge with almost supernatural ease, as if Prince had merely plucked it from the ether fully-formed. According to legend–and like other 20th-century pop standards, the Beatles’ “Yesterday” and the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”–the song first came to him in a dream, while he was dozing off in the front seat of keyboardist Lisa Coleman’s 1964 Mercury Montclair Marauder. “I bought this vintage pink Mercury at a car auction,” Coleman told The Guardian in 2008. “It was so bitching-looking that Prince used to borrow it and dent it, which I’d make him feel bad about. He slept in it one time and came up with ‘Little Red Corvette’… even though it was a pink Mercury” (Elan 2008). Prince wrote in his unpublished liner notes for the 1993 compilation The Hits that he “always considered the song a dream because it was written between 3 or 4 catnaps and he was never fully awake” (Dash 2016).
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(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.
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