I had a better idea for a title, but I’m actually going to use it towards November when the actual year of 1999 became a big deal for me. A turning point for myself as a person. I discovered my calling at age 13, too late to be a prodigy, but better late than never. Doesn’t change the fact I consider myself a writer because of it. Being stuck at home for a month after major surgery will do that for you.
Anyway… just because its getting closer to the 25th anniversery of Purple Rain‘s release in theaters, I figured it couldn’t hurt to check out its predecessor.
By the time 1999 came out, Prince had started creating a niche for himself in the industry. He came out as a “prodigy” at age 18 (really 20) who could play everything, sing everything and produce his own albums. His style started as something similar to Stevie Wonder, but slowly created an image of notority with innuendo and questionable clothing & stage performances.
R&B and Disco gave way to New-Wave and Funk in Dirty Mind and the funk lasted and expanded to Controversy.
Dirty Mind was the period where Prince started being truer to himself rather than trying to promote good music or rather look good “on paper,” as was the case with his first release. Surely, his second album, (which is self-titled and has since eluded me the day I decided it was needed in my collection) is closer to the type of album he wanted to make, promoting himself while playing it closer to the best. For You has gotten good reviews, but has been dismissed as a method of self-promotion/commericalization, a way of saying “this is the kind of music I’m capable of and if you give me more, I will deliver”.
Then of course, controversy followed him around in the Dirty Mind era as well as the one that followed (happened to be named “Controversery”).
It’s like the whole conspiracy that WWII was the end result of WWI. Controversy came about because of what happened with the Dirty Mind era. Now that mainstream was started to recognize Prince, they were starting to question a lot of things about him.
The falsetto leads one to wonder if he’s straight or gay. Then there’s the way he dressed during that time period. Had nothing on but bikini underwear, a trenchcoat, high heels and occasionally leg warmers. Then were his actions on stage, which included questionable actions with his guitar (part of the reason he was compared to Jimi Hendrix in addition to his skin color). And the skin color issue also lead to another question: is he black or white? Purple Rain the film tries to answer that question by giving him a black father and white mother, when in fact, his mother was black, but she was also “a mix of a bunch of other things.”
Back to the “straight or gay” question, another reason behind it was once or twice on stage, Prince would kiss his guitar player (Dez) as well as his keyboardist (Gayle or Lisa, not sure who was in his band at the time)
The tour itself for Controversy was a turning point (among many) in Prince’s career and if I am to be grateful to Mick Jagger for anything (I’m not a big fan of him or The Stones), it was inviting Prince to headline The Stones on tour, even if it didn’t work out to anyone’s favor. The manner of his dress was part of the reason he was booed offstage as well as his flameboyant actions (forgive my spelling of that, I’d never used it before in my life) and his color. Race mattered quite a bit back then, but I imagine a lot of people in those 2 crowds were kicking themselves when he became a huge sensation a couple years later.
Prince came to realize as a result of that experience (maybe not that alone, but it came about around this time) that he wanted people to pay more attention to his music rather than the way he looked. So he dropped the bikini/trenchcoat act and traded it in for one of the biggest 80’s trends: flashy clothing and big hair. Nobody really knows when that trend hit the 80’s or even when that same trend carries over from the 70’s and evolved into what the 80’s became.
During an interview Prince did while touring in Europe (just before Controversy dropped), he said that he’d led his band play a bigger part in his albums when they were on the same page as him. Apparently that started to come about during the creation/touring of 1999. Their parts were little more than created back-up vocals and guitar solos (in Dez’s case), but if you look at the album cover within the i in “Prince,” you’ll see “and the revolution” written backwards. (And just so I’m 100% sure on this, I have the album cover in front of me right now… I’d never actually tried to look for those words on it before)…. I’m suddenly taken back to the days when I’d look at the album covers pretty closely before I even listen to the album…. I miss that so much.
There’s a little debate about whether or not Prince gave his band their due on this album. I don’t own any of the other album covers, so I’m not sure he gave any credit to back-up vocals at all… but all that aside, everything was played and sung by Prince alone for this album. Recorded alone too (meaning none of his band mates in the studio with him except when they were recording their individual bits).
I got to wondering the other day about his relationship with Jill Jones at the time this album came out. Were they going out and he thought she had such a good voice that he wanted her to have a little part this project?
According to Wikipedia, they met during the Dirty Mind era when she was touring with Teena Marie. Then he invited her to his studio to record with him for 1999, later on they dated for a while (could have been juggling her and Vanity around that time, actually since she was noted as his “on-again-off-again” girlfriend).
She had a pretty interesting role on the album, I think, simply because she was considered a member of the band at the time. She provided vocals for 1999, Automatic and dueted with him for Lady Cab Driver. Then she had a tiny role in Purple Rain (which, as I understand, was a lot bigger, but of course, a lot changed from the script’s first draft). She brought a little something extra to the songs she had a part on, something I can’t really put my finger on.
Of course I’m always going to consider her a good part of this project simply based on the video for “1999.” I’ve been listening to it almost all week (except for Tuesday, but I don’t even rmember what I was doing then).
When I think of that video, so many thoughts come to mind because it was my first Prince video ever. Visually, there were so many bright colors both onstage and in the clothing everyone was wearing. Then the biggest instrument would have to be the synthesizers. That riff alone mesmerizes me because it was one of the strongest parts of my earliest Prince-related memory.
As far as the three 80’s albums go, all of them share one thing in common: a killer title track that kicks off the album.
“Dirty Mind” is sharp in its simplicity. The riff was written by Matt Fink during a rehearsal and Prince constructed a song around it. But the riff catches my attention and holds it through the whole song. The vocals are falsetto and so simple that a lot of the attention is on the riff.
“Controversy” is a longer, updated take on its predecessor, but it takes on a deeper message. Prince throwing around random questions that had been asked of him in a mocking fashion simply because he doesn’t answer any of them. Then he reciporcates by throwing in some deeper questions of his own: do I believe in God, do I believe in me? (after getting my iPOD to recall the rest of the lyrics), some people want to do so they can be free, life’s just a game, we’re all just the same… taking attention from himself and displaces it so people can think about the questions that really matter.
Oddly enough, the song “1999” is nothing more than his response to a conspiracy that was becoming more and more apparent with the approach of the end of the decade. The first album he released was dismissed for many things, one was the fact all of the songs were about him… I don’t see the problem with that, but I guess people want to hear albums that are more than just arrogance.
The title tracks for his albums get more and more conceptual than anything else as time goes on. This was probably one of the most striking, if we’re going from this angle.
After he watched this special with his friends, he couldn’t believe how uptight and nervous they were about the supposed end of the world that’d come at the end of 1999. So he decided to write the song as his way of dismissing the conspiracy and saying if it is actually true, he’ll just live life to its fullest. Hakuna Matata if you will (omit this last if this ends up in “The Word”).
The title track sets the standard for the the tracks to follow. The first set at least features the Oberheim synthesizer and Linn-drum machine at the forefront. The synth catches my attention more than the Linn in this particular song.
It also marks the first time the members of the band get to have their voices on the record as co-leads rather than back-up vocals. Prince initally created his bi-gender, mulit-racial touring band using the Family Stone as a model and takes it a step further by using a three-part harmony for this song as he had heard on some of the Family Stone songs. (I hadn’t heard any myself, but its something I ought to check into as a way of doing some personal research).
One of the most noteable items of this period were the music videos without a doubt. All of them used the same set and were likely recorded one after the other. The elaborate set-up for “1999” is part of the visual that I took with me after seeing it the first time. (In fact, using different platforms to distribute the members of the band around the stage was another part of the Sly Stone model). The keyboards and drums were always one step higher up than where Prince was with his bass player and guitarist. Another thing that I took from the video was Lisa & Jill singing one of the parts of the three-part harmony, even more noteable was the pilot cap that Jill was wearing. At the time, I thought it was actually a sailor cap, like they were going on an ocean voyage or something. It was definitely part of that 80’s look.
Prince also premieres his infamous purple trenchcoat here with the “diamond”-covered patch on the one shoulder, but in this video, it looks extra shiny because there were several bright lights to simulate the sky on “judgement day.”
Aside from the synthesizer riff, I can pretty much tell all of the instruments featured on this song. The initial combination that creates the melody is the synth at the forefront, the Linn to keep the beat, but the bass combined with the synth is perhaps the killer combination that makes the song a pleasure to listen to. Then the song ends with a slice of rhythm guitar and Prince is noted by a lot of people in the business as one of the best rhythm guitar players there are.
Little Red Corvette, I noted musically, for the Linn-drum machine. The guitar solo is worthy of mention, of course, but the Linn separates it from a lot of other songs for me. The particular sound of it can’t be recaptured without taking away from what it brings across. It slowly fades in a soft synth line that almost sounds like a choir of strings. The Linn hisses with a soft beat to back it up, but after the first verse, it starts to get louder and louder with a pattern of 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-hiss, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, ?. On every 4th beat, the initial beat is replaced with a slight pause, then repeats and ends with a song I can’t even think of a name for before it starts from square one.
The story behind the song is typical Prince, something you’d expect it from him. After pulling an all-nighter recording, he falls asleep in the back seat of Lisa’s car (a pink Edsel) and comes up with the idea, then proceeds to finish conceptualizing it over the course of his next several “catnaps”. I don’t know when that started or how long it’d been going on for (surely in recent years Prince has slept more), but Prince was pretty notorious for his sleeping habits as well as the fact he’s more productive in the early hours of the morning (1-4am), as was the case with the Diamonds & Pearls recording sessions.
The song itself, once you listen to it a few times, is chock full of innuendo and is said to be written about his then-girlfriend, Vanity. If so, who was more promiscuous at the time, him or her? Only they know.
Its even funnier how 1999 was the first Prince video I saw in my life, but Little Red Corvette was the first video I picked out of the playlist I found the day after the SuperBowl. Both from the same album, both from that golden age in Prince’s music. Its been said that Michael Jackson broke the color barrier on MTV with his video for “Billie Jean” and Prince furthered that breaking of color barriers with the music video of this song. It was probably his first pop song released into mainstream that was fully embraced by the entire music-listening community. Both are great pop songs that are pretty catchy, but the lyrics for Little Red Corvette might be slightly better because they’re a bit easier to remember (as well as decipher when you’re listening to the actual song).
I’ll have to check the video for “Billie Jean” so I can compare dance moves as well. Although nothing can beat the Moon-walk and everything else Michael can dish out, what Prince accomplishes in that 15-second dance solo (during Dez’s guitar solo) deserves recognition because it certainly got my attention. I’d have to argue it as one of the best moments in any of his videos/performances.
The Linn-drum line in “Delirious” has been a couple of years in the making. The other songs remotely similar to it was “Tick Tick Bang,” “Jack U Off” and “Horny Toad.” But in one or all cases, I might also be thinking of the synth line.
What draws me to the song is the lyrics and the melody in which they’re sung. There probably isn’t a better way to make a song catchy as hell by making easy-to-remember lyrics and putting them in an easy melody to follow. The funny thing about them is that they are full of innuendo, but they flirt with the line that they’re meant to cross.
Then of course, knowing Prince, he’s bound to cross that line sooner or later. Its interesting how this album starts with songs that are pretty safe, socially acceptable, whatever makes for good “radio music”… and then as the album progresses, the songs get less accessible and sometimes ones you need to think about before you can understand them. Perhaps its the bait-and-switch method where he gives us something we can easily adhere to and then expects us to follow suit with songs that break the pattern, but are just as brilliant.
The majority of the album is the combination of Linn-drum and Oberheim synthesizer, as I’d already said. “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” is, pun definitely intended, the perfect “marriage” of these two principle instruments. It begins with a intro of drums that builds on itself little by little until the synth is added. Here, the synth plays in the same key as the melody. I’ll never be completely sure what impression I’d have gotten from that song had I not see the video first, but there’s something mysterious and alluring about it. Maybe because the synths make you feel like you’re in a dream or its the smoke machines in the videos.
The inspiration for it could have come from a transitional period where Prince had broke up with one of his girlfriends and seeks someone else out to follow his “needs.” This could possibly be one of the times where Prince had difficulty with Vanity and was on-again with Jill, even brought her back into the picture for the first time since they met in 1980. The song could have been a spur of the moment thing much like the lyrics discuss.
The best part for me is when things quiet down for a little and an instrumental solo takes center stage for a minute before the vocals return. The synth line, as it plays the chorus, sounds almost like a chorus of flutes.
A lot of people like this song for the lyrics that follow, laced with obscenities. Personally, I like the rant at the very end because its good food for thought with a little humor mixed in (an obscenity makes its final appearance on the record here).
Over time, I’d grown to apprecicate “D.M.S.R.” more and more. It takes you away from the main path for a while and reminds you of the philosphy from the title track, highlighting ways for you to enjoy life like there’s no tomorrow. It features the most back-up vocals of any song on the record. Hilariously, there’s a lyric that says “Jamie Starr’s a thief,” but he’s created as one of the people providing back-up vocals. Another lyrics that I found hilarious just recently was when he said “I don’t care to win awards”… mainly because I saw him accepting an award in 1986 at Minneapolis and to that lyric, he retorted that he said because then, he wasn’t up for any.
This song is a staple for a lot of Prince’s tracklists simply because it brings the whole crowd in to sing, including them in the whole experience. Of course when he asks for hand-claps, they’re simulated by the Linn-drum (something he’d done on several occasions).
What I’ll never understand, though, is the ending of the song where someone cries for help. Was it as significant as the baby cooing at the end of “Delirious” or was it just something as pointless as the cough in the 12″ version of “Raspberry Beret”, something just added because he felt like it?
If we’re going by the LP format, the second LP opens with the song “Automatic,” which begins the second half of the album where the subject material deals with the rollercoaster that is the relationship. The video itself features Prince wearing the pilot cap (which Jill wears for “1999” and could very well be connected to the song “International Lover” where Prince tries to pass himself off as a pilot) and Lisa & Jill having their way with him. Namely, them tying him to a bed and whipping him. And there we have the reason why this racy video wasn’t put on MTV.
This song is known as the A-side to the track “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)” so I think of it as one of the first of many songs cast in the mold of “Computer Blue” where Prince can’t seem to control his actions around his girl and one way or another, it causes problems for one or both parties. I also like to couple the two together because the other party in these songs, two girlfriends (Lisa & Jill here, Wendy & Lisa later on), gets to have the last word and actually ends up winning by either overwhelming Prince or leaving him with no room to maneuver since they pinpoint his flaws. The guitar solo in the portion of the song is extremely suggestive, if we’re going from inneundo’s POV, but the crying is hard to decipher. Are they meant to entail sadness or ectasy? They meant be intended for the latter effect, but I don’t really see it from that way myself. Wikipedia dismisses that part of the video as sadomasochism, taking pleasure in your own pain/suffering or inflicting pain/suffering on others. It doesn’t sound like pleasure to me either way you look at it, but I’m not going to go any further on that issue.
The synth line that repeats reminds me of a creaky, swinging old chandelier and the Linn-drum line fits perfectly with the synths (another perfect “marriage’). Then the song ends with a great bass solo where the synths buzz, giving the impression of a dentist drilling.
“Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)” continues the theme of love being pain. Instrumentally, it centers around a mechanical sounding beat from the Linn-drum (one of its more brilliant performances) and a synth line that sounds like computer-speak. I’d written before that this song about Prince trying to figure out why none of his relationships work and blames it on the tap water in Minneapolis… or otherwise, pointing the finger at everyone but the person looking him in the mirror.
This version is a bit more depressing and dreary compared to my favorite version where the synth line and chorus is easier to sing along with. The vocals used there hint at the upcoming Purple Rain era. And instead of having a distinct ending where Prince confesses “I do love you… otherwise I wouldn’t go through all the things I do,” the other version of the song just goes on and on with the repeating “computer” synth line.
“Free” is the lone ballad of the album. It begins with the sound of someone pacing back and forth in the sand at a beach judging from the waves and the crunching of sand beneath the shoes/heels. I dismissed it early on because it sounded nothing like the other songs on the album, not even remotely similar to anything I’d associate with the 80’s. The Linn-drum beat predecesses that of “Purple Rain” and “The Ladder” (also with this song, the choir of back-up vocals repeating the chorus). In this choir is the first time you hear Wendy Melvoin’s voice.
This song was likely a late addition to the album because Prince met Wendy in a hotel after hearing her play guitar in a nearby guestroom. He extended his invitation to her to join his band, but this transition wouldn’t take place until after the 1999 tour ended and the production of Purple Rain began.
Just recently, I think a little fact was added to the Wikipedia page for 1999 by someone from .org, saying that they thought Prince was crying at the end of “Free,” when he actually getting pretty choked up. The entry goes to say that he performed the song in 2007 during his 21 days in London and got emotional during it then as well. I’d have to hear it myself, then, so I can judge. The song’s supposedly a tribute to the troops in the Persian Gulf or just America’s troops in general or people who aren’t as lucky as Americans to have the right to freedom.
“Lady Cab Driver” is a track that’s also grown on me overtime because I thought it was too long. There were several tracks on this album that I thought were too long, but it just takes me a little longer to get into them. It was on the BBC radio interview from 2003 where someone said that Prince played the snare drum live for this song. It takes us from the seashore and to the streets of Minneapolis (or possibly New York, see the next track) where Prince finds salvation from his current trouble in a taxi cab (much like he did in “Annie Christian”) or just in random sex with someone he calls “lady cab driver”, someone who takes people where they want to go. Could very well be a prostitute if we’re going from that angle.
Somehow, though, I get the image of Prince going into a taxi cab,asking the female driver to take him away from where they are. Then they get to talking, pull over and get it on in the backseat where Prince rants and raves about the good and bad things in today’s world. It begins in anger and frustration and then as the sex gets better, the things Prince raves about get more and more positive. “Not knowing where I’m going, this galaxy’s better than not having a place to go” is the stand out lyric for me in that rant just because it can mean so many different things.
The beat of the song is a combination of Linn-drum (which sounds like a clap for the majority of the song) and snare, but the rest of the instruments, I find a little harder to decipher aside from the obvious slide down a keyboard and organ/guitar solo. That makes all that more interesting.
“All the critics love you in New York” is nothing more than a rant where the lyrics alternate from being silly to being something you have to think about a little bit. Its easily the most experimental track on the album and gets me thinking of the outtake “Purple Music” and in some instances, “G-Spot” when it comes to the music.
“International Lover” is the lone love song on the record, but is probably one of the funniest things he’d ever written. Inneundo is extremely prevalent, but its hard to take a lot of it seriously because a lot of it is plain silly. It’s easy to see why its been suggested as a track that Prince was going to or considering giving to The Time. If Morris Day got his hands on this, it’d be like delivering a cupid’s arrow to every girl who comes within a 10-mile radius of it (and I thought he was “bad” with the sensitive “Gigalos get Lonely Too” and seductive with “Chilli Sauce”)… the effects of it would be devestating. Maybe that was why Prince kept it for himself, if indeed those rumors are true.
The song’s imagery brings us to a formal society dance from a different time (40’s/50’s) where Prince seduces a girl sitting by herself in a corner. Then he suggests they go out back to the backseast of his ride. The spoken portion is something he did in “Do me Baby,” but might be more for laughes here than truly serious lovemaking.
With everything Prince had thrown at his audience with the rest of the album, it certainly is an interesting note to be ending on.
Around the time of this album’s creation, Prince had started getting more ambitious with a couple of side-projects. The album for Vanity 6 and “What Time is it?” from The Time were recorded around the same time as 1999, but released a few months before it. I hadn’t heard Vanity 6 yet, so I can’t do a comparison between the two.
“What Time is it?” is definitely a great record from The Time that I’d been checking into more and more these days (its in Slot 5 in my car’s CD player with “Ice Cream Castle” in Slot 6). It begins on a fun note that features a rhythm guitar, fine drum beat and a tweak of the bass. Its fitting that it was written by Prince with Dez Dickerson (who fails to get any credit for it on the album). Morris Day’s image becomes more and more of the gentleman playboy that he’s well-known for. He brings fun to the stage with his vocals as he commands his band as their frontman (even though its really Prince playing the instruments and singing back-up on the record). Then in some instances, he can play the sympathetic figure that can drive any woman mad (myself included, but The Time got me through a hard time at the beginning of the year… call it somewhat of a personal crisis as things were starting to become uncertain for me as my last college semester was just around the corner).
The 1999 tour was known as Triple-Threat because Vanity 6 and The Time were the opening acts. There was also the emergence of the rivalry between Prince (and the Revolution) and The Time when it came to which group could bring the house down harder. Sometimes when The Time went first, they had threatened to take over the entire show because it was a tough act to follow. Then at times when Prince went onstage first, he’d hit his groove so hard that he wouldn’t let The Time perform at all.
I wasn’t alive at the time, but it certainly would have been a helluva great tour to check out.
All the while, Prince was supposedly carrying around a purple notebook from show to show, on the tour bus and such. He even discussed various notions with different members of his band. Dez said that Prince needed a mainstream song that would knock people on their ear. Dr. Fink told him that he needed a signature song, as they were following another band around during this tour and Prince had asked him why people liked them so much. During this conversation, supposedly, Prince asked Dr. Fink if he was interested in being in a movie. All kinds of ideas were circulating as were rumors that Prince was working on something really big in whatever spare time he had offstage.
Then a couple months later, Prince met with his management and they thought about putting a movie together to show the kind of life Prince was currently living. Then Bob Cavallo (might have been someone else, but I’m not 100% sure on this) suggested that if they wanted to make a movie, they had to make a hit movie…. and so history takes care of the rest. I’ll work a little more on this matter later… after I watch Purple Rain again with all the special features, including the commentary.