“Condition Of The Heart” – Around the World in a Day (1985)

When trying to decide which song to dive into after such a long hiatus I tossed around half a dozen or so tracks. Do I choose the last song from the last album as a kind of requiem or should I focus on something that might help heal the emotional scars? In the end I went back to my original list of song suggestions from back before Prince died and I realised that any song I chose would bring sufficient emotional baggage with it, given the circumstances, so there was no need to try and doing anything special for my “comeback.” So what made me choose this one from the list? Well late last year I asked a friend to suggest a few songs to help me focus my efforts and next to each suggestion he made a few notes about why he liked the song and why I should add it to my list. Next to “Condition Of The Heart” he’d simply written “because beauty.” When I read those words I realised that was the answer. Not just the answer to which song to write about next but also the answer to why I was such a Prince fan. Why we all are. The answer to why we really do anything worthwhile in this life at all. Because beauty.[1]

 

“Condition of the Heart” is the third track from Prince’s seventh album, Around the World in a Day. I’ve written about this album before (see the entry on “Temptation”[2]) so I’ll try not to get repetitive. The follow up from his biggest album ever and he didn’t even wait a year before releasing it. Think about that for a second. After the biggest success of his life, he didn’t sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labour. He just kept working. This album was recorded between January and December 1984 for the most part. For those of you keeping score, this was the same year that Purple Rain was released (25 June for the album and 27 July for the movie). This means that during shooting of the movie, promotion, meetings, rehearsals, etc., he still found time to record a double platinum album. For comparison, consider that after Michael Jackson released Thriller in 1982 he didn’t put out a new record until 1987’s Bad. That being said, Prince and the band were always busy writing and recording during this era of his career. So much so that it really is no surprise that he had enough great material to put out an album. The real question is why do it so quickly and why this album. Of all the albums that he could have released after Purple Rain with the multitude of songs that we know he had ready to go. Why did he choose these songs?

 

The songs on Around The World In A Day are quite a departure from Prince’s previous albums. Most hardcore fans will have great praise for this record as his “psychedelic” attempt at consolidating his work as an artist and his rejection of the pop star career path and record label intervention (get behind me Warner Brothers!). If you’re reading this blog, chances are you like the album a lot. But to your more casual Prince fan, this album ain’t that hot. Sure it’s got “Raspberry Beret” on it but most of it is weird and “experimental”. Around The World In A Day is clearly a statement by Prince and not just your everyday regular ol’ LP. The fact that there was no lead single and that it was released so soon after the last record says a lot. If Purple Rain was a record label’s dream, this record must have been a nightmare. The fact that it sold as well as it did suggests that the heat from Purple Rain hadn’t dissipated and that there was in fact a market for this type of record. At least amongst Prince fans.

 

“Condition Of The Heart” is one of those songs that you could argue was more on the experimental side. Coming in at 6:46mins, the first two and a half minutes are all instrumental with the first two minutes sounding like they are part of a movie score. The first sound you hear is some sort of deep bass drum evoking a pacing heartbeat before the ethereal piano and “fairy” keyboard sounds float in. Although stylistically different to the main part, the intro sets the tone for the whole song and eases you into what’s to come. To my ear the introduction to this song sounds like a butterfly floating from flower to flower in search of a mate. In my mind’s eye it’s almost Disney-esque in the way it flows from scene to scene.

 

Picture if you will an animated anthropomorphised purple butterfly that looks somewhat like our Prince, floating and flitting from flower to flower presented in a style somewhere between Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and Fantasia. Being a Prince song the flowers and plants in the meadow look, unsurprisingly, like naked women. He flits and floats and fleetly flees and flies across the screen checking out all the female butterflies that he comes across and falling for each one in turn. But they all fly past him or ignore his attempts at courtship. At about the fifty second mark of the song the music drops out and this is when he sees her. They lock eyes. She turns away shyly. He approaches cautiously. They smile at each other. He whispers in her ear. She giggles. They hold hands. Then finally they move in for a passionate embrace as they envelope each other with their wings and get to work on making little baby caterpillars. The act is symbolized by the “crash” in the music we hear at the 1:35min mark. After this the music settles back down and becomes steadier. It doesn’t have that flitting feeling that we heard at the beginning. Now, basking in the afterglow, it sounds somehow calmer and more relaxed as it transitions to the song proper and we hear the actual melody that will carry us the rest of the way.

 

There was a girl in Paris
Whom he sent a letter 2
Hoping she would answer back
Now wasn’t that a foolhardy
Notion on the part of a
Sometimes lonely musician
Acting out a whim is only good
4 a condition of the heart

 

Is this the first time he’s used “whom” in a song? Perhaps the only time? I’m struggling to think of any others. It’s always stood out for me as an unusual turn of phrase. He’s definitely trying to sound fancy, although I think he may actually be using it correctly (grammarians sound off!). But who’s the girl? It seems clear that Prince is referring to himself as the “sometimes lonely musician” but who is he writing to? Loneliness is a fairly common theme in through a lot of Prince’s music. It highlights the emotional isolation that can come from the level of fame that he had achieved in his career at this point. Lonely but not alone. And only “sometimes.” So there must be times when he isn’t lonely. When he’s with his lover perhaps? I love the way that he pauses in the middle of “foolhardy.” He clearly knows that he was a fool for sending this girl a letter but he sent it anyway, even though he had a fair idea that she wouldn’t respond to his “whim.” A whim that only works to give him a “condition of the heart”.

 

There was a dame from London
Who insisted that he love her
Then left him 4 a real prince
From Arabia, now isn’t that
A shame that sometimes money
Buys U everything and nothing
Love, it only seems 2 buy a
Terminal condition of the heart

 

Could we be talking about an actual “Dame” in this verse? I would imagine there would be a fair few of them in London. This one seems to be quite the force of nature. It’s not that he fell for her; she actually forced him into it. Dame or not, it would seem that this girl has a thing for princes; with a preference for the rich Arabian kind over the musical Minnesotan kind. Just how much of this song is autobiographical? The “real prince” reference implies that he’s the “not real prince.” He may have money now after his Purple Rain pay day, but that’s all a façade really. His name is as far as his “prince-ness” goes. He reinforces the idea by saying that “sometimes money buys U everything and nothing.” To me this is one of the best pieces of wordsmithing in all of Prince’s catalogue. So much meaning is conveyed in just seven words that you could write an entire book analysing their meaning. But I’ll just say that this line cuts deep and speaks to the reason why this album was released the way it was. Off the back of his Purple Rain success and the massive pay day that this brought, he still had the awareness to see that the extra money and fame wouldn’t automatically lead to him finding love or continuing to be a creative artist. Our narrator realises that money won’t buy love (but it can help with the search). Money can purchase most tangible things in life but if you are looking for something more emotional or philosophical it isn’t always that helpful and can even be a detriment to your cause.

But what of love? Our narrator is now onto the second course of his trans-continental love story; first Paris and now London. And according to him love, it seems, is deadly. His “condition of the heart” is akin to a broken heart. A condition bought by love. Love is a disease. An affliction. A cancer. A detriment to a happy life. Although it seems in this verse that it is lost love that is the culprit. To love and to lose, this is the terminal condition. But what happens when you love and you win?

 

Thinking about U driving me crazy
My friends all say it’s just a phase, but ooh-ooh
Every day is a yellow day
I’m blinded by the daisies in your yard

 

Our singer goes from telling a story in the third person in the verses to making his confession in the first person in the choruses. He’s talking directly to the object of his affection (and the audience) trying to convince her (and us) that his love is real. Not some school boy crush. This is not a lost love. Not a whim. This is in the here and now, hence the first person narrative. The earlier stories were all history.  But what exactly does he mean by “yellow day?” Is this a good thing? Like a happy yellow face on a button you pin to your backpack. Or is it supposed to symbolize the dark side of the colour yellow – cowardice and betrayal. Given the obvious juxtaposition of the historical and negative verses with the more positive choruses I would hazard a guess that Prince’s “yellow day” is a happy, bright, sun-shiny day. He’s in love and she drives him crazy. He’s blinded by his love.

 

There was a woman from the ghetto
Who made funny faces just like
Clara Bow, how was I 2 know
That she would wear the same
Cologne as U and giggle the same
Giggle that U do?
Whenever I would act a fool, the fool
With a condition of the heart

 

Clara Bow – what a deep cut. Clara was an actress and super star of the silent movie era who personified “the Roaring Twenties and is described as its leading sex symbol.”[3] Referred to as the “flapper-par-excellence’ or “the Royal Canadian Mounted Police of sex, who always gets her man,”[4] she became known as the “It Girl” after starring in the movie It. A role which helped solidify her super stardom.  I find it interesting that Prince chose to reference a silent movie sex symbol. The original “It Girl.” But what is “It” I hear you ask? Well the novella upon which the movie was based was written by Elinor Glyn and she describes it thus:

‘It’ is that quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force. With “It” you win all men if you are a woman – and all women if you are a man. “It” can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction.[5]

Now whether intended or not, this sounds like Prince referencing himself. He was the “It” guy of his era. Pop star, movie star, sex symbol. He was “It.” He’s also been known to make the odd funny face or two. Could Prince’s “woman from the ghetto” be a masked reference to himself? Notice how in the earlier verses he mentions the cities of Paris and London specifically but here he uses the more general term “ghetto.” Could that mean New York or Chicago or Minneapolis (or any other major city in the world)? Clara was from Brooklyn which, to my admittedly limited understanding, is occasionally referred to as a “ghetto.” And if you’ve ever seen Clara on film you’ll know what the funny face reference was all about. Without a word (silent movies are a bitch that way) she could get across exactly what she was meaning and you’d know it. But Prince doesn’t just compare her to Clara Bow. He also compares the “ghetto” woman’s giggle and her scent to the object of his affection; his beautiful butterfly.

A butterfly that wears cologne apparently, not perfume. Even though perfume would fit the lyric, it seems an odd choice to use the word cologne. If memory serves he’s used the word “cologne” a few times over the years when referring to a woman’s scent. This seems odd when the general convention is that women wear perfume and men wear cologne. However, it turns out that terms “cologne (or eau de cologne)” and “perfume” have more technical definitions and aren’t necessarily gender specific. It turns out that “cologne” is composed of only about 2-4% of perfume oils in alcohol and water lasting for about 2 hours when applied. Whereas “perfume” is up around 20-30% and can last up to 24 hours.

I’ve read that Prince used to smell like lavender so it seems he did wear some sort of “cologne.” And he likely did “giggle” from time to time as well. We know he had a sense of humour. If this verse is actually about Prince himself then it seems he is trying to show his love that they have these things in common at least (cologne and giggling). That they have similar tastes and enjoy the same type of humour; they can laugh at the same things and shop in the same stores. Alternatively, if this about another woman then he’s making the comparison between the new girl and the old girl. She was almost like you, he’s saying, but not quite.  The butterfly has flown from Paris to London and to the ghetto but he doesn’t settle until he finds her. His one and only.

 

Thinking about U driving me crazy
My friends all say it’s just a phase, but ooh-ooh
Every single day is a yellow day
I’m blinded by the daisies in your yard

 

Back to the first person narrative – this is what’s happening now. His history may have brought him here, which is why it is important enough to spend three verses on. But the chorus is what is happening now. The bright yellow day full of happiness and joy. Even the daises are so happy they’re blinding. The daisy is known for being the fifth most popular flower in the world because the bloom comes in a variety of different colors and is appropriate for a number of occasions. In addition to loyalty and love, the daisy symbolizes innocence, cheerfulness and purity. A cheerful bouquet of the flowers is often gifted to brighten the day of someone who is ill.[6] And Prince is ill. He has a condition of the heart. But he’s blinded by her loyalty and love and innocence so his condition is not such a bad thing.

 

There was a girl (There was a girl in Paris)
Whom he sent a letter to… (Whom he sent a letter 2)
(Hoping she would answer back)
She never answered back and now (wasn’t that a foolhardy)
He’s got a condition of the heart. (notion …)

 

In the last line he drops all pretense and uses his natural speaking voice. In the movie of this song, this is where our hero looks straight at the camera and admits to us, his love and himself that this is the real deal. This is the real me telling it straight. I’ve got a condition of the heart and I’m in love. Everything that came before is merely prologue to this moment. The way the verses take a roll call of our protagonist’s past paramours is reminiscent of “5 Women” in that the catalogue of lovers is used as a counterpoint to the one true love that’s driving him crazy. Where in “5 Women” his true love has left him, here his love is still around. They may not be a couple just yet but she is definitely in his heart. The song starts to fade out and the last thing we hear is the faint sound of that drum from the start of the song (turn up your volume if you can’t hear it); only now the rhythm has slowed. Acknowledging that our butterfly has found his mate and his panicked search for love is over. His heart beats with a calmness and assurance that only comes to those know love.

 

Is this another song about Susannah? It seems like it’s about the right time for them to be courting or starting to anyway. Maybe she was just coming into his radar. The references to “real prince” and “sometimes lonely musician” practically confirm that Prince is singing about himself or at least inserting himself into this tale and being the only musician on this track means that there’s little chance of anyone else’s point of view coming into play. Whether or not the rest is a fictional story doesn’t really diminish the impact of the song. Yes, a lot of this song is about describing lost love but the whole point is that those stories are all history now. Because life isn’t about dwelling on the past. Because love is about being in the here and now. Because beauty.

 

 

Running time: 6:46

 

References:

 

Around The World In A Day (released 1985)

Purple Rain (released 1984)

Old Friends For Sale (released 1999)

The Peach & Black Podcast

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

AZ Lyrics

Prince in Print

Prince.org

Youtube

Reference.com

Gilda’s Blue Book of the Screen.

[1] Thanks Tombstoneshoes!

[2] https://thisisnotmusicthisisatrip.wordpress.com/2015/09/17/temptation-around-the-world-in-a-day-1985/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clara_Bow

[4] http://www.gildasattic.com/clarabow.html

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4MOQSRC_bM you can read the quote on the title card of the movie.

[6] https://www.reference.com/home-garden/meaning-behind-daisy-flowers-a4fc2a05779a6a6b

Even the soldiers need a break sometimes…

It’s been a hell of a year hasn’t it kids?

I figured that before I attempted getting back on the horse of trying to write here regularly that I would post a short note to explain the break.

After Prince died it was hard to even listen to his music again, let alone write about it. Then Mrs Thrawn and I moved house. I lost my job. Mrs Thrawn had our baby (Thrawn Spawn). And I landed a new job. Needless to say there’s been lots going on in my life. Not to mention all the other craziness going on in the world this year.

Why start up again? Why now? Well I did quite enjoy writing these pieces and I still love Prince’s music (so no change there). Plus I did feel like I had found my voice and was getting into a pretty good rhythm with it all. And now my life has calmed down a little bit I wanted to try and put something out before the year ended. An arbitrary date, I know. But still, it felt like a target I could hit.

So, apologies if the quality of the first few posts isn’t up to scratch. It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything so I may be a little rusty.

 

Always cry for love, never cry for pain

It’s kind of like losing a friend. In some ways it’s kind of like losing your best friend. It’s amazing to think such a distant event can have such an impact. Not just on you but on thousands, maybe even millions. Automatically your mind switches to selfish thoughts, “I won’t be able to see that show ever again.” No more waiting in line. No more anxiety trying to get tickets. No more anticipation waiting for the next record to drop.

I’m mourning the music. But I’m mourning the man as well. Not as a friend (but kind of, yeah) and not as an acquaintance (never had the pleasure) but as a human being that gave me so much joy.

Joy and pleasure and catharsis through years and years of listening and watching and learning. Learning what it meant to love, to suffer, to party. What it meant to live. It might sound grandiose but I’ve had this guy in my ear for most of my life giving me advice (not always good advice, but still), urging me to have fun and live life. I’ve spent so much of my waking life listening to his music. Over and over again. New songs then back to the old ones and back again. Each one is like a family member. A well remembered face that feels like home every time you hear it. Each one has its own life. Its own memory. When you first heard it. What (or who) you did while listening to it. And it’s gone. Or at least that’s what it feels like.

There’s always going to be a void now. In our hearts and in our minds. Those of us that have been on the boat for years. Have traveled to different cities and countries to see him perform. Invested so much time and money and love. How do you replace something like that? Why would you even want to?

I’m never ever going to fall in love with a band or artist like that ever again. Even if someone was able to match his output and quality I’m too old to start over. All we’ll be able to do is put on some old records and reminisce about what we use to have. “Remember that show man? That was crazy!”

The music that made me who I am is gone. And so is the man who made it. The songs are still there. And the videos. And the movies. But knowing we’ll never see him again means none of that music will ever be the same. Every ballad will make you sad in a way that wasn’t possible before and every funky bass line will be a reminder that at some point the party will be over.

And at the centre of it all is just another man. A human being. Just like you. Just like me. There may be a perceived crassness at the masses mourning a public figure. Finger pointing and sneering at those who feel a loss even though they have no relation to the deceased. An attitude I’ve held myself at times to my shame. But you should never feel ashamed of the things that make you feel anything. Whether it’s sadness or joy.

But at the end of the day it’s not his death that’s really important. Just another among billions really. It’s his life. That’s what’s important to remember (at least to me). He did more in 57 years than most of us would be able to do in 507. Sure, all we have now are memories but when it comes down to it that’s all our lives are. A series of memories. And he certainly gave us some great ones. Maybe that’s what I’m saddest about. No new memories. Not with him anyway. But we’ll always be able to keep the ones that we have and continue to cherish them and protect them and remember what life can be if we chose to live. And therein lies the lesson.

At the end of the day the sadness is not for him really, it’s for me. What I’ll be missing. How it makes me feel. My life, such as it is, won’t change much in the day to day but behind all that I think that he’ll always be there in some subtle way. The memories and the music. Guiding, advising, laughing. Sharing the good times and the bad.

I’m thankful that I was able to experience what I have. On record and in concert. I’ll be forever grateful. And forever in debt.

 

“I Wanna Be Your Lover” – Prince (1979)

The lead single and opening track from Prince’s eponymous second album. Released on 19 October 1979 by Warner Brothers the album went platinum in February the following year. It’s the album that put young Prince on the map as a pop artist. The album with his first successful single, “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. And it’s the one with our hero naked on the front cover and riding Pegasus on the back cover (in the nude of course). If you’ve ever seen any ancient Greek or Roman portraiture you’ll probably notice some similarities with the shot on the front cover of this record. Eyes looking straight at the camera, shoulders angled slightly, shot cropped just above the nipples (or just under the shoulders) and sometimes naked (sometimes not). No smile. In Greek art warriors or heroes (or gods) were often depicted naked and almost always they were young, buff men and teenagers. The naked male form was the pinnacle of perfection and athleticism (Greeks tended to compete in the nude) and nudity has figured prominently in Western art ever since. Prince has taken these ideas and inserted himself as the new ideal. The album “concept” is credited to Prince so clearly this is his vision and how he wants to be seen; a new hero for a new age riding in on his winged steed.

 

Pegasus was the son of the god Poseidon and the gorgon Medusa and he is one of the best known figures from ancient Greek mythology. It’s said that he and his brother (Chrysaor) were born when Perseus cut off Medusa’s head and they sprang from the wound. Pegasus was eventually tamed and bridled by the hero Bellerophon. Some of you may be yelling at your screen now saying “It was Perseus that tamed the winged steed you fool!” But if you’ve bothered to check Wikipedia you’d know that this idea was a later development where Bellerophon was replaced with the more popular Perseus. An idea that became the standard through the Middle Ages and Renaissance but originally it was Bellerophon. So it’s quite possible that Prince thought he was imitating Perseus on this cover and the Prince/Perseus/Pegasus alliteration kind of hints at the idea. Regardless we are left with the concept of our hero riding into adventure on the back of his flying horse. Bellerophon was the son of the king of Corinth (a prince!) who used Pegasus (son of a god) to help him kill the Chimera (a cross between a goat, a lion and a serpent) and partake in lots of other adventures, including fighting the Amazons.

 

Prince/Bellerophon is the hero in our tale and this son of a king is being carried by the son of a god into battle. Knowing what we know about Prince’s beliefs and philosophy I think we can pretty easily throw a Christian lens over this interpretation and assume that Pegasus represents Jesus (pure and white). Now our Prince isn’t exactly the warrior type. His battles are battles of the heart. If you look at the track list on this album then it’s pretty clear that this is his focus. It’s all about love, romance and heart break. The Chimera that he is fighting is the monster that guards the way to his lover’s heart through all the tracks on this album (“Bambi” even echoes Bellerophon’s battle against the Amazon warrior women). These songs represent the trials and tribulations of our hero and show us his true nature. This is why the album is self-titled; why he’s naked on the cover. There’s no filter on his emotions. The album fluctuates between love and heartache and the opening track is the perfect representation of that dichotomy.

 

“I Wanna Be Your Lover” was recorded between April and June of 1979 at Alpha Studios in Burbank. Another one of Prince’s solo recordings that reached number 11 on the Billboard charts and got Prince a slot on the American Bandstand TV show. When I listen to the song it sounds like it’s trying to be a disco-funk song. Which makes sense given the artist and the era. Disco music is synonymous with the 1970s and Prince is synonymous with funk so the song represents two of the strongest musical influences floating around Prince’s head at the time. Wikipedia labels it as “post-disco” which was characterised by drum machines and synthesisers (if you listen closely to this song you may be able to hear something like that). It’s interesting too that on the album version more than half the song is instrumental with the lyrics dropping out after about two and a half minutes. A strange way to open an album but if you think about it as the start of our hero’s journey with his winged pony then this song would be the opening sequence of the movie version of the story. The lyrics help us set up the story in a kind of pre-credit sequence where the action has already begun and then the instrumental part is where the credits roll and we see the opening montage that shows us how our hero got where he is.

 

I ain’t got no money
I ain’t like those other guys you hang around
And it’s kinda funny
But they always seem to let you down
And I get discouraged
’cause I never see you anymore
And I need your love, babe yeah
That’s all I’m living for, yeah


I didn’t wanna pressure you, baby
But all I ever wanted to do

 
 
After spending almost the entire budget that the record company had given him for his first three albums on For You, the opening line is very probably the literal truth. Even a musician with a record deal can often find themselves below the poverty line (especially if you like to party). Nowadays Prince has approximately zero money problems so there’s no way he could honestly write a song like this anymore (although he does still love to sing it) but funnily enough he’s still writing songs about heartache and wanting someone’s love. And he still isn’t like any other guy that you would likely be hanging around with. But back in 1979 Prince was a poor musician with only one fairly unsuccessful album under his belt and the guys that his lover is hanging around would seem to be rich Los Angelinos (Californian princes if you will) that no doubt stand in contrast to the upstanding citizenry of his home. Prince recorded this song (and the album) in Los Angeles which is a kingdom far from his own homeland of Minneapolis. Similarly, the story of Bellerophon begins with his exile from his homeland (a prince without a country) and arrival in another kingdom with nothing to his name. In this verse he’s talking about his longing for someone that he claims to love. It was a dark time for our young hero. Even though the object of his affection appears to have moved on with other guys it’s clear that Prince believes himself to be the morally superior choice in a lover because the others “always seem to let you down.” Which he finds discouraging; although when he delivers the line he drags out the word “discouraged” and puts a bit of a pause in there so it sounds like “I get dis,” implying that he understands why his love is doing what she does (I’m assuming it’s a she) but it still bums him out. He loves her, he misses her, she’s his everything and he didn’t really want to pressure her (but now he does). But what does she want? It doesn’t sound like he’s even considered that. All of these lyrics are about his wants and needs; which is fair enough to a degree because it is his song. But it doesn’t really consider the desires of the object of his affection; which is kind of what you’d expect from a twenty year old songwriter.
 
 

I wanna be your lover
I wanna be the only one that makes you come running
I wanna be your lover
I wanna turn you on, turn you out, all night long, make you shout
Oh, lover! Yeah
I wanna be the only one you come for

 
With the chorus we get another strategic pause – “I wanna be the only one that makes you come.” It’s clear at this point that when Prince is talking about loving, he’s actually talking about fucking. Based on the first verse you may have thought this song was about a young man’s unrequited love but once you hear the chorus you understand that it’s not really as clean cut and PG rated as all that. “Lover,” “love” and “loving” are all synonymous with sex. So in the first verse when he says “I need your love” he’s basically saying “I want your sex” or “I need to fuck you.” The pressure that he’s talking about now becomes something stronger as though he is forcing himself upon her with his desires even though she’s hanging out with a bunch of other guys. Thematically it’s almost the precursor to “When You Were Mine” with the same type of boy+girl+friends relationships going on. You could even go as far to suggest that the initial focus on lack of money hints at this person that Prince is singing about being a paid professional of some kind that he’s fallen for and that the guys she is hanging with aren’t like Prince because he can’t afford to pay her anymore now that his funds are running low. I did suggest the same thing when I wrote about “When You Were Mine” so I won’t go over old territory here. No sense in beating a dead hooker. Whoever she is (assuming it’s a she) it seems that he wants to help her orgasm; which is a fairly progressive stance to take in that he is focussed on ensuring that his partner is enjoying the experience and putting her needs first. It’s a step away from the self-centredness of the first verse and is almost the leitmotif of Prince’s entire career; reappearing on every album. Making sure your lady comes is what it’s all about. But he has to be the only one who does it because it’s all about the monogamy (another feature of Prince’s career). It’s funny how at the end of the chorus he blatantly talks about her coming but earlier he was being all coy and clever by inserting the pause between “come” and “running.” He’s gotten so horny that he can’t hold back anymore and comes right out and says what he means.

 

I wanna be your brother
I wanna be your mother and your sister, too
There ain’t no other
That can do the things that I’ll do to you
And I get discouraged
’cause you treat me just like a child
And they say I’m so shy, yeah
But with you I just go wild!

I didn’t wanna pressure you, baby. No!
But all I ever wanted to do

 

Is he talking incest here? Or is it his way of saying “I want to be your everything?” It seems like he wants to be the only one in his lover’s life. No “friends,” no “family,” just him. He wants to become her family (just not her father it seems). But she doesn’t even take him seriously. His puppy love is unrequited. He keeps bragging about being a great lover but he’s really just a shy kid that she has no interest in (until he can afford to pay perhaps?). This entire song is all braggadocio and testosterone. If this was a real conversation then the woman that he is talking to would very likely call him a disgusting creep and walk away. But as a pop song it works because you’re hearing it through the filter of the record player or radio so you don’t really think about how creepy it is because the guy saying these things isn’t right in front of you at the bar trying to get into your pants.
 


I wanna be your lover
I wanna be the only one that makes you come running
I wanna be your lover
I wanna turn you on, turn you out, all night long make you shout
Oh, lover! Yeah
I wanna be the only one you come for, yeah

 

One last chorus and then the song switches gears and goes all instrumental for about three and a half minutes. Even though the lyrics give us no indication that he was successful perhaps our hero is now too busy sexing his lady to keep singing for us or all the sex talk has made him too horny to continue and he went off to make himself “come running.” Either way the outro seems to have the kind of rhythm that would be conducive to some sexual activity (try it at home kids!) but essentially it is filler to add some more running time to the album. I imagine that Prince would have gotten some pressure from the powers that be or perhaps it was even self-imposed to make this album run longer than For You which only goes for about thirty three minutes.

 

So the first chapter in our hero’s journey comes to a close. Prince/Bellerophon and his mighty steed Jesus/Pegasus have had their first adventure into the dark and twisted realm of sex and romance. Prince’s first battle here is to try and convince the object of his desire that he is a worthy suitor; someone with the right moral standing, physical attributes and abilities to be her lover. His battleground is the bedroom and his competition is a bunch of rich guys that have seduced his lady. Has he succeeded? Has he failed? That remains to be seen. I guess we’ll need to listen to the rest of the album to find out if he gets the girl.

 

Bellerophon does eventually get the girl. He marries her and they have children. But Bellerophon’s ego got out of control and he thought that he was one of the gods so he tried to fly up to Mount Olympus on the back of Pegasus. Zeus made sure that he didn’t reach his goal and he ended up falling off the horse. After he landed he ended up living out the rest of his days a blind and cripple hermit. Will our hero Prince share the same fate? He certainly has had his fair share of ego over the years and perhaps his conversion to Jehovah’s Witness is the equivalent to Zeus knocking Bellerophon off his horse; which has crippled his song writing in the sense that he has limited his artistic vision by no longer using the bad words and naughty ideas of his youth. I don’t imagine that Prince has designed his entire career to mimic the Bellerophon story; however there does appear to be a clear ancient Greek influence on the artwork of this album. Which implies that at the time at least Prince saw himself as hero of sorts and worthy of his lover’s affections.

 

 

Running time: 5:50

 

References:
Prince (released 1979)
For You (released 1978)
The Peach & Black Podcast
Wikipedia
Prince Vault
AZ Lyrics
Prince Lyrics (http://www.princelyrics.co.uk/search/)
Prince In Print

“Controversy” – Controversy (1981)

This is track one, side one from Prince’s fourth album. The title track from Controversy. Released on 14 October 1981 by Warner Brothers, the album was certified platinum on 11 January 1985. Just over three years to sell a million records, not too shabby I think you’d agree. But just as a point of comparison Prince was certified platinum on 21 February 1980, four months after it was released.[1] That’s a pretty slow burn for Controversy. Plus it got to pick up some of the heat from 1999 and Purple Rain. In terms of sales and pop culture impact you’d have to say that Prince (the record) was the bigger of the two albums at the time of its release and that Prince (the person) probably alienated a lot of the fans who bought his sophomore release when he put out Dirty Mind and started singing about fucking his sister (I’m guessing). Continuing the comparison, “Controversy” was the lead single from the album and peaked at number 70 on the US chart. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” on the other hand reached number 11. Being someone who came to Prince fandom in the 90s I’d always imagined that Controversy was the bigger record. I guess it’s because I listened to “Do Me, Baby” and “Controversy” a lot more than I listened to any other pre-1999 songs. It makes one wonder what would have become of Prince’s career if 1999 and Purple Rain had come straight after the success of Prince and we’d skipped over the provocation of Controversy and Dirty Mind. But then that wouldn’t be Prince would it. As the man himself said about Dirty Mind “I wasn’t being deliberately provocative. I was being deliberately me.”[2] And the same can be said of Controversy. It’s Prince being Prince and doing what he wants to do. Like fucking his sister.

 

“Controversy” was voted the 14th greatest Prince song of all time on the Peach & Black podcast’s fan vote. Obviously a huge fan favourite which may be the reason it skewed my perception of it and the album in pop history. This has become one of those anthems that Prince will play over and over again when he goes out on tour. And it will bring down the house every time. A minimalist funk jam that can be played for hours on end (and sometimes is), it was recorded during the summer of 1981 in Prince’s home studio and was finished two months before the record was released. The song features Prince on everything except for some backing vocals provided by Lisa. But why write this song and album at this point of his career. Taking the music a step away from the dance, sex and romance of the earlier albums and throwing in some politics and philosophy. This song epitomises that message and is clearly a statement. But a statement about what exactly? Let’s try and break it down. “Controversy – a prolonged public dispute, debate, or contention; disputation concerning a matter of opinion.”[3] Who was Prince debating in 1981? What was the source of the controversy? A thin, muscular, androgynous looking singer bouncing around on stage in heels and speedos? Singing about giving head and fucking his sister? In 1981? I wonder what could have possibly triggered any sort of debate. Good thing Tipper Gore wasn’t around at the time or we’d all be fucked. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it was Prince himself that was the source of the controversy (hard to believe, I know). I realise that the media were the stokers of that flame but ‘twas the Prince what sparked the fire. Then, as now, the media tends to target their shit at the lowest common denominator. In western countries like America that’s usually middle age, middle class, boring people. And that middling persona is usually one that reporters will adopt when interviewing or talking about anyone deemed “controversial.” Pretending to be shocked at the things famous people do as though this was the first time they’d ever heard of anyone acting so strangely. Almost as if the qualifying factor for becoming a Hollywood reporter was never learning anything about the world or the people in it. This song is a reaction to that attitude and it was Prince’s response to all the hype that had been surrounding him up to that point. A hype that he (and his people) definitely had a hand in. What better response than to write a song and album called “Controversy.”

 

The song opens with that pounding drum and bass intro with the keyboard popping to let you know there’s more on its way. Very stripped down and basic. Then the song kicks in proper like and takes off with the funk. Not an overly complicated mix of sounds but orchestrated to make you want to move. There’s a percussive sound that runs throughout the song that sounds like someone grunting to my ears (“oof!”). I imagine it could be part of the drum recording but it sounds human to me (a sample perhaps). There’s also a sound in there that sounds like a door slamming shut (maybe another sample) that comes in and out of the track. Every time I listen to this song on headphones I think Mrs Thrawn is slamming doors around the house to get my attention.

 

I just can’t believe
All the things people say, controversy
Am I black or white?
Am I straight or gay? Controversy

 

I’m not too sure why Prince would have trouble believing the things that people were saying. Given that he actively set out to be “controversial” and give people things to talk about. When you release an album called Dirty Mind that has songs on it about giving head and fucking your sister it’s a little ridiculous to then pretend that you’re shocked at people’s reactions to you. Or that you’re not being provocative. No matter how much you claim “I was being me.” But in this verse he’s specifically talking about the comments on his ethnicity and sexuality in the media. Now when you think about the androgynous way he looked at the time and the type of behaviour he was exhibiting (especially on stage) then it’s kind of understandable that people would have different opinions. And the press being what it is will continue to make those arguments even if you’ve answered the questions, because they need to sell advertising. But the real point here is that being black or white, or straight or gay is actually not controversial and not a thing that requires any heated discussion. This is the whole point of this verse (and the song itself). Prince is saying “you people in the press claim that these things that you write about are important or controversial or lascivious, but I’m here to tell you that they’re not. I’m the new normal and y’all better recognise where it’s at.”

 

Do I believe in God?
Do I believe in me?
Controversy, controversy
Controversy

 

More things which aren’t controversial. He’s a believer. In himself and his ability, and in his god. Was it controversial to be a christian in America in 1981? Certainly not. Now christians may have claimed (and still do) that they are persecuted and mistreated in one of the most christian countries in the world but I don’t imagine that there was any sort of issue for a performer in that era to be proclaiming their belief in the christian god. However there probably weren’t many performers who were as “dirty” or “nasty” as Prince was perceived to be, who proclaimed such faith and so loudly. Faith and unwavering self-belief. The kind of ego you have to project to be a pop music star in any era requires a level of self-belief that the average Joe just isn’t able to muster. I suppose being a supremely talented musician is an advantage on that score. But undeniably self-belief has always been part of Prince’s artistic persona. “I just decided that I was gonna do my own thing.”[4]

 

I can’t understand
Human curiosity, controversy
Was it good for you?
Was I what you wanted me to be?
Controversy

 

Here he is claiming he doesn’t understand things again. But the curiosity he’s talking about is the barrage of questions and bullshit he’s getting from the press. When he says “was it good for you,” he’s basically saying “you fucked me – how was it?” Did I jump through all your hoops? Did I fit into the box that you wanted to put me in? Did I help you sell some more units? Did I tickle your balls just right? At least I assume that’s what he’s talking about. He may have issues with human curiosity in general. Which if true means that he lacks an understanding of one of the fundamental aspects of being human. Which means he’s probably talking about the other thing. Or he’s a psychopath.

 

Do you get high?
Does your daddy cry?
Controversy, controversy
Controversy

 

If you’ve ever seen the footage of that James Brown show with Michael Jackson you will know the answer to that first question – high as giraffe pussy.[5]

 

Do I believe in God?
Do I believe in me?
Some people wanna die
So they can be free

 

Depending on who you ask “some people wanna die so they can be free” can have a couple of meanings. Some people want to kill themselves so they can be released from the pain and suffering of life and embrace the quiet nothingness of oblivion. Other people want to die (but not of their own hand) so they can take their place in whatever heaven they imagine. Then there are those people who don’t really want to die at all but they’re not important right now. If you’re not sure which group Prince falls into, just meditate on the fact that the Lord’s Prayer is a significant part of this track and you will find your answer. I find it interesting that at the same time that Prince is singing about wanting to go to heaven the double meaning of his lyrics indicate an almost opposite philosophical viewpoint. People who want to die, who want to kill themselves, not to reach a perceived place of joy and happiness but rather as a means of ending whatever pain or sorrow they are feeling or suffering from. The ultimate escape from whose bourn no traveller returns. Whether this is deliberate wordplay on Prince’s part is hard to tell given his strong religious beliefs which necessitate a strict abhorrence of suicide by any means. But if we’re talking about “controversy” then euthanasia was and still is a controversial idea to many. Although less so these days. Who knows, maybe Prince is a closet Kevorkian fan.

 

I said life is just a game
We’re all just the same
Do you wanna play?
Yeah, yeah, yeah

 

Do you want to play a game? The game of life? To me that implies that life should be enjoyed (Prince the hedonist) but also that this life isn’t really real and not worth stressing about (Prince the christian). Play the game right and you get the big prize! And the rules are the same for everyone right? No. Clearly we aren’t all the same. Each of us has our own unique dimensions and circumstances. But in terms of our opportunities and the way we treat each other, we should be the same. We aren’t. But we should be. Prince is saying that he doesn’t want to be treated any differently from anyone else. “I’m the same as you.” Which in a philosophical sense is true but practically speaking he isn’t the same as the rest of us. I’m definitely not a sexy musical genius who looks great in heels. How ’bout you?

 

Controversy, controversy
Controversy, controversy
Controversy, controversy

 

Some joy in repetition right here kids.

 

Our Father, who art in Heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven

Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those
Who trespass against us

Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom and the power
And the glory forever and ever

 

Most of the music drops out and the delivery is dead pan. Joyless. No emotion. No emphasis. No flair. The only little flourish is a musical one, just after “day” and just before “bread”. One loud musical stab. What’s he trying to tell us? Enjoy today for it is all that truly exists? Or keep earning that bread and make sure you get paid? Or both? And why insert this cover track here? A statement of his beliefs or a deliberate provocation? Probably both. Is this Prince’s first cover on a record? And not just any old cover but a magical incantation! Which is itself a cover (Book of the Dead y’all!) There are no new ideas kids, everything is a remix.[6] Inserting this prayer into a song called “Controversy” is obviously intended to make a statement. At the time it was viewed by some as blasphemous. Which just goes to show that some christians will get offended at anything. You’d think they would’ve been happy to hear the kids listening to this guy pray on record. Instead of acting like he took a dump on baby Jesus’ head.

 

Controversy, controversy
Controversy, controversy
Love Him, love Him baby

 Controversy, controversy
Controversy, controversy
Controversy, controversy

Listen, people call me rude
I wish we all were nude
I wish there was no black and white
I wish there were no rules

People call me rude
I wish we were all nude
I wish there was no black and white
I wish there were no rules

People call me rude
(People call me rude)
I wish we were all nude
(I wish we were all nude)

I wish there was no black and white
(I wish there was no black and white)
I wish there were no rules
(I wish there were no rules)

People call me rude
(People call me rude)
I wish we were all nude
(I wish we were all nude)

I wish there was no black and white
(I wish there was no black and white)
I wish there were no rules
(I wish there were no rules)

 

The chanting after the pray. To emphasise the message that whatever people say about him is wrong. He’s all about the love. People may call him names (rude boy!) but he just wants to get naked and make sweet, sweet love. Although I’m not sure you would really want billions of people walking around nude. The spike in incidents of skin cancer alone would be enough to negate the idea, let alone the gross factor. Imagine sitting naked on a bus with some dude standing next to you with his balls in your face after he’s been working for eight hours at the chicken manure factory. Hmmm, sexy. So let’s not take him too literally okay folks. I mean you don’t really want a world with no black and white do you? What would zebras do? What about newspapers? What would goths wear? I think it’s fair to say that Prince is talking specifically about race here (just don’t mention yellow, brown or red). But even then, if we eliminate black and white wouldn’t we all be one boring monochrome. How uninteresting would that be? The point here is that regardless of the shade of your skin or your ethnicity we wish to all be treated as one “colour.” But that might be against the rules. Rules or laws or both? Because now I’m confused. You see it’s the rules that ensure that we do treat each other as one “colour.” Whether they are formal laws and statutes or cultural behaviours and taboos. These “rules” that we impose on ourselves and on others are the things that make a colourless society possible (or will once we actually achieve it). Without rules of behaviour, society would quickly devolve and no one wants that. Now I know some of you are thinking “yeah man but if we all were just cool with each other then we wouldn’t need any rules man.” But then the rules would just be in your head and self-imposed. And who’s to say that your definition of what’s cool matches mine? Even if we were all one colour we’d still find ways to hurt one another if we didn’t have some rules to help us.

 

Controversy, controversy
Do I believe in God?
Do I believe in me?
Let me tell ya
Some people wanna die
So they can be free

I said life is just a game
We’re all just the same
Don’t ya wanna play?

Controversy, controversy
Controversy, controversy

 

Wrapping up the song, he goes back to god, playing the game of life (i.e. fucking), wanting to die and be free (and go to heaven). This is what Prince is proclaiming as his philosophy. He’s making the point that these are not controversial stands to make. He’s not the son and daughter corrupting demon that the middle class thinks he is. He’s just a man, standing on a stage, singing about love. Sure he’s standing there in bikini briefs and heels. And the love he’s singing about is incestuous. But then that’s part of the game. The ideas and questions that are articulated during this song are not controversial. Each verse emphasises a point. The colour of his skin. His religious beliefs. His philosophies on life and sex. All uncontroversial ideas but all counterpointed by the ironic repetition of “controversy.” It’s a satire exposing the stupidity and narrow mindedness of the press. And it’s also a plea for understanding to his fans. This is who I really am, not all that crazy shit that you read about in the magazines. I love god, I love music, I love sex and I love life. And I just wanna have a good time with you all before the party runs out.

 

 

Running time: 7:15

 

References:
Controversy (released 1981)
Prince (released 1979)
The Peach & Black Podcast
Wikipedia
Prince Vault
AZ Lyrics
Prince Lyrics (http://www.princelyrics.co.uk/search/)
Prince In Print
 
[1] http://www.riaa.com/gold-platinum/?tab_active=default-award&ar=PRINCE&ti=PRINCE

[2] http://princetext.tripod.com/i_stone81.html

[3] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/controversy

[4] http://princetext.tripod.com/i_stone81.html

[5] Thanks to Joe Rogan for the imagery.

[6] If you haven’t already seen it go check out “Everything is a Remix” by Kirby Ferguson and you’ll know what I’m talking about it – http://everythingisaremix.info/watch-the-series/+

“Black Sweat” – 3121 (2006)

3121 was released by NPG Records and Universal on the twenty first of March in the year two thousand and six (that’s 3/21 for you American numerology fans, 21/3 for the rest of us) and is Prince’s 31st album (31 again!). It’s also his first to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 and his first number one since Batman back in 1989. Finally the prodigal son had returned out of the wilderness and taken his rightful seat at the table between T.I. and the kids from High School Musical. This album was the Purple Rain of the era and Musicology was the 1999. But even though 3121 made it to number one it didn’t sell anywhere close to Purple Rain or even Musicology for that matter which went double platinum in 2004 but only because it was given away as part of the cost of a concert ticket to see Prince on tour. The same tour that saw him become the highest earning musician in the world that year; an ingenious tactic given that most of those concert goers would have purchased their tickets in order to see Prince perform all his hits from the 80s (and maybe some from the 90s) and not necessarily to hear any new stuff. 3121 sold over 500,000 copies and is a certified gold record, which is no mean feat, but for comparison the album that it knocked off the top spot (the High School Musical soundtrack) sold over ten times that amount (four times platinum). So like a shooting star, this album burned brightly for a moment (183,000 copies in the first week) and then faded away. Which raises the question, why the sudden dip in sales? If I had to guess I’d say it had something to do with a buying frenzy around the “purple ticket” promotion that saw a lucky handful of people win tickets to see Prince perform at a private gig at his house in Los Angeles (Purple Prince and the Phunk Phactory – where all my oompa loompas at!). Well technically it wasn’t his house; he was just renting it from Carlos Boozer, a basketball player in the National Basketball Association (playing for Utah at the time I believe). But it was the place that Prince christened “3121” and it became his home/studio away from home/studio. It was also the place that Boozer filed a lawsuit over after Prince went about renovating the place in his own unique style[1]. You see when I say “christened” that means that he (allegedly) painted the lovesymbol and “3121” on the outside of the house, removed carpet, removed baseboards, cut a hole into a wall and installed plumbing for beauty salon chairs (maybe the purple ticket winners got facials?). Talk about the tenant from hell.

 

So “3121” is a reference to the house (Party Central), and the date (numerology kids – better than calculus), and I’ve read that it is also a reference to Psalm 31:21 (a bible reference in Prince music – unbelievable!). Depending on which translation you’re reading, the quote goes something like, “Praise be to the lord, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege,” which if nothing else tells you what Prince thinks about Los Angeles. With the “3121” concept, house, studio and beauty parlour Prince built himself an island of paradise in a sea of diarrhoea. Like most things Prince does, it appears that there is more going than is obvious at the surface. But also like most things Prince does, that deeper layer often only make sense to Prince (or maybe I’m just clueless). If Los Angeles is a city under siege, is Prince here to rescue it? The CD is sub-titled “The Music” or at least my version is. “3121 – The Music” implies (to me at least) that this record was intended to be one part of the “3121” experience. “3121 – The Tour,” “3121 – The Movie,” “3121 – The Book,” “3121 – The Magazine,” “3121 – The TV Show,” “3121 – The Scent,” “3121 – The Fashion,” “3121 – The Ice Cream,” “3121 – The Tax.” Could the album be an oblique reference to section 3121 of the Internal Revenue Code? Nothing gets a party pumping harder than income taxes (where all my CPAs at!).

 

If you put the 3121 album into your CD player and skip to track 4, you’ll hear “Black Sweat”. An acoustic version of this song became part of the set list on the Musicology tour on 25 June 2004 (that’s two years before the album came out for those not paying attention) so it’s probable that the song was written and recorded around that time. Although as you no doubt would have realised, the version on the album is not an acoustic song. It’s an electronic minimalist funk track – old school Prince. But if anyone has the acoustic version, feel free to send me a copy. The song that we get to hear on the album is all drum machine and synthesisers – dog whistle keyboard sounds and simple drum programming combined with Prince’s falsetto and background vocals. The song is a “Kiss” for the modern era and definitely a throwback to Prince’s earlier career but with enough of a spin on it that it sounds fresh. Like the rest of the album, it’s trying to appeal to a new generation whilst at the same time feel like a Prince song. And just what is “black sweat” anyway? To me it sounds like the kind of sweat that you get when you’ve been working in a coal mine and your sweat mixes together with the coal dust and just pours down your face. Toe Jam from the Peach & Black podcast relates the story that apparently “black sweat” refers to the sweat that flows down Prince’s face as he dances (or has sex maybe?) and his black hair dye starts to melt. You could also imagine that “black sweat” has something to do with race but on the surface this is a funky dance song and other than mentioning a white lady, doesn’t appear to be racially driven. That being said, I wouldn’t totally discount it (like I said earlier – I’m pretty clueless).

 

The song opens with the dog whistle and drum machine. Prince’s background vocals and some more keyboards comes in to add some layers to the sound before everything drops out but the drums and Prince’s vocal; a vocal that sounds a lot like “Kiss.” The verses are just drum machine and three or four layers of vocals. The keyboard comes in during the rest of the song but that’s all. Guitar? Bass? I don’t hear any. But I’m clueless, remember and I don’t pay too much attention to these things.

 

Eye don’t want 2 take my clothes off
But eye do
Eye don’t want 2 turn nobody on
‘Less it’s U
Eye don’t want 2 dance 2 hard
But this is a groove
Eye’m hot and eye don’t care who knows it
Eye got a job 2 do

 

He doesn’t want to take his clothes off but there is some force, some urge, compelling him to do just that. Or perhaps he’s trying to say that at the same time he doesn’t want to take his clothes off he also does want to take his clothes off. As though there are two conflicting thoughts battling for supremacy in his head. I’m leaning towards the former though. He just can’t help but get naked. There’s some deep, primal urge that’s driving Prince to get naked and funky with “U”. Because “U” (me? I’m so flattered) are the only one he wants to turn on (he’s making me blush now). Monogamy is the name of the game y’all. From the outset this song is telling us you can’t deny your urges. Whether you want to or not, you will find yourself on the dancefloor if the groove is funky enough. The thing is, in the first line he’s taken his clothes off so it seems fairly unlikely that he’d be dancing naked (although not impossible). Given that he’s naked and wanting to turn “me” on, I’d hazard a guess that he’s talking about sex and using “dance” as a synonym for “fucking”. It has been hypothesised that dancing (especially coupled dancing) is a public substitute for sex so it makes sense that Prince, with his PG mindset, would use it as a replacement in his lyrics. Maybe that makes the “groove” a vagina? Or a butt-crack.

 

I’ve always heard the second line as “I don’t want to take nobody on” not “turn” which if that is the actual lyric skews the meaning ever so slightly and actually mirrors the opening line. It indicates that the urges presented here are more of a battle – taking someone on in the sense of fighting with them. If you look at the first two lines in isolation with “take” in both of them you could almost interpret them as the internal monologue of some southern plantation worker or slave being forced to take his/her clothes off at the command of an overseer – the “U” that is being taken on. “Black sweat” then obviously takes on an entirely different meaning. It’s not unlike Prince to put some hidden meaning into his songs but in this case I think that such a strong misreading might be reaching a little too far. I suspect that Prince may well have accidentally sung the incorrect lyric here but decided to leave it in anyway because the take they recorded was so good and for whatever reason the lyric book that came with the album couldn’t be updated in time (or he just didn’t give a fuck). Any political message would be totally at odds with the entire vibe of the song. But you never know maybe I’m not totally clueless.

 

Eye’m workin’
Workin’ up a Black Sweat
Eye’m workin’
Workin’ up a Black Sweat

 

So he’s working on his black sweat. Dancing? Fucking? Mining coal? Who knows. All we know is that he’s working. And sweating. And the keyboard comes back in for a little bit.

 

Eye don’t want 2 break Ur pride
But eye got 2
U better take Ur woman and hide her
‘Cuz eye’m about 2
Show U what’s really good
Break U off like U knew eye would
Eye got a brand new dance
And it’s called the … workin’

 

Where the first verse appears to be directed at the objection of Prince’s affection (I’m assuming it’s a female but it’s not explicit and I wouldn’t judge him if it wasn’t), this verse is targeted at the partner of the “woman” (boy or girl, it don’t matter no more). I’d say it would almost certainly be a man since most women who have partners happen to have male partners (statistically speaking). I suppose they could both be women but something tells me that Prince is calling out this guy and telling him to stand back because Prince is gonna go to work. In the background you can hear Prince say “about to hurt him, go on hurt him” which leaves no doubt that we aren’t dealing with lesbians here. He’s going to show this guy what’s really good. What’s he going to show him, you ask? Why he’s going to “break U (him) off.” What does that mean? Is he going to break is back? Break one of his legs off? Break his cock off? Whatever does this mean? Well the phrase “break you off” is one of those slang phrases the kids these days use when they want to say something naughty but don’t want to use a naughty word. The top definition for the phrase on urban dictionary is “going down on someone and making them cum.”[2] So the thing that is “really good” here appears to be Prince giving a blowjob just as this guy knew he would. So it turns out that this brand new dance may well be a new gay anthem (fabulous!).

 

Workin’ up a Black Sweat
Eye ‘m workin’
Workin’ up a Black Sweat

 

“Black sweat” as a euphemism for cock? Could he be working his tongue up and down the “black sweat” until he breaks him off?

 

U can act hard if U want 2
This groove will make U sweet
U’ll be screamin’ like a white lady
When eye count 2 three

 

Being told to “act hard” is usually something that is told to men. In my experience I’ve never heard of a woman being told to “act hard” (not to say that it never happens). This leads me to conclude that this verse must be about the man that got broken off in the previous verse. A man being “hard” is also code for a man with an erection so it seems to clearly still be about him. Prince is telling him that he’ll make him scream like a white girl. He’s going to make him ejaculate so hard that he’ll be screaming his lungs out.

 

Work little sister, work
Work little brother, work
Eye don’t want 2 do nothin’ crazy
But eye do

Eye ‘m workin’
Workin’ up a Black Sweat

 

He doesn’t want to break the guy off and get crazy but he does it anyway. The song ends as it had begun. Prince doing things that he claims he doesn’t want to do breaking a sweat while doing it.

 

The structure of each of the lines in the verses indicates a struggle that is going on in our protagonists head. He doesn’t want to do a thing (break pride, turn on, take clothes off, etc.) but he goes ahead and does that thing anyway. Clearly his initial claim of not wanting to do that thing is false. He obviously does want to do the things that he’s railing against. Now you may or may not agree with my homo-erotic interpretation of this song (bigots!) but it seems glaringly obvious that this song is about giving into temptation. This is not a song that Prince would have or could have written in the 80s. Back then he wanted to take his clothes off and he did, he danced and turned people on; he did go crazy (some would say he went nuts). Now, or at least in 2006, he still does those same things but he wants to pretend that it is somehow happening under duress. As though he has no choice in the matter and is compelled to act. Dragged kicking and screaming over the precipice of sin and carnal delight. Dragged by some sexy man (or woman) with whom he can work on his “Black Sweat.”

 

 

 

 

Running time: 3:13

References:
3121 (released 2006)
Parade (released 1986)
The Peach & Black Podcast
Wikipedia
Urban Dictionary
The Smoking Gun
Prince Vault
AZ Lyrics
Prince Lyrics (http://www.princelyrics.co.uk/search/)
Prince In Print
Prince.org

 

[1]http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/crime/extreme-makeover-prince-edition

[2]http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=break+you+off

“Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic” – Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic (1999)

The opening and title track from Prince’s 23rd album – Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic. This was the album that came out in 1999 and is supposed to be the end of millennium party album (oops, outta time). And just like any great New Year’s Eve show it has a star studded line up of extra special guest performers (a cavalcade if you will). Chuck D, Eve, Ani DiFranco, Sheryl Crow and Gwen Stefani (did I miss anyone?) show up on the album to do various things that you may or may not have caught at first listen. Critics will say he was pandering to help boost his record sales by trying to borrow some heat from these other artists to give his career a lift. Fans will say he’s choosing to collaborate with other great artists that he respects in pursuit of his art. The truth is probably somewhere in between. It is true that by this point in his career chart success (or even appearance) was an irregular thing at best, which by extension implies that his relevance to the music listening (and buying) public had somewhat diminished. Inviting some younger and more popular artists to record with you could be one way to help you get your groove back. On the flip side, by this stage in his career Prince had done so many different things that this type of project would be a logical next step on his artistic evolution – proper collaborations with established artists (not just his protégés).

Five months prior to the album being released, Santana’s Supernatural came out and similarly to this album it featured a number of younger and more popular guest performers. Dissimilarly to this album, Supernatural was a monster hit and became Santana’s biggest album ever (fifteen times platinum) and their first US number one since 1971 (the longest gap between number one records by the same artist). That’s not to say that Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic was a complete flop. It did go gold in the US but overall it did a lot worse than Emancipation in most markets, except in Canada. It wasn’t an especially cold Canadian November in 1999 (compared to 1996) so I’m not sure we can blame it on the weather. Although the average maximum for November in 1999 was higher than 1996 and the minimum was lower. So maybe the fluctuating temperatures played havoc with Canadian self-restraint and allowed them to unleash the funk with gay abandon. Although it could be the increase in maple syrup production (in 1999 it was more than double the amount in 1995 ) that got Canada feeling sticky and they just wanted to stay that way.

Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic was released on 9 November 1999 by NPG Records in conjunction with Arista, the same label that released Supernatural (what are the odds?). At the time it was touted as a return to a “major label” by the artist now known as Prince (formerly known as the Artist, formerly known as TAFKAP, formerly known as 0(+>, formerly known as Prince). At the time of this release he was still going by Artist/TAFKAP/0(+> but this would be the last time he released an album under that name. Unless you’re reading this 20 years from now and he has since released a love-symbol boxset from out of the vault (“Purple Rebellion – Lost Hits of the 1990s”). Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic is also the third chapter in Prince’s career as an independent artist (for chapters one and two see Emancipation and Crystal Ball/The Truth, whether Newpower Soul counts depends on your definition of a “Prince” album). The three independent albums up to and including Rave didn’t really come close to matching anything that he put out under Warner Brothers in terms of sales but with his new found freedom he began doing cover songs, pulling out old tunes from the vault and even collaborating with special guests (each one specialer and guestier than the last). Importantly, it also meant that his cut from each album sold rose significantly. Whereas under Warner Brothers he might have gotten up to 20% at most, as an independent artist he can retain anywhere up to 95% from the sales of his albums, “You do the math”.

The original recording of this song took place in 1988 and was intended for an album of the same name. Sadly Prince got side-tracked by the Batman project and nothing came of it. Not until twelve years later, when he decided to resurrect the track and build an album around it. “The title track is one I did 12 years ago, but it sounded so much like Kiss that I wanted to put it in the vault and let it marinate for a while,” “Kiss” is not the song that immediately springs to my mind when I hear this track but then I ain’t no musical genius (and I haven’t heard the original recording). I guess the falsetto is similar-ish? Perhaps, like a dog, Prince is able to hear things the average human can’t. Regardless, “Rave un2 the joy fantastic” is an old song that was brought forward and released by an artist that continually tells people that he doesn’t like to look back while consistently performing music that is 20 to 30 years old. Funnily enough even the title of this song is meant to sound old and invoke the bible in the archaic way that it is phrased (King James version of course) while at the same time referencing the new rave culture that was starting to grow in the late 80s (something he references on “The Future” which is from the same time period). It also hints at the song “Power Fantastic” which was recorded a couple of years before “Rave” (but not released until 1993 on The Hits/The B-Sides). In my mind “joy/power fantastic” is another of Prince’s euphemisms for god (he’s got a million of ‘em). You could almost translate “rave unto the joy fantastic” as “pray to (or praise) god”.

Rave un2 the joy fantastic – Rave!
Rave un2 the joy fantastic – Rave!

The track starts with three seconds of silence and then fades in to the “Prince choir™” interchanged with a nice little four-note guitar riff between each line. The lead guitar line, as sparse as it is, sounds almost Middle Eastern to my ear (biblical one could say). It’s the type of introduction that tells you this song will be (or will attempt to be) epic. A statement of joy and power.

World full o’ lovers, city full o’ good times – Rave!
Don’t go undercover, eye can get U out of yo mind – come on, Rave!
All U need is a good walk and a brand new position
Then we can spread the real soul, doin’ it like a mission (rave) – Rave!
Oh, rave un2 the joy fantastic – Rave!
Everybody, rave un2 the joy fantastic – Rave!

So if you were thinking about god after the introduction then the first verse gets straight into the sex talk to remind you that this is a Prince song. He also switches to his falsetto here and maintains it for the rest of the song. I’ve always wondered what this song would sound like if he maintained the same vocal range he uses for the introduction so if anyone has that remix, please send it to me (I’ll be your best friend). Perhaps the vocal is meant to evoke Prince getting “high” on the “joy”. Whatever the case may be, there’s no doubt that Prince’s “rave” is all about having a good time (with a planet full of one-night stands in every port, no doubt). So don’t you go hiding if you want Prince to show you a good time (good walk = good fuck, according to my translation) in a “brand new position,” again referencing another one of his own songs (“New Position”). But is the brand new position sexual or religious? Either way, you’re likely to end up on your knees or on your back, spreading your “soul” (spread it wide) and doing some missionary work (Rave!). I guess this is Prince confessing that he prefers the missionary position. He likes to look you in the face when he “raves” all over you.

Arrividerci cock poppy, that was hip yesterday – Rave!
New thang hittin’ where it feel good, what’d U say? (Rave)
Tell me u’all: ain’t that the bomb? Mack Daddy ain’t got no gun – Rave!
Everybody got a new thang, new fun – scandalous – Rave!
Ooh, u’ve got 2 – Rave un2 the joy fantastic, Rave!
Everybody, rave un2 the joy fantastic – Rave! aaah yeah oh

Arrivederci (note the misspelling) is Italian for “see you soon”. See you soon penis flower? Perhaps. But when I listen to the song it kinda sounds like he says “cock puppy” which, according to Urban Dictionary, is “A guy following around a chick he’s looking to score with” . But I’m pretty sure this isn’t what he’s talking about here because that sort of thing was never “hip”. Translating the opening line literally (and liberally) he’s saying, “See you soon penis flower, which was once the fruit of the rose (i.e. rose hip)”, which could be a coded message from Prince saying farewell to his suppressed homosexual urges (or trying to) but it’s more likely that he’s putting old nonsense behind him and looking towards this new thing (Rave!). But cock poppy is very likely an inversion of poppycock which refers to nonsense or foolish words/ideas. So he’s saying goodbye (or see ya later) to cock and/or nonsensical ideas (and poppies because heroin is bad). He’s the Mack Daddy and like all great pimps, he don’t need no gun (‘cause he’s the bomb). But he can still hit you where it counts and make it feel good with the new “thang” he’s going to give you. And by “thang” he of course means penis (or whatever your preference is).

Come on, sugar
Rave!
Take a look inside your mind

If you could truly look inside your mind, would you like what you see? Not your brain, which would just be gooey, fleshy stuff, but your mind. Would you honestly want to take a look inside there? Beyond all the layers of self-imposed ignorance and control. Would you like what you see? Would you be able to continue with your life once you’d seen it? Or have you already taken a look? And is that what keeps you up at night? The reason you frequent those dive bars. Maybe if you’re lucky there just might be enough hookers and blow to help you drown out the noise.

Sister got a sizzler on, (know she 2 hot) ooh – know she 2 hot (rave) – Rave!
Brutha playin’ an apache scarf
Gaultier – stop! (oh-oh)

Sizzler = 70s bikini style dress where the dress is short enough that the bikini bottoms are just visible; Apache scarf = western style cravat that sits loosely around the neck; Gaultier = French fashion designer. This is what Prince’s “rave” scene looks like. Lots of skin and lots of pretention.

Ooh, if eye had a dollar 4 every time they smiled
Eye’d sho nuff jump and holla
Cuz eye’d sho nuff b rich awhile – Rave!
Everybody Rave
(Rave un2 the joy fantastic) – ooh Rave! [2x]
Ooh

At the time this song was originally recorded (1988) he very likely did have a dollar for every smile. Or at least fifty cents. And by the time this album came out, probably two dollars. Essentially what he’s doing is equating money with happiness but for some reason pretending like he doesn’t have any. If this verse was from an earlier album (70s, early 80s), it would be more appropriate. But here it just feels disingenuous. Reading between the lines, it’s possible that Prince is having a dig at Warner Brothers and the whole recording industry. Musicians that sign with a label famously receive a tiny amount per album that they sell, so getting as much as a dollar would be an improvement.

I’ve read, more than once, that Prince’s style is to record in the moment and capture what is happening right now. But this song is the complete opposite of that philosophy. This is Prince basically admitting that a good song is a good song and there’s no reason to keep it hidden. Now “good” is obviously a subjective term and you may hate this song, but Prince obviously had enough love for it to bring it back. Maybe his creative well was starting to run dry and he felt the need to dip back into the vault. Maybe he felt this song represented where he was as an artist in 1999. Luckily for him this song seems to be about sex, god and partying which are pretty much the holy trinity of Prince music so he could have easily released it at any time and it would have been a suitable track for one of his albums.

 

 

Running time: 4:19

References:
Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (released 1999)
Batman (released 1989)
The Hits/The B-Sides (released 1993)
The Peach & Black Podcast
Wikipedia
Urban Dictionary
Prince Vault
AZ Lyrics
Prince Lyrics (http://www.princelyrics.co.uk/search/)
Prince In Print
Prince.org