“The Future” – Batman (1989)

This is the opening song from Batman. The eleventh official album released by Prince. As the name suggests, this is the soundtrack to the Tim Burton directed movie – Batman. The album was released on 19 June 1989 by Warner Brothers records and the movie opened four days later for Warner Brothers studios. Now I’m no conspiracy theorist but I think there’s a link there. Apparently we have Jack Nicholson to thank for Prince’s involvement on this project. He suggested Prince’s participation to the powers that be and Jack gets what Jack wants. The movie was a certified blockbuster and like a lot of young boys and girls, I got swept up in all the excitement. I wore my “Batdance” cassette-single down into dust (we hadn’t yet invested in a CD player) and I even got my picture taken with the Batmobile (Mrs Thrawn too – just not together). It’s a shame that a lot of Batman fanboys weren’t super pleased with the movie. It just wasn’t as truthful to the books as they’d hoped. Batman, they argued, would never shoot at people or try to kill them. Alfred would never bring anyone into the Batcave (even Kim Basinger). And who the fuck is Jack Napier? It was a lot closer to the books than Adam West’s portrayal but it just doesn’t stack up that well against the Dark Knight movies. It was a fun and exciting movie for its time and the Batmobile and the Batwing looked exactly as you hoped they would. It just hasn’t aged too well as a movie even though it still looks pretty good.

With the release of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies it’s easy to forget just how much impact Tim Burton’s version had when it came out (despite the criticism). Batman had the highest-grossing opening weekend of 1989 and broke Superman II’s record for the highest weekend for a superhero movie.  It was the highest-grossing film in the US that year ($251,188,924) beating out Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade ($197,171,806)[1] and there were at least two soundtracks released for the movie; Prince’s Batman and Danny Elfman’s Batman: Original Motion Picture Score. The score only made it is as far as number 30 on the Billboard 200 but as far as movie music goes, it’s one of the most iconic pieces of movie music ever made and has become synonymous with the Batman (definitely more than Prince’s music or the stuff in Nolan’s movies). So much so that it has been re-used in a number of other Batman related projects (Batman: The Animated Series, the Lego Batman series, etc).

Prince’s Batman made it all the way to number one (made it ma, top of the world!) and stayed there for six weeks; which is no surprise given how popular the movie was. You could have released an album of nothing but the Joker making fart noises and it still would’ve gone gold at least (purple and green fart machine). This was Prince’s biggest selling record since Purple Rain (eleven million copies worldwide) and it was essentially a one man band affair. There are other musicians and voices on the album but for the most part Prince has used these parts as samples; acting as DJ Gemini and putting together the songs at his mixing desk. The lead single from the album, “Batdance” is the best example of DJ Gemini’s work. It was Prince’s fourth number one single in the US but it never appears on any compilations or best-of albums. This is because the ownership of Batman is a bit of a hot and twisted mess so Prince essentially signed away all his rights when he agreed to make this album. From a legal perspective, it’s a Batman album, not a Prince album (and with all the vocal samples, no song is more linked to the franchise than “Batdance”). The bulk of the album was recorded over about 6 weeks through February and March 1989 (“Electric Chair” and “Scandalous” were from 1988, and “Vicki Waiting” is a reworking of “Anna Waiting”).

“The Future” was recorded during this period and the song is a cold, dark minimalistic funk house track featuring Prince (obvs) and the Sounds of Blackness. It also includes samples of Clare Fischer’s orchestra. Prince grabbed a sample of Clare’s strings from the song “Crystal Ball” and added them to the mix. Even the contributions from the Sounds of Blackness are a bunch of samples that DJ Gemini has put together. Which is a really interesting way to use their contribution. There are some “real” instruments on here too (guitar, bass, etc.) but everything has been put together in a way that makes it obvious that this is supposed to be a “dance” track. This is Prince riding the wave of electronic dance music that started to gain ground in the late 80s. The Peach and Black team made the observation that this song is a vision of the future of music in the way it’s constructed and the samples that it uses. Sampling certainly wasn’t a new thing at the time but it has become almost a genre unto itself in recent years. The future will be full of samples.

 

“I’m not gonna kill you. I want you to do me a favor,
I want you to tell all your friends about me.”
“What are you?”
“I’m Batman”

 

The first few seconds of this record are almost silent and the sounds of the movie are the first things you hear giving it an eerie feel. This is Batman’s introduction in the movie so it makes sense that this is how the album should open. It introduces our hero and reminds us that the album is tied to the future number one film in the country. The reason the voices of Batman and the bad guy (Nic) are so low in the mix is because Prince was using a rough cut of the movie to sample the audio before any additional dubbing was done. Interestingly, this opening fight scene also lets you know exactly what type of Batman you are watching. He doesn’t swoop in and save the family from getting mugged (he just watches) and he doesn’t even return the stuff that they had stolen from them. He just beats up on the bad guys and then flies away. At this point he’s just another thug having a good ol’ time wailing on some punks. This is just the first of the many bits of movie audio used throughout the album but in this song this is the main sample (there’s one other at the end, but we’ll get to that).

 

I’ve seen the future and it will be
I’ve seen the future and it works
And if there’s life after, we will see
So I can’t go… like a jerk

 

The future will be what? What will it be? Will it be pretty? Will it be rich? Tell us caped crusader! It sounds like the opening line’s a partial sentence but really what we are being told is that the future will just “be”. That is to say, the future will exist. Whatever else the Batman does, the future will still be. The apocalypse will come or not but the future will still happen (as Doris put it – whatever will be, will be). In that sense, the future works. It might even work well (maybe). This is starting to sound like a song of hope (perhaps). A hope for the future (?). Which implies that the present doesn’t work. Something in modern day Gotham City just isn’t working. But how do they get from where they are in the broken and busted present day to the future that works. The song book says that this song has a “lead vocal by Batman” (all the songs on the album are “sung” by characters from the movie). So this song is the Batman outlining his vision of the future after he’s finished cleaning up Gotham City. If today’s Gotham is broken and overrun with delinquents and vagabonds then the future will run like a well-oiled machine. Batman will fix what’s broken. This is Batman’s dream. This is why he puts the bat suit on every night. Don’t forget though, this is also a Prince song so we get the mention of the afterlife thrown in. A mention that comes with a very powerful “if” statement. Considering Prince’s firm belief that there are no ifs, ands or buts when it comes to the afterlife (it will be, period) this line is clearly intended for Batman’s mouth, so it makes sense that he’s a little more skeptical than Prince. There’s also the double meaning of “we’ll see if there is anyone left alive after I finish cleaning up Gotham”, if there’s life after I’m done. Given the amount of collateral damage inflicted on the city by Batman’s crusade there may not be many left at all. Remember that this is “year one” Batman. He’s new to this whole caped crusader game and isn’t too sure what he’s doing (he hasn’t even got a sidekick yet). Sure he has some dreams and expectations about what his role will be but he’s essentially flying blind (as a bat).


Systematic overthrow of the underclass
Hollywood conjures images of the past
New world needs spiritually
That will last
I’ve seen the future and it will be

 

In any revolutionary setting it’s usually the ruling class that gets overthrown but here it’s the “underclass”. Not middle class, not lower class. Underclass. Why is that? Has Prince/Batman misspoken? Is this a typo? Remember that this is Gotham. A wretched hive of scum and villainy that is crying out for a hero (or at least a guy who punches criminals for fun). Our Batman is singing about the underclass that is currently running Gotham. The criminal class. The mobsters, punks, vandals, corrupt police and politicians. One by one, he plans to take them out. Prince is making a comparison to the real world here too (double the meaning, double the value!). In the real world future the criminals and sinners will be overthrown and the future afterlife will be totally awesome. The heavenly future will totally “work.” Remember that Prince is coming off his most spiritual record to date (Lovesexy) prior to recording this album so he’s still trying to find new ways to preach. But what does all this have to do with Hollywood (other than assisting with the rhyming scheme)? Hollywood conjures all sorts of images about all sorts of eras. Past, present, future and  non-existent. So what’s the intent here then?  “Conjure – to affect or influence by or as if by invocation or spell… To summon a devil or spirit by invocation or incantation.”[2] Hollywood (i.e. the entertainment industry) is all about influencing and invoking people to come and watch their movies and buy into their point of view (as though under a spell). Movies aren’t always about the past but the ones about the past often plaster over the ugly parts (at least they used to) and make everything look super awesome (this album came out before the rise of the gritty reboot and trend towards realism). Even movies set in the present and future do this when looking back into history. Hollywood movies (and TV shows) about the past were/are usually all about nostalgia. The entertainment industry placates and subdues the masses regardless of the genre. But when it’s an historical hero story, it gives people a false sense of the greatness of their past and a way to happily ignore the present (and future). Politicians use this same type of messaging to garner votes (make America great again!). This is why in the movie the mayor is so focused on celebrating the 200 year anniversary of Gotham. Forget about the problems of the present and worship the past. But the Batman is looking to the future. Hollywood’s past is just a cheap conjurer’s trick (trying to summon the devil), whereas Batman’s future is something that is tangible (at least from Batman’s perspective). Prince is saying that the past that we idolise is not real (it’s just an image) and the Future is what we should focus on (getting to heaven). And how will we make the future great? With spirituality of course. There’s only one way Prince thinks the future will be saved and in this song he’s letting us know that Batman agrees with him. America (the new world) needs salvation. This generation (the new world – double meaning again) needs to find spirituality to save their future. That’s the only way they can make it work. Batman/Prince has seen this future vision in his dreams and this is what he’s working towards.

 

I’ve seen the future and it will be
I’ve seen the future and it works
And if there’s life after, we will see
So I can’t go… like a jerk

 

Batman wants to go to the afterlife but he doesn’t want to go “like a jerk”. He wants to do the right thing and help build a new world paradise (lest he end up in bat-purgatory). He’s going to do the good work so he doesn’t get punished in the afterlife. Prince is letting us know that the fear of damnation is what is driving him (and Batman) to do the work. Don’t go to hell like a jerk. Go to heaven like a bat.

 

Yellow Smiley offers me X
Like he’s drinking seven up
I would rather drink 6 razor blades
Razor blades from a paper cup
He can’t understand, I say 2 tough
It’s just that I’ve seen the future
And boy it’s rough

 

“New and improved Joker products! With a new secret ingredient: Smylex!” The “yellow smiley” was a symbol of the drug culture of the 80s during the Second Summer of Love. It became synonymous with acid house and dance music (especially in the UK). Funnily enough what appears to be a dig at the dance scene at the time appears on an album that at times sounds fairly “housey” (he even calls “Batdance” out as “house” if you listen closely).  Ecstasy (“X”) was (and still is) the drug of choice for club kids all over the world and in those days (much like today) drugs were freely available to people who knew where to be. And if you were famous like Prince then you probably had them offered to you as regularly as a tall glass of lemonade. I imagine that razor blades would not be offered so freely but a razor blade is also a cocktail so they might have been. But then again swallowing razor blades is a fairly well known suicide attempt (double meaning again!). Drinking cocktails from a paper cup is probably a greater sin than suicide but I think Prince is more likely referencing the suicide thing. I think in the context of this song the yellow smiley and the X are referring to the Joker and his art with the real world meaning crossing over into Prince’s experiences with drugs and dance music. “I make art until someone dies,” says the Joker. He’s offering a solution to the same problem that Batman is trying to solve. He’s trying to “clean up” Gotham too. It’s just his tools are different and he has slightly different (and more numerous) targets. Batman (our lead vocalist) is saying that the Joker can’t understand that he’s doing is wrong. Which is tough luck on the Joker because now Batman has to take him out. Because he knows the future won’t be able to handle the Joker’s solution. It’s a rough trip to get to Batman’s future and not everyone’s going to be there at the end.

 

I’ve seen the future and it will be
I’ve seen the future and it works
And if there’s life after, we will see
So U can’t go… like a jerk
No, no

 

“U” can’t go. No longer “I”. Who is the Batman directing this to? Us? The Joker? Whoever it is, he’s telling them/us to behave properly so as not to allow the future to become eternal torment and damnation.

 

I’ve seen the future and it will be
Wait a minute

Pretty pony standing on the avenue
Flashin’ a loaded pistol – 2 dumb 2 be true
Somebody told him playin’ cops and robbers was cool
Would our rap have been different if we only knew?

 

The Joker is a pretty pony isn’t he (that hair – swoon). In the movie he uses a pistol a number of times but the two times that really count are when he’s standing on the street (or avenue) and he (spoilers) shoots Bruce Wayne’s parents and then when he shoots down the Batwing with his pants cannon. That’s why the number 2 is repeated (twice) “2 dumb 2 be true.” It’s more than just Prince-bonics. The shootings are the two key events in the story; the first gives rise to the Batman and the second leads to the end of the Joker. Somebody might have told Jack Napier that playing a robber would be a cool thing to be. But for Bruce Wayne, this is serious business. This is his work. Would the relationship between the Batman and the Joker have been different if they had known the future? Undoubtedly. Batman is wondering why he and the Joker have to be enemies or that he has to even be the Batman at all (existential crisis unlocked!). If there was no such thing as crime. If his parents hadn’t been murdered. If, if, if. The entire universe would have to be practically re-written for the Batman not to exist. He may be questioning it but at the same time he can’t escape it. It’s been said that Bruce Wayne is the mask that Batman puts on so that he can travel through normal society unnoticed. Here he’s trying to pretend that he doesn’t want to be the Batman, that somehow fate has brought him here but as a wise person once said “there is no fate but what we make” and Batman’s fate is of his own making.

 

I’ve seen the future and it will be
I’ve seen the future and it works
If there’s life after, we will see
Don’t go out… like a jerk

Systematic overthrow of the underclass
Hollywood conjures images of the past
New world needs spiritually
That will last
I’ve seen the future and it will be
I’ve seen the future and it will be
I’ve seen the future and it will be

I’ve seen the future and it will be

I’ve seen the future and it will be
I’ve seen the future and it will be

“Think about the future!”

 

Now we are commanded. “Don’t go out.” Batman is becoming more forceful. This song is supposed to be sung by Batman but it’s based on one of the lines that Jack Napier (prior to becoming the Joker) yells out to Lieutenant Eckhardt just before shooting him – “Think about the future!” (for the movie geeks out there, the actor who played Eckhardt was the same guy who played Porkins in Star Wars and he was in Raiders of the Lost Ark as Major Eaton). This is no surprise because Jack Nicholson gets all the best lines and scenes in this movie (it was basically made around him). But from a character and story perspective it tells us that Jack Napier (before becoming the Joker) may have been one to think about the future which is why he and the Batman can agree during this song. But the Joker has no such thoughts. He will go like a jerk (straight off the top of a cathedral).

The song ends with Jack Napier telling us exactly what Batman wants to tell us. But Batman plans to do more than just think about it. He’s “seen” the future and it comes about as a direct result of his actions (or so he hopes). But as we’ve seen, this isn’t the perfect Batman that we know and love with his strict moral code and standard behaviour. He’s not 100% ready for the work that he’s trying to do and some errors are made but hey, how many mistakes did you make in your first month on the job?

Although he may try to claim that this song is from the perspective of Batman, this is really a Prince song. Prince, being who he is, has woven his own thoughts and feelings and beliefs into this track (and the album). Gotham City is an avatar for the real world and he uses it as his model to tell us what’s going on in the world right now. By extension, Batman is Prince’s avatar. The vehicle through which he can continue his Lovesexy message. He’s going to do the work that will bring about the future heavenly paradise on earth. I have a sneaking suspicion that this song and pretty much all the other “new” songs (apart from Batdance) were the scraps of an abandoned project that he scavenged for this record. Still, he’s managed to weave enough of the character of Batman into the song or enhance the parts of his own character to be Batman-like enough so that it fits the overall tone of the song. The Future is the light on the hill. The whole reason that the Batman exists is so that the Future can be better than the present. Which is Prince’s goal as well. The present is ugly and corrupt but if we keep true to our spirituality then the Future will work. Both wear their costumes and put on their masks to help them navigate through the world and hide their true identity from the public. Both use an array of tools and weapons to help them do their work (Batarang, Batmobile, bass, guitar, keyboards). Both are working towards an ideal Future that is their vision of what the world should look like. But for both of them it is a struggle with no end. The Future that they’re hoping for never really arrives. Or at least hasn’t yet. The criminals continue to flourish and spirituality continues to decline. But that doesn’t mean that the struggle ends for either of them because the struggle is what defines who they are and without it they would cease to exist. Neither one of them will ever go out… like a jerk.

 

 

Running time: 4:08

 

 

References:

Batman (released 1989)
Lovesexy (released 1988)
The Peach & Black Podcast
Wikipedia
Prince Vault
AZ Lyrics
Prince In Print
Prince.org
Box Office Mojo

 

 

[1] http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=1989

[2] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/conjure

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“Rainbow Children” – The Rainbow Children (2001)

The opening track from Prince’s twenty fourth album – The Rainbow Children. This album was originally released through the NPG Music Club website on 16 October 2001 as a single track download. The hard copy CD came out the following month in November and it thankfully wasn’t a repeat of the Lovesexy experiment (you can skip “Wedding Feast!”). Five months prior to this release (21 May 2001) Warner Brothers released The Very Best Of Prince, essentially killing any hope this record had of creating any “Prince buzz” amongst the lay music buying public. Releasing so soon after September 11 probably didn’t help either. This was Prince’s worst selling album ever up to that point (I believe HitNRun might now be giving it a run for its lack of money). It was also the first record he released after he changed his name back to Prince after being known as 0(+> for a number of years. The Rainbow Children is his ‘coming out’ album. This was the album that clearly proclaimed him as a convert to the Jehovah’s Witness Protection Society Church Incorporated™ and there is clearly an overarching concept and story-line that he’s trying to weave throughout this record that speaks to his belief system at the time. Releasing the album as a single track download plainly shows that Prince felt this was one story that needed to be heard as a whole (just like Lovesexy). Even the lyric book that came with the CD confirms the single story idea as all the printed lyrics just flow on from one song to the next with no page breaks or song headings or anything like that. One whole story.

There are a lot of elements to the story that wind their way in and out of the album. Most of key story points are narrated by Prince using his “Bob George/Darth Vader” voice that’s been manipulated to be super deep. The story is Prince’s version of the fall and redemption of man centered around a religious utopia (The Rainbow) that is home to the “Rainbow Children”. A paradise (Eden/Heaven) populated by the people that believe the way Prince believes; the enlightened and holy ones. Everyone else appears to be a “Banished One” and determined to destroy this paradise. The idea of a bright and multi-coloured utopia is similar to the idea of “Paisley Park.” However, where “Paisley Park” seemed to be an all-encompassing idea that is open to all, the “Rainbow” appears to be a lot narrower and more restrictive. Access to the Rainbow is dependent on adherence to “law” and Prince sees himself as part of the Rainbow. Admission is not Paisley Park easy, it’s Rainbow hard. And like any rainbow, all the colours run parallel to each other in an orderly fashion, as though they were following a strict set of rules (no mixing in the rainbow!). As a single piece of art, the album hangs really well together and forms a coherent whole. Listening to it you can tell that Prince had a clear vision about what he wanted to do and he went and did it. There are a lot of different sounds and influences on this record. Mrs Thrawn claims she can hear a heavy similarity to some of the stuff on Maxwell’s Embrya, and there is a definite James Brown sound in there too, plus Larry Graham and not to mention Prince borrowing from his own back catalogue. Despite the variety, it all flows together really well and it’s understandable why this album is a favourite for many Prince fams. Musically this is one of, if not the best record of the later part of his career. And it doesn’t sound like it was recorded in a warehouse or put through 17 different mixing programs. The only thing that lets people’s opinion of the album drop is the lyrics. Lyrically, opinion is pretty mixed and if you aren’t able to get over the fact this this album is sponsored by the Jehovah’s Witness Protection Society Church Incorporated™, then you’re gonna have a bad time.

“Rainbow Children” and the rest of the songs on the album were recorded at Paisley Park during late 2000 and early 2001. This song sets up the rest of the album and lays the foundation for the story that Prince is trying to tell. He introduces all the characters and concepts that we need to know about – the rainbow children, the wise one, the wise one’s woman (she doesn’t get a name or title of her own), the only begotten one, god, the resistor, the new translation, the banished ones, the rainbow. If this album were a novel, this song is prologue/chapter one. Scene setting and character exposition.

 

With the accurate understanding of God and His law
They went about the work of building
A new nation:
The Rainbow Children

A spoken word intro. A voice in wilderness. This is Bob George Vader – the voice of the Akashic Records acting as narrator for us. And what kind of story is he telling? Well it sounds like these colourful kids are constructing some sort of country of their own; based on their (apparent) accurate understanding of an unfathomable and universal entity. I’m assuming that’s the type of monotheistic deity that our narrator is talking about here. An all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving god that is perfect and holy in every way (and infinitely complex). So if the Rainbow Children have an accurate understanding of such an entity, wouldn’t that mean that they too would have to be god-like in their understanding? Are the Rainbow Children gods? Is Prince talking about some sort of new pantheistic theology? Is he trying to start a new religion here… (deep breath)… yeah, I don’t think so either. As Prince fams, we all know what Prince’s beliefs are. He’s not ever shied away from them. No, what’s he’s saying is that he and his fellow Jehovah’s Witness Protection Society Church Incorporated™ colleagues are the Rainbow Children and they have the “understanding”. Which is a helluva ego trip to claim you understand something that is apparently infinite and unimaginably complex, but there you go. The phrase “Rainbow Children” is an interesting one. It indicates a kaleidoscope of people of all different colours which suggests an idea of inclusiveness. However, referring to them as children infers that they are somehow dependent on someone and not fully realised human beings in their own right. Or their identity is only relevant insofar as they are the children of the “Rainbow” and their individual identity is irrelevant. But they’re still competent enough to be building a “new nation” of some sort. Doubtless a religious paradise (I’m talkin’ about theocratic order!)

 

The Wise One who understood the law
That was handed down from God long ago
Reflected the true meaning 2 his woman every day
And she surrendered her discerning of it into his care and keeping
For she trusted he would lead in the right way. 

Drums break the silence. Keys and bass. Then the horn flutters in. The opening passage of music is a sweet jazzy groove. A toe-tapper for sure. But who could this “Wise One” be? The one who understands the law. Adam? Moses? Jesus? Prince? Larry Graham? The man so Great he’s able to do all the thinking for his woman so she doesn’t have to burden her pretty little head with such complicated matters. She probably wouldn’t be able to figure out the meaning on her own anyway. Women just aren’t built for such things (am I right fellas?). The use of “surrendered” here implies that the woman has somehow given up and that the Wise One is a conquering enemy up to whom she must surrender her discerning of the law. Because she’s a trusting lass and believes he’s gonna steer her right. Despite the talk of care and trust, there’s a hidden conflict here already. The Wise One’s point of view here is what drives the narrative so whatever language or attitude we are shown during the song is coming from his perspective. It appears to him that she has “surrendered” and that she trusts him but for all we know she may just be putting on a show for her sugar daddy. ‘Cause the ladies be crazy (am I right fellas?).

 

Her children in subjection 2 her, she in subjection 2 the Wise One
And the Wise One in subjection to the only begotten one,
All – forever is in subjection 2 God

“Subjection – the action of subjecting a country or person to one’s control. (synonyms: subjugation, domination, oppression, control, mastery, repression, suppression, bondage, slavery, enslavement, persecution, exploitation, abuse).”[1] So the kids are the woman’s slaves, the woman is the man’s slave, man is Jesus’s slave and they’re all slaves to god. Or something like that. I guess when he had the word “slave” scrawled across his face Prince was just trying to highlight what an awesome thing subjection can be. Slavery’s cool as long as you’re a slave to a good master. Whatever the case may be, clearly we have a pecking order here – child, woman, man, demi-god, god. And the Wise One is the man in the middle. So who exactly is this Wise One? The mystery man translating between heaven and the lowly beings down here on earth. I think it’s pretty clear that this is one of Prince’s personifications. Maybe not as sexy as Camille but still part of the same psyche. Now that Prince has fully embraced the Jehovah’s Witness Protection Society Church Incorporated™ his beliefs are “the truth” and this makes him super wise.

 

Just like the sun, the Rainbow Children rise
Flying upon the wings of the New Translation
C them fly, fly
The covenant will b kept this time
Just like the sun, the Rainbow Children rise

Rainbow children it’s time to rise
Rainbow children it’s time to rise

What we perceive as sunrise is an artefact of our point of view. Sitting and spinning on this old planet of ours. Looking out at a stationary star, it looks like it rises every morning. But really, we’re the ones moving. So the Rainbow Children are just like the sun. Which means then that they don’t actually rise. It just looks like they do from a certain point of view. “But they have wings!” I hear you say. Wings made of the “New Translation”. The Jehovah’s Witness Protection Society Church Incorporated™ published the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in 1961. It’s their translation of the ancient Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic texts that make up the bible. As a translation it’s not too bad but it has received some negative reviews over the years for inserting an overt religious (i.e. Jehovah’s Witness) bias, which sounds like a weird thing to say about a religious text but as a piece of literature there are certain standards of scholarship that don’t appear to have been met. Here’s a question – if you really believed that these words were the “truth” (and imbued with special powers) then wouldn’t you want to read them in the original language? But the Rainbow Children are flying upon the wings of a biblical translation. Not the original text, mind you. A translation. So they “appear” to be rising/flying (but not really) on words that someone has translated from an original. Like making a copy of a copy of a copy. Even the sound of this chorus tries to mimic “flight” as the vocals flutter between the left and the right speakers getting higher and more prominent and then dropping away (and then coming back).

 

As prophesied, the Wise One and his woman
Were tempted by the Resistor.
He, knowing full well the Wise One’s love 4 God,
Assimilated the woman first and only.
Quite naturally, chaos ensued
And she and 5 others
Were banished
From the Rainbow…
4ever.

You refer to the prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the Force? Maybe not. Apparently the Wise One isn’t wise enough to do anything about preventing the devil from stealing his woman (I’m assuming the Resistor is the devil because who else would it be). Even though he knew beforehand that it would happen (it hath been foretold!) his wisdom didn’t give him the wherewithal to prevent the chaos that ensued. The Resistor somehow tempted them both (not wise enough to avoid being tempted either it seems) but only the woman was “assimilated” (weakling!). And just who is this woman? If the Wise One is Prince, then surely his woman must be Mayte. Their divorce was made final in June 2000, just as recording of this album was beginning. Whatever he felt about this (happiness/sadness/relief), he almost certainly would have channeled his emotions and experiences into this song and this album. And I guess “banishing” your ex-wife from Paisley Park the Rainbow speaks to exactly how he felt about it all. Who these five others are, I’ve got no idea. And why they are banished isn’t made clear; since it was “only” Mayte that was assimilated by the devil. Maybe she infected them somehow. After this verse there’s an extended musical section that is meant to represent the “banishment”. Prince’s guitar sounds twisted and distorted and symbolises the work of the Resistor and the assimilation of the woman.

 

Just like the sun, the Rainbow Children rise
Flying upon the wings of the New Translation
C them fly, fly
The covenant will be kept this time
Just like the sun, the Rainbow Children rise

 Just like the sun, the Rainbow Children rise
Flying upon the wings of the New Translation
C them fly, fly
The covenant will be kept this time
Just like the sun, the Rainbow Children rise

The music during these two choruses takes a step up. The jazzy groove becomes more upbeat and the vocals are infused with a palpable sense of joy. No more broken covenants between god and his chosen people. The Rainbow Children will hold true to the new translation and keep the true faith. They are the chosen ones. They just weren’t chosen for their ability to read Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic.

 

Who is ur real father?
The everlasting one
The one who came from nothing
And yet from this one, everything comes
The one who commands ur momma
With the simple phrase “I am”
And every time that she obeys
She gives birth 2 the Son of Man
Who is this?

 

Back to our hierarchy again, with god at the top of the tree, the “everlasting one.” If “ur real father” comes from nothing and everything comes from him, then it’s just one more layer between us and nothing. So really, when you get down to it, we all come from nothing. How an infinitely complex being can come from nothing isn’t explained, but there you go. I’m not sure how the phrase “I am” can be construed as a command but then again, I’m not a biblical scholar or a Rainbow Child. Whatever the case may be, your momma is gonna be giving birth so pack your overnight bag and call the midwife. Interestingly he claims “that every time that she obeys, she gives birth to the son of man”. When she does what she’s told she has a boy. When she is naughty and disobeys, does she then have a daughter? But there is no “Daughter of (Wo)Man”, there is only the son. Sorry ladies, y’all better get to the back of the line.

 

Reproduction of the new breed leader
Stand up and organize!

Reproduction of the new breed leader
Stand up – organize!

Quoting a 20 year old song – what a call back! Your momma is gonna reproduce the new breed leaders – the Rainbow Children.

 

The Agreement –
With every birth, we keep it so
Never changing one piece of it
In fear of what would unfold

The scales would then become unbalanced
And thus begin the fall
The sin of one would then become
The sin of one and all

This is the covenant that we spoke about earlier. The agreement that each generation needs to keep. Spoken in a new voice. No longer Bob George Vader but now a high pitched voice. Not quite Camille but in that ball park just more cartoony. My guess is this is the voice of the Wise One confirming the covenant. Confirming that fear will keep them in line. Fear will prevent the fall. Not love, not hope, not even the law. Fear. And much like the original sin (and fall) of Adam and Eve, one of the Rainbow Children sinning would mean that all of them have sinned (by the power of being next to each other I guess). That’s why Mayte and her five friends were banished; so as not to contaminate the rest of Paisley Park the Rainbow.

 

Rise, rise, rise…

Rise, Rainbow Children, Rise
Rise, Rainbow Children, Rise

 The “Rise, rise, rise” chorus works beautifully with the backing music as it moves up the scale. Prince in the background ad-libbing bits and pieces and hitting some great notes. Everything ramping up to a crescendo. There’s a real joy in the vocals here.

 

The Wise One who understood the law
That was handed down from God long ago,
Held fast in his belief
That the Lord would bring him another one
Who loved him so.

The music drops out to almost nothing, echoing the beginning of the song, the Wise One is understanding stuff on his own now. God’s gonna bring him another woman that he can reflect true meanings of things to. But for now, he’s flying solo. Mayte’s out of the picture at this point and Prince is ready for the new love in his life.

The last three minutes or so of this track is an instrumental outro. It sounds mellow, almost morose to begin with but then Prince comes in with his guitar. It still retains a mellow vibe but there’s a hopefulness that permeates through it. You can just hear Prince’s voice saying a few things in the background but it’s too low in the mix to be able to make out. The twisted heavy guitar comes back for a small section right towards the end as the final farewell to the banished ones and then the song is over.

When you think about the story that’s being told in this song, it’s all about making the right choices in the eyes of god. Understanding the law and being a “faithful and discreet slave” just as the Jehovah’s Witness Protection Society Church Incorporated™ would want you to be. The moral tale that Prince is trying to weave is his vision of what paradise should look like – hierarchical and patriarchal with everyone free to do as they are told. And on the surface it does appear that this song (and by extension, this album) is all about Prince’s new found faith and his desire for a new world order but really when you get down to it, what this song is about and what Prince is trying to get off his chest is the break-up of his former relationship and the formation of his new (and more perfect) relationship with his new muse – Manuela. Prince and Mani were married on New Year’s Eve 2001. Two months after this record came out. This means during the writing and recording period it was all about Muse Mani. The rest of the record goes on to proclaim just how much she actually meant to him (she might even become Queen), whereas this song is only meant to be the set up for that story. And part of the set-up is saying adios to his past and his ex – Mayte; banished from Paisley Park the Rainbow, forever.

 

 

Running time: 10:03

 

 

References:

The Rainbow Children (released 2001)

Embrya (released 1998)

Lovesexy (released 1988)

The Peach & Black Podcast

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

Metro Lyrics

Prince In Print

Prince.org

 

[1] https://www.google.com.au/?gfe_rd=cr&ei=UaQLVtTeILHu8we7t5C4CA#q=subjection

“Sometimes It Snows In April” – Parade (1986)

The twelfth and final track from the Parade album. This is Prince’s eighth album and the last one to share a credit with the Revolution (the last one to be released anyway). Parade was released on 31 March 1986 by Warner Brothers and Paisley Park; less than a year (again) since the release of Around the World in a Day. The album is subtitled “Music from the Motion Picture Under The Cherry Moon(and the name of the movie’s underlined – that’s clever). So right there, you know there’s more to this record than meets the eye. It’s a soundtrack (yay!). The movie, Under the Cherry Moon, came out on 4 July 1986. For those paying attention that’s three months after the album was released. So Prince fams had twelve whole weeks to imagine just what kind of movie accompanied the sounds they’d been listening to. Wondering what kind of awesome stage production would accompany this black and white record. But if folks were expecting another Purple Rain, they were sadly disappointed. No band, no live stage performances, no uplifting ending. The plot (if you can call it that) revolves around a sexy piano player (and his brother/cousin/lover) who tries to swindle a young virginal heiress but ends up falling in love with her and they make love under stars (he takes her cherry under the moon – super clever, that one). It was a completely different type of film altogether; a black and white “French” movie that is part drama, part romance and part screwball comedy (or trying to be). But nevertheless, an award winning picture. It won five times at the Golden Raspberry Awards for, Worst Picture (a tie with Howard the Duck), Worst Actor (Prince), Worst Supporting Actor (Jerome Benton), Worst Director (Prince), and Worst Original Song (“Love or Money”). Kristin Scott Thomas was also nominated for Worst Supporting Actress and Worst New Star, and Becky Johnston got a nomination for Worst Screenplay (it really is an honour just to get nominated).[1] Whatever the vision for the picture was, it got lost somewhere along the way. It’s a strange little movie that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It could have been a half decent sexy comedy/buddy movie if the script and the director were a little better but as it is we have a film that’s basically an excuse for Prince to jam his music into another film; albeit with some difficulty. The sound mixing in this movie makes the songs really stand out from the rest of the audio. It’s kind of like when you’re watching your favourite TV show and the volume is set to just the right level for the scene where the moustachioed villain and the poorly groomed hero are trading barbs over a glass of Chablis, then a commercial comes on and blows your speakers. That’s what the songs in this movie feel like to me. A commercial, jammed into a failed attempt at entertainment.

The movie was a commercial flop but the album didn’t do too badly (number 1 in the Netherlands baby!). The Parade album sounds almost “European”, or what an American might believe “European” sounds like. There’s even an accordion in there (funky squeeze box!). With this record Prince is continuing with his musical experiment. He’s still trying new things and pushing the boundaries of what people perceive “Prince music” to be. Six out of the twelve tracks on the album are under three minutes long so even the structure of the album is a kind of a departure from what has come before, with the black and white album cover (and movie) standing in stark contrast to Around the World in a Day, Purple Rain and 1999. This album moves away from a lot of the guitar driven songs of the past whilst putting more focus on the piano. There’s even an instrumental track on here (lyrics are so passé).  Parade also has a significant contribution from Clare Fischer, and his orchestration can be heard all over this record.

The album version of “Sometimes It Snows In April” features the triple threat of Prince, Wendy and Lisa. “The three of us had kind of a love affair. And when we wrote that song… it was just the three of us sitting together in a room.”[2] Clare Fischer and his orchestra did contribute music for this song but Prince preferred the “demo” version. When you listen to the album version, you can almost imagine where the orchestra would fit in. With only guitar, piano and vocals on the track there is a lot of space that could have been filled with orchestration (or anything really). But the space is really one of the things that makes this song what it is. The sounds of fingers moving across the guitar strings and what sounds like grandma’s kitchen chair creaking in the background add to the ambience of the song. The initial recording for this song was done at Sunset Sound in Hollywood (you may have heard of it, it’s in Hollywood)[3] on 21 April 1985 (the day before Around the World in a Day was released). Clare & the Gang recorded their bits sometime later in 1985.

The “Tracy” character closes the album with this sad song, and he opens the album with the exuberant “Christopher Tracy’s Parade”. The two bookends help tie the album back into the movie with what seems like a purpose built song (or two) about the protagonist. But “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” in its original form was “Wendy’s Parade”; an existing song that was changed and adapted to fit into the movie. I’m going to go out on a crazy limb here and assume that the same is true for “Sometimes It Snows In April”. I’ve read that a version of this song (a zygote of a song if you will) was played live a year before the album came out and that another name was used. Which could have been a cover up in order to not leak anything about the movie but I think it’s reasonable to assume that the songs on the album weren’t specifically written to be in a movie. Like most of Purple Rain, the songs existed and then a movie came along for them to be added to. And pretty much any two syllable name could fit here – Tracy, Jesse, Jimmy, Henry, Billy, Johnny, Wendy, Lisa, etc. so let’s not belabour the point (letitgo dudes).

 

The song opens with some nice piano and guitar picking and strumming, with one of the girls singing the “oohs and ahs” (Wendy?). Then Prince comes in with some of his vocal accompaniment. At one point he even sounds like he’s imitating a trumpet. As though he’d originally planned to use a trumpet and was just putting a marker in the song for the trumpet player to hit later. The first part of the song is essentially setting the scene and developing the atmosphere for the proper part of the song which kicks in at the 75 second mark with the main melody. After “Anotherloverholenyohead” you need a buffer before getting to “Sometimes It Snows In April” and this opening sets the mood for the finale. You need those 75 seconds to get used to the fact that this is the end of the album. The party’s over. Come down off the piano.

 

Tracy died soon after a long fought civil war,
Just after I’d wiped away his last tear
I guess he’s better off than he was before,
A whole lot better off than the fools he left here
I used to cry for Tracy because he was my only friend
Those kind of cars don’t pass you every day
I used to cry for Tracy because I wanted to see him again,
But sometimes sometimes life ain’t always the way

 

If you hadn’t figured it out by the sad intro music, the lyrics let you know, straight from the start, that this is a sad song. The protagonist is already dead (just like the movie – coincidence?). I’ve heard of some Prince fams who skip this song whenever they play the album. Not because they dislike it but because the sadness is so overwhelming that they can’t stand to hear it. I can’t say I’ve ever done that but I can completely understand the sentiment. There’s some debate about whether this song is sung from the perspective of the character Tricky from Under the Cherry Moon or if it’s from Mary’s perspective (the Virgin Mary – it just gets cleverer and cleverer). But I say, why choose? It works equally well from both perspectives. They both clearly loved Tracy and debates about the sexuality of the characters don’t really have any bearing on the actual point of the song. So what if Tricky liked dropping rose petals into Tracy’s bath? It doesn’t make his loss any less real or painful. The song works from any perspective really, even ones not related to the movie. Imagine it’s 1986 and your listening to this song for the first time. It’s a requiem and a love song, sung by a man about another man. A song about a man who has died from some sort of “internal” struggle. If, for example, you were a gay man in 1986 and heard this song I imagine it would almost certainly become heavy with meaning (don’t make me spell it out kids, you can figure it out). And that’s part of the beauty of this song, it’s non-specificity makes it appealing to a broad cross section of listeners; all with their own “Tracy” to mourn. It’s specific and detailed enough to convey the emotion and heartache the narrator is feeling but still general enough to be relatable. Our narrator is letting us know that, in death, Tracy is better off than when he was alive. He’s in a better world. Away from all us fools. The narrator “used to cry” but now he’s all cried out. He wanted to see Tracy again but now it seems he’s accepted that “life isn’t always the way”. So from the opening we understand that Tracy was someone important to the narrator (friend, husband, lover, etc) but some time has passed since he died so our narrator is able to be a little more reflective about it and even a little accepting of it. Tracy being “better off” is clearly a reference to some sort of afterlife but the religious implications aren’t heavy handed or too specific so focus remains on the feeling of loss and emptiness that the narrator is recounting. It’s a little like the song “Another Lonely Christmas” where the narrator is looking back at the life of the subject. Here we also get to look back at the grief of the narrator at the point where he felt the greatest loss. He used to cry. But he doesn’t so much anymore. He wanted (in the past) to see Tracy again but maybe not so much anymore. He’s moved on but the memory is still there. The way the narrator frames the memory, the bad things happening in the verse are all happening to the narrator not to Tracy. Tracy is “better off” but the narrator is crying and wanting to see him. It’s the narrator who suffers. The message is, when someone you love dies, it’s the people they leave behind that suffer the most. Whatever else happens to the deceased, they at least no longer have to suffer anything in this life (not even taxes).

 

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish life was never ending,
And all good things, they say, never last

 

Depending on where and how you live, snow in April can be a nice reminder of the fun you had over winter and it can bring back happy memories, or it can mean death and suffering; the portent of hard times ahead. All the spring flowers and new growth dies under the late snow fall and any lambs or calves or whatever that are born outdoors will die in the freezing temperatures. As pretty as the snow may be to us, April snow is a death sentence to all the young, bright and beautiful things that come into bloom in the springtime. Just like Tracy, they may get a brief go at life but they can’t overcome the fate that nature has bestowed upon them.

 

Springtime was always my favorite time of year,
A time for lovers holding hands in the rain
Now springtime only reminds me of Tracy’s tears
Always cry for love, never cry for pain
He used to say so strong unafraid to die
Unafraid of the death that left me hypnotized
No, staring at his picture I realized
No one could cry the way my Tracy cried

 

Rain in the springtime is a good thing. Combined with some sunshine it brings new life and new love into the world. I’m sure it’s a lot of people’s favourite time of year but you can tell by the way his voice stumbles when our narrator says the word “year” that it’s no longer a happy time for him. It reminds him of holding hands with Tracy in the rain. This verse builds the story of Tracy for us and how the narrator saw him; a hero who was unafraid of death (the death that left our narrator numb) and whose tears seem to be something special. They’re the product of love, not pain (which means their chemical composition is different). But when it rains it reminds the narrator of Tracy’s tears. So the rain ultimately reminds him of love. The love he shared with Tracy.

 

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad
Sometimes, sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
And all good things, they say, never last

 

The chorus is an emotional mix of grief, wishing things were different, and accepting that they can’t be. There’s a sense of inevitability in the chorus and recognition that our wishes are no match for the inevitably of life’s events and the forces of nature. The narrator repeats the word “sometimes”, over and over. Not all the time, only “sometimes”. Like most of us, he’s able to move on from Tracy’s death and function as a human being. It doesn’t always snow in April. Life does end, for all the living no matter what our dreams and wishes are. But sometimes the dream, the memory, the snow; they come back unbidden to remind us that things don’t last.

 

I often dream of heaven and I know that Tracy’s there
I know that he has found another friend
Maybe he’s found the answer to all the April snow
Maybe one day I’ll see my Tracy again

 

There’s a sad hopefulness to this verse. The narrator believes that his dreams are real and that Tracy is alright. He “knows” this as a certainty. But when it comes to the question of whether he’ll get to see him again then it’s a “maybe”. Tracy is clearly his idol and could do no wrong so he’s certainly pure enough to make it to heaven with his “friend” (Jesus maybe?). But our narrator? That’s a different story. Whatever sins the narrator may have committed or not, he clearly is putting himself on a moral level below Tracy. He’s not worthy.

 

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
But all good things, they say, never last

 

All good things they say, never last
And love, it isn’t love until it’s past

 

If you listen to the record closely (or at all) then you know the last word in this song is not “past”, it’s “had”. I’ve left it here as it appears on Metro Lyrics because it appears this way in a lot of places, even “official” ones (and I wanted to talk about it). It’s clear that although “past” rhymes with “last” and would be better fitting in terms of a rhyming scheme I think using the word “had” conveys a totally different (and more appropriate) meaning. If you’re saying that “love, it isn’t love until it’s past”, what you’re actually saying is that love isn’t real (love isn’t love) until it’s over. Which is clearly a false statement about how love works in the world and not what the narrator is talking about. But saying “love, isn’t love until it’s had” tells us a different story. Love only becomes real when you feel it. When you feel it for someone so much that you wish life was never ending. Love isn’t an abstraction, it only exists when you “have” it. To quote John Mayer “love ain’t a thing, love is a verb”.

 

This is a love song; a love song for a dead man. A song that succeeds where the movie fails in telling a love story about a protagonist that we know from the outset is no longer with us. Unlike the movie, there’s no attempt at comedy here and Prince isn’t the hero/sacrifice. This song is a memory that our narrator is sharing with us for the love that he lost. From that perspective it’s something that we can all relate to, sometimes.

 

 

Running time: 6:49

 

 

References:

Parade (released 1986)

Around the World in a Day (released 1985)

Purple Rain (released 1984)

Born and Raised by John Mayer (released 2012)

The Peach & Black Podcast

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

Metro Lyrics

Prince In Print

Internet Movie Database

Prince.org

 

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7th_Golden_Raspberry_Awards

[2] http://www.playbsides.com/?p=881

[3] Ripping off Matthew Wrather again – www.overthinkingit.com

“My Computer” – Emancipation (1996)

This is the thirty third track on the Emancipation album. That’s the ninth track on the third CD or the third track on side 6 of the cassette. Officially released by “0(+>” this is Prince’s nineteenth album and his first after the end of his Warner Brothers contract (warn a brutha!). The album was released on 19 November 1996 through NPG Records and EMI, a mere four months after Chaos and Disorder tore it up the charts. He was, at last, able to put out the triple album that he had wanted to release for a decade. A 3-disc, 3-tape, 3-hour, 36-track extravaganza. Each disc coming to a precise running time of 60 minutes. I’ve read that Prince did this because of pyramids or something but I’m pretty sure the three pyramids at Giza aren’t all the same size. This is also the first time that Prince ever put a cover version on one of his albums. Not just one but four of them. One of them was even released as a single (the horror!). This was the album where he felt liberated enough (emancipated if you will) to do whatever he liked. “This is what freedom sounds like.”[1]

Because Prince decided that each disc had to be 60 minutes long and have exactly 12 songs on each disc (pyramids, remember), the song structure on a lot of these tracks is a little weird. Normally, a pop song would last 3 to 4 minutes; totaling 36 to 48 minutes for a 12 song album. If you do the math then that leaves you with 12 to 24 minutes of extra sound per disc that you have to populate. Sure, he could have made each track exactly 5 minutes long and fully squared his circle (or pyramid), but I guess he figured that was more numerology than this album could take. All this means that he had to find an extra 60 minute’s worth (or thereabouts) of music/sound/noise/silence to fill up the space around the actual “songs”. And it has to be exactly 12 tracks so you can’t just make another song to fill the space. This is why some of the tracks just ramble along at the end or repeat pointless loops of music or sound like two songs smashed together or have segues as part of the track, to fulfill the album’s 3 hour time requirement. It’s an ambitious project, to say the least, but not the tightest set of music ever released.

Recorded sometime between late 1995 and early 1996 (along with the rest of the album), “My Computer” features one of the best known voices in pop culture. A distinctive voice that cannot be mistaken. And it’s kind of a coup that Prince was able to score such a unique guest. I’m talking of course about Elwood Edwards, the voice of America Online (AOL). That’s the guest artist that you can hear clearly at the beginning and end of the song. The other guest on the song that you can’t hear quite so clearly and distinctly is Kate Bush. As Playa from the Peach and Black podcast put it, she sounds “like you’ve shoved marbles in her mouth and dunked her head underwater with a microphone to record her vocals.”[2] Kate and Prince first met in 1990 on the Nude Tour. In 1991 Kate sent him the demo for her song “Why Should I Love You?” and asked him to lay down some backing vocals. The stuff she got back wasn’t exactly what she was expecting and it took her two years to turn it back into a Kate Bush song. According to Kate’s engineer, Prince “just smothered 48 tracks with everything you could possibly imagine: Guitars, keyboards, drums, voices… she’d said to him `I want you to sing this bit here and I want you to sing that bit there’, and he’d sung it, but he’d done it over the loop that he made up. So, we had this piece of vocal that she wanted but it was everywhere… and although in a lot of ways it didn’t turn out as we’d hoped–I have to be honest–it’s still very interesting”[3] Kate did get a shout out in the liner notes of the Diamonds and Pearls album from 1991 but the song itself wasn’t released until 1993 on her album The Red Shoes. You can check out the song on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3j4pgqdwNA) and compare it to Kate’s demo to get a sense of what she originally had in mind (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbP-dapt09Q). You can definitely hear Prince’s “influence” on the track as it was released and considering that she ended up keeping it on the album, I imagine that she dug what she heard enough to keep it (or was too embarrassed to cut it).

When it comes to “My Computer” I doubt that Prince had the same problem with Kate’s contribution. Although I wouldn’t discount Kate getting some form of revenge on him. I’d like to imagine that he asked her to record a straight up backing (or duet) vocal and she sent him back a computerised mess that he had to try to make fit into what he’d already recorded. Still, it’s hard to make out that there is anyone else on this track, let alone a voice as distinctive as Kate Bush. Whatever her actual input on this song, what we’re left with is a reasonably interesting song that is superficially about the early days of the internet and the state of the world as Prince sees it. The opening of the song samples a few computer sounds and then we get Elwood welcoming us to the online world. It’s easy to forget how big AOL was in the early days of the internet and how ubiquitous the phrase “you’ve got mail” was in the culture. They even made a movie based on the phrase.[4] Prince is tapping into what was cutting edge at the time. In 1995 only around 10 million people were actively using the internet and about 35 million had access to email.[5] Compare that to the 3 billion odd users today.[6] And AOL was by far the biggest site (41% of people online checked it regularly).[7] For a lot of people AOL was the internet so it makes sense that he would want his commentary on the internet to be relatable to as many listeners as possible. Hence Elwood’s contribution. Prince definitely had his connection and his AOL account sorted. This was the era when Prince was embracing the internet and looking to be an innovator in the new digital world.

The song starts with computer sounds and Elwood welcoming us online. I think (from memory) that the sampled computer noises may be error message sounds, which clearly establishes that there is something not quite right from the outset. After Elwood’s welcome we get the drums come in and then the vocal and the rest of the instrumentation join the party. The music in the verses is pretty sparse but it builds through the bridge and into the choruses until it comes back down to the verse. There’s a keyboard sound in the chorus that I think is supposed to be some type of eastern sounding instrument. The off-key way it’s played makes it sound like a dial-up modem (cutting edge people!). There are a few “computery” type sounds throughout the track and then at the end once the lyrics are done (but not really done) the song switches into one of those song extensions I mentioned earlier. And it’s actually a pretty good ending to the song musically speaking. It gives what is ostensibly a downer of a song something positive to end on.

 

“Welcome, U’ve got mail”

Thanks Elwood! Way to make us all feel at home. The “error” sounds and Elwood’s intro are clearly setting the scene for us. Prince is at his computer and logging into his AOL account. And he has mail. But something’s not right.

 

(Computer)

Is this sample part of Kate’s contribution? I’d like to think so. The robotic “computer” vocal appears all throughout the song during the choruses and in the outro (right speaker only). Reminding us what Prince has his attention focused on. He’s staring at the computer, contemplating the universe.

 

It was Sunday night, instead of doing what I usually do I..

What does Prince usually do on a Sunday night? Watch movies? Pray? Record? Have sex? Read? Visit friends? Have friends come over to his house for ice cream and pillow fights?

 

I scan my computer looking 4 a site
Somebody 2 talk 2, funny and bright
I scan my computer looking 4 a site
Make believe it’s a better world, a better life

The robotic “computer” from earlier starts to repeat and echoes the “computer” in the chorus. It highlights the importance of computers in Prince’s mind and let’s Kate participate in the song (I’m assuming). There are some “oohs” going on in the background that I think are Kate too but it could honestly be either of them. Prince is searching for someone to talk to. Someone beyond his current circle of friends and acquaintances (sorry Kirk). Maybe Mayte wasn’t home on this particular Sunday so he had some free time. But Prince is lonely. That’s why he’s going online. Even his AOL “friends” aren’t sufficient because he’s “looking for a site”, not content with what AOL has to offer. For just one night he wants to try to forget about the outside world and “make believe” there’s something better. In the early days of the internet it would have been easy to see it as  something that’s not really real (or make believe), with the potential to make “a better world, a better life.”

 

Nothing on TV I ain’t seen before
Another murder on the news, I can’t take no more
Evil Incorporated, blowing up bombs and thangs
I have a child, huh, I have a lot 2 explain
I could write a letter, but who would I send it 2?

So TV is what he’s usually doing on a Sunday? Maybe. But it sounds like he’s just eliminating that option. He can’t take the news so he’s tuning out. How does one explain to a child (or anyone for that matter) the televised promotion and exultation of the military industrial complex? Letters are another option eliminated (totally old school bro) but we’ve already established that he’s got nobody. And besides he needs someone now (instant gratification baby!). There’s a background sound at the end of this verse that sounds like it might be Kate again singing some “oohs” that have been processed through something to make them sound like an electronic whistle. Maybe a talk box of some kind? Of course it could just be one of the keyboard’s stock sounds but let’s just say it’s Kate so she can earn her liner note credit. The line about his child is heart breaking in retrospect but it highlights how Prince was thinking about the world at the time and his preparedness for fatherhood.

 

It was Sunday night, instead of doing what I usually do I..

I’m starting to lean towards dinner and hanging with friends.

 

I scan my computer looking 4 a site
Somebody 2 talk 2, funny and bright
I scan my computer looking 4 a site
Make believe it’s a better world, a better life

Still searching. What’s he looking for? This is before the age of cam-girls so it looks like it might be a chat room or message board of some kind he’s on the lookout for. People he can connect with. Searching for some hope in humanity.

 

I called an old friend of mine just the other day
No congratulations, no respect paid
All she did was wonder if the rumors were true
I said – “No, I ain’t dead yet, but uh.. what about U?”
I can count my friends with a peace sign: 1, 2

Who could the old friend be? Wendy? Lisa? Carmen? Kate? Oprah? But sadly Prince can’t get no respect. His friends, old and new have abandoned him. Was there ever a rumour that Prince died? I don’t recall if there was. Maybe a reference to the symbolic death of “Prince” and the birth of “0(+>”. But the line does echo a similar line in “Controversy” where a lady asks him if he’s gay (No, are U?). Implying that being gay for Prince would be a kind of death? And what exactly are we congratulating him for? Breaking from Warners? The new album? His new Friend/Lover/Sister/Mother/Wife? The baby perhaps? Or all of the above? And who are the 2 friends? If we exclude Mayte, who are we left with? I’m guessing the folks in the band and all the other folks around Paisley Park would feel pretty bad that Prince doesn’t consider them to be friends. But then I guess it’s kind of hard to be friends with someone who controls your salary.

 

It was Sunday night, instead of doing what I usually do I..

I scan my computer looking 4 a site
Somebody 2 talk 2, funny and bright (Oh)
I scan my computer looking 4 a site
Make believe it’s a better world, a better life (A better life)

I got no mail, my computer

Elwood’s already told us that Prince has email. But he’s saying he’s got no mail. In 95/96 this was more likely to be physical mail. Prince is reaffirming his lack of a physical connection with the rest of humanity (the “real” world). He doesn’t even get mail. He’s isolated and alone. The computer is his only escape. Even if it’s only “make believe” it’s still a “better life” than he’s having on this particular Sunday night.

 

I told them I don’t wanna see a doctor unless he’s lonely 2
Every Sunday night, instead of doing what I usually do I..

Who’s he telling? His peace sign friends perhaps? Or his staff? It seems Prince ain’t feeling too well and that’s why he’s spending Sunday nights on his computer. But does he need a physician or a psychiatrist? Either way, the dude’s gotta be lonely. The doctor needs to be able understand how Prince is feeling in order to treat him. To empathise. Notice how now he’s telling us that it’s “every Sunday night.” So each verse before was actually a different Sunday on a different week. His Sundays have been taken over by the Internet. He’s become a ‘net junkie of sorts. Instead of doing what he usually does during the week, on Sundays he goes online to chat with people.

 

I scan my computer looking 4 a site
Somebody 2 talk 2, funny and bright
I scan my computer looking 4 a site
Make believe it’s a better world (Make believe it’s a better world)
A better life [x52]

Every Sunday he logs on trying to make a better life. He repeats the line “a better life” through the outro 52 times, representing an entire year of Sundays that he’s been trying make “a better life.” Pretty much the whole time he’s been recording Emancipation and then some.

Emancipation is Prince’s big break out album. From his perspective anyway. This was his statement. This is his song of freedom. His hope in the darkness. Whatever else is going on in the world, he’s always going to be looking for a better world. This album is his attempt to make “a better life.”

 

“Goodbye”

See ya Elwood!

 

 

 

Running time: 4:37

 

 

References:

Emancipation (released 1996)

The Red Shoes (release 1993)

Diamonds and Pearls (released 1991)

The Peach & Black Podcast

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

AZ Lyrics

Prince In Print

Prince.org

 

[1] http://princetext.tripod.com/i_emancipation96.html

[2] “Emancipation Review – Disc 3” – Peach and Black Podcast, 19/11/2011 (http://peachandblack.podbean.com/e/emancipation-review-disc-3/)

[3] http://gaffa.org/reaching/i93_ss.html

[4] http://youvegotmail.warnerbros.com/

[5] http://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-coolest-web-sites-from-1996-2014-4#-1

[6] http://www.internetworldstats.com/emarketing.htm

[7] http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2009/02/jurassic_web.html