“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
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]

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

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