“Temptation” – Around the World in a Day (1985)

This is the last (ninth) track on the Around the World in a Day album, by Prince and the Revolution. It was Prince’s seventh album and was released on 22 April 1985 by Warner Brothers. Purple Rain was released on 25 June 1984. For those not so mathematically inclined, that’s about 10 months between albums. Less than a year after the biggest album/movie/thing of his career. There was no single released prior to Around the World in a Day to help promote the album and no tour after. At the time, it appeared that he was going down the Beatles’ route of becoming a “studio-only artist”. Even the cover of this album was compared to the Beatles (Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band), as was some of the music. Does that make Susannah his Yoko Ono? The other big change was the massive increase in the number of players on the album. There were about 20 musicians working on this album (as opposed to 9 on Purple Rain), some were added to the Revolution and for some this is their only Princely appearance. The expansion of “The Revolution” also seemed to show that he was trying to move beyond them being just a touring back-up band and it’s likely that this was the catalyst for their eventual demise. As the older members of the band saw themselves “replaced” with fresh blood they started to become disgruntled and Prince disbanded the Revolution just before Sign O’ The Times came out. ‘Cause ain’t nobody got time for that. Wendy and Lisa have since confirmed that with the added Revolutionaires, Prince’s focus switched – It felt more like he had used up all he needed from us and he was going on to something else.”[1]

Even before Purple Rain came out he was recording songs for the next album. “Temptation” was recorded in the spring of 1984, before Purple Rain’s release, and most of Around the World in a Day was recorded before the Purple Rain tour started. “Temptation” was recorded at Capitol Records in L.A. (you may have heard of it, it’s in Los Angeles)[2] which is not on the usual list of studio locations for Prince but David Leonard, the engineer, was working there so Muhammad went to the mountain. The Purple Rain tour started on 4 November 1984 and concluded on 7 April 1985. Around the World in a Day was released on 22 April 1985. Two weeks after the end of the tour. During the Purple Rain tour Prince announced that the tour would be his last. Some of the songs from Around the World in a Day got a run during that tour (even snippets of “Temptation”) but the next Prince tour wasn’t until August 1986 with Parade. That’s the next tour after he was going to stop touring (if changing your mind earned you skill points then Prince would be a level 9000 paladin). If you have any doubts about the type of musician/artist/performer Prince might have been, consider the schedule that would have been in place from 1984 to 1985 in order to make all the above happen.

Around the World in a Day is an odd member of the Prince discography. The follow up from the massive hit album (and movie) that came before it and widely touted as a failure. Still, it went double platinum in the USA (back when that meant something). There was no leading single before it came out and “Raspberry Beret” wasn’t released until three weeks after the album was out. It’s almost as though he deliberately went out of his way to sabotage the marketing of this album. Or at the very least subvert the perceived “industry best practice” on hit making. “I sorta had an f-you attitude, meaning that I was making something for myself and my fans.”[3] This album and its delivery is a statement to his fans, the industry and the world that his art is going to take precedence over any demands from the money men. The music that opens this album is probably the biggest departure from “Prince music” that he’s made up to this point in his career, with the middle eastern sounds that start “Around the World in a Day” and the opening lyric of the album is “Open your heart, open your mind”. A plea for his fans to come on this trip (around the world – get it?) with him to Paisley Park – “I was trying to say something about looking inside oneself to find perfection. Perfection is in everyone. Nobody’s perfect, but they can be. We may never reach that, but it’s better to strive than not.”[4]

On the opposite end of the record is the album closer, “Temptation”. Rocking blues guitar, piano noodling galore and Eddie M. on the saxophone. A twisted wet dream of a song that’s full of sexual innuendo and moralistic retribution. Like Captain said on the Peach and Black podcast this song is “Prince being Prince.” Part serious, part sexual, part tongue in cheek (and in a few other places). It starts with an ejaculatory guitar solo intro. Then in comes the drum machine shuffling along making a sound similar to “Little Red Corvette” (to my ears anyway). That drum shuffle sound plays along unchanged all through this song (even in the second half) giving it an underlying drive and relentlessness, and tying the two parts of the song together. More drum sounds are layered over the “little red shuffle” until the sax pops in and there’s the bass in there too, swinging along. Essentially, the first part of this song (the wet dream part) sounds like a blues with some swing on it. The guitar sounds kind of “off” through most of it. As though it represents Prince not being able to contain himself. The guitar solo is the peak that leads into him just screaming the chorus as he finally climaxes. Then in the second half of the song (post-climax) the music slows and the piano takes over from the guitar – the two don’t interact. If the guitar represents his libido then the piano is his conscience (and never the twain shall meet). After the first half of the song climaxes he starts thinking “clearly” now that he’s physically spent (“It’s ’cause you ain’t got the baby batter on the brain anymore!”) and is starting to feel guilty about the potential spiritual harm he’s doing to himself and others. Where the first half was a rock/blues sound the second half is more jazzy and avant-garde. The sax punctuates the monologue and goes off on unhinged tangents that speak to the decline into chaos that our hero is experiencing in his sexy hell dream and the conflict in his mind. Even the piano work is kind of flighty and almost stream of consciousness.

 

 

Sex
Temptation
Lust

Each word is ejaculated by the guitar at the end of each riff. The guitar in this song is an extension of Prince’s “manhood” (penis, penis, penis). Every weird note and bent string. Every out of tempo run. Every off key riff. And every time he nails it. It’s Prince struggling with (or reveling in) his desire.

 

Pop go mama

Pop go Prince! Or Susannah. Probably Susannah.

Everybody on this earth has got a vice
And mine, little darlin’, mine is the opposite of ice
Mine is the running hot water of the daughter of morality
In other words, this little prince thinks a lot about U, see?
Baby, baby, baby
I’m guilty in the first degree

Even before the morality play that is the outro of this song, Prince is confirming that his attitude and feelings are criminal (sinner!). Daughters usually disobey their parents when Prince is around and this daughter’s “water” is running straight towards her “little prince” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Running hot water is the metaphor for female orgasm/ejaculation, so what our little Prince is saying is that his vice is not his own pleasure but the pleasure of his woman. His crime/sin is bringing women to orgasm (the shame of it all!). The use of the words “guilty” and “think” here echoes the idea that he later develops into “Electric Chair”. The idea of sexual thought crime and pre-emptive punishment. He deserves to be punished for what he’s thinking. Someone needs a spanking. It’s strange that even though Prince writes a lot of songs about sex and sexuality, and appears to be free and open about it, he still treats it as a “sin” or slightly transgressive in a lot of his lyrics. And when he writes about it (like in this song) he’s being naughty. It’s as though he understands that sex is a good thing and nothing to be feared or ashamed of but somehow his Christianity (or the culture he finds himself surrounded by) won’t allow him to get beyond what he perceives as the sinful nature of what he’s singing about.  It says something about the perverse nature of the culture at the time, and Prince’s place in it, where he was attacked for being too graphic and sexual, yet when he writes about sexuality he’s writing with essentially the same attitude as his critics. The bottom line is, sex outside of marriage is wicked and sinful and the devil will get you if you don’t do it for “the right reasons”. He may be cutting edge at this point of his career but deep down he’s still a prude.

 

Temptation
Working my body with a hot flash of animal lust
Temptation
All my fingers in the pool go splash we must

Interestingly he refers to it as “animal” lust; implying that humans should somehow be (or act like) non-animals. And that by giving in to his animalistic urges, he’s being sinful and less than human. It implies that we, as humans, are somehow not animals. But his body is all animal and his animal fingers (no thumbs) go splash. Go splash in a pool. A pool of temptation. He’s going to make you cum so much that your vagina will become a pool for his fingers to splash around in. That would make an interesting game of Marco Polo indeed.

 

Everybody in this room
Everybody in this room has got an urge
What’s yours, baby?
Mine is temptation, it reigns at a party where lovers splurge
Pop go mama when daddy gets a little 2 much
You know what I’m talkin’ ’bout?
Purplelectricity whenever our bodies touch
Ooh baby, I love it when our bodies touch

The lady that he’s singing to (probably Susannah) may well be starting to feel overwhelmed by this point. He keeps asking her questions but he never gives her a chance to respond. He’s too busy letting her know all about what he wants to do, see and touch. Pop goes Susannah when Prince gets a little too horny and “tempted” by her femaleness (so a win for Susannah!). You know what he’s talking about right? It’s that purplelectricity baby. Interestingly, there is another other reference to “purple” in the lyrics of this album is in “Around the World in a Day”. He opens and closes the album with purple, so to speak. As much as Prince would like to claim (and did at the time) that this album was a departure from his Purple Past™, there are references to Purple Rain all over this album if you look hard enough. It’s not so much a clean break from what came before as it is a dirty continuation.


Temptation
Working my body with a hot flash of animal lust
Temptation
All my fingers in the pool go splash we must

Temptation, temptation, temptation

Here starts an excellent guitar solo.


Wait a minute now

The guitar solo builds to a climax with Prince moaning and groaning and making all sorts of sexing type sounds.


Temptation
Working my body with a hot flash of animal lust
Temptation
All my fingers in the pool go splash we must

The way he screams the first half of this chorus makes it barely recognisable as words let alone the specific ones written above. This is where Prince and his guitar (little prince) come to climax. His temptation has been satiated.


Temptation
Working my body, working my body, working my body

Here is where the guitar drops out completely but the “little red shuffle” continues to motor along to remind you that this story is not quite over and there’s something more to be said. The rest of the lyrics are spoken word.

 

Temptation
I’m not talkin’ about just ordinary temptation, people. I’m talking
About the kind of temptation that’ll make U do things.
Oh, oh, temptation.
Oh, darling, I can almost taste the wetness between your…
Temptation, temptation
I’m not talking about any ol’ kind of temptation, people, I’m talkin’
About, I’m talkin’ about… sexual temptation.
A lover
I need a lover, a lover, I need a…right now.
U, I want U.
I want U in the worst way.
I want U.

I’m not too sure what “ordinary temptation” is – maybe it’s chocolate related? But I think that even ordinary temptation would make you do things, like eat chocolate. I think, however, that Prince is more interested in eating something else. Something a little moister. So moist you can virtually taste the moistness between the saxophone solos. Now we get to the topic at hand (finally!). The whole song, or so it would seem, is about “sexual temptation”. Who woulda guessed it? Notice that he kind of breaks the fourth wall here during the monologue and stops talking to his lady friend in a couple of the lines and directs the message specifically to us, the listener. His “people”. The line “want U in the worst way” is an echo of a line from the song “Girl” (recorded in 1982) the b-side to the “America” single. Wanting someone sexually is just the worst way to want someone, ever. Even worse than wanting to cut off their head and wear their skin as a coat. Again, this attitude highlights Prince’s conservative morals despite his sexual gratuitousness. Sex is “bad” and “sinful” but he’ll still sing about it all day long.

 

“Oh, silly man, that’s not how it works.
You have 2 want her 4 the right reasons.”

I do!

“U don’t, now die!”

No! No!

Let me go, let me go.

Initially I assumed that the deeper voice speaking to Prince was supposed to represent god. But I no longer think that’s right. First of all, I don’t think that an omnipotent, loving god would refer to him (or anyone) as “silly man”. It seems like such language would be beneath a deity of such stature. God’s more likely to use a phrase like “my son” or “my child” or something less harsh. Second, an all loving deity wouldn’t “kill” anyone. And lastly, Prince being the christian that he is wouldn’t be screaming “let me go” to god. He’d be screaming “take me away!” I think the voice represents something else. A demon, satan, the saint of killers or some part of Prince’s own psyche teaching him a lesson. Strangely enough, the demon does sound like he has some empathy in his voice, especially on the “right reasons” line, so maybe it is some part of Prince talking to himself. The lines in the monologue aren’t printed on the album sleeve like the “song” part is. The lyrics printed inside the album end with a quote “Temptation is useless love is more important than sex”. Love is the “right reason”.

I’m sorry.
I’ll be good.
This time I promise,
Love is more important than sex.
Now I understand.
I have 2 go now.
I don’t know when I’ll return.
Good-bye

Human beings can feel love and you can argue that some of the other animals in the world can feel love or something equivalent. So if we choose love over sex, then sexual reproduction would eventually cease which would lead to a universe without anyone left to feel the most important thing in the universe – love. They’re both important but without sex, there’s no-one left to feel any love. So sex (even loveless sex) must be just as important as love (if not more so). If only so that love has a chance of remaining in existence. He promises this time to exalt one over the other (maybe the last time wasn’t a promise – pinky swear!). So he’s tried to be good before but this time is different because now he’s got Susannah. He’s stopped touring. He’s looking to settle down. John and Yoko are about to get serious.

Prince recorded most of “Temptation” before Purple Rain came out and Eddie M. put down the sax parts later, but the closing monologue wasn’t recorded until 24 December 1984. Eight weeks into the Purple Rain tour. While on the road for Purple Rain he tires of touring and decides that he doesn’t want to tour anymore. Or like the Beatles, thinks that he couldn’t do justice to what was recorded in the studio anymore. So after the decision is made he finishes off a concert at the Saint Paul Civic Arena and goes back to his mobile recording studio and records the “outro” monologue over the tracks that he (and Eddie) had already put down. As a final goodbye to his fams. The final recording session for Around the World in a Day. No more tours. “I have 2 go now. I don’t know when I’ll return. Good-bye”.

The Peach and Black team hypothesised that the original track order on this album was “Temptation” and then “The Ladder”. Which makes sense if you want to end your album on an inspirational high. Putting “Temptation” as the final track only makes sense in light of the closing monologue and Prince’s “goodbye”, which is a late addition. I can see how the original ending to “Temptation” might have just been an awesome extended instrumental outro (not unheard of in Prince’s catalogue). Just Prince and Eddie M. having fun for three and a half minutes. Finishing the album in the way he did, it becomes clear that Prince is sending a message to his fans – you won’t see me for a while because I’m going to choose love and settle down with Susannah. His love for her is more important than all the backstage Betty’s. His lover takes precedence over his urges.

 

 

 

Running time: 8:18

 

References:

Around the World in a Day (released 1985)

Purple Rain (released 1984)

Batman (released 1989)

The Peach & Black Podcast

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

AZ Lyrics

Out.com

Prince In Print

Overthinkingit.com

 

[1] http://www.out.com/entertainment/2009/04/16/revolution-will-be-harmonized

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

[3] http://princetext.tripod.com/i_mojo85.html

[4] http://princetext.tripod.com/i_stone85.html

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“If I Was Your Girlfriend” – Sign O’ The Times (1987)

The eleventh song on the Sign O’ The Times album; that’s the second track on the second CD or the second track on side three if you have the vinyl. This song was recorded at Sunset Studios in late 1986 through to early 1987 and was one of the songs originally included on the unreleased Camille album; a planned release by one of Prince’s alter egos – Camille. Camille is the high-pitched, fuzzy voice on songs like “Housequake”, “Shockadelica” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend”. The Camille album unfortunately was canned though some of the songs eventually made their way onto Sign O’ The Times (via the Crystal Ball project). I think if the record company had allowed it, Prince would have put out a new record every six months during the 80s. As it is, he had to settle for about an album a year.

If you take a look at the lyric book that came with the album, this song is credited with “Lead Vocal by Camille”. “U Got the Look” is also credited to Camille (along with Sheena Easton) but strangely was recorded after the Camille project had already been scrapped. “Strange Relationship” is also credited to Camille. The opening three tracks to the second disc (side three on the vinyl) are all credited to Camille. I can understand wanting to retain some of the history of that lost project, but why add a completely new song under the same moniker to open the second half of the album? It’s as though Prince is trying to unite these three songs as part of one story. “The Sad Story of Camille”, perhaps.

Musically, the song feels melancholic and sad; slightly pathetic even. The drum programming and rhythm section sound pretty sparse throughout and it reminds me a little of “We Can Funk” from Graffiti Bridge, especially towards the end before it transitions into “Joy in Repetition”, albeit at a slower tempo. There’s some keyboard in there too filling in the background and coming in during the chorus to play a handful of notes that make up the hook which you can’t help but hum along to. A one-man band affair though the real focus of this song is the vocal. The high pitched Camille vocal as the lead, with the back-up vocals on the low end complementing the rhythm section. A large portion of the lyrics are spoken word really (Prince’s proto-rap) which makes this song feel more like a conversation than a song. A late night, drunken (or drug-induced) phone call to his object of desire. Thematically this song is almost “Bambi – part II”. But now Prince is a little more mature in his expression of frustration (but only a little). And he’s not necessarily trying to convince her that it’s “better with a man” but rather that he can be the person that she needs him to be (male or female). Lisa Coleman has described Prince in an interview as a “fancy lesbian”[1] and in this song he’s trying convince his lady friend of exactly that. He wants her to fall in love with him, the way she fell in love with her girlfriend and if there was anyone that could do it then it would be Prince. Wendy Melvoin (in the same interview as Lisa) describes meeting Prince and how “we looked at each other for the first time and I thought “Oh, I could so fall in love with that girl easy”… He looked at me like a gay woman would look at another woman”. [2] Prince’s attitude, sexuality and perceived androgyny might have been enough to turn Wendy’s head (or at least get her looking in his direction) but Camille and the object of his desire are a different story.

 

“Look at the bargains over here, ladies…”

Why would you open a song like this? The opening ten seconds have seemingly nothing to do whatsoever with the rest of the song. I don’t know if this was put in specifically for the Sign O’ The Times version or whether it appears on the Camille album as well. It’s obviously quite deliberate and is meant to convey some sort of meaning; it’s here to tell us a story. The intro to this song sounds like a smash-cut short film. Cut to orchestra tuning up. Cut to hawker yelling in the street. Cut to wedding march. Cut to black. End. Then the song proper fades in. Now imagine the orchestra sound is playing over a shot of a couple breaking up. Cut to the girl, now with another girl shopping hand in hand at the local market and finally our two ladies are getting married (lesbian wedding!). The sound of the orchestra is Prince’s relationship with the subject of the song struggling to stay “in tune”. The hawker is calling out to the lady and her new girlfriend/lover. And they are keen to find as many bargains as possible for their lesbian wedding (yay!) The opening 10 seconds is the entire back story to this song and the reason why Prince/Camille is so sad. He was with this girl who broke up with him because she finally found the strength to come out and be who she really is; falling in love with the person that she wanted, not the person society told her she should be with.

 

If I was your girlfriend
Would U remember 2 tell me all the things U forgot
When I was your man?

Hey, when I was your man

If I was your best friend
Would U let me take care of U and do all the things
That only a best friend can
Only best friends can

It appears that he’s been dumped because his lady friend digs girls too. Unfortunately, Camille can’t really understand this (similar to Bambi) so the whole song is him trying to convince her to come back to him. I say back to him, but the overall vibe of the song feels like she was never really his to begin with. His talk about him being her man feels almost forced and untrue. As though he’s trying to convince himself that he was more than just a friend or acquaintance to her; that now he’s trying to convince her he would make a great lesbian too. Maybe she touched his hand once and he assumed that they were going steady. The reason she didn’t tell him everything when they were together was because she never did feel for him like he does for her. They were never best friends; he just wishes they were. All great couples are best friends; but Camille and his “ex” are not. The two girls are, and that is just killing Camille. She didn’t tell him everything because she knew that their relationship would go nowhere. She was always struggling with coming out and finding the strength to confront her fears. She tells her girlfriend everything because she really, truly loves her. They’re best friends and lovers. She doesn’t need to be taken care of, at least not by Camille. She can take care of herself now. She has someone. She has a best friend that can do all the things the way only a best friend can.


If I was your girlfriend
If I was your girlfriend

Translation: If I was your lesbian lover.

 

If I was your girlfriend
Would U let me dress U
I mean, help U pick out your clothes
Before we go out
Not that you’re helpless
But sometimes, sometimes
Those are the things that bein’ in love’s about

Be honest buddy, you didn’t mean that you’d help her pick out clothes. There is definitely a silent “un” after “let me”. You want to see her naked, you want to undress her. The pause after “dress U” just highlights the hidden meaning here. It’s that kind of half-joke where  he’s hoping that she just might say yes. I can picture him with his arms raised, palms pushing up against the invisible wall between them, Marcel Marceu style, and doing his best Woody Allen impersonation “I mean, help u pick out your clothes”. Camille is imagining what it’s like for his ex in her new relationship and the things she’s doing with her new girlfriend. They going shopping together (“Look at the bargains over here, ladies”) and picking out clothes together. He starts to back pedal a little here too. In the first verse he wants to “take care” of her but now he’s starting to understand that she’s not “helpless” but he still wants to do stuff for her; because love or something.

 

If I was your one and only friend
Would U run 2 me if somebody hurt U
Even if that somebody was me?
Sometimes I trip on how happy we could be
Please

You mean how happy YOU could be. She’s already happy. Without you. No amount of begging and pleading will change that. She won’t be running to you for anything anymore. And if a she had only one friend then of course she would run to that friend for emotional support. It’s like he’s phrasing his questions so that she can only answer them in a way that makes him feel better. But it’s a hypothetical. In real life she likely has a multitude of people she’d rather run to ahead of him. I will say that the “please” at the end of this verse sounds like every ounce of emotion has been poured into it. If you ever wanted an audio sample of what desperation sounded like, then this “please” would be it. As deluded as Camille might be, his emotions are still quite real.

 

If I was your girlfriend
If I was your girlfriend

 Translation: If I was your lesbian lover.

 

Would U let me wash your hair
Could I make U breakfast sometime
Or then, could we just hang out, I mean
Could we go 2 a movie and cry together
Cuz 2 me baby that would be so fine

The music changes coming out of the chorus. He’s starting to get a little more frantic now. Frustrated and desperate he stops singing for a moment. He’s just begging to be near her. All on the small hope that she might turn back to him. The activity that he’s describing here is all romantic and suggestive. There’s something more behind each line that implies what Camille really has on his mind. Washing the lady’s hair (in the shower, before going to bed), making breakfast in the morning (after spending the night together), going to the movies (sitting in the dark and making out or copping a feel). All the things that a couple in love would do together.

 

If I was your girlfriend
Baby can I dress U
I mean, help U pick out your clothes
Before we go out
(If I was your girlfriend)
Listen girl, I ain’t sayin you’re helpless
But sometimes, sometimes
Those are the things that bein’ in love’s about (sugar)

Sugar do U know what I’m saying 2 U this evening? (sugar)
Maybe U think I’m being
a little self-centered (if I was your girlfriend)
But I, I said I want 2 be (sugar)
all of the things U are 2 me (sugar)
Surely, surely U can see (if I was your girlfriend)

 A “little” self-centered the way the sun might be called a “little” ball of gas. Finally a small taste of self-awareness though not enough to change anything. The entire focus of the song has been you Mr Camille. If you were any more self-centered you would collapse under the weight of your own vanity and form a singularity of ego. From which no empathy can escape. This verse is the part in Camille’s drunken phone call confession where he confesses that he wants her to think of him the way he thinks of her. She was once his girlfriend (maybe) and he wants to be her girlfriend now because that is the only way he’s gonna get what he desires.

 

Is it really necessary 4 me 2 go out of the room
just because U wanna undress?

 Yeah dude, it is. Stop being a creep.

 

I mean, we don’t have 2 make children 2 make love
And then, we don’t have 2 make love 2 have an orgasm
Your body’s what I’m all about

Two girlfriends having sex generally can’t have children. But they can make love together and they can orgasm together. Camille is trying to convince her that he can do everything her girlfriend can do (so what’s the problem lady?). But she doesn’t want to do any of those things with you buddy. So just chill. She wants someone who wants her for more than just her body. He’s basically admitting that all he wants to do is fuck her (or her body to be specific). Forget about the fact that there’s a person there.

 

Can I see U?
I’ll show U
Why not?
U can think it’s because I’m your friend I’ll do it 4 U
Of course I’ll undress in front of U!
And when I’m naked, what shall I do?
How can I make U see that it’s cool?
Can’t U just trust me?
If I was your girlfriend U could
Oh, yeah, I think so
Listen, 4 U naked I would dance a ballet
Would that get U off?
Then tell me what will!
If I was your girlfriend, would U tell me?
Would U let me see U naked then?
Would U let me give U a bath?
Would U let me tickle U so hard U’d laugh and laugh
And would U, would U let me kiss U there
You know down there where it counts
I’ll do it so good I swear I’ll drink every ounce
And then I’ll hold U tight and hold U long
And together we’ll stare into silence
And we’ll try 2 imagine what it looks like
Yeah, we’ll try 2 imagine what, what silence looks like
Yeah, we’ll try 2 imagine what silence looks like
Yeah, we’ll try…

The last verse is the culmination of Camille’s drunken, late night phone call to his ex-girlfriend. As he starts to talk faster, I get the distinct impression that on Camille’s end of the phone this has turned into phone sex. The end of the song and the drifting off into silence just reinforces that he’s now “spent”. Camille spends the whole song trying to convince his ex that he’s just as much of a lesbian as her new love. Throughout the song, none of his sexual innuendo and graphic descriptions are penetrative. He’s trying to get her to not remember that he has a penis. The imagery that he uses and the acts that he describes are all “feminine” (or at least that’s how Camille sees them) because he wants her to believe that he is a “fancy lesbian” and that he can be the girlfriend in her life. But when he stares into the silence all it does is stare back and remind him that he’s alone.

The title of the song is “If I Was Your Girlfriend” but what he’s really saying is “What Can I Do To Get In Your Pants?” Imagine you’re the girl in this song. You’ve finally found the strength to break up with your boyfriend (as wonderful as he may or may not be) and you’ve found love and a new life with your new girlfriend (lesbian wedding!). Then Camille comes along and calls you up at 3am one night, telling you all the things he would do to you, with you, for you if he was in her place. Even if you were still single (and still into guys), having your ex profess his desires like that in the middle of the night is creepy. She’s not a human being in any real sense. She’s become a means to an end. A way for him to feel joy or pleasure. When they broke up he told her he wanted to “be friends” but now he’s pretty much confessing that he still wants to get in her pants. He even shows some self-awareness when he calls himself out as self-centered. But it’s not enough to actually change his behaviour.

It’s not love. He doesn’t love her, he wants her, he wants her body. If he truly loved her then he would want her to be happy. Even if that happiness meant she loved someone else. But this isn’t about her happiness. It’s about him and his desires. Just like Bambi, the message is the same. It’s just the delivery that has changed. Now he’s just older and sadder and more pathetic. Pleading for her to come back to him. But all his pleading will come to naught.

I may be drawing a long bow here but I get the sense that this song is about Wendy and Lisa. I’ve read about it being written for/about Prince’s former fiancé and Wendy’s sister Susannah (which may still be partly true) but I think that what this song is really expressing is Prince’s jealousy of Wendy and Lisa’s relationship and his desire for the type of relationship that these two “girlfriends” had at the time (Wendy and Susannah being twins probably has a bit to do with it too). Yes, the song is titillating in the way that a lesbian relationship can be to a heterosexual male, but behind that you can hear the aching in his voice and the desire to be part of something beautiful. Prince wanting him and Susannah to have what Wendy and Lisa have (if he was her girlfriend they might have a chance at happiness). Outwardly, Camille may be crass and slightly indifferent about the subject of this song (focusing more on his own needs) but I think that Prince is using the character Camille to express something about his own desire for the type of relationship that he saw on display by the girls in the band. Deep love, full of trust in one another and an understanding of who they are and what they mean to each other. This song may not have done too well when it was released as a single but amongst Prince fams, this is usually cited as one of the greatest songs in his discography (sorry Captain). The emotion of the vocal, balanced against the sparseness of the backing track creates something that really lets you feel the artist’s emotions at every level. Whether the song is about Susannah or Wendy and Lisa or the girl he had a crush on in high school or all of the above, the way the song makes you feel when you listen to it is really the point. Like all great art, it’s a catharsis.

 

Running time: 4:59

 

References:

Sign O’ The Times (released 1987)

Prince (released 1979)

Graffiti Bridge (released 1990)

The Peach & Black Podcast

Sign ‘O’ The Times, Michaelangelo Matos, Continuum International Publishing, 2004.

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

AZ Lyrics

The Hits – Songbook

out.com

 

[1] http://www.out.com/entertainment/2009/04/16/revolution-will-be-harmonized

[2] ibid.

 

“Way Back Home” – Art Official Age (2014)

Track ten from the 37th Prince album (and latest as of this writing – HitNRun coming soon!) – Art Official Age and last song on side C of the vinyl. Now mock me if you will, but until I actually heard this album and heard him say the words, I had no idea that it was supposed to be pronounced “artificial age”. I thought he was just trying to be artsy and weird. Which I guess he kinda was. This album was released at the same time as Plectrumelectrum, his record with 3rdEyeGirl. Art Official Age has Joshua Welton credited as co-producer. To be specific, the album was “ARRANGED, COMPOSED AND PER4MED BY @3RDEYEGIRL @JOSHUAWORLD”. I think this may be the first time a co-producing credit like that has ever gone on a Prince album. It looks like Josh may be Prince’s new go-to guy.

Art Official Age was released by NPG records and under licence to Warner Brothers (the prodigal son returns!) in September 2014. He’d been putting new songs out online for a while before this and there are a couple of tracks on this record and Plectrumelectrum that had been heard in various incarnations before the album was released. Even a few that didn’t make either album. This album didn’t generate that much online gossip (as I recall) in the Prince-verse. Plectrumelectrum had been spoken about and much anticipated. And 3rdEyeGirl was the new big thing. But no one was really expecting a stand-alone Prince album. At least I wasn’t. And definitely not a sci-fi R&B record with a three-eyed Prince on the cover. The font used on the cover and inside the sleeve for the track listing has a strange way of representing the “A” and “O” in each word (excluding the affirmations). At first I thought the “A” looked like a finger with the circle inside it (like a zero) but then I noticed the “O” with the line through the middle of it (like a one). Ones and zeros. Binary. And only the album and song titles receive this special treatment. Everything else is just regular script. The binary sequence (starting with the cover) is 01000100101100100001011. I don’t know if it means anything (Google didn’t help) but it is likely representative of the artificial age/cage that Prince finds himself in. Someone who was once a pioneer of online distribution and fan interaction has now become a detractor. Even to the point of declaring that the internet is “completely over” (“all these computers… just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you”[1]). The numbers (ones and zeros) hold you back from the real (i.e. not artificial) world, which in Prince’s mind usually means music, sex and god.

The cover of this record is an interesting combination of images and ideas. Obviously the title is referencing the artificiality of the world we live in but in the background we have some floating platinum records. It’s hard to make out which albums they are but they seem to have the flowers on them from the Purple Rain album. Although every vinyl picture I was able to find of Purple Rain has the flowers in the bottom left, not top left. Make of that what you will, it seems clear that the records represent his past and they are behind him. In the foreground we have our hero with his afro-naut helmet in his shiny space suit and three-rimmed glasses. In the reflection of the glasses is a vision of outer space but behind the records is a field of clouds. As though he’s at the edge of the earth’s atmosphere looking out at the universe. The “third eye” is something that has come up a few times in Prince’s career. There’s a song, a band and now an album cover. “The third eye (also known as the inner eye) is a mystical and esoteric concept referring to a speculative invisible eye which provides perception beyond ordinary sight… In some traditions such as Hinduism, the third eye is said to be located around the middle of the forehead, slightly above the junction of the eyebrows.”[2] In his latest incarnation Prince is professing his ability to see what we ordinary folks aren’t able to see with our regular old pairs of regular old eyes. When you open up the cover, on the inside we see what it looks like through Prince’s third eye. The background (his past/earth) becomes binary or digital – artificial.

It’s hard for me to articulate, but somehow this album (and to some extent Plectrumelectrum) feels like a breath of fresh air in the last 10 or so years of Prince’s career. Maybe it has something to do with the four year break between the last album (20TEN) and these two. Maybe he’s reached a new level of comfort with his history, his age and his place in the world. Maybe it’s my own perception. There is definitely some new territory that Prince is covering with this album and he’s tried to wrap it all together in a concept that straddles spirituality and science fiction. I imagine his co-producer had a little to do with it too. Whatever the case may be, this album sounds fresher and more considered than a lot of his latter day career.

This song is really one part of a thematic arc running through the whole album and the arc is held together by the English voiceover lady – Lianne La Havas. She starts in “Clouds” which is track two on the album (side A on the vinyl) but then she doesn’t come back until “affirmation I & II” (seven tracks later – side C on the vinyl) then immediately followed by “Way Back Home” and finishing with “affirmation III”, the last track on the album (side D). Lianne is credited on the record as “Charlotte Ann Telepathy” (her middle name is Charlotte) which, in a similar way to the album title, sounds like “charlatan telepathy” when spoken aloud. Earlier on the album during “Clouds” she says that he’s been asleep for 45 years. So either he’s been “asleep” since 1969 and the summer of love (when he was 11) or he’s waking up 45 years from now in some utopian future (2059) where all the cool characters are English. I’m going to argue that it is both. The songs on the album are themselves nostalgic but the story (the album concept) is futuristic. Inside the album sleeve it says “there used 2 be a time when music was a spiritual healing 4 the body, soul & mind…” The time that he’s referring to is his youth and this song (and a lot of the album) is full of nostalgia and pathos about an earlier, simpler time.  I think that 1969 is right around the time when Prince’s parents split up. It may have happened a little earlier, I’m not 100% sure on the dates, but I think it’s close. Regardless, with this song he’s expressing a longing for the past and a simpler life, and his regret at some of the choices that lead him here. The good old days when musicians were real and the world wasn’t “artificial”. A different age (100% organic!). If I had to guess I’d say that something happened in 1969 that had some impact on young Prince.

While doing the research for this song I came across a movie from 1969 called “Prince”. It’s a Hindi movie about “the story of a Prince who brought about his own downfall so that he may rise as a human being.”[3] I haven’t watched the movie but I’m going to presume that if there was a movie made whose title was the same as my name that I would not only know about it but that I would also have watched it more than once. And perhaps even taken on some ideas and concepts from that movie (and the culture from which it came). Prince finding his way home is him becoming a human being again, not just a collection of platinum records.

Musically, “Way Back Home” starts with a pulsing, ultrasound heartbeat type of sound. It reminds me of “Sex in the Summer” from the Emancipation album, which I believe was the sound of Prince’s unborn child’s heart. On this album the sound represents Prince’s heart beating again after coming out of stasis (45 years in the future) but the echo of that earlier song is there. The pulsing sets the scene behind the opening monologue. There’s the high bell-like sound of the keyboard that introduces Prince’s vocal which starts as a call and response between his singing voice and spoken word. The marching drum beat sounds like a stronger heart beat or a quickening pulse and it comes in on the phrase “trophy wife”. The ding-dong sound of the bells and the drum and the pulsing are all intended to mimic the sounds that our protagonist is hearing as he awakens. The machines that he’s hooked up to are beeping and keeping track of his heartbeat and his vital signs as he awakens and tries to find his way home.

 

Any person or object whatsoever
That requires your attention
Is something that has veered
from its path
And preordained destiny
of total enlightenment

An interesting suggestion that somehow inanimate objects are capable of “enlightenment” but it’s likely that this is some sort of allusion to the circle of death and rebirth. If the destiny of a thing or person is preordained then how is it possible that it could have veered from that path toward enlightenment? Preordained destiny implies that the person or object has no choice but to attain enlightenment (by definition). To suggest that said person or thing has veered suggests that it has free will or has been acted upon by an agent of some kind that had free will. Either way, nothing is then preordained or destined to occur. Furthermore, if that person or thing requires your attention doesn’t that also mean that you yourself Mr Prince have chosen to veer from your path of enlightenment and have been distracted by the shiny objects? (Squirrel!)

Given that they have a preordained destiny to attain enlightenment, then any path they take, no matter how convoluted must lead to enlightenment. However, if they have veered from their path toward enlightenment (and there’s a chance they may not reach their destination), then in no way can it be said that their enlightenment was a preordained destiny.

So everyone’s and everything’s destiny is to attain enlightenment. This is preordained. But some people or objects veer from that destiny. So they are somehow able to avoid their destiny. Which is preordained. But still not certain. But their enlightenment is destined and preordained. But sometimes they veer from the path.

A loop, is a loop, is a loop.

The short introduction to this song specifically is saying that anything that stands out, that isn’t part of the collective, is something that has lost its way. Which is why it has been added to the start of a song called “Way Back Home”. Coming back home is a synonym for “enlightenment”. Prince was lost but now he’s trying to be found.

 

I never wanted a typical life
scripted role, huh…trophy wife
All I ever wanted, was to b left alone
See my beds made up at night
Cuz in my dreams I roam
Just trying to find, trying to find
My way back, back home

He definitely hasn’t had a “typical” life but if all you wanted was to be left alone then choosing a career as an international superstar was probably a bad choice. Prince has always written his own script and made his own choices, regardless of public opinion (or common sense) so he’s definitely lived his life as he chose. The call and response of the first two lines emphasise his desire to not want to live a normal life (whatever that is) but also wanting to truly find love (not just a trophy). Songs where he’s looking for love probably form over half of Prince’s back catalogue, so it’s a theme that he’s covered many times before. And while it’s true that he does shun publicity and the media (or at least purports to), he very clearly doesn’t want to be left alone. If that were true he wouldn’t be seeking love in every other song he writes (or have two ex-wives to boot). But a man can dream and it sounds like in Prince’s dreams he’s astral projecting (roaming) his way back “home”.

 

So many reasons why
There’s so many reasons why
I don’t belong here
But now that I am I
Without fear I am
Gonna conquer with no fear
Until I find my way back home
Until I find my way back home
Find my way back home

So many reasons. Too many reasons. I’m just not going to mention any right now. He doesn’t belong on the spaceship with Charlatan. He doesn’t belong in the “Art Official Age”. He doesn’t belong on Earth. Prince is turning on his third eye and is starting to approach enlightenment; now that he is coming out of his suspended animation, he’s seeing what is really going on in this artificial cage. Or at least that is what he is affirming by claiming that he is going to “conquer with no fear”. But now that “I am I” (I am what I am) he’s realised who he really is and now has the power to conquer (“I know kung fu”). But conquer who exactly?

 

Most people in this world are born dead
But I was born alive
I was born with this dream
With a dream outside my head
That I could find my way back home
My my way way back home

He’s talking here about being spiritually dead or alive, however the way the lyric has been phrased, it does evoke images of miscarriages and still births. Which feels like another echo of “Sex in the Summer” and the child that didn’t survive. What he’s trying to explain here is that he was born with his third eye (his special power) which will allow him to achieve the enlightenment that he requires. His astral projecting spirit is the dream outside of his head that will lead him to enlightenment. Lead him back home.

 

Power to the ones, power to the ones
who could raise a child like me
The path was set
But if u look the truth will set us free
I’ve heard about those happy endings
But it’s still a mystery
Lemme tell u about me
I’m happiest when I can see
My way back home
Can u see my way back home
Can u see my way back home

The drums (heartbeat) stop just before the first line in this verse. This is the memory that stops his heart for a moment. He’s talking about his parents (and the other folks who helped raise him). This song is ultimately a nostalgia trip where Prince is recalling a simpler time in his life when he was young. He had his destiny but… the truth will set him free (he who has ears to hear, let him hear). He will overcome his destiny with his true voice. His singing. His song will show him the way back home.

 

Running time: 3:05

 

 

 

 Addendum

The opening of this song is a spill over from the previous track “affirmation I & II”, which in turn is a continuation of the story from “Clouds”. I don’t think that there’s any way to properly talk about this song without discussing those two earlier tracks and the last track on the album “affirmation III”, which could have easily been called “Way Back Home (reprise)”. Let’s put it all together and see what we can see:

 

Mr. Nelson, Mr. Nelson, can you hear my voice?
Sir, we know you’re a little bit groggy
And you’re probably going to find it hard to speak
But don’t try to talk or process too much now
We just want to let you know that the medication you were given
Has put you in a suspended animation for quite some time
Well, in fact, about 45 years
But where you are now
Is a place that does not require time
That being said, you are completely safe
And we are here to help you

 

“Before you have any interaction with members of the opposite sex
We’re going to have to debrief you thoroughly over the course of the next few sessions.
Today though we’re just going to start off with some simple affirmations that will be automatically induced to your memory temple, which you can upload on to a hard drive and can review at your desire.

Affirmation number one, there are no such words as me or mine.
Words of this nature were introduced into society as a control mechanism which systematically divided the subjects first individually and then as a collective.

“Any person or object whatsoever
That requires your attention
Is something that has veered
from its path
And preordained destiny
of total enlightenment

 

“How are u feeling 2day Mr Nelson?
I trust ur having a quick and enjoyable adjustment period
As u can see, we are communicating telepathically
Which makes things move so much faster here
After u have completed the planned affirmation therapy
u will find this way of interaction far easier
You’ve probably felt many years in ur former life,
that u were separate from not only others, but even yourself.
Now u can see that was never the case
U are actually everything and anything that u can think of.
All of it is U
Remember there really is only one destination, and that place is U
All of it, everything is U.”

There’s a lot that I could bring in here about each song on the album and how it relates to the overall narrative but I’ll just try to touch on a few key points, otherwise I’ll be here for months. The narration starts in “Clouds” but in the opening track “Art Official Cage”, we hear Prince’s muffled cry “Let me go!” and it sounds like he’s being water-boarded. This is the sound of him being captured and put into suspended animation which he then starts to come out of during “Clouds” (45 years later), a song which opens with what sounds like a radio dial searching for a signal – this is Prince searching for the lost memories that the suspended animation has taken from him. I won’t get too deep into that song but sufficed to say that the narration in “Clouds” is the set up for the concept of the album and the story that is to come. The lyrics before this narration are sung by Lianne herself and they talk about life being a stage in this age and how we may be better off in space. Which is where Prince finds himself. Awakening in space (above the “Clouds”). Unable to speak. You can even hear his background vocals mumbling after she says “voice”. But it’s okay because he’s safe with Charlatan Telepathy.

In between “Clouds” and “affirmation I & II” Prince finds himself reliving his past, searching his memories and breaking down his history through the different songs on the album. In “Breakdown” he’s asking, almost begging to be saved (broken down and rebuilt) by the subject of the song. An argument could be made that the subject here is god or so he believes. The rest of the songs are there to represent that breaking down process. Prince’s captors (who he believes are god/heaven) are forcing him to relive the best and worst parts of his history. The electronic manipulation of the vocals in a number of the songs (“Gold Standard”, “U Know”, “Breakfast Can Wait”, Funknroll”) is Prince struggling with the artificial world he is in as he tries to approach enlightenment.

The first “affirmation” track references avoiding women until after he gets a full debrief (how will our hero survive!), which is odd considering that most of the album is songs about women. Or maybe that’s the point. But to go on and say that “there are no such words as me or mine” is a little silly when she’s clearly just said the words. The memories are “induced” into a “memory temple”. Induce is defined as “succeed in persuading or leading (someone) to do something.”[4] Charlatan Telepathy is trying to persuade Prince (via his “memory temple” or astral brain) that the nature of the universe is unity. I find it strange that she tells him he can put his memories on a hard drive for later. A hard drive sounds very “artificial” so it makes a strange kind of sense that his memories of his past – his “artificial” memories will be stored on such a device. Charlatan seems to be working at cross purposes to our hero. If you’re a Star Wars fan then you’ll know that most of the bad guys have English accents and it’s starting to become clear that Charlatan is living up to her name – “A charlatan is a person practising quackery or some similar confidence trick in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception.”[5] It’s the concept of individuality that is at issue here and the last “affirmation” confirms that this is the point of everything that Charlatan has been talking about. You’re not separate. We are all one. Everything is you because you are everything she tells him. Prince has come home. He’s finally made it to “heaven”. With Charlatan.

The whole of the narration is a ruse to deceive our hero. A brain washing exercise. Telling him what he wants to hear. All so that he can be uploaded to the hard drive and become part of the artificial cage. His spirit has been broken down and his resistance is fading. Charlatan appears to have beaten him by the end but the chorus in the last track is still searching for home as everything starts to fade. And the last ten seconds are silent. Game over.

 

 

References:

Art Official Age

The Peach and Black Podcast

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

Google

The Mirror

AZ Lyrics

Emancipation

[1] http://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/prince—world-exclusive-interview-233220

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_eye

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_%281969_film%29

[4] https://www.google.com.au/?gfe_rd=cr&ei=tzncVaqvMLHu8wfF9aD4Dg#q=induce

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlatan

‘P Control’ – The Gold Experience (1995)

This is the opening track from The Gold Experience – Prince’s 17th album. Although officially it was released under the name “0(+>” or “lovesymbol” or “the artist formerly known as Prince” or “I believe if I change my name to an unpronounceable symbol that it will somehow absolve me from fulfilling my contractual obligations” (but we all know who really made the album). It may come as no surprise that this song was originally known as “Pussy Control” (shocking, I know) and it was recorded at Paisley Park studios in July 1994 with additional recording and overdubs happening later in that year and into 1995. There was apparently a promo single where this song was called “Pussy Control” but obviously that kind of language would be too harsh to put on the back of an actual record and expect a store like Kmart to sell it. Crossbows are fine, just no pussy please. I think that there’s more to the name change than that, but more of that later.

The Gold Experience was released by Warner Brothers (warn a brutha!) and NPG Records in September 1995. For someone like Prince / 0(+> / TAFKAP / I believe if I change my name to an unpronounceable symbol that it will somehow absolve me from fulfilling my contractual obligations, this is a long time between recording and release. In fact this track was recorded before the release of the last album of new material – Come (August 1994). The Black Album was also released before this one (to help fulfill his contractual obligations) but it was all old material anyway (which means it was all lame and unlistenable).

So new name, new album, new experience. But how new and fresh is this really. Does this album, and by extension this song, really represent a break from the artist we had known up to this point or is this album just Prince by another name. I’m going to argue both and we’ll see where that gets us.

Looking at the booklet that came with the CD, the lyrics for this song do not appear. “Endorphin Machine” is the first song that gets a look in. Strangely, the last six pages (excluding the back cover) of the booklet are taken up by a review from Jim Walsh (Pop Music Critic, St. Paul Pioneer Press) about the tracks on this album and the shows where the songs were introduced. The back cover of the booklet has the lyrics to “Gold” (kind of the title track I guess). Jim’s article only mentions “P Control” briefly – “After a July Glam Slam gig, Theresa said she thought “P Control” was just another one of 0(+>’s sexist throwaways; I thought that was too easy. I defended it as a lighthearted, if raunchy, take on the power of womanhood”. I don’t think that this song is a “throwaway” track for Prince (I’m going to refer to him as Prince from now on, so save your outrage). It’s the opening track of the album which tells us that at least in Prince’s mind it is “important”. Given that there were better songs available that he could have included on this album to take the place of “P Control” (Days of Wild, Acknowledge Me, Interactive), I think that this song represents a statement that Prince is trying to make. Superficially it may be about “womanhood” but I think there is something more going on here.

This album is the first time Prince appears on an album as the symbol, 0(+>. “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” single and The Beautiful Experience EP had come out over a year earlier but this is the first proper album. Come was the last album credited to Prince and the cover proclaimed the death of Prince: 1958 – 1993. On The Gold Experience the song “Endorphinmachine” has an outro that also confirmed that “Prince esta muerto (Prince is dead)” in case you missed the message from the last album.

Listening back to the Peach and Black podcast’s review of The Gold Experience it reminded me how strange this song is as an introduction to a Prince album. There are, apparently, versions of this album where this song does not appear and “Endorphinmachine” is the opening track. Whether this is because of censorship in certain global markets (China, Japan, etc.) or some other reason I could only guess. It’s not like this song was recorded at the last minute to be included (unless the Prince Vault website has the dates wrong) so I think the intention was always to include this song as the opening statement of intent under his new name. A prologue to the “experience”. The album could be described as the Purple Rain of the 90s. It probably shouldn’t be. But I can see how a lazy music critic might be tempted to make that comparison. It does open with an upbeat party song and close with an extended ballad but that’s about it. “Let’s Go Crazy” opens with a keyboard/organ intro and “P Control” opens with a keyboard intro. But the similarities end there. Or at least I’m not going to bother finding anymore. Nonetheless you should feel free to have at it.

Musically, this song feels misplaced on this album; lots of electronic synth sounds and faux-operatic vocals. Definitely a unique opening track to a Prince album. Unprecedented in fact. This may be one of Prince’s best rap performances (which isn’t saying much to be honest) but his high pitched backing vocals are really annoying and deliberately so. The song opens with a weird sounding keyboard intro that mimics a dial-up modem. This is in the age of dial-up and Prince was one of the early proponents of online musical experiences. This album plays with that technological aspect all throughout with the NPG operator coming in between almost every track (at least that’s how it feels). It’s a weird way to start an album, that’s for sure. And then the keyboard fades out and the lady (Mayte, I assume) comes in with some Spanish. There’s a little strum of a guitar/bass and then the beat drops in and the song starts in earnest. The modem keyboard comes back in and we’re off. This song features Michael B on drums, Sonny T on the bass guitar, Mr Hayes on keyboards and Tommy Barbarella on keyboards and Prince on everything else. It doesn’t sound to me like a band recording though. I imagine that everyone recorded their parts and Prince just cut it all together as he pleased. The groove is pretty relentless all the way through this song and the verses are mostly rhythm section and vocals. There is some keyboard in there too but the choruses are where the keyboards make themselves known, especially that modem intro riff. Overlaid with Prince’s “operatic” vocals it kind of feels like these parts of the song are overdone.

There’s a fantastic cover of this song by Richard Cheese (thanks Peach and Black). It’s only two and a half minutes long but today as I write this sentence, it’s my favourite version. It doesn’t have all the lyrics but that doesn’t detract from it in any way.

So why have a song like this open up your album? The first album under the new name. The first album released on NPG records. The digital age is dawning. You want to make a statement. Why make it with this song? The last Prince album (Come) opened up with an eleven minute epic. The first 0(+> album opens up with “P Control”. Why? Why? Why? I think that the title is the first clue – “P Control’. The lyrics may imply that the “P” stands for “pussy” but what it actually stands for is “Prince”. Prince is in control now. New name and all. P has control. Of his destiny and his music. This isn’t technically the last record for Warner Brothers (warn a brutha!) but Chaos and Disorder seems like it was throwaway for Prince and the liner notes state that it was – “Originally intended for private use only”. The Gold Experience however is the intended last will and testament of Prince as a Warner Brothers artist. Prince may be muerto but he’s taking control from beyond the grave and letting us know what the future holds. There is precedent for referring to Prince as P, in the song “My name is Prince” Tony M says – “I’m on a roll with P”. So I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that this song is really about Prince being in control. Obviously, the lyrics are about “womanhood” but I think that is just a cover for what Prince really wants to tell us.

 

Nuestra presentacion especial comenzara en breve
(Our special presentation will start shortly)
Pero antes un mensaje de nuestros auspiciadores
(But first a message from our sponsors)

I got the lyrics (and the translation) from AZ Lyrics so I’m going to assume that they are accurate here. The first sound you hear on this record is the modem/keyboard intro and then this. So this makes it clear that this song, from the outset, is not part of the album proper but something else. It’s a message. From our sponsors? Warner Brothers? NPG Records? Prince?

 

Uh, yeah
Uh

Good mornin’ ladies and gentlemen (“What hotel number is she in?”)
Boys and motherfuckin’ girls (“319, 319” “Cool”)
This is your captain with no name speakin’
And I’m here 2 rock your world
With a tale that will soon be classic
About a woman U already know
No prostitute she, but the mayor of your brain
Pussy Control (Are U ready?)

The beat comes in and the song starts in earnest. Until that modem/keyboard riff comes back in during the chorus you’re probably thinking that the intro was something separate, but no. A trigger to get you to pay attention and a reminder that you have now entered the digital realm. The modem is dialing into Prince’s new online world. Welcome to the dawn. The opening lyric is “Good morning” which clearly indicates that our sponsors are talking to us from the a.m. Welcome to the dawn. Notice that he states here that the voice you are hearing “is your captain with no name”. Not an unpronounceable symbol of a name. But a non-existent name. Sans name if you will. In Exodus when Moses asks, he is told “I am who I am”. Implying that this god has no name. In this song, our narrator (Prince) is taking the place of god, similar to “I would die 4 U”, and our protagonist (Pussy) is actually a gender inverted version of Prince. She’s someone we already know. She’s no prostitute (i.e. she’s no sell out). She’s in charge of the sound coming into your brain. Are you ready?

 

Aaah, Pussy Control, oh
Aaah, Pussy Control, oh

This is the chorus. Prince is singing in a really high falsetto and slightly off key. It’s like he’s saying “I’m in control and I’ll sing this any way I please”. It’s supposed to echo the keyboard/modem sound and reinforce that what you are hearing is a download (28.8 kilobits per second – lightning fast!).

 

Our story begins in a schoolyard
A little girl skipping rope with her friends
A tisket, a tasket, no lunch in her basket
Just school books 4 the fight she would be in
One day over this hoodie
She got beat 4 some clothes and her rep
With her chin up, she scolded “All y’all’s molded
When I’m rich, on your neck I will step”
And step she did 2 the straight A’s
Then college, the master degree
She hired the heifers that jumped her
And made everyone of them work 4 free?
No! Why?
So what if my sisters are triflin’?
They just don’t know
She said “Mama didn’t tell’em what she told me
‘Girl, U need Pussy Control'” (Are U ready?)

School is where we are supposed to learn our lessons. Prince learnt his lessons about the music industry back when he was skipping rope with The Revolution in the 80s. Straight A’s from Dirty Mind to Purple Rain and then his college education and master degree in being a global superstar. Building his empire and preparing for the fight against the industry. Even when he was being criticised for the way he was dressing (beat for his clothes if you will) and refusing to talk to the press and the “We are the World” controversy (ha! a play on words). When he says that “U need Pussy Control” what he’s really saying is Prince needs to get control of his music.

 

Aaah, Pussy Control, oh
Aaah, Pussy Control, oh

Verse 2
Pussy got bank in her pockets
Before she got dick in her drawers
If brother didn’t have good and plenty of his own
In love Pussy never did fall
And this fool named Trick wanna stick her
Uh, talkin’ more Schick than a Bic
‘Bout how he gonna make Pussy a star
If she come and sing a lick on his hit
Pussy said “Nigga, U crazy if U don’t know
Every woman in the world ain’t a freak
U can go platinum 4 times
Still couldn’t make what I make in a week
So push up on somebody wanna hear that
Cuz this somebody here don’t wanna know
Boy, U better act like U understand
When U roll with Pussy Control” (Are U ready?)

In case you were wondering which verse we’re up to (numero dos). This is the verse where Pussy/Prince is making it clear that the lesson he/she learnt is that you gotta make sure you get paid. Anyone who has followed his career through the 90s and beyond will recognise this as a defining factor of his career. Getting paid and more importantly, making sure that no one else is getting paid off of his work. Or has the potential to get paid. Or is next door neighbours with someone whose uncle might get some YouTube kickbacks for posting a video of his 1 year old dancing to a Prince song. Prince is in Control. Warner Brothers (warn a brutha!) or any other record label would be crazy to think that they could buy him with the promise of some platinum records when he now sits at the helm of a global, digital empire. The fact that Warner Brothers helped him build that empire is not really a concern. Interestingly the record label/music industry/journalism is give the moniker “Trick”, which if you’ve listened to any rap music in the last 30 years you would have already heard. Urban Dictionary gives a few definitions:

“Trick has different meanings depending on the context it is used.
Definition 1: A woman that teases a man in order to get her bills paid or gets him to buy her things. In return she pleases him physically either by having sex with him, kissing him, or giving him head.
Definition 2: A man that pays prostitutes for sex or a man that pays women to hang around him.
Definition 3: A person that purposely gossips or tells information about someone in order to get them in trouble and gets pleasure out of seeing someone’s secrets become exposed in a way that ruins their reputation or makes them look bad.”

And all three definitions apply. Warner Brothers is “teasing” him so they can get paid. The music industry and all its hangers on pay artists to make themselves look or feel more important and music/gossip journalists keep spreading shit about The Kid. But Pussy/Prince is telling them all I have a better way now, I don’t need you to make me a star, I don’t need to go platinum. Pussy has the reins. I always heard the line as “talkin’ more shit than a bit” and I still think that’s what he’s saying but I’m going to leave the lyrics as they appear on AZ Lyrics – so no letters, please.

 

Aaah, Pussy Control, oh
Aaah, Pussy Control, oh

Breakdown
(Are U ready 4 the best Pussy U ever felt?) [x2]

With one more verse 2 the story
I need another piece of your ear
I wanna hip U all 2 the reason
I’m known as the player of the year
Cuz I met this girl named Pussy
At the Club International Balls
She was rollin’ 4-deep
3 sisters and a weepy-eyed white girl drivin’ her haul
I pulled up right beside her
And my electric top went down
I said “Motherfucker, I know your reputation
And I’m astounded that U’re here
I fear U’re lonely and U want 2 know
A 12 o’clock straight up nigga
That don’t give a shit that U’re Pussy Control
Well I’m that nigga, at least I wanna be
But it’s gonna be hard as hell
2 keep my mind off a body
That would make every rich man
Want 2 sell, sell, sell (75, we need another.. 85, 85 here, sold!)
Can I tell U what I’m thinkin’ that U already know?
U need a motherfucker that respects your name”
Now say it, Pussy Control (Are U ready?)

One more verse to go and the story is over (don’t scroll down!). The breakdown before this verse is pretty cool with some nice keyboard work. Not the best pussy you’ve ever felt but not bad. But we’re gonna concentrate on the lyrical content for the remainder. Now our narrator (god) is stepping into Prince’s (Pussy’s) story. God represents freedom from record company “slavery”, an idea he runs with in the years that follow this album. When I think about it, it’s almost as though the narrator is the NPG personified. Freedom is a player in the sense that “he” gets around (slut!). And when he rolls up to Pussy she has her entourage in tow – Michael B, Sonny T, Mr Hayes and Tommy Barbarella. The gender inversion has been extended to the rest of the band, although I’m not too sure if Tommy would be happy to be described as “weepy-eyed”. Freedom/god is letting Pussy/Prince know that he doesn’t need to be here playing this label/industry based game. If you come with me you’ll get the respect that you need as an artist and not be just a lucrative “body” of work that all the rich industry men can exploit (sold!). Now say it – Prince is in control.

 

Aaah, Pussy Control, oh
Aaah, Pussy Control, oh

And the moral of this motherfucker is
Ladies, make’em act like they know
U are, was, and always will be Pussy Control (Are U ready?)
Peace and be wild (Aaah, Pussy Control)

Say what, huh? (Oh)
Oh no, don’t U think about callin’ her a ho (Are U ready?)
U juvenile delinquent
Best sit your ass down
Talkin’ about Pussy Control
Huh, can U dig it?

Aaah, Pussy Control (Are U ready?)
Oh (Are U ready?)

Aaah, Pussy Control (Are U ready?)
Oh (Are U ready?)

If you haven’t guessed already, the moral of this story (which wasn’t quite over) is that artists (i.e. “ladies”) need to be free and get away from the slavery and prostitution of the music industry (sisters are doin’ it for themselves!). Prince came out very recently (August 2015) urging new artists not to sign with labels and comparing record label deals to “slavery”. Slightly hyperbolic and a little disrespectful to actual slaves (past and present) but that’s our Prince. Record contracts may be shitty deals for some but trying to make it in the entertainment business without some sort of backing is almost impossible. And it certainly worked for Prince’s career during the 80s. But this song is coming straight out of the 90s and by now he is well past being a “ho” for the record label. He can pimp himself out. That is why this track is the opening track of this album. That is the statement that he is making. The song finishes and then the album properly begins. “Welcome to the dawn”, says the NPG operator. This is a new day and this is a new artist. But really it’s the same dude. On the same record label. And whatever sematic tricks he tried to pull with his name change he still had to see out his contract and put out Chaos and Disorder.

The album as a concept is all about the new age digital experience and links in with what came earlier during The Beautiful Experience (album and TV special) and incorporates the leftovers from The Gold Album and Glam Slam Ulysses. This song specifically is about the new direction that Prince is trying to take (trying real hard). New name, new label, new direction, New Power Generation. He’s telling us that god/freedom/the NPG is allowing Prince/Pussy to finally wrestle complete control of his artistic future and the Spanish lady is the angel herald telling us all through the album the real message that he is trying to get out at the beginning of “P Control” and “We March” and at the end of “Endorphinmachine”. After “We March”, the NPG operator’s first words are “Welcome to the dawn” and then we hear “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”. This is where the album really begins and everything else has been prologue. The angel is no longer heard after this point but the NPG operator continues to help us on our journey through the new digital landscape. NPG will show us the way. That’s the message of this song and the album as a whole. That’s why this “weird” song opens this album. Just to be doubly sure, let’s put all the Spanish Angel’s words together:

 

Nuestra presentacion especial comenzara en breve
Pero antes un mensaje de nuestros auspiciadores
Prince esta muerto

Prince esta muerto

Que viva para siempre el Poder de la Nueva Generacion
Uno para todos, y todos para uno

 

Our special presentation will start shortly

But first a message from our sponsors

Prince is dead

Prince is dead

Long live the New Power Generation

One 4 all and all 4 one

 

Welcome to the dawn.
Running time: 5:59

 

References:

The Gold Experience

Chaos and Disorder

Come

AZ Lyrics

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

Peach and Black Podcast

The Cross – Sign O’ The Times (1987)

The fourteenth song on the Sign O’ The Times album; that’s the fifth track on the second CD or the first track on side four if you have the vinyl. And if you have the cassette then may god have mercy on your soul (and yes, I’m aware that I didn’t capitalise the word ‘god’).

Initial tracking took place on 13 July 1986 at Sunset Sound, in Hollywood (you may have heard of it, it’s in Hollywood).[1] Recorded initially to be included on a double album with The Revolution called Dream Factory (fourth track on side four of the vinyl) and then later when that album was scrapped (along with The Revolution) a new triple album was planned called Crystal Ball where this track was retained (first track on side six of the vinyl). Crystal ball eventually got whittled down to become Sign O’ The Times and this song became a part of “Purple History™”.

Sign O’ The Times was release by Warner Brothers in March 1987. So even with two album changes and a band change it was only about nine months from the first tracking of this song to its release. I’m no musician but that seems like a lot of stuff to happen in a relatively short time. You can check the Prince Vault[2] website for the various configurations that the three albums went through plus additional tracks added from the Camille album that went into Sign O’ The Times. It took the demise of a band and three other albums to make Sign O’ The Times happen. At this point in his career and even since then this is arguably his “Great Work™”. A magnum opus if you will. His Frampton Comes Alive.

As mentioned, the song itself was written and recorded well before the album was even being considered in the form it was finally released. So its inclusion here is basically an editing/curating exercise. Not that this takes anything away from the song itself but I mention it in order to highlight that the song itself may not be reflective of the period in which it was released. Which is a common theme with many of Prince’s songs that get worked on for a while and then they’re put away to age and mature before they are enjoyed properly.

There is some controversy around this track in modern Prince fam-dom. Ever since he became a Jehovah’s Witness he began to change the lyrics in the song when performing it live to “the christ” and no longer sings it as it appears on the album. Apparently this is because Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that JC died on one piece of timber and not two. What difference that makes to the price of fish is anyone’s guess but at the end of the day it’s his song so he can change whatever he likes.

Being a child of the compact disc age, I can only imagine what it must have been like to hear this record for the first time on vinyl. The song begins very quietly and you really have to crank up the sound to hear the opening notes. The way it’s positioned on the album I think helps with the impact of the song. This song opens up side four of the vinyl (the home stretch!). I’m going to ignore the CD version because I think that CDs would have been an afterthought in this era (and the less said about cassette tapes, the better). The last song on the previous side (side three) is “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” – an upbeat dancey song that is all about love and heartbreak. In fact all of side three is about love and relationships and all the songs have an upbeat party vibe (If I Was Your Girlfriend is kind of mid-tempo but definitely not a ballad or anything lame like that). So side three ends on a party track with a three and a half minute instrumental outro that has you jumping all over the room with your library card falling out of your pocket. Then the music stops, the needle on the record player returns home and you have to walk over in the silence, flip the disc and drop the needle again. And then for half a moment the silence makes you wonder if you’ve picked up a defective copy before you hear the music drift in and you turn up the volume so you can hear it better. Now you have soft guitar and sitar sounds wafting out of your speakers where moments before there was energy and movement and a wall of noise. It marks the beginning of the end. And that’s a big part of what this song is reminding us of – the end. Our end. Or rather, what Prince perceives our end to be; which is in fact, no end at all.

This was one of the first songs that I learned to play on guitar. It’s basically two very simple chords – E and Asus2. All you have to do is move two of your fingers up one string each and you’ve got it. The rhythm is pretty simple too. As one of the boys on the Peach & Black podcast mentioned, the beginning of this song sounds like it was written by someone in high school. The sitar sound even sounds like it might be made on a guitar of some kind with some sort of effect machine thingy. Then again, it could be the real thing (like I said – not a musician).

When Mrs Thrawn heard this song she said that it reminded her of The Doors, which may sound obvious, but that had never occurred to me until she said it. She even found the words to be “Doorsy” if you ignore the religious references (which she missed on first listening). Going back to the Peach & Black team, M.C. mentioned that some of this was almost grunge like (specifically, the second half of the song), which kind of makes sense since this song was written in 1987 and that’s right about the time that grunge was starting to emerge (Soundgarden was formed in 1984). Prince always has his ears open for the latest sounds and it wouldn’t surprise me if he had heard some grunge music by this stage.

The intro is such a quiet little guitar riff. I assume it is a guitar but it sounds very sitar-like. The guitar, vocals and sitar (or second guitar?) meander through to the 1:20 mark. Then the kick drum comes in on its own for about 20 seconds until we are joined by the little drummer boy (pa rum pum pum pum). Then just passed the halfway point in the song everything gets kicked into rock mode and whatever quiet meditation you were contemplating gets blown away. Again, thinking back to our vinyl listener who’s hearing this for the first time. They’ve flipped the disc, turned up the volume so they can hear whatever this Prince fellow is crooning about and then all of a sudden – whack! You get a face full of the rock. Nothing on the album up to this point has really prepared you properly for this song. It’s not about romance or love (in the romantic sense), it doesn’t sound remotely similar to anything else on the album and he’s tricked you into cranking up the volume on your gramophone to ensure that you get the full force effect of his faith.

So we’ve got a grunge-y/Doors-y/eastern/rock/gospel track opening up the last side of the album. It starts off quiet and simple and slow, the lyrics are sung softly and sweetly and then halfway through someone presses the ‘rock’ button on the amplifier and everything kicks up a few gears. The song really takes off musically and the lyrics (chorus and verse) repeat but are delivered with the power that is part anger, part desperation, part love and part hope. The backing vocals only come in right at the end (Prince’s Heavenly Choir™) to finish it off.

It’s such a basic song musically and lyrically that any variation or flourish is so deliberate that it carries some meaning beyond what is on the surface. Exhibit A – when the kick drum first comes into the song at that 1:20 right after Prince sings the word “bear” and just before “the cross”. The single kick drum pounding away on its own like that evokes a sense of a hammer pounding away. Hammering nails into a cross.

But I get ahead of myself.

 

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don’t cry, He is coming
Don’t die, without knowing, the cross

The lyrics come in at the 0:32 mark. As mentioned above, there’s only one guitar (the “sitar” has dropped off by now) playing a simple chord progression as accompaniment. The vocal is soft, calm and reserved. It is, to say the least, a stark opening. Not off with his head Stark, but bleak nonetheless. The first two lines are pretty dark. No love, no hope, no light. At this point you probably wanna just skip to the next song but you know (if you’ve read the album sleeve) that the title of this song isn’t “Murder, Death, Suicide and Tears™”. It’s called “The Cross” – a phrase which comes with a freighter full of baggage. And if you know anything about popular music and christianity, you know that there is likely a little more to this song (so keep listening). The next line starts to reveal some of what we can expect. It’s not all “Murder, Death, Suicide and Tears™”, so don’t cry, “He” is on his way. What he plans to do when he gets here, that’s not quite clear. But he’s coming, so don’t die. Because there’s no way you could find out about him or his cross (or the latest summer trends from Paris) if you were dead. I find it interesting that in a lot of his songs Prince uses the words ‘come’ and ‘coming’ when talking about adult themes and the ol’ “in/out, in/out” but in this song there are no such connotations. Not that he has ever shied away from mixing the holy and the profane (“God is coming, like a dog in heat”) but in this song he’s really tried to strip away all that noise and write a modern hymn. He’s preaching the good news and he wants you to hear it. To know ‘the cross’. He wants that you should become well acquainted with an instrument of death and torture. “It’s a symbol” I hear you say, which is true. But it symbolises the idea that the torture and death of someone can somehow magically save you or me or anyone from “Murder, Death, Suicide and Tears™”. He uses the sitar sound again (which symbolises the cross or JC) and it comes back in after he sings the last word in this verse. It’s reassurance.

 

Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right
There’ll be bread for all of us
If we can just bear the cross

When I started listening to this song, I thought that these lines meant something like “bad things to the left and nice things to the right”. After repeated listens, I now think that the flowers here represent funerary arrangements and that these two lines are meant to mimic the negativity of the opening lines. Poverty and death to go with the hopelessness and rain. And once again, hope is salvaged by ‘the cross’. What kind of hope? Well there’ll be bread apparently. But I guess if you gotta cater for 7 billion-plus then you have to stick to simple fare. As mentioned above, this is where the kick-drum comes in and begins to hammer away at the cross. The sitar also comes back after this verse. As the song progresses the music and instrumentation start to tell the story of the crucifixion in the background while the lyrics tell the lead story of what that crucifixion means to Prince (and what it could and should mean to you).

 

Sweet song of salvation
A pregnant mother sings
She lives in starvation
Her children need all that she brings

She’s pregnant and she has children. That’s plural. That means a starving woman who already has at least one child is pregnant again. It sounds like she needs some family planning, not salvation. It would be easy for me to sit here and write about how the woman has no one to blame but herself and that she should learn to keep her legs closed (blah, blah, blah). But that would be Donald Trump level analysis and here we try to go deeper than the first nanometre. There are a lot of women, poor and other wise, but especially poor, who don’t have a lot of choice when it comes to pregnancy (in all parts of the world). That she’s now pregnant again is more of a structural/political issue that won’t be solved by singing. Maybe she should spend less time singing and more time bringing, but then again there’s no reason she can’t do both. This verse is also where the little drummer boy finally comes in (pa rum pum pum pum) and no surprise it lands just before he starts to sing of children. He’s witnessing the crucifixion and playing his drum.

 

We all have our problems
Some big, some are small
Soon all of our problems
Will be taken by the cross

This verse marks the end of the lyrics such as they are and they repeat from here. There is a small drum fill that comes in at the start of this quatrain. It’s calling you to pay attention – this is important. The culmination of what I’m trying to tell you is here. You see we all have problems of various sizes but soon it’ll all be alright, don’t you know. There’s a drum sound here that sounds like a drumstick hitting the rim of the drum and it hits and the end of each of the first three lines (father/son/ghost). If the kick drum is the hammer and nails then this new sound is the final construction of the cross. We’re almost done. We’re about to be taken away (like at the end of “Let’s Go Crazy” – another song where “he’s coming”). He’s taken us from the first verse where he talks about the elemental level of weather and darkness to the next level down of the city and cemetery then down to the human level and the struggles of the poor and then finally in the final verse it comes down to the individual and everyone’s personal struggles. The point of which was to highlight to you that no matter the level of suffering or the problems that you face in your life, all you really need is god. Or more specifically, the god that Prince believes in (polytheists need not apply). The one with the cross to bear. So much so that he drops out all the music before singing “the cross”, symbolising the final breath of the saviour. The nails have been hammered, the crucifix has been erected and the rest is silence. Or is it…?

 

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don’t cry for He is coming
Don’t die without knowing the cross, y’all

Just before this verse starts, the sitar has another little solo (“the cross” just letting us know that everything will be okay) and then the guitar gets shifted into overdrive. The only change in the lyrics here is the addition of “y’all” at the end of the verse. “You all”. The perspective has shifted slightly now. It’s not about us anymore, it’s about you all. The drums pick it up a little in this verse and there are now two guitars (at least). Sitar solo after the verse still indicating the cross/saviour is with us but now the reserved hymn that we started with has morphed into a powerhouse celebration gospel song. Vocally, Prince takes it to another level. His voice is almost raw. As though he has been crucified and his throat is dry and worn.

 

Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right
There’ll be bread for all, y’all`
If we can just, just bear the cross, yeah

Bread for all of you all. Not me, you. The music continues in a similar vein to the previous verse so nothing really to see here other than the party continuing. The word “just” does get repeated here though. Because you see, bearing the cross is really a simple thing. It’s the easiest thing in the world. Everyone should do it. All y’all.

 

We all have our problems
Some are big, some are small
Soon all of our problems, y’all
Will be taken by the cross, y’all (?)

There’s a percussion thing (xylophone maybe?) that comes in on this verse that kind of sounds like a pipe and the guitars and vocals seem to go up another notch. These additions add layers to choir depth to the celebration. The way he screams out “cross” on the last line tells you everything you need to know about how the singer feels about his subject matter. I’ve got a question mark next to the last “y’all” there because I’m not sure. It sounds like it to me but Metro Lyrics has “no” there.

 

The cross

This is where the backing vocals come in for the first time – Prince’s Heavenly Choir™. The saviour has been exalted up to heaven and the heavenly choir sings.

The cross

And then finally all the music fades out, it goes quiet, you think the song is over, but no. Prince’s Heavenly Choir™ comes back to remind you what salvation is all about. Him.

 

Running time 4:46.

 

The first half of the song was all about us finding out about the cross and salvation (whilst the cross itself is being constructed in the background). Then in the second half the song becomes about “y’all”. Prince is now our saviour and is telling us that we will be saved. Thematically, this makes sense because in the first half of the song the cross is still being constructed and the teacher is still a mortal man (or half mortal on his mother’s side). By the second half of the song (after death and resurrection) the teacher has become the saviour and we all better listen to what he’s telling us. Do what I tell you all and everything will be fine. You can join Prince in heaven and become a member of Prince’s Heavenly Choir™.

 

 

References:

Sign O’ The Times (released 1987)

The Peach & Black Podcast

Sign ‘O’ The Times, Michaelangelo Matos, Continuum International Publishing, 2004.

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

Metro Lyrics

Mrs Thrawn

 

 

[1] Tip o’ the hat to Matthew Wrather for ripping off his call sign – www.overthinkingit.com.

[2] http://www.princevault.com

 

‘When You Were Mine’ – Dirty Mind (1980)

This is the second track from Prince’s third album – Dirty Mind. Initial tracking for the album (and this song) was recorded somewhere in May-June 1980 at Prince’s Lake Minnetonka home studio (along with the rest of the album). Whether he purified himself in the lake before (or after) recording is unknown. Final mixing and overdubs were done in LA in June 1980. The album was engineered by Jamie Starr, one of Prince’s aliases.

Dirty Mind was released by Warner Brothers in October 1980. That’s six months from initial recording to release. Not a bad effort if you ask me and released only a year after the previous album (Prince).

His output from this period of the early 80s was immense. Prince “fams” speak reverentially of “Prince’s Vault” and the treasures therein. This song is part of that legacy and if it hadn’t been released it would have definitely become one of those bootleg tracks that fams love to gush over (regardless of the sound quality).

This song and album come at a time of high productivity and creativity for Prince. With his own home studio he was able to record whenever he felt like it and luckily for all of us he felt like it often. Because of his home set up the sound quality on this album isn’t the greatest but as with so many things in life, sometimes just getting it done is more important than getting it perfect.

This album is where Prince started to take his music and lyrics (especially lyrics) in a new direction. More flamboyant, more risqué, more in line with what would come later. The road to Purple Rain starts here.

This track isn’t especially daring or freaky (compared to the rest of the album), although it does touch upon some “adult themes”. Yet somehow it is a standout track on this album. The host of the Peach & Black Podcast, M.C., described it as “one of his best pop songs ever”[1] and I’d have to agree. At its heart it is a break up song about a boy who loves a girl who no longer loves him. And judging by most of the lyrics, likely never did.

Musically it has that 50s/60s vibe to it (at least in my mind). Overall it’s not a huge musical departure from the previous two records. I’ve heard his first two albums described as “Stevie Wonder wannabe” and to be honest the music on this track doesn’t move too far away from that mould (not that Stevie is a 50s act – he signed with Motown in 1961 at age 11). I can even imagine The Beatles shaking their mop tops to this beat.

Prince grew up in the early to mid-70s and I feel like with this song he is tapping into the sounds of his childhood and the songs that he would have heard his parents and relatives listening to. Bear in mind that when he’s recording this song he’s only 22 so his childhood is not that long ago. But already he’s working on his third studio album (where he again writes, performs and produces almost all of the tracks) and has exponentially more experience in the studio and writing music than ever before.

When my wife heard me listening to this song on repeat in preparation to write this article she mentioned that it sounded like something that might fit onto the Grease soundtrack and I don’t really disagree with her, at least musically. It’s a kind of retro, funk, pop that is constructed so well in its simplicity that you can’t help but enjoy it.

In this song, the music is innocent and sweet and nostalgic but lyrically it’s dirty, angry, raw and emotional. This is something that Prince has done multiple times over his career where the feel and vibe of the music and melody is in total contrast to the lyrics that he’s singing. I think it works great here. It balances out the message with a funky/retro sound. And if you aren’t listening to the lyrics then it is an upbeat party track that makes you want to move and groove. Even if you do listen to the lyrics you’ll still likely end up tapping your feet.

I’ve heard Ani DiFranco do a live version of this song as a straight out ballad (with special guest Maceo Parker). In that form the song doubles down on the sadness and the slyness and cheekiness of the original is replaced with pain. Not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely not the same.

It opens up with the synth, some twangy clean guitar sounds, bass and drums thumping away in the background. Prince is playing all the instruments and singing all the vocal parts. It’s the whole one-man –band show that he became well known for.

There is an interesting little synth solo (2:08) where he comes in with a scream that is really cool but essentially it is just a really well constructed, basic pop song. Now when I say ‘basic’ I don’t mean to undermine it in any way, I just mean that there are a lot of good, uncomplicated elements that come together to form this catchy little pop song. To quote the Captain, it’s “amazing in its simplicity”[2].

After the solo there’s a breakdown that starts at about 2:20 (just vocals and guitar) which adds a cool little variation to the song too. This part goes over really well in concert and the crowd gets to sing along. And he likes to play this song a lot. Almost every tour it gets a run and it is always awesome.

This song was voted number 26 in the Peach & Black Podcast fan vote for all-time favourite Prince song, which is pretty good considering there are something like 500-plus officially released songs in the Prince catalogue (as at 01/08/2015).

A few Peach & Black quotes:

“Only a genius could have written such a simple pop song and make it sound so good”[3]

“You don’t have to be super tricky and technical if you can just write a decent song in the first place.”[4]

“Classic pentatonic pop song” [5]

“It’s never not great” [6]

“In Prince’s career (up to this point) this was by far the best pop song he had ever written and still one of the best since.”[7]

“Instantly listenable” [8]

Okay, so let’s get down to it. What is this song actually saying?

When you were mine
I gave you all of my money
Time after time
You done me wrong
It was just like a dream
You let all my friends come over and meet
And you were so strange
You didn’t have the decency
To change the sheets

 

“When you were mine”, that is to say, “when you belonged to me”. This is Prince starting off as the possessive ex-boyfriend. From the opening we know he’s talking about the past. This is not a song about what he wants to do or his dreams or his future. This is about the past. As the song progresses we come to learn that this was not a particularly happy past. And the present is not so pleasant either.

When you were mine, I owned you and I paid you for your services. But still “You done me wrong”. In fact, she let his friends (not just random guys/girls) come over and “meet”. Meet who or what, I wonder. With her? And what made her “strange”.

Two of the definitions for “strange” in the Urban Dictionary are:

A description commonly applied by male American, bachelors in the 50s and 60s to the anonymous mass of women whom they aspired to engage in casual sex with.

A clever, still slightly naughty, synonym for more profane terms like ‘pussy’ or ‘trim’.[9]

Given that this song seems to be thematically rooted in the 50s and 60s and clearly there is some sort of messy sex action happening here I’m going to assert that both definitions apply.

Now whether the casual sex we’re talking about her is recreational or more of a business venture is up for debate but I feel that the lyrics seem to infer that our man Prince has fallen for a prostitute.

A prostitute gets paid and if she has a lot of customers (all of Prince’s “friends”) then she likely wouldn’t have time to clean any sheets. I think referring to his fellow customers as friends is also an interesting lyrical turn. They definitely share common interests and what more could you ask from a friend.

Oh girl, when you were mine
I used to let you wear all my clothes
You were so fine (so fine)
Maybe that’s the reason
That it hurt me so

 

On the Genius website (genius.com) they refer to Prince’s diminutive size here as the driver for why he would let her wear all of his clothes. And yes, his clothes would likely fit her reasonably well. His fashion sense has always been fairly “feminised” which is no bad thing but the reason I think this line is here is because it ties into the next part.

You see, he lets her wear his clothes so that when he is looking at her she is reminding him of himself. And that is why she looks so fine. Because she looks like Prince and he is a narcissist and sees himself as the centre of the universe. Her body and the way she looks fits his frame so she can look “good” to him in his own clothing.

In the last half of the verse he is essentially admitting that the reason that he is suffering is not so much because he loves who she is as a person but it’s just that he really likes how she looks. Implying that if maybe she was just a little uglier it would be a little easier on his poor lonely penis heart.

I know (I know)
That you’re going with another guy
I don’t care (don’t care)
Cuz I love u, baby, that’s no lie
I love you more than I did
When you were mine

 

The chorus is where our hero starts to ramp up into crazy ex-boyfriend mode. He knows that she’s moved on. She’s got other clients and she doesn’t want to see him anymore because one would assume that he’s a little clingy and controlling. She’s moved on but he still loves her. In fact, he loves her more than he did when they were “together”. He wants her back because he can’t find anyone else (within his price range I imagine) who would fit into his outfits and look enough like him to turn him on. He loves her more now because he can’t have her.

For most normal people love grows when people spend time together, not when they’re apart. This lyric just highlights the dysfunction of our protagonist as someone who is moving beyond the socially acceptable parameters of male/female relations and standard sex work.

When you were mine
You were kinda sorta my best friend
So I was blind (so blind)
I let you fool around
I never cared (didn’t care)
I never was the kind to make a fuss
When he was there
Sleeping in between the two of us

 

When they were “together” they were “kinda” best friends? Sorta? If you have to pay your best friend what does it say about how well your life is going?

He says he “let” her fool around. As though she asked for permission and he gave it. This is just his deluded attempt to rationalise the fact that she is always going to be fucking some other guy/s. The fact that he focuses on a single “him” at the end of the verse confirms she has stopped fucking Prince at the same time as all of her other customers (which he interprets as her “fooling around”). The “him” that was between the two of them is not a literal person but rather a symbol of all the cocks that have come before and will continue to come after. That have pleasured her. That have asked her to be their fantasy (and not Prince’s).

I know (I know)
That you’re going with another guy
I don’t care (don’t care)
Cuz I love you, baby, that’s no lie
I love you more than I did
When you were mine

 

See above.

When you were mine
U were all I ever wanted to do
Now I spend my time
Following him whenever he’s with you

 

Now his obsession has gone into full stalker mode (achievement unlocked!). When she was accepting him as a client (when she was “his”), that’s all he wanted. She was an obsession. An addiction. But now. Now all he can do is follow her from a distance. But not all the time. He only follows her when she is with “him”. That is to say, he only stalks her when she’s working and she is with one of her customers.

Because he can’t handle the fact that she is fucking some other “lover”. He wants to own her. To possess her. To make her do what he wants.

And that is why she cut him off and he is no longer hers.

He’s too possessive and creepy and scary and weird.

I know (I know)
That you’re going with another guy
I don’t care (don’t care)
Cuz I love you, baby, that’s no lie
I love you more that I did
When you were mine
When you were mine, yeah, oh no
Love you, baby
Love you, baby
When you were mine

Repeat chorus, etc., fade to black.

Running time 3:47

So looking back on the lyrics and this interpretation it actually makes more sense that the music and the melody are so upbeat and cheerful. We can now understand that the music represents the manic and delusional mental state of our protagonist. His obsession with this women brings him a kind of joy which is symbolised in the twangy guitar work and happy rhythm section. But on top of that is that piercing synth, this is where the real world is trying to drive a dagger into his fantasy.

Recall that the synth solo starts up and becomes a piercing sound that is joined by a scream from our hero to match the same note. The real world (synth) is trying to break into Prince’s fantasy. But our hero is fighting back reality with his screams to continue to live in his dream world. The bass and drum rhythm changes underneath it all to indicate that something is happening. And then everything disappears apart from our narrator and the twangy guitar. Our hero was won. His fantasy continues.

He’s happy, he’s in love, and she is everything to him. But in reality he is a creepy stalker who fell in love with a prostitute that kind of looks like him when she wears his clothes.

References:

Dirty Mind (released 1980)

The Peach & Black Podcast

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

Urban Dictionary

The Hits – Songbook

AZ Lyrics

Mrs Thrawn

[1] “Dirty Mind Review” Peach & Black Podcast, 27/02/2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] ibid

[9] http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=strange