[…continued from last post]
While “1999” was an instant classic to these ears; second only to the compulsive pull of “Controversy” at the time, the fact was that the title track and first release single to “1999” was only a hit on the Billboard Dance [#1] and R+B [#4] charts. In the Hot 100, where Prince had his sights set on, it didn’t even make the Top 40; stalling at a shocking #44. Worse, his manager, who heard the delivered “1999” album came back with the worst thing any artist can hear upon completing an album. His manager “didn’t hear a hit single.”
This was corrected with the late inclusion of “Little Red Corvette” into the flow of the album with Prince even taking care to segue the track in to the flow from the dying embers of the apocalyptic opening track. The most arresting thing about the song was immediately apparent; the slithering rhythm; reliant on shaker percussion juxtaposed against heavy bass synth with a fast attack and slow release. The bass had emphasis on the off beat to create a tension that was contrasted by the pop elements of the song, which were top loaded up front in the song’s first half.
The friendly, genial tone of the music bed insured that the otherwise overripe sexual metaphors, which were the song’s focus, sagely got a pass on the Pop airwaves. Prince also cannily cast himself in the naif role of the song, which also helped to make his case on the charts. Had the lyrics here been mated with more lascivious Prince music… think “Head,” for example, it may have gotten push back on Pop radio for excessive provocation. Which indeed, “Darling Nikki” managed to do on his next album, but by then it was too late, he was already the hottest star in music. So the design and construction of this Corvette was to establish a beachhead for Prince in the Top 10 after several years as a one-hit wonder from 1979.
The song was very effective in this role, with the first three minutes being a perfect pop moment with a singalong chorus and a rare guitar solo [Prince played 95% of the music here] from the soon-to-be-departed Dez Dickerson of his touring band. At around 3:20 the complexion of the number changed after the edit point on the 7″ version. There, Prince dropped the coy persona he’d used thus far and let loose with some real Soul in his vocals as he proclaimed “gi-rrrr-rrr-rl you’ve got an ass like I’ve never seeeeeeeeen!” He rode his falsetto up into the clouds for the moment of bliss as he further compared this “fast” girl’s “ride” as being “so smoooooooth, you must be a limousine!” With the last phrase being doubled for emphasis. It began as Pop and ended with Soul melisma; giving the LP version a two-sided kick that was more complex than the simpler 7″ edit. MTV couldn’t lap it up fast enough, and the video played heavily for like what seemed to be a full year. The song went to #6 on the Hot 100 and only #15 on the R+B chart. Mission accomplished.
Pretty much the only real light moment on the album came in the form of its third single; the boisterous “Delirious.” The perky little Rockabilly-influenced number came on the heels of the similar “Jack U Off” from the previous album, “Controversy.” Apparently, when Prince toured England in 1981, he was taken with the Rockabilly revival that the Stray Cats were cresting there that year and it filtered back into a small body of songs that could stand as his take on Rockabilly, but this was not your father’s Rockabilly. This was a hybrid vigor version built on a foundation of synths and drum machine from a very different corner of the playing board.
Prince favored the shakers and tambourines for a percussive-led rhythm on the Linn Drum, along with a synthetic, Simmons-like electroslap keeping time. The song’s characteristic synth hook came in the form of a patch that sounded like someone pinching the neck of a balloon to result in a high pitched squeal. Resulting in an almost goofy sound to match the lyrics of Prince relating “a stupid look on my face” as the object of his desire sent him into his reverie. In spite of no video at all this time, the song still vaulted into the Top 10 and cemented his stardom with three Top 20 hits in a row from this album. “Little Red Corvette” didn’t have a picture sleeve that I can find for America, but this time, “Delirious” got the rarity of a US 7″ poster sleeve sporting a 1982/1999 Prince wall calendar, so there was some money splashed out on promotion. Not that he needed it. Prince was the star of the moment and the sequencing of the first three singles up front on side A of the 2xLP set was a feat of bravado matched by few others.
Next: …The Album Hits Its Stride