[…continued from last post]
Next we leave the three hit singles for what to me forms the core of the “1999” album to these ears. “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” was the fourth single from the album, and it trailed singles that reached #6, #12, and #8 in the pop charts. Yet it only managed a poor showing – in the 50s, on the Billboard, Pop [#52], Black [#55], and Dance [#52] charts! This is incomprehensible to me; especially that last placing. I see there was a video but I’ve never seen it. In any case, the song was a plunge deep into New Wave territory for Prince’s most driving fusion of Funk and New Wave for this listener.
This one was all about the relentless motorik metal beat under driving, pulsating synthesizers. The cleanest line to the contemporaneous sounds of labelmates DEVO may be drawn from this one with little effort. Their recent “Freedom Of Choice” and “New Traditionalists” albums used a similar sonic vocabulary and the irony was that those albums were DEVO‘s attempt to incorporate Funk to reach a wider audience! Gerry Casale had claimed that the band liked Prince and hearing Stevie Wonder use Moog bass was an influence they could get behind to insure that their third album was not their last.
“It’s ridiculous to think about, but we thought Freedom of Choice was our funk album. That’s as funky as DEVO gets, I guess.” – Mark Mothersbaugh
Prince reciprocated brilliantly here. The sonics of this number skewed completely synthetic. There were only drum machines and synthesizers used on this song. Most of the other songs on “1999” have at least interjections of guitars in them, but not this one. It remained a gleaming machine entity from first to last. Prince used the relentless machine energy here to mirror the relentless lust that the song’s lyrics embodied. A place where a couple of hours could just as easily be the next seven years. Prince was not shy about dropping the F-bomb into this one, but even he hedged his bets by stuttering the delivery of the first “let’s b-a-a-all” in the song which was still in the 7″ edit for Pop radio.
But I can listen to this without getting embarrassed. Easily. Listening to Prince proclaiming how badly he wanted to bed [my euphemism] the lady he desired here over relentless, pulsating synthesizers had an essential integrity that other, similar songs of the era, like Berlin’s “Sex“ lacked completely to my ears. Hearing Terri Nunn whisper “—- me” in the latter [mixed low, just like Prince was here, initially] just makes me cringe to this day. Meanwhile, Prince was just getting started with explicit references to oral sex that showed the flipside to “Head.” Then he had the audacity to end the long, but never boring, 7:20 song with a double tracked vocal chant that recalled the self-mythologizing in “Controversy” and had god cheek-by-jowl with the MF-bomb as he outlined his hedonic philosophy. Astonishing.
Speaking of hedonic philosophy, the other half of what was side two of the album commenced with the even longer “D.S.M.R.” which stood for “Dance/Music/Sex/Romance.” As succinct a précis of the Prince ethos as possible. This was an 8:15 Funk jam that came very close to the P-Funk sound [and certainly length] and maybe this was as great a sequel to “Flashlight” as could ever happen. The synthesizers were still plentiful, but there were funky guitar licks in place here and even bass guitar jostling for position with the bass synths. While Prince played everything, as was the norm, the party atmosphere required as many backing vocalists as he could round up for this one, so even engineer Peggy McCreary was roped into service.
The heavy, dominant beat here was based on shaker percussion [not for the second time on this album] coupled with a bold synthetic handclap sound. The lyrics called out white and Puerto Rican members of the audience in a move that recalled the seminal “Uptown” from “Dirty Mind.” It was funny how he had to specify that all the white people had to clap their hands on the four count, but I’ve heard they have no rhythm. The breakdown at the bridge of the song featured some guitar licks up front and center as the distorted voice of Prince dropped clues to his extra-curricular activities in regards to The Time, their “mastermind” Jamie Star, and Vanity 6. Concluding that they could all “take a bite of my purple rock!” The jam broke down as Lisa Coleman cried out for the police and some help in the abrupt and disturbing finish to the song.
Next: …Preparing For Takeoff