[…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
Let’s Pretend may well be my favorite track on 1999. So dirty and synthy. Love it!!
jsd – It’s dirty, but joyfully so.
You alluded to an official video for ‘let’s pretend we’re married’ and I really had to see it. Bang zoom there’s one for ‘automatic’ too. Straight-forward band performances ala ‘1999’. Nothing earth shattering, but so cool to see our hero and his support staff in their heyday. He’s ‘1999’-era prince… of course he looks amazing!
For such a darn lascivious song, Prince somehow keeps this from getting too cringey. It’s all in the little details: the robotic voice asking “do you relate?”, the totally badass way he brings in the monotone lower harmony on ‘scuse me but I need your chemistry’ and of course the hilarious ‘all the hippies sing together’… this is SO FAR from unwashed hippie music!
‘DMSR’ has a lot to offer as well…all over a undeniable groove. Love it when he brings in that day beautiful synth chord, bends it down wickedly, then brings it all the way back. ‘Screw the masses’, ‘wear lingerie to a restaurant’…it’s as if he’s starting a new sexual political party. And how relevant today is ‘police ain’t got no gun, so you don’t have to run’!
Funny, I always thought the lyric was ‘all the white people clap your hands on the floor now’!! … ‘On the four’ is almost as good, maybe better! I really do love these two tracks and they are amazing back to back on side two. Pulling this off without coming off as a smarmy, sexual braggadocio-oozing jerk is perhaps his greatest feat on the record. How does he do it?
Always surprised and troubled by the female voice at the end. Not as shocking as Rhoda Dakar’s “the boiler”, but just not what you expect. What do you suppose his intent was?
bpdp3 – I wish the Estate would put out a Prince complete video collection. There is like, a hundred clips out there. I remember seeing the “Sexuality” clip on the initial “Purple Rain” MTV hype like, maybe twice! You can buy them on itunes, but it’s $1.99 a pop and you can’t burn them to DVD if you’re an old fogey like me. And I don’t have a newfangled flat modern TV to play files.
[old man moan over]
Yeah, when Berlin go there I just cringe. It just feels awful. Contrived “filth.” Prince has no problem joyfully flying his freak flag. And yes, the details he put there make a huge difference. If David Lee Roth had delivered that “Marsha” line we’d be gagging.
Strangely enough, the lyrical subtext for some of these songs are both hippies and airlines.
Nothing is as shocking as “The Boiler!”
Dammers has stated that “The Boiler” was only meant to be heard once.
Interestingly, the instrumental “Theme from The Boiler” is quite good and holds up well after repeated plays.
I need to dig out my “1999” double LP that I bought back in 1982 and give it a listen. I LOVED “1999,” as well as “Little Red Corvette” and “DMSR,” but didn’t really take to anything else on the album (my teenage musical tastes were pretty rigid). Time to give it a reappraisal.
FWIW, I think “Pop Life” is Prince’s greatest track. But that comment probably should be saved for when you examine “Around the World in a Day.”