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As we dive into the final side of “1999,” we’ve got three long songs that were not singles as the almost unstructured second half of the album came to a conclusion. “Lady Cab Driver” was the longest track here and something of a throwback to the R+B/Funk roots of Prince. The instrumentation was mostly old school but with a few nods to modernity. The song had a unwavering, simple 4/4 beat from the Linn Drum that was not a million miles away from the rhythm that also drove another crucial song from the same time period. This album and the 12″ single of “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash + The Furious Five were both released in the fall of 1982 and there must have been a lot of new drum machines bought that year as the Linn became the de riguer piece of studio equipment to make music with.
But most of the instrumentation was very traditional bass/drums/guitar, with synths used only as a stand-in for the lonely funky-flute® that was otherwise missing from this song. Reeds being the one blind spot in Prince’s arsenal of music skills. But his skills at the more traditional instrumentation were corn-popping hot! One of the abject pleasures of how “Lady Cab Driver” unfolded over almost nine minutes was hearing him drum skillfully around the thwacking machine beat anchoring the song. He’s an expert in building and releasing rhythmic tension throughout the song for compelling ebb and flow during the three “movements” of the song. The first third began amid foley sounds of NYC streets and the artist hailing a taxi. This was a Funk throwback given an insouciant delivery via Prince’s low-key falsetto. and the melodic development leaned heavily on the freeform synth/flute which stuck to the jazz side of the line.
The second movement of the tune delivered the lyric payback as we heard Prince making love con brio to the song’s subject matter; with Jill Jones moaning in ecstasy while the artist counted down the reason for every thrust of his pelvis. Responding to god and the environment, slights and injustices to settle, as well as showing his enthusiasm for his lover. That done, more foley sounds got mixed into the song as the third movement circled back on itself with the sound of seagulls and grandfather clocks as Prince’s electric guitar made its snarling debut into the mix; syncopating with the drum breaks he adroitly threw down over the relentless machine beat.
As the song faded out more street sounds were mixed up and became the intro to the next song, which was built on a two-note synth ostinato that sounded like a duck quacking at 118 BPM. “All The Critics Love U In New York” really didn’t sound much like anything else Prince had ever done yet. I can’t think of anything I’ve heard afterward remotely like it, either. In spite of its enervated, twitchy energy, Prince sounded as carefree and nonchalant as possible delivering the lyrics as he took an ambiguous look at the critical buzz portion of his career. Aaah, I remember him acing the Pazz + Jop polls in the Village Voice around this period, and he seems to be of a notion that with friends like that, who needs enemies? The first Prince review I ever read was the 5-star raver for “Dirty Mind” in Rolling Stone [and they, as much as it pains me to admit, were completely right…], so he’d already conquered the West Coast critical establishment in any case. He’s certainly not being swayed by their soothing words.
Prince seemed to be constructing a mantra for his own use here at first but then begins to free associate. His chanted “it’s time for a new direction – it’s time for jazz to die – the 4th day of November – we need a purple high” seemed to come from nowhere. The latter phrase was a pointer to some of the conceits we’d hear more on in “Purple Music” on “Vault Disc 2.” There are many threads that make up the “1999” tapestry; not all of them visible at the time of release. Then as the song continued he seems to have fun imagining where paying attention to critics might lead as a police sirens and Prince standing in for a cop on his walkie talkie announces “Yes, we’re certain of it,” “He’s definitely masturbating.” I also got a laugh out of the “take a bath, hippie!” line he tossed into the mix.
Next: …Welcome To Satisfaction