[…continued from last post]
When the time came to wrap up the “1999” album, Prince decided to use a pull-out-the-stops slow jam that had the whiff of material originally written for The Time, but for reasons of his own, he kept it for himself. He began the song on a suave note, with a confident “may I have this dance” but by the next line his delivery was so riven with lust that he sounded like he was tripping over his own tongue. Barely able to keep himself together as he delivered his overripe come ons in a lascivious leer. Promising to take his amour “around the world.” Seventies sex slang that you can look up on your own, if you must. Meanwhile, the musical backing for this track was a bare-bones R+B vamp; like the sort of thing bands of cynical, middle-aged men in bar bands, with cigs affixed permanently to their lower lips in strip clubs, play to facilitate bumps and grinds. Except such bands didn’t usually have a synthesizer.
Prince struggled to make it through the song before succumbing to orgasmic howls on a few occasions as his delivery scaled the octaves necessary to reach his screech threshold in an instant. Then, at midpoint, he continued the airline metaphor with a pilot’s announcements being a series of ribald double entendres that must have been difficult for him to recite with a straight face. In fact, on “in the event of over excitement, your seat cushion may be used as a …flotation device” he’s daring us not to notice his smirk. Meanwhile, the trip to Satisfaction on the “Seduction 747” continued until his admittedly impressive howls of satiety, following which there’s a coda of pillow talk as the song, and album drifts off into the ether.
“1999” was a bit of a strange album in that it was a double album with only eleven songs. Traditionally, double albums had nearly twice the number of songs [unless you’re Yes…] but in the overall scheme of things, eleven songs is a pretty normal number of tracks to have. Yet it was still a double album due to the length of the tracks. The common complaint of a double album being laden with filler and better cut back to a single disc of just the strong songs would not fly here. Each song had a unique complexion and contributed to the whole fabric of the album. Maybe the song lengths could have been altered and we’ll look into that next, but each song on “1999” had a role to fulfill.
It was common for R+B Funk bands in the late 70s; the milieu from which Prince emerged, to have 2-3 long cuts per side back in the day as the dance floor was the target. Prince came from that tradition as his roots were in Funk but his sights were elsewhere. When he signed to Warner Brothers he was adamant that he be marketed as Pop Rock; not consigned to the R+B ghetto. He had a full breadth of talent and interests and was not going to be limited by his label’s lack of vision. The influence of New Wave and post-Disco dance music coming out on extended 12″ singles must have certainly caught his eye as he sought to find his unique voice as an artist. He’d even written songs about this very topic [more on that later] showing how his artistic struggle played out on the album he was recording.
“1999” was the last of a foundational series of albums where his hybrid approach to R+B and Funk and newly emerging forms of Rock as with New Wave gave him a platform that was his for the taking. Listening to this album was hearing the experiments of Parliament-Funkadelic take wings and fly. It was as if ground zero for Prince had been the epic electro jam “Flashlight” by P-Funk and he just went from there. “With his epochal “Dirty Mind,” he reinvented himself as an artist instead of a musician. One with no boundaries, as if “Sister” didn’t make that plainly clear.
With “Controversy,” he refined the fusion of New Wave and Funk and coupled it with his most socially questioning set of songs to date. Even Rockabilly [which he was exposed to on his 1981 UK visits as the Stray Cats were hitting the charts there] began to inform his music as with “Jack U Off.” Finally, with “1999,” he created his Master’s dissertation of pop music. He was producing pop rock anthems, more Rockabilly [but not your father’s Rockabilly], idiosyncratic futuristic Funk [whole swaths of the 80s will be inspired by the “Minneapolis sound” he minted here], touches of jazz and Acid Rock guitar pop up here and there, and there’s still time for a few nods toward the 70s R+B from whence he came.
It’s no surprise that this album made him a star after a few years of building his strengths grounded first in tradition, but next by the overthrow of tradition to experience the growth that his third, fourth, and fifth albums evidenced. “For You” and “Prince” were certainly good R+B/Funk albums that showcased a precocious talent, but only had hints of the vision he had by “1999.” And once the artist had a studio in his home to record in 24/7; all bets were off as to how productive he was going to be in using it. “1999” Made Prince a star and the only step after that was superstardom.
Next: …The Eerie Parallel Universe Version of “1999”