Prince - 1999 (1982) (1 Viewer)

travispickle

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I don't own this and as it's not on any streaming platforms his little midget ass can take a hike if he thinks I'm shelling out for it!
Take that Squiggle!!

p.s. not the Thumped Squiggle, the Prince Squiggle. Is he Prince again now?
 

Lili Marlene

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I don't own this and as it's not on any streaming platforms his little midget ass can take a hike if he thinks I'm shelling out for it!
Take that Squiggle!!

p.s. not the Thumped Squiggle, the Prince Squiggle. Is he Prince again now?
He hasn't been squiggle in 16 years but hey, as long as we're calling him a midget I guess that's the least of your problems here.
 

rettucs

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I bought this on vinyl at the weekend and reckon it was well worth 20 of my hard earned euro.

However, I'm not sure what kind of a review I can put together by the end of the week. Not having it in work with me is a big hindrance (where I do most of my music listening). I'll see what I can come up with.

Side 1 of record 1 alone is worth the money.
 

sep;9fuews?

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If I had this on vinyl I'd never listen to disc 1. D.M.S.R. is oooh! alright! and the first two songs aren't bad but Lets Pretend We're Married and Delirious wreck it a bit. The rest is great!
 

GO

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I havent listened to it yet.I'm saving it for a special time soon
 

Lili Marlene

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Part 1- History

Back when 1999 was released Prince wasn’t the popstar people think he was. The title track has become such a ubiquitous 80’s DJ go-to song that most people don’t even realise that when it was first released it failed to even make the top 40. At the time of its release he had success but wasn’t a superstar, wasn’t even a star really. A cult figure for those in the know but that’s it. He wanted more, he wanted success as he knew it, what he wanted was to crossover to a white audience. Not because he was ashamed of being black, he wasn’t, and not because the white audience is where the big bucks always are, although that was definitely part of it, but because he was from Minnesota, one of the whitest states in the USA. Success for Prince meant crossing over to the people he knew growing up.

Ok, we need to backup with some Prince history first.

Things that are important to know about Prince:

1. Prince is from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

When he was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s Minnesota, was about 0.5% African American, 95%+ White. The most famous jazz group from Minneapolis are the Andrews Sisters. A compilation released a few years ago cobbles together what little black music was being made in the late 70’s around Minneapolis. It’s a good listen if you’re interested but there’s no real lost classics in here; it’s mostly fairly amateurish, albeit quite enjoyable, stuff. The thing to take from all this is that Prince grew up listening to white radio as much as black radio, yeah he loves James Brown and Sly Stone but he’s also the world’s biggest Joni Mitchell fan:

Joni Mitchell said:
Prince attended one of my concerts in Minnesota. I remember seeing him sitting in the front row when he was very young. He must have been about 15. He was in an aisle seat and he had unusually big eyes. He watched the whole show with his collar up, looking side to side. You couldn’t miss him—he was a little Prince-ling. [Laughs.] Prince used to write me fan mail with all of the U’s and hearts that way that he writes. And the office took it as mail from the lunatic fringe and just tossed it!
2. Prince fucking LOVES writing songs.

Plenty has been said about Prince’s vault but the maddest thing about it all is that most of it seems to be true. Yes he has hundreds of unreleased tracks, yes it is a literal vault, yes there are entire complete, unreleased albums (and films!) compiled, edited and then not released.

But long story short, through sheer determination and a lot of luck Prince ended up being signed to Warner Brothers at aged 18, with complete creative control and even the condition that he be allowed produce himself. Aged 18. To celebrate this he wrote a love song called We Can Work it Out:

Makin' music naturally, me and W.B.

This is important to understanding Prince; he missed the memo that “I live through my music” is just a bullshit phrase bands say in interviews that doesn’t mean anything and he ended up taking it literally. If you or I were signed to a major label (back when that meant something) we’d likely spend a fortune on new equipment and then go on the bender of a lifetime; Prince though, he wrote a song about it. Start as you mean to go on.

3. Prince is tiny.

There’s no real evidence that this has ever really bothered him but everyone else likes to comment on it. Here’s a picture of him with his band as a teenager, Prince is second from the right. I do wonder what happened to the other small guy there : (


On with the tale. 18 year old Prince loves Joni Mitchell and Sly Stone and Weather Report and makes his first album for Warner Brothers. It’s fairly decent, and you can hear the influence of all the above on it but it’s mainly notable for the fact that it was all written and recorded by a (by then) 19 year old. There’s an insane hard-rock song on it called I’m Yours that’s worth finding and listening to just for the sheer audacity of it all. The bad news is that he spends 3 albums worth of budget on it, mostly taking his time to understand how to work in a studio, and no one buys the album really. His record company tell him he needs a hit or, prodigy or not, he’s out.

So he writes one.

I Wanna Be Your Lover is his first bona-fide hit, 11 in the pop charts. It’s an amazing song, go listen to it if you can find a copy. Imagine writing and recording all of that aged 20. The album is great too, not an all time classic, it’s no Off the Wall, but if his debut shows he can write and record a solid album on his own, his second shows he can also has an ear for writing pop hits. Well done Prince.

He appears on American Bandstand and purposely acts the dick while being interviewed.

Ultimately though, he’s still just a minor teen sensation wearing funny clothes with a pop hit and a limited shelf life. This isn’t what he wants, this isn’t what he got out of Minnesota for. He gets a band together and, already wanting to appeal beyond the R’n'B crowd, bases it on the multi-race/gender line up of Sly & the Family Stone. He refuses to hire anyone who won’t show complete loyalty and dedication to his vision - no sessions players who will play other gigs on the side. They tour a bit and end up off supporting Rick James, the hottest thing in funk at the time.

So basically, in an effort to be taken seriously, Prince dresses like this on stage and plays a show including some gross out tongue-action with his keyboardist.

Rick James said:
The first time I saw Prince and his band I felt sorry for him. Here’s this little dude wearing hi-heels, playing this New Wave Rock & Roll, not moving or anything on stage, just standing there wearing this trench coat. Then at the end of his set he’d take off his trench coat and he’d be wearing little girl’s bloomers. I just died. The guys in the audience just booed the poor thing to death
Surprisingly, by the end of the tour he’s apparently both stealing Rick’s stage moves and Rick’s audience along with it. In retaliation Rick pours wine all over poor Prince and steals his painstakingly programmed synths. Oh and Prince's keyboard player quits, citing a religious Road to Damascus moment.

It’s probably not the case but I like to pretend that this act of synth-theft is what led to the third Prince album sounding like a bunch of demos. No instruments? No problem, just make do with this 50 quid guitar and electric piano. Whatever way it happened, Dirty Mind is a total about-turn sound-wise. No longer writing just to prove that he can, suddenly Prince is following a sound and vision of his own. A filthy vision. I don’t have time to go into it all but many people see it as the first true Prince album, which a fair observation but also a bit weird as it’s also the first album so have a picture of the band included in the inlay. The crowd going to the live shows change as well. While there’s considerably less of them than before, the audience has suddenly gone from 95% black to almost 50/50 black/white. NME, who hadn’t even reviewed his previous albums, put him on the cover in England.

He appears on Saturday Night Live and, while he isn’t interviewed, still kind of manages to act the dick.

The crossover thing doesn’t quite happen though, the album yields no hits. When You Were Mine, probably the best pop-rock song he has ever written, isn’t even released as a single. God knows why. Maybe his show is too heavy for the R’n’B crowd and too R’n’B for the rock crowd, maybe a demo-sounding album with songs about having sex with your sister are a just a little bit too much for the mainstream. He gets a dedicated cult following though, not just people following the latest hit. He ends up supporting the Rolling Stones in full Dirty Mind mode and gets booed off the stage. He decides there and then to never support anyone ever again. He also stops giving interviews.
 

Lili Marlene

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(part 1 continued...)

A week after the Rolling Stones show he releases Controversy; the band play on one track and it contains his first experiments with drum machines. Looking back in 2016 the title track is a solid gold funk classic but in 1981 it stalled at number 70 in the pop charts and quickly sank without a trace. His critical and cult momentum carries him through on the albums front though and it does well enough in the charts, just missing out on the top 20. Warner Brothers are happy enough too, in fact they trust him enough at this point to allow him to branch out. He gets some old school friends together and writes and records an album for/with them under a pseudonym and brings them on tour as faux-rivals. Replacing the increasingly sex vs sin mind freakouts of his own solo work with pure funky fun, the Time constantly threaten to outsell and outperform Prince at his own game. The audiences meanwhile are starting to drift back to a mostly black crowd. Feeling ambivalent at best about this whole situation Prince reacts as only he knows how, he writes and records. A lot.

1982 is a hell of a year for Prince’s songwriting. By the middle of the year year Prince has worked up 3 albums for release- the second Time album, What Time is it?, the Vanity 6 album (a girl group he put together just because) and finally, 1999 itself, a double album.

For what it’s worth there’s still about 20 known unreleased tracks from 1982, and this is considering as late as 2011 he’s still been mining it for new release.

He’s still only 23 by the way.
 

Lili Marlene

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– Part 2 – the album

I’ve purposely not been going into much detail on the other albums because I’d be here the rest of my life. Generally speaking, this is the album where the Prince sound, the Minneapolis sound, exploded in Technicolor. What Prince was meshing together was being attempted by a lot of people at the time (whether by white groups like Duran Duran or black groups like Cameo, or those who found themselves playing catchup like the Parliament Funkadelic crowd) but his seamless synthesis was way ahead of the pack. As I was saying earlier, when people talk about a Prince sound this is the album they’re talking about.

1999 is the most electronic album Prince ever wrote (aside from maybe the Batman soundtrack), guitars are present generally in the form of a a few freakout solos, but mainly it’s all about Prince in a room with synths and a linndrum machine. When people want to be dismissive of Prince the easy bet is usually to say his entire career is based on the linndrum snare sound, and to be honest, that’s not completely wrong - it’s a sound he played with for the best part of a decade, still using it when newer, better drum machines became available. Ultimately it was an instrument to help him write songs, not a production sound to keep him up to date.

The artwork, drawn by Prince himself, is full of subtle and REALLY NOT SUBTLE LINKS to the songs on the album. For what it’s worth – The “P” is a lion (in his pocket), the “1” is a cock (because sex) and “and the revolution” is written backwards because it’s still a solo album. In fact the artwork was where most of his backing band found out themselves about their future name. There’s all sorts of other stuff in there as well, elements of the Controversy album cover and various biblical things.

As with all things Prince, don’t try and read too deeply into it though, Prince is always more concerned with appearing profound than actually being profound.

Finally, a quick note on the other two albums released, since they are recorded in the same sessions:

What Time is It? by the Time is an album worth listening to if you find Prince’s sex and religion stuff all a bit much. It’s an excellent album (and is on Spotify) full of funky beats and massive guitar solos. The Time were basically where Prince went to let loose and have some fun. Muso fact fans: 777-93-11 must have one of the most complex drum beats ever written, I’ve reliably informed it’s not technically possible to play exactly as recorded (prince as using a drum machine).

Vanity 6 – A very fun new-wave synth-funk album (not on Spotify unfortunately). For fans of Blondie, Devo or the B-52’s. For anyone else this would be a career highlight, for Prince it’s just another footnote.

Now, here are my annotations for the album itself:

1999 – The first single, about the party at the end of the world, that, as I said, failed to set the world alight when first released. In 2016 it probably suffers from being played too much but I still can get a thrill when that synth riff comes in.

When first recorded the verses were sung and recorded in harmony by the whole band. Only afterwards did Prince notice how good it sounded when each member of the band took a line each. You can get an idea of what it sounded like listening to the 4th line in each verse.

There’s a sustained note from 4:10 on the keyboard that lasts right till the final guitar chords!

The video is the cheapest thing of all time, likely part of the reason MTV refused to play it at the time, but I also absolutely fucking love it. Dry ice, band, sexy dancing, sorted! The blond girl in the video, Jill Jones, is all over Prince recordings at the time and would join the band during 1999 for the encore and reprise her role from the video.

Also, the prick hasn’t played the third verse of this song live since 1983.

Little Red Corvette: The second single, the song that gave him his first top 10 hit and, he had to appear somewhere, Prince has Michael Jackson to thank. Between the first and second singles from 1999 Michael Jackson’s record company had a famous run-in with MTV over the Billie Jean video. The end result being MTV would play black artists and suddenly Little Red Corvette could be all over the channel.

Musically that synth chord sequence is spectacular, I could listen to the intro all day. There’s a godawful remix EP Prince released in 1999 that you should never listen to that actually attempts this. Rosario Dawson reads a poem over it. It’s the worst. More happily Stevie Nicks says she wrote Stand Back over the chords after hearing the song on the radio and ended up with one of the biggest hits of her career.

Lyrically this song is filth. Pure filth. One of the filthiest songs to ever become a hit single for anyone, certainly up to that point. It also fits into the tradition of rock songs about cars being not so subtle references to sex, although there’s actually nothing subtle in this one. The real lesson here is that mixing your metaphors (cars, horses, condoms, whatever) is fine in a pop song as long as you have a cool groove to go behind it.

The guitar solo contains what I believe might be the only bit of guitar playing Prince’s live guitarist Dez Dickerson got to do on record, and it’s a great solo. Not to be overshadowed though, in the video Prince breaks into his first ever dance routine all over it so we never get to see Dez play the damn thing. Dez would quit after the 1999 tour citing a religious Road to Damascus moment.

Oh, here’s a fun story that I find hard to believe but seem to be backed up by facts: Apparently the first draft of the album didn’t contain 1999 or Little Red Corvette and was rejected by Warner Brothers for not containing a single. So Prince went back and recorded both songs immediately. Sounds apocryphal except the studio tapes show that both songs had initial tracking on the same day, 7th August 1982. “What did you do today?” “Recorded 1999 and Little Red Corvette, you?” For good measure he also recorded a third song that day, Mia Bocca, that ended up being released in 1987 and is astonishingly good as well.
 

Lili Marlene

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Delirious: Third track and third single. Apparently Prince and his band saw the Stray Cats live in 1981 and all became immediately obsessed with rockabilly and grew pompadours. Over the next year or two prince recorded about an albums worth of synth rockabilly tracks, about half of which have been released and Delirious might be the best of them. It’d make a great little album if they were all put together in the same place. It also went top 10 but no video was made. I don’t have a whole lot more to say about this track except that if you ever hear a live version you’ll notice that there’s a whole lot of little fills throughout the track that you’d barely notice but they’d lean into when played live, it’s basically going through the entire rockabilly riff canon. I love this song.

Let’s Pretend We’re Married – the 4th single in some places. This is where the album stops being about hits and starts surrendering to the groove, or… the pulse. This is pure Prince in a room with a synth and a drum machine working up a hot sweat. It ends with a chant about loving God because of course it does. It seems to divide people but it goes through phases of being my favourite song on the album. Two things about it so, 1. There’s a rarely seen hilarious video where the whole band do a synchronised genuflect. 2. Tina Turner covered it on a b-side a year later!

DMSR: A standard funk workout played on with an all-synth set-up. I’ve never loved this song but it always kicks off when he plays it live. There’s some good shoutouts towards the end of the song where he pretends to be giving out (“Jamie Star’s a thief!”) to what, at the time (“It’s time to fix your clock”), were still not known to be his own projects (“Vanity 6 is sooo sweet”).

Automatic: A long, long song that is worth listening to on headphones for all the details- clocks ticking, bass popping, women moaning, guitar solos going off on one... Essentially 10 minutes of one or two synth lines, this either floats your boat or sends you to sleep. There’s some great live versions (may be gone by next week) with more guitar going on and the entire band pausing for the “stop the music” bits.

He also made a video for this one (here without sound) although I don’t think it was officially released, presumably from the sheer embarrassment of it all– Lisa Coleman and Jill Jones tie him Prince to a bed and fail to keep a straight face while “torturing” him. I think it might have been an attempt an x-rated version of the 1999 video but mainly comes across as mortifyingly kitsch.

Something in the Water (does not compute) – this song is where it’s at! One of the absolute highlights on the album to me, there’s also a ton of alternate versions. The one on the album is the most synth and drum machine version, and is great for it, but there’s also a much jazzier version recorded about a month later that I’d say 99% of people would prefer. It’s here if you can get it to load. The live version he’d play with the band is something else too, complete with massive guitar solo for those who struggle with music without guitars or who just don’t like the usual Prince production sound.

Now I know I just linked to two different versions of a song rather than talked about the album version but that’s always half the fun with Prince. He’ll have a vision for an album and would stick with it, leaving commercial concerns aside. He wants the song that fits in with the album best...

Free : Except when he throw in curveballs like this. Almost every Prince album has a “you’re with me or you’re not” moment and this is it on 1999. Free is a sappy acoustic piano ballad and is everyone’s least favourite song on the album. It’s kind of like an early version of what Purple Rain.

I’ve grown to like it over time. The lyrics are a bit cringy alright but maybe they’re just really brave lyrics for a guy who’s 22/23? It also features Wendy Melvoin on backing vocals on her first appearance on a Prince album, she’d replace Dez Dickerson in the band a year later on guitar and appear in Purple Rain and generally be the face of the Revolution.

The worst thing about it is that there’s a very well-known outtake called Moonbeam Levels recorded around the same time that a) is a better song and b) would have fit the album much better sonically. Instead it sits around the vault unreleased. It’s well known enough as an outtake that there’s a live version by Elvis Costello and Questlove from a few years ago out there. But, well, it’s Prince and you’re with him or you’re not.

Lady Cab Driver: Bloody hell, he really goes all out on this one. I don’t have a whole lot to say it, It’s funky as hell (that snare and bass all the way through!) and ends in duelling guitar and synths. I love the way the band calmly plays away trying to ignore the massive sex scene he’s re-enacting in front of them. Of course there’s no band is there, it’s all him, but still.

All the Critics Love U in New York: Another pulsing groove. Critic baiting in the strangest way possible, Prince doesn’t know if he’s giving out about hippies or punks in New York but like a lot of his best stuff it’s not about making literal sense (WTF is Purple Rain for example?) - “it ain’t about the trippin’ but the sexuality”. He still breaks this one out live today, changing the lyrics to fit whatever city he’s playing. There’s some class guitar freakery happening in here.

International Lover: As a white guy from Ireland who grew up listening to rock music I have no real history of listening to the classic R’n’B ballad. A lot of people have trouble getting into this side of Prince for a similar reason, it’s just not a tradition we’re familiar with. Every Prince album from Controversy onwards has a big, mental, seduction ballad like this one. In this case he’s going for comic rather than erotic though – “If for any reason there is a loss in cabin pressure, I will automatically drop down to apply more “. The whole song is a bit of a joke, and a successful one at that, but probably difficult for people who expect their classic album to be full of serious, po-faced songs.

For what it’s worth Prince kept the big tear-jerker soul song off the album and threw it on the b-side to the 1999 single. How Come U Don’t Call me Anymore is many a person’s favourite Prince song of all time and it didn’t even make the damn album! Great final song obviously.



As a coda to the story, after Little Red Corvette became a hit Prince finally got what he wanted - he properly crossed over to the (white) mainstream. His shows go from 75-80% black audience back to the 50/50 crowds of the Dirty Mind tour, but this time at a much larger scale. He reacts as he always does, he continues to write and record. The smart thing would have been to continue as he was doing. Maybe, like his live show, add a bit more guitar to make his music easier to digest for white rock crowd. The early sessions for the next album even show that this was the direction he was heading in...



But then he had an idea for a movie…
 

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