I always had mixed feelings about Prince. The talent and creativity were impossible to deny. “Little Red Corvette”, “The Beautiful Ones”, “When Doves Cry” — those are flat-out great songs. His songs for Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film combined with Danny Elfman’s score to create the perfect backdrop for that dark cinematic vision. I lost count of how many times I watched that flick as a kid. And he had a kind of magnetism few artists are ever able to tap into. When you saw him in a music video or a movie, your eyes were locked on him. He was some sort of alien cross between Sly Stone and Little Richard, and he seemed dangerous. It was the kind of danger you wanted to follow, just to see what he might do.
There was always something that kept me at arm’s length. I don’t know what it was. Maybe the feeling that there was more beneath the surface of what he was doing that didn’t always get brought up to where I could hear it. Now I’m thinking maybe I didn’t dig deep enough. He was much, much more than just the songs we heard on the radio. And I thought he went a little overboard with the policing of his music being streamed or shared in any way on the internet (I’m not sure how your music videos being accessible on YouTube hurts you when you’re filthy stinking rich).
But he was defiantly himself. He always said what was on his mind in his music. He didn’t care if people didn’t like it.
“All people care about nowadays is getting paid,” he said. “So they try to do just what the audience wants them to do. I’d rather give people what they need rather than just what they want.”
When he sang about sex, he really sang about sex. He didn’t mess around or half-ass it. “We can fuck until the dawn, making love ’til cherry’s gone,” makes something like Katy Perry’s, “I kissed a girl and I liked it…hope my boyfriend don’t mind it,” sound as lame and bloodless as it really is.
There’s one little story I’ve always really liked. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1983, Prince said he played the album Dirty Mind for his father.
“You’re swearing on the record,” his father said. “Why do you have to do that?”
“Because I swear,” Prince said.
Two songs did a lot to unmix my feelings.
The first was “Erotic City”. A DJ used to play that one at The Loop on Friday nights, back when that was my regular weekend hangout. Once or twice I danced with a pretty girl while it was playing. The groove on that thing was unreal. It was hypnotic. I wanted it to go on forever.
It was a B-side. Figures.
The second song that changed my mind was this one. I’m going to stream it and not make it available for download, in case the ghost of Prince decides to try and sue me. You never can be too careful. This is shared only as a demonstration of the man’s talent, or maybe I’m reviewing it, fair use, blah blah, etcetera bagel monster.
It’s called “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” and it’s another B-side. Which is insane, because it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, from anyone, in any genre. The Alicia Keys cover is nice and all, but it doesn’t even get close.
This is Prince alone, in 1982, playing piano, tapping his foot, and layering his voice into a virtual gospel choir. I wish with every wish I’ve got he decided at some point to make a whole album of stripped-down songs like this. If he’d done that, it would probably be one of my favourite albums of all time.
No such album exists. One Nite Alone… gets close, but it’s impossible to find. At least we’ve got this tune.
Oddly enough, both of those songs show up on the soundtrack to the spike lee film Girl 6. So if you see that CD hanging out in a bargain bin somewhere, I suggest you snap it up.
A little shout-out to 2016: you can stop killing musical icons now. I think you’ve done enough in that department already. Take the rest of the year off, okay?