published: 31 /
In our new series, in which our writers write about ten songs that made them love a favourite band or artist, Paul Weller reflects on Prince
‘Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)’(1982)
When you have heard an album hundreds of times favourite songs come and go. This one from the ‘1999’ album is a constant for me. When I first heard it, it was so alien to what I would normally listen to that I would always start with side three of its double vinyl just so I could hear it again. What the hell was this guy on? There is scant instrumentation here, just a shimmering disco pulse that lays the path for just the most extraordinary unhinged vocal performance Prince had delivered to date.
During the 1980s Prince didn’t seem content releasing perfect album after perfect album. No, his creativity over spilled onto the 7” B-sides. This one appears to be casually thrown away on the flipside of ‘When Doves Cry’.
Similar in tone to another of his classic B-sides ‘Another Lonely Christmas’ the lyrics portray Prince lusting over a lost love, yet this time the spiralling guitar introduction breathes life in to a pop -fuelled disco stomper that takes along for the ride female backing singers and a mumbled spoken-word middle eight.
The vocal refrain of “Let the rain come down.” has been lodged in my memories for as long as I can remember. This one is the Top Ten hit that never was.
I was ten; going through puberty and through this song I found out that women masturbated too? Like how the hell do they do that. It makes no sense, right? I thought Prince was a total nut case. At least I got that right. In the 1980s he was truly OTT dirty, and this track was just the most perverse thing to ever hit my ears at the time. I loved it.
Musically the whole song seems built on top of the lyrics, even the backwards tape reeling at the tail of the song seems like an afterthought. Hearing ‘Darling Nikki’ was the first time that it became apparent to me that lyrics could be the true engine for a song alone.
‘The Beautiful Ones’(1984)
Those perfectly gated ‘1980’s drums introduce this ballad from ‘Purple Rain’ which, whilst a great song in its own right, doesn’t truly come alive until Prince bellows the line “Do you want him, or do you want me? ‘Cause I want you.” What’s left is a minute and a half of boundless emotive rock with Prince apparently adlibbing about his displeasure of the unrequited love that he is experiencing. It’s incredibly uplifting.
‘The Beautiful Ones’ replaced the clunky ‘Electric Intercourse’ in the movie and thankfully on the soundtrack album at the last minute, which meant that ‘Purple Rain’ became the second Prince album on the trot to not include one duff song.
‘Around The World in a Day’(1985)
During the latter part of 1984, my ten year old self saved up enough pocket money to purchase both the ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘1999’ albums, I truly loved them and played them on my Dansette constantly.
With pester power, I managed to coerce my dad into driving me to Our Price when ‘Around the World in a Day’ came out a year later and I was expecting more of the same. This, I did not get. The album opens with this title track that has a wobbly Eastern-flavoured whistle/flute thing going on and the vocal screechy yawn that Prince delivers just sounded mad to me. There was definitely a theme developing here. After reading the lyrics I still had no idea what he was singing about, but I knew I liked it. In fact that ethos with Prince still stands today.
It was my introduction to psychedelic music, and fuelled a fire that, even when I was knee deep into my metal period, enticed me to buy new Prince releases on the day they came out until the end of the 1880s.
‘Temptation’ is the final track off of ‘Around the World in a Day’, and back then this song just went straight over my head. Years later and with many hundreds of regular listens under my belt I have to admit that not a lot has changed.
I like to think of it as Prince pulling out all the stops. It’s all his party tricks in one 8 minute headfuck of an epic. It opens with a Hendrix-a-like guitar riff which segues into a saxophone heavy modern rock and soul workout that seems a little uncomfortable within itself. The guitar seems to be playing along with a different song altogether yet it all sort of works. Then five minutes in nothing remains but a simple percussive rhythm that is perforated with skewed jazz. Prince takes advantage of the musical space by letting his lady friend know that “Darling I can almost taste the wetness between you.” Then God with a capital G tells Prince off and sentences him to death.
I will admit that listening to this so much did not prepare me well for my teenage years.
‘Girls and Boys’(1986)
By 1986, even at my young age I was beginning to burn myself out on Prince. I’d listened to ‘Kiss’, the first single taken from the ‘Parade’ LP and his back catalogue so much that I was looking for something else to give me that same buzz. I relented from buying the album and the follow-up singles ‘Mountains’ and ‘Anotherloverholenyohead’ up until I heard ‘Girls and Boys’ on the radio.
The new sound I was looking for, well, Prince knew just what I had in mind. Here on ‘Parade’ he reinvented himself once more, plus he invented a ridiculous arm dance and insured I kept his latest music spinning on my turntable.
From this album it is ‘Girls and Boys’ and ‘Life Could Be So Nice’ that I return to most. There is an odd production to them that keeps intact the flamboyant psychedelia from ‘Around the World in a Day’, and yet stretches it thinly across a hardline pop edge.
‘U Got the Look’(1987)
It’s the most mainstream track on Sign ‘o’ the Times’ for sure, throwing in a couple of massive pop hooks and adding a slice of Sheena Easton’s silky backing vocals to make one of my favourite ever Prince singles.
Even better is that it saved ‘Sign ‘o’ the Times’ LP from being one that I would only return to for a handful of songs. For the first time in a long time Prince mixed some solid gems in with a few real clunkers (the massively over-rated ‘Housequake’ for one and ‘Adore’ and ‘Play in the Sunshine’ are not much better either). History has turned the record into somewhat of a legend but if it were a single album instead of a double I think that it would have saved me many hours of pressing the FF button on my CD player. One for the MP3 (and definitely not the NPG) revolution.
‘I Love U in Me’ (1989)
A proper ballad this one, well, a proper ballad where in the second verse Prince lets us know that the girl he is shagging is so hot that he always ejaculates first. It’s gross when written down yet as always when it’s sung by Prince it almost seems like a lovely sentiment. Yet it is a beautiful song, I promise. Once again this was a B-side, propping up another ballad from the ‘Batman Soundtrack’, namely ‘The Arms of Orion’. Another cool thing about this song is all the background vocals, the highs, the lows, those feminine tones.
Of course, they are all Prince. While it’s a very clever and pretty song my advice would be no matter what don’t put it on a cassette/CD for a potential lover because you will fail with your advances. I know this because I did it. Twice.
‘Black Sweat ‘(2006)
I gave up on Prince releasing another good record many, many years ago. Each album since the ‘Batman Soundtrack’ has gotten just a tad worse than the one before. Inside my very soul I knew that the purple one had lost it.
Then in 2006 this incredible single with its flashy video teased me into believing Prince had remembered how to write a classic tune all over again. There was funk, there was an original musical motif running through the whole thing. There were even sexually suggestive lyrics once again.
I was utterly convinced that he had returned to form. I was ridiculously excited. That was until I heard the accompanying album ‘3121’. What a stinker that was!
648 Posted By: maarten schiethart, Nijmegen, NL on 25 Sep 2013
Mine would include: