1999 is Prince’s first double album, with 4 interesting and diverse flips to an already incredible career.
The 1999 album is a trip, it is a ludicrous, crass, sexy, funny, political and LONG (with 9 songs over 5 minutes) adventure. It is a seminal Prince record and an important contribution to the great albums of the 80’s. It is also Prince’s first flirtation with serious commercial success and was successful enough to convince executives to provide the genius with a budget to produce a full length motion picture. However, in a way it was also a dark and shady record showing some creepy sides to Prince’s persona, and a self indulgent side too.
The first song, and title track is up to this point, Prince’s most commercial offering and ends up being his biggest hit. The song had a futuristic sound to it at the time, with a mix of funk, rock, dance and downright fun – a catchy hook and sexy white girl backing singers which was all the rage in the early 80’s. The song begins with Dez Dickerson and Lisa Coleman on lead vocals, both having strong but fairly flat vocals, seem to emphasise the third vocalist (Prince’s) tone. Prince then takes over the whole track, and talks about the end of the world over a pumping funk rhythm. This song really showcases Prince’s enigmatic persona and is the first time we all see him in his royal colours “purple”, which are his way of combining the fact he is from Minnesota and the royalist nature of his name. The metaphoric “purple banana” is about to be fully peeled to the world. Whilst not a major hit in the US, it was a breakthrough hit in Australia and many other countries, and was a sign of his massive commercial potential. The whole side one of 1999 was an attempt to gain the commercial market (and attention) that he so craved. 1999 the song was really a bridge between Controversy and Little Red Corvette. To release LRC too quickly may have been a just too far from his underground artist status. The 1999 song encompasses Prince of the time and the potential for superstardom.
The segue into Little Red Corvette continues the commercial music theme, in the tradition of “when you were mine”, LRC is a real “white song” meant to be played on “white” radio and more importantly, on MTV. Released virtually the same time as Michael Jackson’s huge hit “Billy Jean”, this was a time for Black American artists to take the USA and the world literally by storm. Prince was literally in the right place at the right time with Little Red Corvette. The song duly became a US hit, making him a household name. The song also made him well known around the world, with many confusing Prince and MJ (hugely different) styles as the same. The only similarity is that they were two black US artists who had released their most commercial songs at the same time. Unfortunately this type of confusion stuck for many years, and it seems the death of MJ people (who are not Prince or MJ fans) are truly starting to realise the difference, and yet valid contributions both artist had to global music culture. Going back to the song, LRC is really a simple 3 chord song with lead guitar and broad synth strokes. The vocals are very much in the nature of the mainstream artists of the time, like John Cougar, Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams. Delving deeper into the song shows Prince’s sinister side and wicked sense of humour, the song is really about pussy and a bleeding one at that. There are a bunch of similes and double-entendres to make you smile throughout the song, between him, the pussy, the car, parking sideways, lasting the course, going to fast and the colour red there’s a lot to keep you amused.
Next up to bat is third hit, “Delirious”, which is a more commercial version of the superior “Horny Toad”, and in the rockabilly tradition of Jack U off, this song can really be described as a throw-away hit record, which has really aged quite badly. The silly drum machine and the funky synth lines and repetition of the chorus are hard to listen to now – but the lyric is still funny (and overtly sexual of course) and the song had it’s purpose at the time. The baby laugh at the end of the song is almost a relief to listen to. End of side 1.
Side 2 of 1999 contains just two (let me repeat – TWO) songs. Probably not too unusual, some of Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder early records had only one song on one side of their LP’s. The two songs in question are Lets Pretend Were Married and Dance Music Sex Romance (DMSR). Both songs will be reviewed in one go because although they sound different, they represent to me, the same thing. The extended “version” was starting to come of age at the time, as well as the Dance remix, Prince wanted to give it to us on the album version – this allowed him to swear expletives (nearer to the end of each song) in order to give the song a chance of being a cut down hit single, and it also allowed him his now famous self indulgent variations of rhythm and tempo. As if to prove a point to the world that HE HAD ARTISTIC freedom, he was saying to us that he was able to do what he liked. If he wanted to make a 10 minute song, he would! The songs themselves are great, very catchy, very funky and can be played easily at any party. Lets Pretend… has a darker them to it, almost a crazed delusional stalker type of feel to it, while DMSR is just a party record that just goes on and on. Its about big beats and well.. the title says it all. Both songs have a radical free wheeling sexual feel to them and are really now considered great Prince songs. So yes, its only two songs but they are really fantastic songs!
Side 3 begins with the Prince classic “Automatic”, another epic rollercoaster of a song with a strong BDSM theme to it. The song has a pulsating drum machine rhythm which doesn’t change too much throughout the song. The start of the song is a standard pop song with dominant female vocals, almost a look in to the future “Take me with U”, and sugary synth lines throughout. By itself the first 2 minutes of the song doesn’t go anywhere, doesn’t have a memorable chorus or anything substantial to it, but as with many Prince songs, you have to listen to ALL of it to really understand where the song is going. When the video was released, all the hard work done by Prince in commercialising himself in 1999/LRC could have been undone in one swoop, not only was it banned by MTV, the decision to put the whole 9.28 minute extended bondage mix into the video really annoyed bosses at Warners. However, whilst not the most catchy or most commercial of efforts, AUTOMATIC is one of Prince’s most interesting and funny songs to date, and Im sure helped people around the the world to realise his genius and in a way did further good in establishing him as an enigmatic, interesting pop star, whilst the 80’s was churning out cookie cutter pop music at the time… The meat and veg of the song are the middle parts, including when the driving lead guitar solo merges into women moaning and Prince appearing to go into “Pilot” mode, flying off into the sky.. The last part is a repetition of the words A-U-T-OMATIC throughout, until Prince says “undress me”, moving onto another part of the song where he whispers a lot of things, the most audible part is “I’m going to have to torture you now”.. Actually the lyrics are so funny and brilliant here they are below….
Don’t say that no man has ever tasted your ice cream
Baby, U’re the purple star of the night supreme
U’ll always be a virgin
4 no man deserves your love
I only pray that when U dream
I’m the one U dream of
I pray that when U dream
U dream of how we kiss
Not with our lips, but with our souls
Stop me if I bore U
Why is it that I think we’d be so good in bed?
Can U hear me?
Why do I love U so much?
It’s so strange, I’m more comfortable around U when I’m naked
Can U hear me?
I wonder if U have any mercy, don’t torture me
Stop the music, baby
When it comes 2 U, I’m automatic, baby
There’s no one else like me
I’m the best U’ll ever find
No one else could understand U
U’re 2 complex
They say nothing’s perfect
But they don’t know U
It’s automatic 2
Can U hear me?
Honey, I’m so addicted 2 your pleasure
I’m addicted 2 your pain
Fasten your seat belts
Prepare 4 takeoff
I can dream of how U kissed me
Not with your lips, but with your soul
With U I’m never bored
Talk 2 me some more
I can hear U
I’m going 2 have 2 torture U now
Side 3 continues with another legendary song which I think it one of my favourites of all time – in “Something in the water” he pumps up the Linn drum volume and adds a very fast hi hat program, in terms of sound, he puts on the lead/soft synth, which is slightly detuned and no bass line or guitar of note. In a way SITW is a precursor to the massive (no bassline) hits When doves cry / KISS released 1-2 years later.. The song is astonishingly weird, even for Prince and the mood is dark and well.. moody and bizarre at the same time. The lyric of “some people say I’ve got great legs, cant figure out why you make me beg” says a lot about the egotistitcal, yet desperate mood of the song, the song is basically about an oversexed guy who doesn’t understand why the women who are with him are not as horny as him. “Must be something in the water they drink, that’s been the same with every girl I had, why else would a woman treat a man so bad”. Desperate, horny, poor man Prince. The reason why I really love this song (actually there are two reasons), first is the amazing chorus, the song goes from moody depression into a country and western style swig, and it really works. The second reason is the high pitched howling (this is the best way I can describe it) at the end of the song. Enjoy that, as you will never hear anything like that ever again on a commercial record. Brilliant.
Years later I discovered what is apparently the “original” version of Something in the water which was never actually released. This is also a fantastic song, as it has a bass line and less prominent drums, means it sounds more like a standard pop tune. The good thing about this version is that you realise that in the 1999 version, he has basically dressed up a fantastic pop song into a weird, moody, crowd killer.. but fans got it, and I would say it’s song like these that helped Prince amass so many devoted fans over the years.
Side 4 starts with anthemic, sober “Free”, the contrast with the esoteric and gothic side 2 couldn’t be more emphasised. In Free Prince seems to be shouting the voice of America and freedom and it’s an insight into his patriotism, pop stars have many qualities, but how many pop stars are republican freaks like Prince? The song is sung in a falsetto (the first time you hear falsetto up to this point in the album) and has a driving guitar and pulsating drum, and is quite sweet to listen to compared to the freakish songs that came before it. Ultimately though, the song feels more like a distraction to the rest of the record than a reason to listen. Fortunately the nastiness continues in the next killer tune, Lady Cab Driver… LCD is all funk, rhythm guitar, slap bass and hand claps, feels more organic than the other songs but still retains the rawness and edge making it a standout tune. Vocally, Prince is quiet and the female backing vocal is pushed up so it’s hard to determine who is really leading this song, this is perhaps because you gain the illusion that you are actually in the back of a taxi through out the song, the sounds in this song provide visual imagery, you feel like your in the taxi, the hand claps feel like people walking outside the street, the synths sound like car horns. There’s even a part of the song, midway through where it sounds like he just got home and start’s washing his face – before he lifts it up a notch to another really memorable lyric, where each (literal shag) is accompanied by a statement.. ”
“This is 4 the cab U have 2 drive 4 no money at all
This is 4 why I wasn’t born like my brother, handsome and tall
This is 4 politicians who r bored and believe in war
This — Yeah, that’s 4 me, that’s who that 1’s 4
This is 4 discrimination and egotists who think supreme
And this is 4 whoever taught U how 2 kiss in designer jeans
That 1’s 4– That 1’s 4– 4 U have 2 live
This 1’s 4 the rich, not all of ’em, just the greedy
The ones that don’t know how 2 give
This 1’s 4 Yosemite Sam and the tourists at Disneyland
And this 1– ooh! Yeah — That’s the 1.
That’s 4– that’s 4 the– the creator of man
This is 4 the sun, the moon, the stars, the tourists at Disneyland
This is 4 the ocean, the sea, the shore
This is 4– and that’s 4 U, and that’s who that 1’s 4
This is 4 the women, so beautifully complex
This 1’s 4 love without sex
This is 4 the wind that blows no matter how fast or slow
Not knowing where I’m going
This galaxy’s better than not having a place 2 go
And now I know (I know)”
Remember it’s 1982, he’s 22, and pretty horny. What else is he gonna write about 🙂
The ending of Lady Cab Driver segues nicely into “All the critics love you in New York”, you can hear cries of “taxi, taxi!” and traffic throughout, the rhythmic drum track of ATCLUINY pumps throughout and the lyric is sparse and android(ish). The song is full of great (and cryptic lyrics), which probably mean something to HIM, but perhaps he could have been talking about Bonfire Day (5th November) , who knows.. It’s time 4 new direction, it’s time 4 jazz 2 die 4th day of November, we need a purple high
For me, the most interesting lyric (probably because it makes me laugh whenever I hear it) is nearer the end of the song where he states “Yes, we’re certain of it He’s definitely masturbating” The picture of a guy peering through his binoculars comes to mind. Creepy.
Lastly, the album ends off with the grandiose “International Lover”, a lush, strings arrangement and big DIVA voice is another contrast this time to the minimalistic sound of the songs before, this one could be played on Broadway or the West End if it didn’t have such filthy lyrics. The song itself is a great tune and good fun to listen to, keeping on the “mechanical” theme of Automatic, this song see’s Prince as a pilot “Pilot Prince” driving the plane in an Sinatra-esque romantic journey of a song. Following the theme of the other songs, the ending is very funny, and involves a lot of grunting and a sex scene. “Good evening this is your pilot Prince speaking… “ .. Perhaps this is the best ending you could have to the apocalyptic 1999 because what better way for the apocalypse to take us all than being in the sky, being taken around the world and making love to your pilot?
1999 was a great album for it’s time and I still believe it sounds better on vinyl than on MP3 or CD, but if you want to go for a crazy adventure for one hour, download 1999 and listen today J
4 out of 5
listen to 1999…