“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you. I only want you to have some fun.”
“Party like it’s 1999”, a term used to describe the act of partying and having fun as if there is no tomorrow, has become part of our lexicon, regardless of whether or not you listen to or enjoy Prince’s music. The word “party” is used often throughout the opening track and title song to Prince’s 5th album, “1999”, but the sort of party Prince & the Revolution describe isn’t the kind where its conclusion simply means the end of the evening and a good night’s sleep. Instead, the hedonistic party that is being thrown in “1999” is in celebration of the end of the world and a more permanent rest that many feared was on the horizon. Despite its current ubiquity, the song and album of the same name were not an immediate success for Prince. He had been building a small but rabid fanbase around the modest R&B/Dance chart successes for songs like “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, “Uptown”, and “Controversy” but when “1999” was released as the lead single from Prince’s 5th album in the fall of 1982, the same level of non-crossover niche success appeared to be a given.
“I guess I should have known by the way you parked your car sideways that it wouldn’t last.”
On February 9th, 1983, Warner Bros. released the second single from the LP, “Little Red Corvette”, which also happens to be the second song on the album’s track listing. A synth-rock masterpiece, Prince and his band, the Revolution, created a pop song that used a combination of automobile imagery and a healthy dose of double entendres to tell the story of a man who has a one night stand with a woman who he then realizes is moving “much too fast” with her own love life and implores her to slow down before she “burns her body right to the ground”. It’s definitely not the typical lyrical content for an early 80s power-pop rock ballad but then again, the lyrical content and imaginative storytelling is a large reason why “Little Red Corvette” made such an impact. Of course, Prince had used guitar in his past work, but for “LRC”,
the epic guitar solo was performed not by Prince, but by Revolution guitarist Dez Dickerson, and it was likely a huge reason for the song’s crossover success. Rock fans, many of them white, took notice in a way that they wouldn’t have for Prince’s early disco and R&B/funk singles. For Prince, “Little Red Corvette” was his very first top 10 hit and for the first time in his career, one of his singles performed better on pop charts than R&B charts. In the bigger picture, “Little Red Corvette” was his crossover introduction. This was the song that actually got airplay on most radio stations around the world, not just urban ones. MTV, who were notoriously slow to add videos from black musicians in the station’s first couple of years on the air, also added the “Little Red Corvette” video to its rotation. This exposure combination, as well as the song being one of Prince’s best, placed him on the pop culture radar (and allowed for Prince’s first Rolling Stone cover) as well as instant stardom. It only took 5 years and 5 albums, but in the spring of 1983, Prince finally achieved a level of fame that was prophesized when he declared his position as “musician/star” for his all-access pass as the opening act during the 1980 Rick James tour.
After Warner Bros. took advantage of “Little Red Corvette’s” success by re-releasing “1999” and watching that song climb to number 12 on the pop charts (still criminally low in my opinion), they released the third single from the album, “Delirious”. “Delirious” also happens to be the third track and last song on side 1 of this double LP. “Delirious” is a bouncy but lyrically slight dance song with a memorable and instantly recognizable synth line. Prince’s mastery of the Linn drum machine wound up not only making the sound of “1999” cohesive but also helped coin the “Minneapolis Sound”. This was a term used to categorize artists, primarily black, coming from the Minneapolis, Minnesota music scene and the specific style of dance, funk, R&B, and rock music they were creating. “Delirious” became Prince’s second top 10 single and it remains a fun, funky track over repeated listens.
“Darlin’ if you’re free for a couple of hours. If you ain’t busy for the next seven years.”
The album’s fourth track, as well as the fourth and final US single released in support of “1999”, was “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”. “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious” included plenty of hidden sexual themes, but Prince takes a more overt approach on “Married” by asking a woman to engage in a little role-play sexual adventure in order to “do it all night”. On the surface, this proclamation seems like something a teenage boy might request of his virginal girlfriend, in order to suspend reality and pretend for a moment that the two of them are a married couple with the hidden agenda of getting laid. However, in Prince’s hands, the request to play make believe is more of a desperate attempt of a player (the man in the song admits to having a girlfriend) trying to snag a one night stand at the end of a fruitless evening of buying drinks and chatting up the club’s single ladies. “Marsha” is apparently one, if not the last, of the women he tries this request on and Prince was not about to let her slip away. He even tries a little nasty talk, “I sincerely want to fuck the taste out of your mouth. Can you relate?”, in hopes she’s down with that. I can only assume that it worked. It definitely works in the context of the song and this is a banger, but it’s no surprise it didn’t fare well on the pop charts considering the lyrical content.
Prince’s electronic funk credo, “D.M.S.R.”, introduces listeners to what can be considered a definition of the man’s music in four simple words. Dance. Music. Sex. Romance. Spirituality would be added later, but in 1982, this was Prince (the musician) in a nutshell. Oddly, such an important song in the Prince cannon would be left off of some countries pressings of the CDs/Records to prevent creating a double LP or CD. The song could be found as a B-side in UK to make up for that loss but it could also be heard on the “Risky Business” soundtrack for what that’s worth. It’s a great song that along with the album’s next track, “Automatic” take up nearly 18 minutes of this already lengthy album’s run time. Detractors may say both “D.M.S.R.” and “Automatic” suffer from being a bit too long and drawn out but I fall into the “can’t have too much of a good thing” camp when it comes to Prince. “A-U-T-O-matic” is a robo-funk S&M fantasy of a song that is as strange & erotic (more on the entire album’s weirdness later) as it is interminable.
Side 3 continues on with “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)”, yet another wildly original song that sounds like no one else before or since. It’s a synth heavy track with “woman done me wrong” lyrics and an epic, memorable Prince scream towards the end. The jittery drum beat, earworm keyboard riff and one of Prince’s best vocal performances on the album make this one another winner.
“Free” concludes the third side and is a rare song on this album, along with “1999” and “All the Critics Love U in New York”, that doesn’t address the topics of relationships or sex. “Free” is a pretty piano and vocal track that praises democracy but primarily reminds all of us to stop for a moment and appreciate life and what we have. Its also notable as being future Revolution guitarist Wendy Melvoin’s first vocal appearance on a Prince song.
“Body don’t wanna quit, gotta get another hit.”
Side 4’s final 3 tracks, “Lady Cab Driver”, “All the Critics Love U in New York” and “International Lover” show the breadth of Prince’s songwriting skills and unusual sense of humor. “Lady Cab Driver” is the most sexually charged song on the album, famous for the mid-song interlude where Prince and his lady cab driver lover have noisy sex. During this interlude, Prince dedicates each of his thrusts to some sort of personal or social issue, essentially working out all of his frustrations. I am aware of the therapeutic benefits of a good lay, but this had to be one of the very first ever put onto a pop record. For those wondering, Jill Jones, a Prince protégé and backup singer for many of “1999’s” tracks is the female voice squealing in delight during this intercourse interlude. Eventually Prince becomes more romantic and thoughtful with his dedications but by this time, the listener is definitely squirming in their seat if they are listening to the album in front of their parents, or in my case, in front of their kids. Thanks Prince!
Prince’s tongue is firmly in cheek throughout “All the Critics Love U in New York” and “International Lover” as he brags about how easy it is for a simple midwestern boy like himself to make it big in New York in the former and plays the role of both love pilot and airline entrepreneur on the latter. Prince uses transportation again as a metaphor for sex in “International Lover” while ensuring satisfaction on his Seduction 747.
While Prince’s previous release, “Controversy”, in many ways felt like an extension of “Dirty Mind”, “1999” was its own unique thing. The Minneapolis Sound was now fully formed and on display on this double album magnum opus from an artist completely in control of what he was doing in the studio. “1999” was entirely written, produced and performed by Prince with the only exceptions being the additional vocals previously noted and Dez’s “Little Red Corvette” guitar solo.
One point I wanted to make in regards to “1999” is how weird this album is. Let’s break down Prince’s odd creations song by song in order to support my stance as this being his most peculiar in a long, long list of peculiar releases.
1999 – The demonic sounding opening line about not wanting to hurt us as well as the notion that everyone is yelling “party” at the song’s conclusion despite the imminent destruction of the world as we know it is enough reason to chalk this one up to being a strange, kinda-depressing party track.
Little Red Corvette – Not a super strange track overall, but the fact there’s a line about a “pocket full of horses, trojans and some of them used” is enough to cause the listener to pause. What kind of woman keeps used condoms in her pocket? Plus the imagery of her keeping pictures of her “jockeys” around her house is a little creepy. I would guess this woman isn’t completely sane.
Delirious – Not as off as the previous two songs in terms of lyrics but Prince has to add some weirdness at the very end with that baby laugh. Why would a baby laugh at the end of a song about a man’s horny attraction to a female? Only Prince knows.
Let’s Pretend We’re Married – After he tells “Marsha” he wants to fuck the taste out of her mouth, but not in a nasty way mind you, he goes on a tangent about God and death. This aside comes totally out of left field considering what he had been singing about for the previous seven minutes. “Whatever you heard about me is true. I change the rules and do what I wanna do. I’m in love with God, he’s the only way, ’cause you and I know we gotta die someday. If you think I’m crazy, you’re probably right, but I’m gonna have fun every motherfuckin’ night. If you like to fight, you’re a double-drag fool. I’m goin’ to another life, how about you?” Also hippies are implored to sing “ooh-we-sha-sha-coo-coo-yeah” during the chorus. Is that weird enough for you?
D.M.S.R. – Another song with lyrics that aren’t inherently odd, with the exception of a line about Jamie Starr being a thief. Of course, Jamie Starr was Prince’s pseudonym that he used when writing and producing other artists music. Why he’s calling himself a thief in “D.M.S.R.” is unknown to me unless its an attempt to throw us off the scent. However, at the conclusion of a song about dancing, listening to music, having sex and getting involved in romantic relationships, a woman can be heard screaming “Help me, somebody please help me!” Maybe there can be too much of a good thing after all?
Automatic – As I previously mentioned, there are definite S&M undertones to this song as Prince & company utter the word “torture” more than once including the moment towards the song’s conclusion where Jill Jones and Lisa Coleman team up on him and
begin moaning as if they are the one’s being tortured. As they announce their painful intentions, both women sound cold and distant, as if their torture of Prince is something that was programmed into their software and they are only following the user prompts. It’s definitely an odd mental image that comes to life in the long, strange music video created for this song that never saw any MTV airplay (obviously).
Something in the Water (Does Not Compute) – The instrumentation itself starts out bizarrely enough with its stuttering drum track combined with off-kilter keys. Then Prince drops an opening line that only Prince can get away with. “Some people tell me I got great legs. Can’t figure out why you make me beg.” As Prince gets more and more desperate throughout the song, he eventually does one of his epic screams then proclaims, “Bitch, you think you’re special? So do I.”
Free – There’s nothing inherently weird or strange about this song except for maybe the opening sounds which are vague yet familiar enough to be just about anything the listener wants them to be. I always thought it sounded like soldiers marching but I’ve heard lots of theories over the years about what it’s supposed to represent, so I can’t be certain. Whatever Prince was trying to convey by including those sounds prior to the piano kicking in is one of those audio mysteries. As for the song proper, some might consider Prince’s sincerity while singing lines like “Be glad that you are free. Free to change your mind. Free to go most anywhere anytime.” as being a bit odd. It’s a great sentiment but its an interesting choice for an album filled with Prince in a submissive and yearning mode, transportation as sex metaphors, and robo-funk synths and guitars. The ending of “Free” is fucking gorgeous though, and that’s not weird at all.
Lady Cab Driver – Geez, where to start. How about the entire portion of the song that starts at the 3:10 mark and ends at 4:28 where Prince audibly fucks the LCD and spouts off lines like “this is for the cab you have to drive for no money at all” and “this is for why I wasn’t born like my brother, handsome and tall”? Eventually, Prince’s anger mellows throughout the encounter and by the time it’s done, he’s gotten all new-agey and starts dedicating his thrusts to “the wind that blows, no matter how fast or slow”. Also, I swear there’s an elephant sound at 6:44 minute mark. Why?
All the Critics Love U in New York – There’s so many little touches in this song that make it weird. The robotic, hypnotic beat. The way Prince talk-sings the verses in a monotone voice. The lyrics, which are sharp as nails as he calls out hipsters 30 years before “Portlandia” made it ok. Prince’s continued disdain for hippies. He implores them to “take a bath”, which is always sound advice whether you’re a hippie or not. All of this is weird but nothing in the song beats the line just before the 5 minute mark where a police siren synth comes in and Prince announces over what is likely meant to sound like a APB call, “Yes, we’re certain of it. He’s definitely masturbating”.
International Lover – The whole song is a tongue-in cheek lark and Prince uses every airplane, air travel metaphor/double entendre in the book and then some. This is likely what Beck was listening to while writing and recording his own Prince-homage slow jam “Debra” for the “Midnight Vultures” album in 1999. “International Lover” certainly is the blueprint for the so ridiculous it’s brilliant R&B slow jam sub-genre. “In the event there is over excitement, your seat cushion may be used as a floatation device.” “We are now making our final approach to satisfaction. Please bring your lips, your arms, your hips
into the upright and locked position.” Jesus. Every line in this song cracks me up.
“Welcome to Satisfaction
Please remain awake until the aircraft has come to a complete stop
Thank you for flying Prince International
Remember, next time you fly, fly the International Lover”
Memory Bank Withdrawal
“1999” era Prince was my first introduction to his music and as a result I will always have a special fondness for this album and especially the singles that I heard at a very impressionable age. My sister, who is 5 years older than me, had bought two of Prince’s 7″ singles (we called them 45’s back then) in 1983, which were “Little Red Corvette” and “1999”. I was always very excited, as an 8 year old music fan, to see what kind of stuff she’d bring home. I didn’t have the money to buy my own music so I was reliant on pop radio and the singles she’d buy in order to listen to new music. I was immediately enthralled with the sound of both of these songs but at the time I recall thinking “Prince” was the name of a band, not a person. I was even more confused by the cover image used for the 45 of “1999” which included a super airbrushed photo of Prince looking as pretty as Little Richard. However, I distinctly heard multiple voices singing the verses and the chorus, including a woman (turns out it was two women, Lisa Coleman and Jill Jones). Who were all of these people and why did only one of the men in the band get the solo cover photo? My sister eventually corrected me that Prince was in fact a person, the lead singer, and it made more sense once I heard “Little Red Corvette”. I still didn’t know anything about him or his band and it would be another year at least before I would finally see the music videos for these songs after we moved and got cable television.
After this initial discovery period, I heard Prince’s songs on the radio more and more, eventually including “Delirious” as well and my ears always perked up a bit when his music would come on. There was something about the way the songs were written, delivered and performed that struck me in a way that very few artists, with the exception of maybe “Thriller”-era Michael Jackson could compete with. Even though I didn’t really know it at the time and it would take me another year until “When Doves Cry” was unleashed upon us, Prince was THE one. He was so different, so intriguing, that anything he did from 1983 on, was going to get my full attention. It would take me a few years after its release and initial success before I would have the chance to listen to the “1999” album in its entirety. This probably wasn’t a bad thing considering the adult nature of many of the song’s lyrics and the fact I was only 8 years old when it was at its peak popularity. Once I got ahold of the entire album in the late 80s and began listening to it, all 70 minutes of it, more times than I can count, it quickly became one of my favorite albums of all time. Partly for nostalgic reasons, but mostly because “1999” is a brilliant piece of pop. I never grow tired of its funky, sexy, long, weird songs. “1999” is forever, and not just a year on a calendar that has long passed us by.
My order of preference for “1999” tracks from most favorite to least favorite with personal ratings next to them.
- Little Red Corvette 5/5
- 1999 5/5
- Delirious 5/5
- Let’s Pretend We’re Married 5/5
- D.M.S.R. 5/5
- Automatic 5/5
- Something in the Water (Does Not Compute) 5/5
- Lady Cab Driver 5/5
- All the Critics Love U In New York 5/5
- International Lover 4.5/5
- Free 4.5/5
Overall Score: 5/5