Prince – Lovesexy (1988)

Prince frames his left nipple so perfectly here.

Prince’s Lovesexy, also known as “the album where Prince is naked on the cover,” indeed came about quickly. Primarily recorded in a two-month burst from December 1987 and January 1988, Lovesexy was the response to Prince’s “spooky electric” period in late 1987. There’s been speculation about what caused this period of darkness and despair. Still, the bottom line is that Prince recorded an album that he turned into Warner Bros. in anticipation for a 1988 release as the follow-up to Sign O’ the Times, one of his most critically acclaimed albums of his career. As this album was tentatively called, The Black Album was funky and dance-able, but it also dealt with heavy subjects, harsh language, and dark imagery. 

Lovesexy tour promotional photo.

Something in Prince snapped back into focus, and The Black Album was pulled from distributors before wide release. Instead, he wanted his next album to have a positive, spiritual message. Something that would fit in with his current ideology and match the image he wanted to present to the world. That album would be Lovesexy. Love is God. God is Love. 

In the world of Lovesexy, God, spirituality, and sex were all intertwined to create the ultimate positive movement. Imagine treating sex as a religious experience or as a spiritual awakening! Lovesexy is a single-minded concept album where Prince rarely deviates from this central theme throughout the 45-minute run-time. In a quirky move, Prince chose to have all nine individual songs blend into one 45-minute long track. This means that you cannot skip from track to track on original CD pressings as a standard CD would allow. There would not be identifiable marks on the initial vinyl release where you could place the needle to listen to a specific song. Later CD and vinyl pressings dispatched this concept, but the idea was clear. Prince wanted Lovesexy to be an experience taken from beginning to end.

Prince and his blue angel guitar.

Lovesexy is also one of the most ambiguous albums of Prince’s career. Reading through the lyrics is like playing a game of “Guess the hidden meaning.” Here’s an example of some of the more cryptic lines.

“Heavy feather, flicka nipple. Baby scam water ripple.” – “Glam Slam”

“Gregory looks just like a ghost and then a beautiful girl the most.” – “Anna Stesia”

“I can tell you that I can just smell you and race cars burn rubber in my pants.” – “Lovesexy”

“Call People magazine, Rolling Stone. Call your next of kin, cause your ass is gone. He’s got a 57 mag with the price tag still on the side. Cuz’ when Spooky say dead, you better say died.” – “Positivity”

Sure, these lyrics are taken out of context when isolated but trust me when I say they don’t always make sense in context either.

Another Lovesexy promotional tour photo. 

In my opinion, Lovesexy is one of the more underrated Prince albums of his 80s cannon. It has a great mixture of upbeat danceable yet rock-influenced pop tracks while in many ways coming across as gospel music filtered through the Prince lens. At times, the album even seems like it would fit into an experimental musical category, not just from the lyrical content already described but also how the songs are structured and performed. Prince uses multiple voices, odd choruses, heavy multi-tracking vocals, and disjointed musical stabs that come and go seemingly at random (but not, of course, because it’s Prince). It’s possible that this experimental aspect kept Lovesexy from becoming a huge commercial hit in the United States, OR it could be due to Prince’s cover art nudity. 

The back cover of the Lovesexy album.

Prince doesn’t rely as heavily on his “Lovesexy Band” for this record as he did for the Sign O’ the Times album, specifically the horn section of Atlanta Bliss and Eric Leeds. Their presence is still felt on the tracks like “Eye No” and “Lovesexy,” but overall, it feels very much like an album Prince recorded himself. Sheila E, Cat Glover, and Bonnie Boyer continue their impressive contributions to the Prince oeuvre during this era, as well as Miko Weaver, Levi Seacer Jr, and Dr. Fink bringing the guitar and keyboard flourishes during the live performances. With that said, like many Prince albums, what we hear on the record is typically just Prince. Additional musical, vocal, or lyrical contributions are noted in the liners. 

Lovesexy is only nine tracks long, a much more concise effort than the double album expanse of Sign O’ the Times, and at times it feels even shorter due to how many of the songs flow together in the tracklisting. The album kicks off with “Eye No” and a spoken-word piece from Ingrid Chavez (“Rain is wet, sugar is sweet. Clap your hands and stomp your feet.”). The song contains horns-a-plenty and introduces the battle between Lovesexy and Spooky Electric. This battle can be interpreted as either a literal God vs. the Devil analogy or simply a good vs. evil, positivity vs. negativity, or even the righteous vs. the wicked. It’s a strong opener but far from the best track on the album.

The album’s only Billboard top 10 (or top 100 for that matter) single, “Alphabet St.,” comes next in the tracklisting. As with just about every song on the album, the true meaning of the song’s lyrics is not always easy to decipher. Is “Alphabet St.” a metaphor for oral sex? Is it a travelogue written for the Tennessee Department of Tourism? Is it (likely) something else entirely? Regardless of its meaning, “Alphabet St.” was a clear choice for a single even if the radio edit removes half of the song, most notably the Cat rap (“Cat! We need you to rap!”). The guitar lick is catchy enough to catapult this strange song into the top 10 of the pop charts. No small feat!

“Glam Slam,” the next track on the album, was also released as a single but didn’t fare as well as “Alphabet St.” “Glam Slam” is the first Prince single to not chart on the Billboard Hot 100 since the Controversy era, seven years and six albums prior. I guess you could say that Lovesexy was the start of Prince’s chart decline, although there would be obvious peaks still to come. “Glam Slam” brings the fun and funk while Prince utilizes sex/religion metaphors again but in a manner that is about as far away from “in your face” as you can get. This is one of the most cryptic songs on the album, even though it’s evident that the term “glam slam” is derived from the phrase “Wham bam, thank you, ma’am.” What this has to do with religion/spirituality isn’t clear, but I guess that Prince liked the phrase “glam slam,” so he made it work. So much so that it ended up becoming the name of his 90s Minneapolis nightclub. Prince makes no effort to clear up what he is talking about, but the music makes it, so it doesn’t matter. The music video gets bonus points for using the Lovesexy tour set.

Side 1 (on the LP and cassette) ends with “Anna Stesia,” yet another play on words (anesthesia, Anastasia), where Prince gets about as close to creating a hymn or gospel track as he’s ever gotten up to this point. The song itself is beautiful and uplifting, regardless of if you’re deeply religious, deeply spiritual, none of the above, or somewhere in between. “Anna Stesia” is also memorable for its chorus of “Love is God, God is love. Girls and boys, love God above.” When the song’s epic conclusion kicks in, it creates a euphoric moment and perfect ending to a side 1.

Prince changes gears for the opening track on the album’s second side. “Dance On” is an extremely jittery, spastic song where Prince insists we dance on when societal ills such as drugs, gangs, war, etc., have gotten us down. This is not an uncommon Prince theme (e.g., “Partyup,” “1999”) that I feel was done more effectively elsewhere. It’s an exciting track, musically speaking, but I think the lyrics are some of the weakest on the album. It’s not a bad song, just not a personal favorite.

Sheila E, Prince, Cat Glover on Lovesexy tour.

The album’s title track, “Lovesexy,” brings the energy to a boil for this super ambitious and somewhat lengthy song. Prince burns rubber in his pants (don’t ask) over the feeling of lovesexy. He expertly straddles the line yet again between spiritual and sexual expression. The song is a bit meandering, especially towards the end when Prince incorporates a manipulated voice, going from high to low and everywhere in between, to seduce lovesexy in a litany of hilarious metaphors. “Lovesexy” remains one of my favorites on the album for its sheer audacity.

After that epic and extremely memorable title track, Prince expertly segues into “When 2 R in Love,” the only survivor from The Black Album. This is a gorgeous ballad that fits in much better with the sound and themes of Lovesexy than it did in its aborted original release. For the song’s chorus, Prince implores his lover to bathe with him, which after several uses of this type of imagery, one can only conclude that bathing with Prince = serious commitment! I really love this song from how it’s structured to the pseudo chorus and the sentiment. 

The album’s penultimate track, “I Wish U Heaven,” was also the third and final single from the album, which like “Glam Slam” before it, did not chart on the Billboard Hot 100. This lack of pop chart success is unfortunate because “I Wish U Heaven” is a charming multi-purpose sort of ballad that can be used as a form of expression about religion, relationships, or simply a dear friend or family member. Prince wishes only positivity and blessings to U….or heaven as the case may be. Thanks, Prince!

Mark me present for the bouncy album closer, “Positivity.” The song strives and succeeds in creating a catchy summary of Lovesexy’s overarching narrative. “Have U had your + sign today?” Despite the song’s name, Prince goes dark on this track in his efforts to express what Spooky Electric will do to you if you let negativity take over your life. He even utilizes a vocal style change when sing-speaking about Spooky Electric, briefly turning into it to drive home the point. Don’t worry, though; it’s not voodoo, witchcraft, or devil worship! It’s only Prince and his teachings about lovesexy. Love. Sex. God. Spirituality. Peace. Prince.

Memory Bank Withdrawal

My vinyl collection of Lovesexy era album and singles, including both 7″ & 12″ versions of “Alphabet St.,” “Glam Slam,” and “I Wish U Heaven.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of memories of this era of Prince outside of hearing “Alphabet St.” on the radio and maybe seeing the music video a few times on MTV. At this point, I was used to seeing a new Prince album in the stores every year, and 1988 wasn’t any different. Of course, Lovesexy’s release was talked about more than a typical Prince release, not due to the music but due to the album cover. Oh, that album cover. Prince had posed nearly nude for the cover of Dirty Mind 8 years earlier, so going all the way to 100% naked for the Lovesexy album cover shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise to anyone paying attention to his career. Nevertheless, it still shocked me as a 13-year-old music fan.

The author/podcaster with his Lovesexy vinyl and untracked CD.

Looking back, I think I now understand what Prince was trying to convey by posing nude on the cover of Lovesexy. I believe that he wanted to express vulnerability and a willingness to expose himself physically and emotionally as a show of spiritual awakening. Unfortunately, the public only saw a naked man superimposed over a flower with an album title called Lovesexy and assumed it was just Prince being dirty and provocative for shock value. Possibly even seen as a desperate effort to jump-start what was a slowly declining commercial career. Only the most devoted of Prince fans in 1988 could see past the flesh and get to the soul of the message. Unfortunately, I was too young and immature to embrace this new Prince, and while I enjoyed “Alphabet St.” tremendously at the time, I wasn’t ready for Lovesexy. Now I am.

My order of preference of Lovesexy tracks from most favorite to least favorite with personal ratings next to them.

  1. Alphabet St.  5/5
  2. Anna Stesia  5/5
  3. Lovesexy 5/5
  4. When 2 R in Love  4/5
  5. I Wish U Heaven  4/5
  6. Positivity  4/5
  7. Glam Slam  3.5/5
  8. Eye No  3.5/5
  9. Dance On  3/5

Overall Score: 4.1/5

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Press Rewind – Prince Lyrics Podcast: Lovesexy

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