At this point, simply calling Prince “prolific” doesn’t really add much to his already well-established narrative. By August 1982, at the age of 24, Prince had already released 4 solo albums as well as co-writing, producing and playing most instruments for The Time’s 1981 self title debut. On top of that, he had another Time album, What Time Is It?, weeks away from release as well as a mere 2 months until his own 5th album, the double-LP, 1999 would see the light of day. However, a man that had so many musical ideas bubbling around in his brain that he needed to create several pseudonyms and side projects to ensure they could all be heard, would rarely be creatively satisfied.
Enter Denise Matthews aka Vanity, Brenda Bennett and Susan Moonsie. Prince would dub this trio of women, Vanity 6. He originally considered calling the band “The Hookers” and Matthews would go by the name “Vagina”, but that idea quickly and mercifully died. While the idea and primary creative direction of the band was Prince’s, he enlisted several members of his own band as well at The Time to help write and perform songs that would end up on Vanity 6’s one and only album.
At the time of release, the writing and producing credits would go entirely to The Starr Company, which is code for Jamie Starr, which is code for Prince. As we’ve established in the years after its release, Prince did get some help from others in his camp. Dez Dickerson wrote “He’s So Dull” and The Time band members Jesse Johnson (“Bite the Beat”) and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (“If A Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)”) are co-writers of tracks on the album as well.
How does one describe Vanity 6 as a concept? Imagine a 16 year old boy’s fantasies about how women talk to each other and how forward they are about sexual matters. You’re essentially imagining a locker room/sleepover scenario where the women can brag about their sexual conquests and gripe about boys/men that are “dull” or don’t have the right physical traits to satisfy them. All while simultaneously building up the boys/men in their periphery through come ons (“do it baby, drive me wild”) and compliments (“he’s the number one star of my wet dream”). There’s even a song, “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)” that is essentially a cat-fight between two “women” (one is actually voiced by Prince) fighting over the affections of a man. Another song, “Make Up”, comes off like a bratty entitled princess delaying a date with her man while she primps and prepares for him (“I wanna look good for you”).
Do real women talk like this? Sure. Do boys (and men for that matter) wish women talked like the women of Vanity 6 more often and consistently? Possibly. Prince must have, since the risque content and double entendres that fill much of this album’s running time were likely crafted from his pen. Here’s just a sample.
- “If you ain’t scared, take it out.” – Nasty Girl
- “I need 7 inches or more.” – Nasty Girl
- “Get it up, get it up. I can’t wait anymore.” – Nasty Girl
- “He could deliver the dam to the river anytime.” – Wet Dream
- “I’m a brand new convertible child. I’ve never been driven baby, you’re the first.” – Drive Me Wild
- “Bite the beat of a star. Don’t worry, you’ll still be dignified. It tastes like caviar.” – Bite the Beat
As a concept, the Vanity 6 album comes across more like a PG-13 Penthouse Forum of come-ons, double entendres, and cat-calls. The album straddles the line between the traditional gender roles that women have been confined to for centuries along with an ’80s empowered, sexually aggressive modern woman perspective. In this way, Vanity 6 flips the script on the well worn narrative that “men are dogs” by allowing the women of Vanity 6 to be the sexual aggressors. Primarily designed to make teenage boys (and men) horny.
Nasty Girl (5/5) – The album’s best and most well-known track. A legit jam with Vanity on lead vocals. The epitome of Vanity’s cooler-and-waaaay-more-experienced-than-you persona.
“Wake me when you’re done.” Daaaaamn!!!
Wet Dream (3.5/5) – Another fun, Vanity led song about how hot “he” (Could she be talking about you?) makes her. Can women have wet dreams? According to Prince, and science, they can. It was the first and maybe only time I’ve ever heard the term “wet dream” in response to a woman’s sexual arousal during sleep.
“Number one start of my wet dream.” What straight man doesn’t want to hear those words coming out of the mouth of one of the hottest women on the planet?
Drive Me Wild (3.5/5) – Susan is the lead vocal on this track, but her vocal style is more spoken word than actual singing. Coquettish lyrics accompanied by a well known cyber-melody that fits Susan’s cool as ice vocals.
“I may be young, but I’m a whole lotta fun.” Are we talking jailbait young? No? Whew, ok……
He’s So Dull (3/5) – Girl-group pop cheese where Vanity complains how about lame a boy is because he’s a mama’s boy that doesn’t even wear blue jeans. If this boy is so dull, why does she care so much? Also, what the hell is going on at the song’s finish? Only the music video provides any sort of clue.
“He’s always reading science magazines.” Oh Vanity, soon the geeks will inherit the earth.
If A Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up) (4.5/5) – Easily the funniest song on the album, with Prince acting as borderline acceptable female foil to Vanity’s put upon girlfriend who is just looking for a ride to a party. Brenda provides back-up to her girl after Prince lays on the insults a bit too heavy.
“Hey tramp, take a bath in puke.” Just one of many, many lines meant to slaughter the competition. Jimmy better be damn fine to incite this high level of cat-fighting.
Make-Up (4/5) – Notable as the lone Vanity 6 song to make the cut for Prince’s Originals album released last summer. Susan expertly affects the bratty robo-chick voice over an electro beat that really is a stunner.
“Smoke a cigarette. I’m not ready yet.” Brutal.
Bite the Beat (3.5/5) – Brenda encourages her man to finally provide her the oral pleasures she so greatly craves in this covertly nasty new-wave track.
“No more wet dreams for Brenda.” Amen, girl.
3 x 2 = 6 (2.5/5) – The only real ballad on the album does not exactly play on what I would consider Vanity’s strength. Vocally or lyrically. A relatively weak ending to a pretty good album overall.
“My made up name is Vanity cuz a girl’s best friend is her pride.” You said it, Denise. R.I.P.
So that’s the story. Vanity 6 only recorded one album with this line-up as Vanity’s time in the Prince camp ended in 1983 after talks to have her co-star in the soon to be filmed Purple Rain ended. Matthews was replaced by Patricia Kotero, aka Apollonia and Apollonia 6 was born. However, Vanity 6 did create one memorable album for us to listen to and enjoy and Prince showed his skill at creating a raunchy, funky, danceable & fun record sung from a woman’s perspective.