Starting with the 1999 era, Prince began delivering stellar, unique, and memorable B-sides for his hit singles. I reviewed all of these 1999 era B-sides, including the “Little Red Corvette” 12″ remix here: High Speed Dub Review: Prince’s 1999 Era B-Sides and 12″ Remixes. Now it’s time for me to tackle the next album era, Purple Rain.
1999 is the album many Prince fans consider his best B-side era, mainly due to the two massively popular songs that accompanied two of the biggest hits from the record, “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” These B-sides were initially found on the flip side of the vinyl 7″ & 12″ singles, occasionally played on radio stations that weren’t strictly adhering to A-side selections, and then eventually on CD and cassette format on The Hits and B-Sides collection released in 1993. More recently, these tracks can be found on the deluxe edition release of Purple Rain in 2017.
17 Days (The rain will come down, then U will have 2 choose. If U believe look 2 the dawn and U shall never lose.) – So this must be this inspiration for Fiona Apple’s exceedingly long album titles. No one calls the B-side to “When Doves Cry” by its full name, but that doesn’t make any difference when discussing its merits. It is my personal favorite Prince B-side of all time, which is high praise considering the other selections available for me to chose from. This track has that special something, from the opening guitar swirl to the thumping drums, from the poppy synth hook with Wendy & Lisa’s vocals underneath it (“Ha, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, seventeen days”) to the chorus that everyone can sing along to (“let the rain come down, let the rain come down, down”).
The music is so catchy and upbeat sounding that you almost forget that lyrically speaking, “17 Days” is so downbeat and a tad depressing in its tale of love lost. The line, “all I’ve got is two cigarettes, and this broken heart of mine,” is one of the iconic lines of Prince’s discography. As far as anyone has documented, Prince never smoked, not that you have to write lyrics that mirror your exact lifestyle. There are many emo punks and rappers that would have very few interesting things to say if that was the case. This particular line makes much more sense when you think of “17 Days” as possibly being written for Brenda Bennett, who was always known as the tough chick in Vanity 6/Apollonia 6 and often photographed holding a cigarette.
I am usually drawn to angst-ridden Prince songs more than the overly happy ones, but I love how many of the upbeat Prince songs sound, even if the lyrics can sometimes bore me. This song is the best of both worlds for me, and it’s just a damn good song. When I want a personal pick-me-up, I listen to a bit of a downer song. Go figure.
Erotic City (Make Love Not War Erotic City Come Alive) – The B-side to the second #1 hit released from Purple Rain, “Let’s Go Crazy,” is, without a doubt, the most notorious of the bunch. Prince and Sheila E. channel George Clinton’s P-Funk style while singing about a sexual utopia where they can fuck (or “funk,” if you believe a much more pious Sheila decades later) until the dawn. Prince’s sex as salvation motif seemed to reach its zenith with this track. Futuristic. Funky. Vulgar. Did I say funky?
Growing up, I had a couple of neighborhood friends that were into Prince as much as I was, and one of them owned a little record player and the 45 to “Let’s Go Crazy.” One day while at his house, we were huddled around his record player in his bedroom, listening to “Erotic City” with mouths agape. Was that the F-word? Holy cow (or likely “holy shit,” since we were at that South Park age when curse words were used just because). I think it is! Two of my friends were confident they were saying “fuck”; however, I was doubtful. There’s no way they could get away with saying the F-word on a song, I said. It has to be “funk” or something else that sounds like the F-word. I couldn’t fathom how Prince could get away with it. I had not heard the entirety of the 1999 album at this time, with its explicit use of the F-word on “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” or else it would have been apparent to me what was said. The song sounded too salacious. So raw. So…dirty. The answer was right in front of me, but my nine-year-old self couldn’t accept the possibility. My friend’s parents accepted that possibility as they must have overheard, so they promptly confiscated the record shortly after. In 1984, the erotic city had not yet come alive for me. Also, no one ever called this song by its full name either.
God – “Purple Rain’s” B-side attempts to be a spiritual successor to its massively popular A-side, but it doesn’t quite reach the same emotional and creative highs. One could blame the simple Bible-quoting lyrics (“God made you, God made me”) or the music, a quiet, reflective piano/synth performance. I mostly blame Prince’s “speaking in tongues” vocal delivery for “God’s” lack of crossover impact. The odd vocal clicks and squeals make for exciting listening, but also a polarizing one. Not to mention that “God” barely qualifies as a song, at least from a traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge structure standpoint. I can imagine many fans of “Purple Rain” flipping the record over, eager to hear a new Prince composition and to wonder WTF this was. I’ve grown to appreciate this song for what it is, Prince’s very blatant declaration of religious belief, but it’s not one I return to regularly.
Another Lonely Christmas – As the B-side to “I Would Die 4 U” (IWD4U), conveniently released as a single in time for the 1984 holiday season, “Another Lonely Christmas” (ALC) is a fun (as much fun as a song about mourning the death of a girlfriend on Christmas can be), bluesy track. It would have made more sense to put “Baby I’m a Star” as the B-side to IWD4U since the two songs are forever linked by the album’s tracklisting and placement in the film. Alas, “Baby…” was included as the B-side to the album’s final released single, “Take Me With U,” and as I already mentioned, the timing of the IWD4U release made this song an obvious B-side choice.
Often forgotten about when discussing Prince’s classic ’80s B-sides, ALC might suffer a bit from its slow musical delivery and repetitive song structure. However, Prince’s lyrics, filled with humorous details about his time with the doomed lover (“remember when we swam naked in your father’s pool”) and references to playing Pokeno and drinking banana daiquiris, elevate it enough to be a standout. Prince also delivers the lyrics very effectively and puts a ton of emotion into a song that is, for all measures, fictional. It’s a song that should be played at least once a year. I recommend the 12″ version with the extra verse that provides a bit more explanation to Prince’s annual banana daiquiris benders.
Let’s Go Crazy (Special Dance Mix) – Also known as the version we hear in the movie AND the version that should have been on the album. Thankfully, Warner Bros had the good sense to include this seven-and-a-half-minute dance mix of “Let’s Go Crazy” on the 12″ release. It’s brilliant; after all, it’s one of Prince’s most beloved and well-known songs. The added instrumental breakdown allows the song a chance to breathe and for listeners to engage with the spectacular groove for much longer. It’s the antithesis of the scrunched-up radio edit (which I sort of despise). If you don’t like this version of “Let’s Go Crazy,” you must hate having fun.
I Would Die 4 U (Extended Version) – The extended version for this top 10 pop hit wasn’t a simple remix or extended jam, but instead a Purple Rain tour rehearsal recording along with the Revolution and Sheila E and her band. It has a different sound, more organic (obviously) musically but more muted, lyrically. Prince’s vocals are not as loud in the mix, and he almost mumbles the lines at times. This was likely done as a means to save his voice for the actual shows. The main highlight of this over 10-minute version is the improvisational vibe given off and directions handed out by Prince. It provides the listener the feeling of listening to a soundcheck or even being present at The Warehouse in St. Louis Park. Isn’t that what we all want? To witness greatness while it’s being created?
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