On Episode 36 of the Press Rewind – Prince Lyrics Podcast, I work through the lyrics to Prince’s massive hit single, “1999” off his equally massive double album of the same name. Have we learned anything from a song about fear of annihilation in the nearly 40 years since it’s recording? Not really….we could still all die any day.
“If I gotta die, I’m gonna listen to my body tonight”
If you thought Prince was a fearmonger on “Ronnie, Talk to Russia” and “Annie Christian,” then you clearly have not listened to “1999.” The title track and first single released off Prince’s fifth album in five years, it was a massive hit in 1983 and is one of a handful of songs that even people who don’t like Prince know.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the party atmosphere of the song, thanks to the vocal performances. Prince invites bandmates Lisa Coleman, Dez Dickerson, and Jill Jones to join him on vocals, rounding out the party vibe. This is the first time anyone other than Prince sings the opening line of one of his songs (“I was dreamin’ when I wrote this”). “1999” is also notable for being the first officially released Prince song use the word “purple” in the lyrics (“The sky was all purple, there were people running everywhere.”)
Each singer paints a chaotic and frightening picture in the listener’s minds as the song opens. However, Prince brings it all back home in the chorus.
“Two-thousand-zero-zero, party over. Oops, out of time. So tonight, I’m gonna party like it’s 1999.”
At this point, there’s no use in trying to explain the cultural significance this chorus has had since its release. You either get it, or you don’t. Seventeen years passed between 1982 and 1999. That titular year breathed life into the song when the new millennium loomed on the horizon. It was all over the radio, MTV, and in the public consciousness. Over 21 years have now passed since December 31, 1999, so to use the phrase “party like it’s 1999” likely dates the speaker as being well over 30 years old (at the youngest). The sentiment remains intact, however. I’m going to party like there is no tomorrow, because I may never wake up.
I spend some of the episode trying to get into Prince’s mind when he wrote the song. I cite the story that Bobby Z has told over the years, how Prince watched an HBO special about Nostradamus’ prediction about the end of the world. Layer on top of that experience, his skepticisms about human kind’s ability to survive the social ills taking place all around combined with the threat of a serious cold war (“mommy, why does everybody have a bomb”), and you have a party in the face of annihilation masterpiece. Listen in and be thankful that we’ve made it this far.
The goal of each episode of Press Rewind is to:
- Take a track by track look at the lyrical content of Prince’s discography
- Discuss my own interpretation of each song’s lyrics along with any guest I may have
- If submitted, discuss listener’s interpretations of each song’s lyrics
Thank you for joining me on this journey through Prince’s catalog!