Roundup: 1999, 1982

Roundup: 1999, 1982

(Featured Image: Prince’s mockup collage cover for 1999, of which only the title made the final cover; © the Prince Estate, stolen from NPG Underground.)

In case you missed it, yesterday I finally closed the book on the 1999 era for dance / music / sex / romance (well, almost… I still plan to write “bonus tracks” posts on “Vagina,” “Colleen,” “You’re All I Want,” and “Money Don’t Grow on Trees” for Patreon readers in the near future). This was the blog’s biggest undertaking to date: comprising 33 track posts and three albums, and taking almost 16 months from the first post (“International Lover,” way back in November of 2018!) and the last. As you know, I can be pretty tough on myself; but right now, I’m letting myself take some pride in what I’ve accomplished.

1999, as I’ve mentioned a few times before, is one of my favorite Prince albums; on a good day, it may even be number one, and it’s certainly near the top of my favorites by any artist. I won’t be so arrogant as to claim that I’ve done this masterpiece justice with 11 blog posts, but I sure as hell tried my best; so here they are now, in ascending order of my favorite tracks:

11. “Free” No surprises here, I’m guessing; I was pretty rough on “Free” in my original post, and it’s still the song I’m likeliest to skip when I’m listening to 1999 on a skip-heavy format. It ain’t so bad, really–any song as weird as this one is hard for me to outright hate–but it’s the weak point on an otherwise near-perfect album.

10. “International Lover This ranking I feel a bit guiltier about, because “International Lover” really is a lot of fun: a chance for Prince to be sexy and silly in more or less equal measure, all while showing off his increasingly virtuosic vocals. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the live-in-the-studio first take on 1999 Super Deluxe, complete with barely-suppressed giggles by Prince and little-known session drummer Morris Day.

9. “Lady Cab Driver” This isn’t going to get any easier, is it? Before you send me hate mail, know that I adore “Lady Cab Driver”–it’s just the textbook definition of an album track, there to add mood and menace (and, yes, a fair amount of funk) to the back half of 1999. If you’re wondering what I thought about “Rearrange,” one of the highlights of the Super Deluxe set, this post answers that question, too.

8. Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)” Another of those moody disc two tracks: indispensable to 1999’s dystopian atmosphere, but not the first thing that comes to mind when I’m looking for a single track to play. I gave this the edge over “Lady Cab Driver” for the new life it took on in concert; see the long list of live reinterpretations at the end of the post.

7. “D.M.S.R. It should tell you just how high in my esteem 1999 is as an album when the song I named my blog after doesn’t even make the top 50%. A great dance track, and an even better repository of weird little details: from “Jamie Starr’s a thief!” to Lisa’s blood-curdling scream for help.

6. All the Critics Love U in New York” I know I might get some flack for ranking this above “D.M.S.R.” (and “Something in the Water,” and…), but “All the Critics” needs the boost. It’s a seriously underrated snapshot of Prince at the cutting edge, a pitch-perfect homage to Detroit techno while the genre was still in its infancy.

5. Delirious” As an avowed fan of Rockabilly Prince, who am I to deny the subgenre’s peak? “Delirious” may be 1999 at its most ’80s-dated, but I defy anyone to listen and not walk away with those damn keyboards stuck in your head.

4. “Automatic” My favorite of 1999’s darker, weirder second half, and maybe even the peak of New Wave Prince (another of my personal favorites, as readers are no doubt aware). If I had to pick a single track to explain why 1999 speaks to me personally–not the best or the most important song, but the one that scratches my own particular, deeply subjective itch–“Automatic” might be it.

3. Let’s Pretend We’re Married …Or, it might be this one. “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” is the album’s strongest showing for Dirty Prince, with his late-song monologue containing the most explicit language on the record; but for my money, the dirtiest thing about the track is the chugging, pumping bass-synth line, a retro-futuristic approximation of the world’s creakiest bedsprings.

2. “1999” Honestly, just call it a tie for first place. I’ve already expended a little over 4,700 words on “1999”–my longest single post to date!–so today, I’ll just say that the album version is a totally different beast from the radio edit: freakier, funkier, and still totally vital, even with the year 1999 (never mind the song) over 20 years in the rear-view mirror. Accept no substitutes.

1. Little Red Corvette” Look, I’ve said before, my tastes as a Prince fan are pretty basic; and why not, since his biggest mainstream hits were as inventive as most artists’ avant-garde? “Little Red Corvette” may be the normie’s choice for best track on 1999, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that it’s a fucking masterwork: as much a work of literature as it is an exemplar of pop songcraft. To paraphrase my appearance on Jason Breininger’s Press Rewind podcast, if “Little Red Corvette” doesn’t outlast us all on this planet, then the planet was overrated anyway.


As you can see, the tag cloud has held pretty steady since our last round-up in October; the most significant drop-off is “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”, which appears to have been replaced by, of all things, “Jack U Off” (I suspect we can blame the aforementioned Press Rewind podcast for that). Meanwhile, to presumably no one’s surprise, my posts on 1999 had the highest average word count of an album to date: 1,964, compared to 1,758 for Controversy, 1,653 for Dirty Mind, 1,383 for Prince, and 1,379 for For You.

So, what’s next? In terms of the main blog, it’s on to Purple Rain; I’ll be starting that chapter with “Baby, I’m a Star.” As noted above, I’m also tying up some loose ends from the 1999 era with Patreon-exclusive posts in the near future; and, speaking of Patreon, it’s past time that I wrote my first patron-requested post: an alternate-timeline scenario requested by Darling Nisi, which handily will help set up the Purple Rain era. Finally, speaking of Nisi, I’ve already recorded a long-belated Dirty Mind podcast with her and Harold Pride, which I’ll be putting up (first for patrons, and then for everyone) once I’ve finished editing it.

All of which is to say, there’s a lot in the pipeline; I just ask for your continued patience as I work on it. The international COVID-19 pandemic has injected a lot of instability into my day-to-day routine: I didn’t even have the chance to write on the blog that I would be presenting at the DM40GB30 symposium, originally scheduled for next month, before it was postponed until an undetermined later date. And while you might expect a self-imposed quarantine to be a boon for my productivity, the fact that I’ll also be juggling remote work with entertaining and educating a seven-year-old whose school has been shut down means that I’ll probably be spread thinner than usual. These are strange times, and I don’t know what is going to happen next. All I can promise is that I will keep writing, and I hope that you’ll keep reading, too.

In the meantime, here are those growing playlists. Bear with me on TIDAL, as I’m still adding tracks as of this writing:

Roundup: What Time is It?, 1982

Roundup: What Time is It?, 1982

(Featured Image: Morris Day checks his watch on the cover of What Time is It?, 1982; © Warner Bros.)

It’s been a much shorter time than usual since the last roundup post; I won’t pat myself on the back too hard, though, because this one has been a long time coming. Fortunately, the Time’s second album happens to be my favorite of their slender catalogue by a long shot: the perfect crystallization of the project’s lean, mean brand of Minneapolis funk, before the battle of wills between Prince and his reluctant protégés scuttled the whole enterprise. Here’s how I rank the tracks:

6. “Onedayi’mgonnabesomebody A trifle best remembered for its closing “We Don’t Like New Wave” chant (a raspberry blown in the direction of André Cymone), this nevertheless stands as proof that the Time were getting better: I’d take it over the worst of their first album any day.

5. “I Don’t Wanna Leave You My brain tends to lump together this one and “Oneday,” its fellow side-closer and filler track. But “I Don’t Wanna Leave You” actually gets stuck in my head once in a while, so it gets the edge.

4. “The Walk Deservedly considered a signature Time track, this still feels to me like a better comedy sketch than a song. As a comedy sketch, though, it’s the album’s–and maybe the Time’s–peak.

3. “Wild and Loose Yeah, the jailbait-baiting lyrics are a little icky, but that jackhammer of a rhythm guitar part gets me every time.

2. “777-9311 I’ll admit, this one dropped a bit in my esteem when I realized Prince had less to do with the drum programming than I originally thought. Still, props to Jellybean for actually figuring out how to play the damn thing.

1. “Gigolos Get Lonely Too Listening to the Time’s first album, who would have guessed that the best track on their second album would be a ballad? Certainly not me, and yet here we are. If you’re not sold, check out Prince’s original vocal track on this year’s Originals compilation and become a convert.

Not a tremendous number of changes to the tag cloud since last time–though “Sister” has made a belated appearance, most likely thanks to that episode of the Press Rewind podcast from a few months back. And for those keeping track, my What Time is It? posts averaged 1,377 words: about 40% more than I wrote for The Time, which is fair, because What Time is It? is just about a 40% better album.

A few quick updates before I sign off for the week: if you’re a Patreon supporter at the $5 level or above (or are willing to become one in the next couple of days), you can vote on the next song I cover. We’re still in a dead lock between “Horny Toad” and “Purple Music”–if no one breaks the tie by, say, Monday, I’ll have to break it myself. Also, as I noted yesterday, patrons can expect a review of Morris Day’s new autobiography sometime early-ish next week. And then, of course, we have The Beautiful Ones to look forward to in the next few weeks as well. There have certainly been worse times to be an amateur Prince scholar!

P.S. It seems I forgot to add the Spotify playlist link… oops! At some point I also intend to put my renewed TIDAL subscription to good use and bring back the playlist for that streaming service–probably not until next roundup post, though.

Roundup: Vanity 6, 1982

Roundup: Vanity 6, 1982

(Featured Image: Vanity 6 pose for Creem magazine, 1983; photo stolen from Lansure’s Music Paraphernalia.)

It’s been about nine months since the last time we completed an album around here–which, if nothing else, means that we’re just about keeping pace with Prince himself, who released Vanity 6 just under 10 months after his own Controversy. Let’s see if we can finish 1999 by October!

In the meantime, here’s how I rank the songs on Vanity 6:

7. “3 x 2 = 6 For the record, I don’t think this is a bad song; but I understand why a lot of Prince fans do. As I noted in my post last week, the arrangement is a bit of a slog, and Vanity’s karaoke-caliber vocals are, shall we say, an acquired taste. Still, the pathos of it all still draws me in.

6. “Wet Dream Another one that I actually like more than the consensus opinion, I think this one could have been a hit if Prince had given it to a stronger singer and kept the lyrics a little more PG-13. Also, any song that gives me a chance to reference Hokusai’s “Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” is okay by me. Also also, bonus points for “Wet Dream (Cousin),” a clip from the soundtrack for the most wholesome imaginary porno never filmed.

5. “Bite the Beat Maybe I should rank this below “Wet Dream,” but my enduring love for New Wave Prince means that I’m a sucker for that ersatz Farfisa. Besides, the song’s sexual forthrightness feels like the clearest evidence, save one obvious track, for the argument in my head about Vanity 6 serving as predecessors for today’s crop of hyper-explicit female rappers (cf. Cupcakke).

4. “Drive Me Wild I think I’m once again in the minority on this one, as I happen to prefer the other Susan Moonsie-fronted electro track on the album; I also know I’m in the minority for preferring the minimalist album track to the more conventionally funky–and much, much longer–12″ version. I guess I just feel like I have a lot of options when it comes to Prince’s extended robo-James Brown workouts; but if I want to hear him inventing electroclash, it’s basically this and…

3. “Make-Up Yup, that’s right, I’m the weirdo who was excited–almost to the exclusion of everything else on the album–to see this on the tracklist of last month’s Originals. And just for the record, it lived up to expectations. Fingers crossed that a Prince-sung version of “Drive Me Wild” comes out–either on an Originals-style compilation or, preferably, as part of an expanded Vanity 6 reissue–so I can reevaluate.

2. “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up) Whether or not you, like me, hear this song as a drag performance, I think most of us can agree that it’s a highlight of the album and one of the funniest songs in the extended Prince canon. Plus, that Terry Lewis bassline makes it a rare Vanity 6 song that actually sounds like it was performed by the Time.

1. “Nasty Girl Look, they can’t all be unorthodox choices. A classic is a classic, and if any song on Vanity 6 qualifies for that title, this is the one. I’d put “Nasty Girl” up against any Prince song from 1982–a claim I don’t make lightly, as the 1999 era is in strong contention for my all-time favorite.

With that, I hope that I’ve made my case for Vanity 6 as a worthy part of Prince’s early discography. It’s a scrappy, often sordid, borderline amateurish effort: a quick and (literally) dirty side project recorded mostly at home, with mostly nonprofessional singers, in a little over a month. But its scrappiness is key to its charm, and helps to make what could be a truly slick and exploitative enterprise feel, at minimum, genuine. I guess what I’m saying is, it may be smut, but at least it’s DIY artisinal smut.

Now, as we shift our focus to the other two albums Prince recorded in 1982, here’s a snapshot of the tag cloud:

The most significant addition is probably the Linn LM-1, which makes sense as we’re now firmly in Prince’s golden age for that particular instrument. Another interesting change to note: Sound 80 has officially fallen off the board, in favor of other recording locations–chiefly Sunset Sound, which we’ll be hearing about a lot more moving forward.

For my own reference as much as anything, I wrote about 1,269 words per post on Vanity 6; not too shabby for a side project, that’s only a little less than the 1,379 per post I wrote for For You and significantly more than the 833 per post I wrote for The Time.

It’s a short week for me with Fourth of July weekend looming, but thanks to supporters of the Patreon, I’m still committed to a post this week, and every other week moving forward! I will aim to publish my piece on “If It’ll Make U Happy” Wednesday. Meanwhile, my thanks to our newest patron, Anne Clark. If you’d like to join Anne and the 11 other supporters who have already jumped on board, please consider checking out the Patreon here. We’ve already reached our first goal–hence the guaranteed weekly posts–which means it’s time to start thinking about the second one. At the moment, I’ve said that if the Patreon reaches $100 a month I will go back to monthly podcast episodes, but I also know that that may not be what you all actually want. I plan on checking in with the patrons this week to determine whether or not that should be our next goal, so if you want to be part of that conversation, get your pledges in soon!

Meanwhile, though there haven’t been many changes due to Vanity 6 remaining out of print, here’s the Spotify playlist:

d / m / s / r Year Three in Review (and Patreon Announcement)

d / m / s / r Year Three in Review (and Patreon Announcement)

(Featured Image: “D.M.S.R.” U.K. 12″ label; © Warner Bros.)

On June 7, 2016, I launched this blog as a long-term writing project and, more importantly, as a way to process the inexplicable sense of loss I felt in the wake of my favorite artist’s passing. I often say that I’ve made less progress in these past three years than I would have liked, and that’s true; but on the other hand, there’s also no way for me to have predicted that I would still be doing this in three years, or–even more surprisingly–that people would actually want to read it.

That being said, let’s see what I accomplished since last June. My productivity did go up, though not as much as I wanted it to: I managed 26 posts–more than last year’s 20 but still significantly less than my first year’s 45. I had said I really wanted to get through more than two albums by this June, but I must have jinxed myself; in fact, I got through exactly two:

Controversy, 1981
Ephemera, 1979-1981

And, of course, this moderately increased writing productivity came at the cost of my putting the brakes on the d / m / s / r podcast. In 2017-2018, I put out 15 episodes, which makes me tired just thinking about it. Since then, I’ve done two, both from the latter half of 2018:

New Power: A Conversation with Takuya Futaesaku, Author of Words of Prince
Prince (1979) Revisited

All of which is to say, I want to do better, but I fear that I’m bumping up against my capacity for a pure labor of love. So, after three years and 91 posts, I’d like to propose an alternative arrangement: as of today, I’m launching a Patreon, which–if supported, obviously–will help me to justify the time I spend on d / m / s / r amidst my many other competing responsibilities.

Asking for money is something I’ve been mulling over for a long time, and I don’t take it lightly: I initially considered launching the Patreon around this time last year, but decided against it because I didn’t think the amount of work I had been producing justified the ask. I’m doing it now, in large part, because I want to help normalize the idea that people producing creative work–including music criticism–are compensated for their labor. The Patreon model has its flaws, but on the whole it seems like a reasonably fair way for readers to support writers whose work they enjoy–and, as paid freelance writing rapidly becomes as anachronistic a notion as pensions and other forms of traditional job security, I suspect it’s going to be something more of us will have to embrace moving forward.

At the same time, I also recognize that not everyone who reads d / m / s / r wants or is able to support me financially, so I want to assure you that I’m not about to put everything behind a paywall. After my 100th post, I will start making new posts Patreon-exclusive for a short time–say, a week–before sharing them with the public. Mostly, though, the Patreon will be a way for me to deliver more to the people who want it, while also allowing me to turn down other (paid) opportunities and focus on the stuff that, trust me, we would all rather I focus on.

There are other benefits, too: if there’s interest, bringing back the podcast on a more regular basis is one of my stretch goals. More enticingly, it’s long been a pipe dream for me to start revising my blog entries and putting them out in more permanent, tangible form (i.e., books). Once the Patreon hits a certain monthly level of support, I will be able to justify taking on such a time-intensive project. Obviously, if this idea becomes a reality, patrons will be thanked in the books and, if supporting at a certain level, will receive copies as they come out.

Just to make myself clear, I don’t plan to become wealthy or even financially solvent from the Patreon; I have never been under the illusion that writing about Prince will allow me to quit my day job or retire early. But let me put it this way: I have about 200 regular readers, and if every one chipped in a dollar a month, that $200 would make a big difference in my ability to make ends meet. So would half, or even a quarter of that amount–basically, if the Patreon can allow me to put even a couple more hours a week into this passion project, then it will be accomplishing what it’s supposed to. In return, you’ll be getting more regular blog posts, as well as more “ancillary” pieces for patrons: in the coming weeks, for example, I’ll have a review and some revised/updated posts around the new Originals compilation. And if that doesn’t appeal to you, hey, no harm done: you can keep reading without contributing a dime, and I’ll appreciate you every bit as much as I do now.

To everyone reading this–future patrons and others–thanks for making the first three years of d / m / s / r feel like a worthwhile endeavor. If you’re interested in finding out more about the Patreon, just click the link below or the one I’ll be adding to the left sidebar of the site. Otherwise, I’ll be back soon to put another notch on my “completed albums” tally for Vanity 6!

Patreon: dance / music / sex / romance