Patreon Exclusive: So, Let’s Talk About That Sign “O” the Times Reissue

Patreon Exclusive: So, Let’s Talk About That Sign “O” the Times Reissue

(Featured Image: Cover art for the forthcoming Sign “O” the Times Super Deluxe Edition; photo by Jeff Katz, © Warner Bros./NPG Records.)

Last Thursday, after weeks of rumors and leaks, it finally became official: the next expanded reissue from Warner Bros. and the Prince Estate is Sign “O” the Times, and it’s a doozy: 8 CDs (13 LPs, for the wax-inclined) and a DVD covering the full breadth of Prince’s output from late 1985 to early 1987. I won’t be “officially” writing about this music until 2021 at the earliest (more on that later), but damned if I can’t share some preliminary thoughts about it now. Supporters on Patreon can read them now, disc by disc (and, in the case of the Vault discs, track by track):

Patreon Exclusive: “So, Let’s Talk About That Sign ‘O’ the Times Reissue”

Meanwhile, while I have you here, let me share that I am reasonably confident that the blog relaunch I’ve been working on will be ready by next week. This means, among other things, a return to regular posts in July. Thank you all for your patience during my extended leave of absence; I’ll have more to say next week, but for now, I’m excited to be back!

No Call U

No Call U

(Featured Image: Marilyn Monroe, Prince’s inspiration for protégée Jill Jones’ look, on the set of Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder, 1959; photo stolen from the Hollywood Revue.)

The months after Jill Jones formally joined Prince’s orbit were “one crazy blur,” she recalled in a recently-published interview with writer Miles Marshall Lewis. From the “spring of ‘82 all the way until July, we were pretty much in the studio daily,” working on the Time and Vanity 6 projects alongside his own fifth album. “And who knew what was going to end up where, with who, what. I was just ready for the ride” (Lewis 2020 “Part 1”). Initially, her role was strictly as a backing vocalist: providing support on the 1999 album and tour for both Prince and Vanity 6. But the Artist Formerly Known as Jamie Starr had grander plans: namely, turning his newest protégée into a star in her own right.

Not all of these plans went off without a hitch. Jones resisted Prince’s overtures to change her name to Elektra, after the recently-introduced Marvel Comics character; a decade later, that moniker would of course find a more willing beneficiary in Carmen Electra, née Tara Leigh Patrick (Lewis 2020 “Part 2”). But she did allow him to give her a makeover inspired by prototypical blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe: “Prince said I looked like every girl with long brown hair and I needed something to stand out,” she told Michael A. Gonzales for Wax Poetics. “He said, ‘When Vanity walks in a room, people know she’s a star. You need your own thing’” (Gonzales 2018 66). She got it. Jones–all platinum curls and red lips, artfully disheveled in black lingerie, a Marlene Dietrich naval cap, and Prince’s Dirty Mind-era trenchcoat–would steal every frame of the music video for “1999” she was in, providing a whole generation of woman-loving people (myself included) with their entrée into puberty. Nor, as Lewis observes, did it hurt that the mixed-race singer’s bottle blonde allowed her to pass as a “soulful white girl” during a critical moment in Prince’s pop crossover endgame (Lewis 2020 “Part 1”).

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Lust U Always (Divinity)

Lust U Always (Divinity)

(Featured Image: “The Nightmare,” Henry Fuseli, 1781.)

Note: Please be advised that this post contains frank and uncensored discussion of lyrics which explicitly reference sexual assault. 

There are any number of reasons why Prince may have left a given song in the Vault. There were, of course, the basic limitations of recorded media formats: by 1982, Prince was producing more music than could possibly be accommodated on two 12-inch sides of vinyl–hence why 1999 ended up as a double album, and why his singles increasingly came backed with non-LP B-sides. There were instances where a certain song may have been deemed too similar to another that ended up making the cut on the album: see, for example, “Turn It Up,” which is believed to have been left off 1999 in favor of “Delirious.” There was also an even simpler explanation, per Prince himself: “If any track is unreleased, it’s because it’s not done,” he reportedly told Dan Piepenbring, the coauthor of his unfinished memoir, in 2016 (Prince 2019 16).

The particular song Prince was discussing with Piepenbring was “Extraloveable,” a widely-bootlegged track recorded at the beginning of April 1982 and not officially released until 2011. Taking Prince at his word that the song wasn’t “done” until Andy Allo rapped on it, I won’t be writing about it until we get to that point in our chronology; however, I will posit a theory that there was another reason why it didn’t see the light of day. As anyone who’s heard the original version can attest, the song takes a turn in the last minute and a half or so. After six minutes of gently cajoling the listener to take a bath with him, Prince suddenly becomes menacing: “I’m on the verge of rape,” he grunts, repeating himself for good measure. A blast of discordant synthesizer noise takes over the mix, as if the song itself has begun to malfunction. “I’m sorry,” Prince intones in his detached android voice over the ongoing din, “but I’m just gonna have to rape you. Now are you going to get into the tub, or do I have to drag you? Don’t make me drag you.”

Prince was obviously no stranger to aberrant expressions of sexuality at this point in his career: on “Horny Toad,” as we’ve discussed, he had imagined himself as an obscene phone caller, a groper, and a stalker; perhaps most notably, “Sister” had described an incestuous relationship of dubious consent. But the former song was obviously played for laughs, while the latter crucially depicted Prince as the victim of abuse, not the perpetrator. Interrupting an exuberant, sexy frolic to outright threaten sexual violence was clearly a bridge too far, even in the thick of Prince’s “Rude Boy” era. Which makes it all the more surprising that he did it again with another unreleased track recorded in the same year, “Lust U Always.”

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Review: Musicology/3121/Planet Earth

Review: Musicology/3121/Planet Earth

(Featured Image: Prince presides over his domain on the cover of Planet Earth, 2007; © NPG Records.)

It’s been a little bit of a crazy week, so I’m afraid we’re going to have to wait a while longer for my next real post on “All the Critics Love U in New York”; but I haven’t been completely lax in my Prince-writing duties. Over at Spectrum Culture, where I occasionally lend my pen, I reviewed the new batch of vinyl reissues from Prince’s mid-2000s “comeback” era:

Review: Musicology/3121/Planet Earth

These weren’t my favorite albums when they came out, and to be frank they still aren’t (though 3121 aged pretty damn well); but they cover a period of great historical interest, and I’m glad they’re being made available for a new audience. If you haven’t picked up your own copies yet and you want to support d / m / s / r, you are welcome to do so through these Amazon affiliate link: Musicology, 3121, Planet Earth.

On a somewhat Prince-related tip, I also wrote a piece for Spectrum this week about Beck’s Midnite Vultures, which is turning 20 this year in what I can only interpret as an act of personal aggression against me. You can read it here and find out why I think it actually owes less to Prince than to David Bowie, specifically 1975’s Young Americans:

Holy Hell: Midnite Vultures Turns 20

Next week, I’ll finally have a little more time to do some writing for himself (a.k.a., this blog). I’m also recording another batch of Prince: Track by Track episodes tomorrow, the first of which you should be hearing very soon. Perhaps, at some point, I will also get some sleep.