Tuesday, September 25, 2007

No. 163: 1999

Band: Prince
Album: 1999
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The calm before the storm that was "Purple Rain" brings Prince expanding his lyrical themes. Instead of the simply dirtbag filthy sex songs, Prince waxes on America in "Free," the computer age in "Automatic" and, of course, nuclear apocalypse on the title track.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm not sure they have it wrong. It's not his best, but it has the makings of a very nice album.
Best song: The title track is wonderful as a post-nuclear holocaust party track, complete with computer voices and sing-songy chorus.
Worst song: "D.M.S.R." isn't good and it goes on too long.
Is it awesome?: It's pretty great.

Prince's pre-"Purple Rain" public persona is well-known. He's weird, he wants to fuck you and maybe he'll talk about God afterward.

"1999" was Prince's turning point. He started writing songs about nuclear winter or conceptual pieces about technology. It's a wonderful piece of history; Without "1999," Prince is still doing "Controversy" instead of "Sign O' The Times." Without "1999," Prince never puts out "Purple Rain," save for "Darling Nikki."

Prince may not have had the pop credentials like Michael Jackson does. But, he was wildly avant garde and clearly more experimental. "1999" was not a genre-shifter like later Prince record (again, he's an artist in transition). Most of the songs are early electro pop, standard stuff for the 1980s.


I probably should be sick of the album's title track, but I'm not. You see, I graduated high school in 1999, so it was played at my prom -- it might've been the theme, I don't know -- and my graduation and all the goddamned time on every TV show for about eight months of that year.

Still, there's something wondrous in the crazily negative/scary lyrics of the song:

I was dreamin' when I wrote this
Forgive me if it goes astray
But when I woke up this mornin'
Coulda sworn it was judgment day
The sky was all purple
There were people runnin' everywhere
Tryin' to run from the destruction
U know I didn't even care

On the album -- as opposed to the single mix -- the song starts with a computer-modified voice of God giving the theme of the song, saying "Don't worry, I won't hurt you. I only want you to have some fun."

It's almost a picture of the '80s. The video features keytar, the lyrics are about an impending world war and the band's response, instead, is to party. While it could be a ridiculously scary song, it's not. The major chords rip through the song -- Phil Collins would later copy them for "Sussudio -- and the drum machine thumps.

I've probably heard this song involuntarily more than any other, yet I still love it. I know all the words and it's a surefire song to get people on the dance floor. Just don't listen to the lyrics.

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