We are now making our final approach to satisfaction

Posted: September 6, 2014 in music, Record reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1999
Prince
1982

Is there a better way to open a prom, a wedding, a bar mitzvah, an election, a Supreme Court hearing, the Ring cycle, or yet another Christmas production of the Messiah than with “1999”? You’re smiling just thinking about it, just like you do when you hear The Rolling Stones start up “Start Me Up.” We humans have been wired to be happy when we hear “1999.” How can we not? The first words on the record are spoken by God! That’s a God I can get behind.

“1999” is going to be huge forever, but I predict a surge in 2099. In case I don’t make it that far, I want one of you to grab your personal anti-grav fanny pack and hit the dance floor in my memory.

Prince names his third album in a row after the opening track and each time the opener gets better. How do you follow an overture like “1999”? Before we answer that question, let’s take up another: What makes Prince’s records sexy? I have a theory, which I will illustrate by comparing him with two of his peers, Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson.

My theory, which is mine: Why Prince is so Lovesexy
1. Funny guy who makes fun of himself: Prince yes, Mick says who, Michael no.
2. Really wants to have sex with you: Prince yes, Mick yes, Michael not applicable.
3. Really wants you to enjoy it: Prince yes, Mick says what, Michael not applicable.
4. Willing to be vulnerable: Prince yes, Mick just left with a groupie, Michael yes*.

* When he was younger. Way younger.

The first half of 1999 is the house party
“Little Red Corvette” gives us a breather after “1999.” The macho narrator at the song’s conclusion who wants to tame your “little red love machine” started far short of that:

I guess I should’ve closed my eyes
When you drove me to the place where your horses run free
’Cause I felt a little ill when I saw all the pictures
Of the jockeys that were there before me

The sweet-sounding “Delirious” comes next, with plenty more car imagery. “1999” is my favorite Prince song, but so is “Delirious,” and also the next one, “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” It takes almost a minute for that one to get going because the man knows he’s got us.

The second half of 1999 is the private-club rave
Five and six tracks in and we’re still smoking. “D.M.S.R.” (dance, music, sex, romance) and “Automatic” are some of the best funk ever recorded, but these songs are long – 17 minutes together. (“Let’s Pretend We’re Married” runs seven minutes but feels shorter.) After the headrush of the first four songs, they bog things down.

“D.M.S.R.” is an amalgam of Johnnie Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love,” Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Till You Get Enough” (without the string section), everything by Ohio Players, and of course Prince. The synthesizers are the stars, but everyone’s playing them in the ’80s, including The Rolling Stones – listen to what they do the following year on “Undercover of the Night.”

“Automatic” takes on the computer-chipped Gary Numan at his own frigid game. David Bowie of the Station to Station/Low/Heroes period would’ve killed to write a dance groove like this one – but Bowie would never have let it run loose for 9 minutes.

A pause while we consider a sex act
Could it be that Prince was writing 8- to 9-minute rhythmic dance songs because he wanted to create a soundtrack for the average length of intercourse? Or what men think is the average length of intercourse?

Now stop considering a sex act
The air leaks out of this album with “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute),” which is like a serious version of The B-52s, which is like a terrible idea, and “Free,” which offers no surprises, which for Prince is a surprise. Teddy Pendergrass, Rod Stewart, and even Supertramp could’ve recorded “Free” while they were walking from their car to the front door of the studio.

Prince tries to seal the leak but gets mixed results with the final three tracks. “Lady Cab Driver” (this being a Prince album, you know how the ride went) rocks, but not over the entire 8 minutes. “All the Critics Love You in New York” is a dues song; at least he held off for five albums before birthing one. But “International Lover” is a strong finish. The spoken word ending, which includes the title of this post, is funnier and sexier than Mick Jagger’s knight-in-shining-armor shtick at the end of “Emotional Rescue” (1980).

Wanna be startin’ something
1999 was released just one month before Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the biggest-selling record since the invention of the sackbut. I said a while back that I’d take Prince over Michael for career performance and Michael over Prince for peak performance. Thriller is Michael’s peak, and it’s Mount Everest. Prince has to settle for Mount Rainier. No shame in that; Rainer has many neighbors and dwarfs all of them.

1999 is my favorite of the two, but Thriller is the better album.

Rolling Stone’s best albums of 1982:

Winner (tie):
Nebraska – Bruce Springsteen
Shoot Out the Lights – Richard and Linda Thompson

Runners-up:
Imperial Bedroom – Elvis Costello
1999 – Prince
The Blue Mask – Lou Reed
Marshall Crenshaw – Marshall Crenshaw

Random Pick of the Day
The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers (1971)
The Beatles are #1. The Rolling Stones are #2. Why is this? Because The Beatles were original. The Rolling Stones are not. The Stones excel at other people’s genres (including disco but excluding punk). They didn’t invent hard rock, but Sticky Fingers is the best hard-rock album this side of Paradise. It’s easily worth the entire Pearl Jam catalog. Take away “You Got to Move,” a blues cover (oddly, for them, it’s not a good one), and this record is almost perfect.

Random Pan of the Day
The Rolling Stones, Undercover (1983)
By this point the Stones were well on their way to becoming the Christmas fruitcake of popular music. The only salvageable song on Undercover is “Undercover of the Night.” It would’ve fit well on their last good album, Some Girls (1978). The rest is crap.

A few years ago, I set out to listen to every Rolling Stones record in chronological order. After I listened to Undercover I was so annoyed that I dropped the project.

Compensation: If you type in “Undercover” on Rhapsody, you also get an electronic dance trio by that name. They play dancified covers of big ’70s pop hits, including Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” and Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” They’re not bad. They’re better than Foreigner!

 

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