Anatomy of THE Groove: “Dance On” by Prince

Prince was facing some important musical milestones in 1988. It would be the decade anniversary of recording career at Warner Bros. And consequently this year would see the release of his tenth studio album entitled Lovesexy. The album would be most famous for it’s cover art. Intended to express the albums concept of spiritual conflicts between good and evil,it would up prompting many record stores of the day to censor the album. Since Prince saw it’s nine songs as a full length statement,most CD copies of it were created with all the selections on one 45 minute track-rather than separated as with most CD’s.

It was only with the advent of computer CD burning technology that  people were able to hear these as individual songs outside their original context. Taken in that way,this record has that far reaching funk/pop/jazz/rock fusion that defined Prince mid/late 80’s music. And many of it’s songs are very dense and full sounding instrumentally. There is one song on this that really stands out for me personally. And it has to do with the fact that it takes his live instrumental sound of the time with his earlier production approach. The name of this song is called “Dance On”.

Sheila E begins the song-shaking the percussion like a rattle snake after which Prince calls out “OW!! PICK IT UP!!!” before Cat calls back “there’s a bass guitar in this” as Sheila throws down one of her powerful Brazilian style jazz/funk drum/timbale beats that provides the rhythm for the entire song. The refrains of the song showcase rhythmic scratch samples and Prince thundering the bass like a runaway freight train. On the chorus of the song, Prince sings with Bonnie Boyer in his falsetto voice while she provides some gospel hued accents on her Hammond organ.

Musically this song comes at you with a tremendously powerful groove. It’s stripped down instrumentally. But Sheila E’s drums are mixed up super high. And the bass line brings out how much Prince’s style on the instrument is based on his guitar playing-with it’s thundering,hard rocking power. Prince brings the guitar in on the later refrains of the song-using the metallic,electric thump of it almost like a police siren. While the refrains express a frightened,foreboding chase scene the choruses express straight up gospel joy. And therefore captures the classic spirit of the soul/funk genre.

The rhythmic instrumental approach of the song is ideal for the lyrical content. Thematically,this song balances the socially conscious vibe of “Sign O The Times” with the determination for joy in a time of crisis to be found on “1999”.  What makes this song for me is that Prince integrates a strong musical observation. Throughout the song,he evokes how the gang violence and loss of hope he sings about was draining away an interest in musical creativity during the 1980’s-even declaring “a bass guitar in spider webs looking for the funk”. So musically and lyrically,this is a bold declaration for funk in it’s time.

 

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2 Comments

Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Bonnie Boyer, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, message songs, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, organ, Prince, rock guitar, scratching, Sheila E., Uncategorized

2 responses to “Anatomy of THE Groove: “Dance On” by Prince

  1. Great coverage of one of the first songs to catch my attention on “Lovesexy.” The drum beat is one of the best drum beats in the whole Prince catalog, right up there with “777-9311”, but even unique with that because it’s a live drummer sound, while Prince was known for innovating with drum machines. Usually Prince’s drum beats are a solid, phat, steady element, but Sheila plays a Clyde Stubblefield type drum groove here! Thank you for tuning into the musical commentary aspect of the record, which I’ve always thought was key, like the line, “They all know the words/but the music/is doomed”, one of Prince most prophetic lines from a musical standpoint, but unfortunately in a few short years even the words of most Hip Hop would decline somewhat precipitously. But here, Prince was “ever funking on” as Bootsy liked to say. Great peice!

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