Prince was recording a lot of music during 1983 and early 1984 in preparation for his feature film debut that was Purple Rain. This included his own recordings with his band the Revolution. But it also included songs intended for the debuts of Sheila E and a second Vanity 6 album that grew into sessions for what became the Apollonia 6. Not to mention a huge cluster of B-sides. There were also many additional songs recorded during this period,some of which are still unreleased to this very day. And which add to the mythos about Prince’s legendary vault of unreleased music.
One of the first things I learned about Prince when really getting into his music was about his lifelong fascination with the career of Joni Mitchell. Having achieved fame in the early 70’s as a singer/songwriter,she left that behind to pursue a jazzier style of music. Prince was aware that his highly electronic new wave funk/rock based Minneapolis Sound was really catching on. But he himself wanted to diversify his own approach. One such song for his 1985 album Around The World In A Day was recorded during the Purple Rain sessions in early 1984. It was called “Pop Life”.
Layers of tape loop like pitch bent synthesizers begin the song,just before a thick slap bass brings in the rest. The song has three different counter melodies-all very vocal in nature over a steady funky drum. One is a thick, funk slap bass line mixed up high. The other are big block piano chords Prince is hammering out. The final one are two counterbalanced synthesizers-playing a high melody and the other a lower one. These elements all make up the refrains and choruses of the song-both of which are rather similar. There’s a bridge of audience sound before the song fades back in for a final chorus before fading back out.
A little history on the audience sounds during the bridge of this song: they are from a 1981 concert where Prince opened for the Rolling Stones. A restless and unsatisfied crowd had among them someone yelling “THROW THE BUM OUT”. Prince exited the stage with his band,only to return to a more reasonable crowd-though there was still some booing. This songs lyrics do stand with the same share of ambiguity as a lot of Prince’s songs did. Yet at the same time,this sampling of the Rolling Stones tour incident might well be pointing to a lot of the points this song makes about Prince’s mindset at the time he recorded it.
In a lot of ways,this is one of my very favorite Prince songs of the 80’s. It has that Larry Graham slap bass in your face funkiness-mixed with a cinematic jazzy soul flavor that’s very pop friendly and hummable. It showcases how Prince’s more musically ambitious ideas could still be funky and pop friendly too. Lyrically it could be taken two ways. I recently heard it was written about his departed girlfriend Vanity. As I personally read it,its Prince dealing with how super-stardom can have the effect of making artists take themselves for granted. So on all levels,it was an important hit song for him to have.