Prince got away with as much on his 1982 album 1999 as he did on his budget blowing debut from 1978. For one,he managed to convince Warner Bros to release a double album at the price of a single one. Not only that but he filled it with 12 songs that were mostly between 5 and 10 minutes long. This was an approach closer to that of an early 70’s James Brown/JB’s record than a pop directed album of the early 80’s. Yet it showcased the way in which Prince was looking to have his music marketed. And also spoke to a lot of his maverick spirit on that level that would come to full flower a decade later.
My first exposure to 1999 came in…well 1997. I decided to pick up Prince’s first four albums of the 80’s (Purple Rain included) on vinyl. 1999 was the coolest visually because you could see the closeup photo of Prince’s eye spinning on the custom labels spinning while playing the album. That summer my Aunt Deb came to visit us. We began talking about our mutual admiration for Prince. We both agreed 1999 was our favorite album by him. When we discussed our favorite song on the album,she said hers was “Little Red Corvette”. I said mine was the song I’m over viewing today: “Lady Cab Driver”.
A Linn drum beat thumping along with the sound of traffic sounds begins the song,as Prince is heard hailing a cab. After this,the main groove of the song comes in. This features a live funky drum,with Prince playing the rhythmic changes on a equally funky rhythm guitar. When the lead vocals come in,each vocal part features a low toned synth brass part. There are several sections to this song. One features Prince and said cab driver involved in a vocally intense sexual encounter. The other showcases thick slap bass,bursts of rock guitar and squiggly synths before fading out on traffic sounds just as it began.
“Lady Cab Driver” stands very much in contrast to the synth based Minneapolis sound permeating the rest of the 1999 album. Its strong live drum/bass/guitar oriented funk with the MPLS synth brass used as accents only. Conceptually,it seems like a fetish setup at first. Until during the mock sexual encounter,Prince reveals his envy of his brother,his disdain for rich people who don’t know how to give,and so on. I also realize now that the main chorus of the song is also a possible origin of Ready For The World’s Prince ripoff song “Oh,Sheila”. Even today,its still one of this albums most powerful slices of funk.