Prince is an artist whose history really fascinated me. Up until the age of 16,I was so ignorant of Prince’s history that I actually thought his career started with “1999”. It was amazing for me to learn that Prince’s recording career began in the late 70’s. Not only that,but that it still had a sound that was recognizably his own. Over the years,this late 70’s period for Prince has become a personal favorite. One that I really enjoy discussing. One of the most important things about this era was that,even in a crowded funk/soul environment,Prince got his first major crossover hit before the 70’s decade ended.
Prince first hit single “Soft And Wet”. This was rooted squarely in funk and commercially ,it landed pretty much within the R&B Top 20. But just barely crossed over to the pop listener. And as the very prejudiced anti disco movement began to gain footing in 1979,both Prince and Warner Bros understanding crossover would be necessary for his career at that point. So the solution would to find a way to create a song with heavy pop structure that would still maintain Prince’s homegrown funkiness. The solution was in his first R&B #1 and pop Top 20 hit in “I Wanna Be Your Lover”.
A pounding snare drum kick kicks off the song. For the first 2 1/2 minutes of this song,the refrain consists of a deep rhythm guitar playing on one bright,melodic chord. A high toned and bass synthesizer back this up along with the drums. On the choruses,a string synthesizer plays harmony to this. After a space funk synth on the final chorus,the song goes into a 3 minute instrumental section. This section brings in a high bass line playing a funk riff high in the mix over a similar synth backdrop. Then a higher synth brass part comes in-occasionally accompanying only the drums before the song fades out.
The first time I heard “I Wanna Be Your Lover” was the single edit,which is basically the vocal oriented first 2:50 minutes of the song. The version on Prince’s self titled 1979 album is a 5+ version that predominantly emphasizes the final instrumental section of the song. The entirety of the song is very funky. Its also where Prince was able to harness the stripped down,loose jamming funkiness that defined his debut album while introducing it with a strong sense of song craft. An element that could sung and hum. That makes “I Wanna Be Your Lover” perhaps the most important song Prince recorded in the 70’s.
Filed under 1979, crossover, drums, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, Warner Bros.
Prince really did create a technical and musical marvel with his debut album For You. Still out of Prince’s two albums of the late 1970’s,its his second self titled effort that proved to be his commercial breakthrough. That is in the sense he had a tremendous hit with it. That hit was “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. This was late 70’s sophistifunk at its sauciest-with a sleek groove that’s both sweetly melodic,but has a full on chunky bass/guitar groove about it. It started off this album. And its also the song that many mainstream pop music listeners pre 1980 might cite as the very first Prince they’d remember hearing.
I first became aware of this record through a handful of its songs making the cute of Prince’s first anthology set The Hits/B-Sides. So its probably best to discuss those songs first. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” is a very mainstream rock tune with some glistening,melodic power chords from Prince on this song written by Andre’ Cymone. The other is a classic Prince one man band version of “I Feel For You”. This is the first version I heard. And due to that reason,much as I love Chaka Khan’s far more famous cover,that’s pretty much its own thing next to this version.
Whats so interesting about this album for me is 3/4 of it is slow ballad oriented. When I first picked up the CD pre-owned,all there was to listen to CD’s were undependable bar code scanners some stores had. So it was a surprised that some songs such as “When We’re Dancing Close And Slow” and “Still Waiting” were rather country western/pop flavored ballads. “With You” has a 1950’s doo wop flavor to its slow ballad flavor. Of the slow songs on the album,my personal favorite is “It’s Gonna Be Lonely”-which has a then contemporary progressive soft rock flavor about it with its processed guitar reverb.
My favorite song on this album of course is “Sexy Dancer”. This is almost an instrumental. Prince’s panting becomes a percussive element to this lean,mean bass/guitar extravaganza that points to Prince’s signature early 80’s funk sound. Not to mention the jazzy Yamaha electric piano solo he takes on the bridge. “Bambi” is the other rocker here. This is a crunching hard rock number too. The focus of the song is on Prince having a crush on a woman who turns out to be a lesbian-spending the chorus trying to convince her “its better with a man”-seemingly for his own physical benefit only.
In the end,I have to agree with Prince on this album. It served its function very well in getting more people interested in his music. And as he implied,it did what it he intended it to do by featuring some strands of late 70’s pop music. On the other hand,Prince’s frank take on the sexual revolution of disco era and the albums general emphasis on funk made it clear the type of musician Prince would be. He would make melodies,rock out but never totally give up on the funk. In as much as it laid the blueprint for his commercial approach of the early 80’s,this album is a very significant one for Prince.