1999 is celebrating its 34th anniversary today. Its understood as the album that really helped Prince cross his music over to a more pop oriented audience. A lot has been said about the album. Such as how the album was musically almost entirely the work of Prince himself. Also,how it helped establish the clearest headed example of the electronic based Minneapolis sound that he was pioneering at that time. Not to mention that it came right along with his first proteges in Vanity 6 and (most importantly) The Time. Now I’m really realizing just how important this album was in terms of Prince’s entire musical history.
Prince debuted in the late 1970’s,fresh out of his teens as a disco era version of Stevie Wonder: a youthful funk wunderkind. As Henrique and myself were discussing at the time of writing this,he was first coming out when so much was happening around him. Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life still churned out hits,P-Funk were dropping “Flashlight” and “One Nation Under A Groove” while Dayton,Ohio’s Slave was hitting with an R&B #1 smash in their song “Slide”. And than came Prince,a young musical genius who played all the instruments and produced his own music so expertly.
When the post disco radio freeze out occurred in the early 80’s,the enormous level of pioneering and trailblazing by funk and disco artists disappeared overnight. On the other hand,it remained very present overseas in the UK with some rock and electronic elements added. This sound became known as new romantic/new wave/synth pop movement. In the very beginning of the 80’s,most black artists were integrating electronics into what was still a standard funk/soul rhythmic framework. By 1982,Prince suddenly became his own innovator as really the only black American new wave/synth rock oriented artist.
The 1999 album is endowed with some amazing funk such as the title song,the instrumentally organic “Lady Cab Driver” and the driving “DMSR”. In fact,the idea of the album being a double LP set with full,elongated mixes made it an idea format for his Minneapolis funk. At the same time,it was songs like the albums other major hit “Little Red Corvette” along with “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”,”Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” and “Automatic” showcase Prince as doing for the synth pop/new wave sound what Little Richard and Ray Charles did for rock ‘n roll and soul in the 50’s.
Prince infused his rockiest music,even the rockabilly hit of “Delirious” with tons of gospel influences and attitude. And brought those same elements into his ballads on here “Free” and “International Lover”. This also began the period when Prince was concentrating heavily on developing his single B-sides as musical works of art all their own. Songs such as “Irresistible Bitch” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” (covered famously by both Stephanie Mills and later Alicia Keys) represent the first time other artist realized even a Prince flip side was ripe for another artist to be really successful with them.
As of this writing,Prince enthusiasts await the official release of “Moonbeam Levels”,a well known outtake from this era. So interest in 1999 era Prince is still growing. For me,its an album that represents his finest mix of funk and rock music in terms of an album. The extended lengths gave the grooves room for a lot of expansion. For the heavy funkateer, 1999 is far more funk endowed than its blockbuster followup Purple Rain. On a personal note,it was my aunts favorite Prince album too. In many ways,1999 might be the most defining moment of Prince’s Minneapolis sound.
Prince was one of those artists whose creative peak hit right around the same time as his creative juices were really flowing. He was the ultimate funk rocker of his day-doing everything he could to prioritize a hard groove while rocking out just enough for the musical demands of that era. And founds ways to challenge himself at doing both. By 1982,he was developing a reputation among musical oriented people as someone who was able to take all the elements of what he did,and strip them down to their most basic elements. Of being instrumentally simple without being musically simplistic.
Late in the year his his fifth album 1999 was released. It came out into a musical environment where MTV’s championing of music video was moving pop music ahead in the same way radio had in earlier decades. Not only was Prince’s visual flair helpful in this regard. But he also was more than aware of the social politics of the final burst of the cold war in America. Following the the USSR’s and USA’s actions in Afghanistan around this same time,the issue of atomic war was again on the map as the world contemplated a nuclear freeze. Prince drew on this impulse for the title track of his new album.
A slow,deepened voice opens this song telling us it only wants us to have some funk-eventually to the beat of a Linn LM-1 drum machine. The Linn’s pulse is then joined by a sustained rock guitar and a dramatic synth horn. A snare heavy live drum begins playing behind this basic structure. This provides the general chorus and refrains of the song as Revolution members Dez Dickerson and Lisa Coleman trade of vocals Sly & The Family Stone style with Prince. On extended chorus at the end of the song,Prince asks “mom why does everybody have the bomb” over his funky rhythm guitar.
“1999” is one of those songs that is rhythmically stripped down but sounds extremely full at the same time. The fiery dynamics of the lead synth brass,now an iconic riff of the style,along with the layers of lead/rhythm guitars (from rocking to funky wah wah) lead this to be one of the hottest funk hits of its time. While its vocal trade offs and sunny melody come straight of the Sly styled flower power funk,it basically reflects the slightly cynical hedonism of wanting to party into the apocalypse. That combo marks this as the beginning of Prince bring his funk more and more to the masses in his musical prime.
Filed under 1980's, 1999, Dez Dickerson, drums, lead guitar, Linn Drum, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, MTV, naked funk, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, rhythm guitar, synth brass
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.
Filed under 1980's, 1999, drums, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, rhythm guitar, rock guitar, slap bass, synth brass, synthesizers