Category Archives: Dez Dickerson

Prince 1958-2016: “1999” (1982)

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.

 

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Prince (Protegé) Summer: Vanity/Apollonia 6

VANITY-6

Toward the end of last week‘s post, I called the Time “arguably the most highly-regarded of Prince’s various side projects.” So allow me to start this post with another superlative: if the Time was the most highly-regarded of the purple protegés, then their “girl group” sister project, Vanity 6, was perhaps the most underrated and misunderstood.

To be fair, though, the very concept behind the group encouraged such misreadings. Originally conceived shortly after the Time as “the Hookers”–because the Time were pimps, geddit?–Vanity 6 appeared at first and maybe even second glance to be little more than a cynical play on pornographic tropes. Every member was an obvious “type”: Vanity, born Denise Matthews (and almost, disastrously, rechristened “Vagina”), was the vampish seductress; Brenda (Bennett) was the saucy, chain-smoking “bad girl”; and Susan (Moonsie) was, most problematically, the thumb-sucking, teddy bear-toting jailbait. The “6” in their name, if you haven’t already guessed, was a sophomoric reference to their total number of breasts.

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If the lowest-common-denominator pandering wasn’t enough, there was also a severely diminished emphasis on musical talent. Prince, while stingy about allowing the Time to play on their own albums, had nevertheless stocked the group with the hottest musicians in the Twin Cities. Vanity, on the other hand, was a Canadian B-movie actress, and Susan was Prince’s on-and-off girlfriend; only Brenda was a professional musician, having performed as a backing vocalist with the blues-rock group Tombstone in the mid-1970s. By many accounts, this led to dissension even within Prince’s camp: there was a prevailing sense that he was wasting time on a glorified burlesque act, when he could have been spending it with a more conventionally qualified group.

These criticisms would have held more water, however, if the trio (/sextet’s) self-titled 1982 debut wasn’t legitimately great. Vanity 6 is not only a stronger debut than the Time’s (yeah, I said it), but also one of the quirkiest and most interesting records in the whole extended Prince canon. In an earlier post, Andre already mentioned the funk workout “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)“–featuring a campy vocal cameo by Mr. Jamie Starr himself–as well as the immortal “Nasty Girl,” which prefigured the sounds of everyone from the Neptunes to Peaches to Beyoncé (who, incidentally, has recently taken to covering the song in concert). But there’s also “Make Up” and “Drive Me Wild,” two of the most futuristic-sounding cuts from the Purple One’s electro period; the Dez Dickerson-penned “He’s So Dull,” a.k.a. the best song the Go-Gos never recorded; and the New Wave-flavored “Bite the Beat,” which was co-written by Jesse Johnson of the Time.

Vanity 6 joined Prince and the Time on the Triple Threat tour in 1982 and 1983, and were meant to appear in Purple Rain; as with the other group, however, relations with Prince hit the skids soon before shooting was to commence. There are a variety of possible reasons for Vanity’s falling out with Prince, including disputes over royalties and romantic turmoil; her growing dependency on cocaine was also a likely factor. Whatever the specific reason, however, she left the group for a solo career with Motown in late 1983, leaving Prince in the peculiar situation of having to recast both the female lead for his film and the frontwoman for his group. Her replacement, another unknown actress named Patricia Kotero, was hired after responding to a casting call. But “Patrica 6” would have been an even dumber name than “the Hookers,” and so Kotero adopted the nom de Prince Apollonia.

Due in large part to these inauspicious beginnings, Apollonia has gotten a bit of a raw deal from the Prince fanbase; I’ll be the first to admit that I was overly dismissive of her when I recorded my podcast on Prince’s side projects last month. If fronting Vanity 6 was already a thankless job, then filling in for Vanity–who Prince remembered as “the finest woman in the world” after her passing early this year–was even more so. Nor did it help that Prince seemed to be losing interest in the Apollonia 6 project by mid-1984, stripping the proposed album of many of its most promising songs: he gave “The Glamorous Life” to Sheila E., “Manic Monday” to the Bangles, and even his own “17 Days” still has Brenda’s original backing vocals clearly audible on the chorus. I guess what I’m trying to say is, yes, the Apollonia 6 record is an inarguably inferior clone of its predecessor; but the group’s signature song, “Sex Shooter,” remains a Minneapolis Sound classic in its own right, and Apollonia’s Purple Rain performance will forever be iconic (ask any person who came of age in the 1980s and has a sexual interest in women about the “Lake Minnetonka” scene, and watch them get misty-eyed with nostalgia).

apollonia6

Like the Time, Apollonia 6 dissolved quickly after the release of Purple Rain; unlike the Time, however, there was no triumphant aftermath, no series of high-profile reunions–though three of the groups’ former members, at least, seem to be leading happy and fulfilling lives. Brenda Bennett took time off from the music industry, returning only fairly recently as an independent artist. Susan Moonsie quit the entertainment business entirely. Apollonia went back primarily to minor film and television roles–though she did release one, forgettable solo album in 1988.

And then, of course, there was Vanity. Hers is one of the saddest stories in popular music: though she went on to some measure of success as a solo recording artist and (especially) an actress in the latter half of the 1980s, she also developed a crippling addiction to crack cocaine. Finally, after suffering a near-fatal renal failure in 1994, she experienced a conversion as a born-again Christian and dedicated the rest of her life to evangelism, renouncing her stage name and her past as a secular entertainer. It’s a strange feeling, to be a fan of Denise Matthews’ work as Vanity with the knowledge of the pain she was in at the time. It seems, however, that she was able to find peace later in her life; I only hope that she realized how much authentic joy she brought to the world, even in her darker moments.

So what else is there to say about Vanity and Apollonia 6? If the Time was the Prince spinoff act that threatened to upstage the headliner, then the “6” represented Prince in full puppetmaster mode: putting together a singing group comprised of two-thirds non-singers, then underlining just how disposable they were by seamlessly slotting a different frontwoman in the lead. And yet, the group had undeniable personality: one listen to Vanity and Brenda tearing “Jamie Starr” a new one in “If a Girl Answers” is more than enough to demonstrate that. And the original incarnation in particular gave Prince and his collaborators a framework in which to create some of their most unique genre experiments of the early 1980s; making them, in their own way, a precursor to more “respectable” side projects like the Family. Finally, if nothing else, the ladies could definitely fill out a camisole.

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Next Saturday, Prince (Protegé) Summer continues with an artist who stretches the definition of “protegé”: Ms. Sheila E. In the meantime, you can read more of my writing about Prince on my chronological Prince blog, dance / music / sex / romance; and more about whatever else crosses my mind on Dystopian Dance Party. See you soon!

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Anatomy Of THE Groove: “DMSR” by Prince

Prince has been gone for over a month now. And it’s now official that his death was caused by an overdose of the strong opioid Fentanyl. As the future of his music stands in the balance,it would seem as if many people suddenly realized the impact Prince’s music had on their lives. Or their own art. Some see that as cretin. Personally I see it as a good thing. Whatever motivates someone to appreciate someone with musical importance of Prince Rogers Nelson will be a pretty good thing in the end. When it comes down to it,it’s the mans funky creativity that should be remembered rather than his tragic early death.

Today will be Prince’s first birthday during my lifetime where we wasn’t alive. Therefore in discussing him today,it seemed best to search for a song that personified everything about Prince’s musical and thematic persona. Over thousands of songs released and unreleased, plus 39  available albums, the task seemed daunting. Suddenly it occurred to me it’s been there for 20 years. It was the last song on the first record on the vinyl copy of his 1982 breakthrough album 1999. It’s another of those Prince’s songs that only become more amazing to me with each listening. The name of this funk is “DMSR”.

A 2 by 2 hit drum machine beat with a nasal trumpet style synth sound gets the song started. That synth horn plays a JB’s style hard hitting riff before shaking percussion and Prince’s high pitched screech over the break brings in the main body of the jam. This adds a down-scaling synth bass kicks along with a choral synth brass part with Prince’s slow crawling rhythm guitar driving home the changes. This is the basic groove up to the last half-where the only change is a bridge with more driving percussion and Prince’s sustain,chicken scratch guitar that plays along with the final choruses before it all fades.

James Brown was a key inspiration to Prince’s approach to funk. He paid direct tribute to him throughout his career. From “Housequake” to “Sexy MF”. In the early 80’s,Prince was still pioneering his synth brass based Minneapolis sound-with it’s stripped down, electronic new wave influences. Much as with Prince alumni Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis’s  production on Janet Jackson’s song “Control” five years after this, “DMSR” takes the nakedly brittle synth funk based sound of Prince’s one man band approach of the time into the basic horn chart/drum break/rhythm guitar structure of classic James Brown funk.

This songs title as sung in it’s chorus is an abbreviation standing for “dance, music, sex, romance”. Prince boldly asks everyone (again JB style) to “get on the floor” and “loosen up” in different ways throughout the song. Lisa Coleman,Dez Dickerson,Brown Mark and Bobby Z all join him on a chorus of the song title. Even if Prince once declared this era of his music as being like being in the 3rd grade to him in retrospect,this song is still one I can pick out in terms of describing everything rhythmically,lyrically and creatively atmospheric about Prince’s classic Minneapolis purple funk style.

 

 

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Improvisations – Favorite Prince Albums & Singles

Prince coversImprovisations

My favorite Prince albums and singles

By Ron Wynn

Two words I strive to avoid at all times in reviews, commentaries, or analysis are best and greatest. In my view they are death traps, because they assume things that cannot be objectively proven nor verified. One person’s choice for an artist’s greatest record is just that: one person’s choice. Even if an excellent case can be made that it is a good selection, you can always find someone able to offer an alternative and make an equally compelling case, particularly if it’s an artist with an impressive and lengthy musical or literary or otherwise artistic legacy.

So I always use the word favorite in my choices, letting folks know right up front that I don’t claim these to be the end all, be all of anything. One of the reasons why I consider myself much more of an advocate than a critic these days is because I truly don’t approach music, film, or television the way a genuine critic does, which is listen or view everything and rate it up or down. I have no interest for example in seeing “The Hangover 10,” or listening to 10 records by 10 people I’ve never heard of and saying they all stink. Nothing wrong with anyone who wants to do that, and I read a lot of things from all sorts of people who do just that. I did it myself for many years. Just don’t want to do it now.

So that’s the long way of saying that whenever you’ll see on of these surveys, know ahead of time that it is strictly my selections, and I’m not arguing for anything except my own preference for the selected material, and while hoping that others will enjoy my views and/or even purchase some of the items if they don’t have them, I make no claims to them ever being the best or greatest of anything, except in some very rare occasions.

My 5 favorite Prince LPS in order:

(1) “Dirty Mind” (1980)

Equal parts erotic and rock-influenced, this came at a time when folks had prematurely decided he was mainly a funk/R&B act because “I Want To Be Your Lover” had risen to the top of that chart. He blew that notion to shreds, while tunes like “Head” and “Uptown” revealed his flair with bass lines and keyboard parts, as well as that always enticing falsetto and tendency to softly murmur X-rated invitations. Also included some spry rebellious sentiment, plus a little anti-war rhetoric, propelled by a great band that included Andre Cymone on bass, Dez Dickerson on guitar, Bobby Z on drums and twin keyboardists Matt Fink and Gayle Chapman.

(2) “Purple Rain” (1984)

The key to whether a soundtrack can stand alone is whether folks are willing to not only listen to it sans the film, but return to it after seeing it. With the LP eventually selling 13 million copies, and tons of folks walking around singing “Purple Rain” without even knowing what that meant, it’s pretty clear this one passed that test. It was also a stroke of genius to issue “When Doves Cry,” as haunting and evocative a piece as he’s ever done before or since, as a single to fuel radio play and support for the forthcoming LP. By the time “Purple Rain” hit the streets, it was already must have due to “When Doves Cry.” Incidentally, Prince did zippo pre-promotion for the film, yet it had already earned its complete budget by the end of the first weekend. Incidentally, it’s also a fine movie that still holds up reasonably well.

(3) “1999” (1982)

A double-LP with only a couple ( maximum three) songs per side, this was Prince in peak frenzy  Heavily fortified with synths, this also included a classic car song in “Little Red Corvette,” a slicing denunciation of pompous writers titled “All The Critics Love You In New York,” and more salacious material (notably “Lady Cab Driver”) that only buttressed the naughty mastermind reputation he’d later strive to make folks forget he’d ever earned. The title cut was a personal favorite. It was supposedly slated to be the first single, then held back out of fear audiences wouldn’t accept it. But while rock radio wouldn’t play it, MTV aired the video a zillion times, and even some of the hipper black stations (they still had a lot of them back then) aired it.

(4) “The Black Album” (1987 original release date; later re-released in 1994 limited edition)

As absurd and stupid as this seems now, many of the cuts on this record were supposedly recorded at various points from the mid-’80s on in response to the notion that because Prince had enjoyed rock success, he’d somehow lost connections with his blackness. So he just put together a host of high-octane, super funky and also heavily sensual (sometimes borderline vulgar) cuts simply to prove to those out there who didn’t think he could write this music that he could. Side note: I spent about $100 on this one, and had to search high and low for it before finding it. If you like edgy, erotic stuff, this is Prince at his peak in that mode.

(5) “Sign O’ The Times” (1987)

A tapestry culled from numerous other Prince projects, many of which never ultimately saw the light of production, this represents the best efforts from another incredibly fertile creative period when Prince was experimenting with jazz-funk, rock, dance music, new wave, R&B, synth pop, dancehall reggae, and whatever else was out there. All the experimenting also led to some creative dissonance though, which eventually saw such ambitious projects as an instrumental LP and three-record opus shelved, and the dissolution of the Revolution band that had been backing Prince during that time (except for keyboardist Matt Fink). Still, this has some superb singles, especially “U Got The Look,” which would be Sheena Easton’s moment of pop glory.

Close:

“Controversy” (1981)

“Parade” (1986)

“Diamonds & Pearls” (1991)

“The Gold Experience” (1995)

“The Love Symbol” (1992)

“Musicology” (2004)

“Emancipation” (1996)

“3121 (2006)

“HitnRun: Phase Two” (2015)

“Lovesexy” (1988)

Favorite singles

(1) “When Doves Cry”

(2) “Cream”

(3) “Diamonds and Pearls”

(4) “I Wanna Be Your Lover”

(5) “Little Red Corvette”

(6) “Kiss”

(7) “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”

(8) “Head”

(9) “Uptown”

(10) “Raspberry Beret”

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