Prince….Minneapolis….1980’s. These 3 things are forever linked in music history. While the Purple One had a one off #11 hit in 1979 with “I Wanna Be Your Lover” , when releasing his career launching 5th album 1999, he was still a relatively unknown entity outside of the Twin Cities. With this record that all changed.
In those early ’80’s, when I was in my early teens and too young to drive, we spent a whole lot of time at Great Skate roller rink. It exposed us lily white suburban kids to what is now called urban music, but what we at the time simply called funk. On most Tuesday nights and Saturday afternoons you could find me there with Jeff Koolmo,Rick Hanscom, or Kent Larson. Grandmaster Flash, Sugar Hill Gang, Lakeside, The Time, Rick James…and of course Prince…would be the type of music playing as we would race around the outside of the glossy basketball type floor of the rink at breakneck speed with just the music and the sweet hum of my florescent green Sims wheels (or occasionally slowing it down and taking the short route around the 3 elevated dance floors located in the center of the rink). Ahhh, how I long for those gloriously innocent Junior High days of 1982, when the biggest concern would be “My mom will drive if your Mom will pick us up”. Of course they still played rock and pop, but it was all mixed in together and whatever was playing was solely dependent on the whims of the God-like figured perched up high in the DJ Booth in the corner of the rink. You could go from AC DC “Dirty Deeds” to Grandmaster Flash “The Message” to Billy Squier “The Stroke” to The Time “The Walk” …all in the course of 20 minutes. Truly a magical place.
His previous record Controversy had done well in R & B charts (and we knew it well at the rink) and had spawned two top 10 Billboard R & B hits (the title cut and “Let’s Work”). It was the success in the R & B community that afforded him the clout to release a double album which was a pretty ballsy move for an artist with the limited audience and exposure he had at that time. He was already an artist that had complete artistic control and he had established his studio style. But it would evolve even more on 1999 into would eventually become known as the synthesizer and drum machine heavy Minneapolis Sound (he would branch this out into several other projects that would include such bands as The Time, Sheila E. and Vanity 6,etc.).
When the first single released, the title cut “1999”, us rink rats were all over it from the start and song’s opening warning declaration/introduction…”Don’t worry…I only want you to have some fun” (I know I bought this album right away on the strength of that song alone and I’m pretty sure Koolmo did too). Even though in reality “1999” is a song that was a protest against nuclear proliferation, it was more uptempo and upbeat than Prince’s earlier material. It is not like at 14 we were oblivious to the song’s deeper meaning (Mommy…why does everybody have a bomb?) but goddamn what a fun song to dance and skate to. Intailly this song peaked out at #44 on the Billboard Hot 100, at that time making it his biggest hit since “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. But after “Little Red Corvette” blew up it was re-released, climbing all the way to #12. On the album the title cut seamlessly bleeds right into “Little Red Corvette”, a synth-funk masterpiece about a promiscuous young lady whose lifestyle was as fast paced as the aforementioned muscle car. While in the previous song Prince had lion in his pocket that was ready to roar…this girl had a pocket full of horses (Trojans…and some of them used). This song was a breakout mega hit peaking at #6. Then you move right on to track 3 “Delirious” (this is where Eddie Murphy got it from, not the other way around). For me, this song is a synth-pop masterpiece that would also crack the top 10 clocking in at #8. These 15 minutes of music alone would be enough…but this was just side 1 of 4. Prince had already well established his tendency for strong sexual content in his lyrics on his previous releases. While these 3 songs were heavy on sexual reference, it was mostly innuendo and double entendre word play. In my opinion this self restraint allowed his music to be more accessible to the masses. This self restraint is far in the rear view mirror when you flip the record over and play the first track of side 2, “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”. At 14 years old this is where I plugged the headphones in so my parents wouldn’t walk by and hear Prince saying “I sincerely wanna fuck the taste out of your mouth”. I still think the song ends on one of the best Prince lyrics of all time (If you think I’m crazy, you’re probably right…but I’m gonna have fun every motherfucking night). Then we move on to one of my favorite songs ever to skate to “D.M.S.R” (Dance,Music,Sex,Romance) which finished out the second side of the record. It’s a glory filled 8 minute rave up that was always sure to work up such a sweat that you’d have to leave the floor when it was finished to get a coke at the concession stand and see how Jeff was doing on the Defender machine. While there are good songs on the 2nd album of this 2 disc set (most notably “Automatic” and “Lady Cab Driver”). If you looked at both the records from my set, it would be beyond obvious which one saw more action. 1999 is a classic that will always bring me back to those wonderful memories of my early 1980’s Roosevelt Junior High days in suburban Minneapolis when life was about fun and the complications of responsibility and High School and growing up still seemed so far off. This album was the perfect bridge between Controversy and Purple Rain…..but that’s another blog post.