Seems I'm back. But it's 2am here so I'm away again. In the meantime, here are the next four tracks from CD 3 of the Vault discs. Last four tomorrow night. Thanks for all the support over the past few days. Haven't seen org drama like it since Quaidbowl.
6. “I Need A Man”
Remember ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend?’ You know. That one where Prince wonders why his relationships with women can’t quite reach the depths of intimacy and openness of female/female friendships? Well, IIWYG comes across like 'Give It To Me Baby!' compared to this exploration of the female gaze. And this time, P actually portrays himself as a woman. Who, indeed, needs a man. To make her/him feel like a woman. Yeah, I know - Prince did write and sing the line: ‘I’ll never open my legs again for a man who’s insecure’ for I’ll Never Be Another Fool, but even that tune is still just dipping its toes in the deep, uncharted waters of women’s sexual power play. Here, he dives head first into the nature of female desire itself.
Not only was Prince was bold and secure enough as a heterosexual man to write from the perspective of another gender, but he was also - clearly, from this tune, keen to explore what motivates and sparks a woman’s sexual desire. Theres’ no IIWYG ambiguity here - he’s experimenting, pushing at limitations, picking at the scabs in the male psyche, lifting up the edges of what even P would think acceptable lines of thought for a man. Lyrically here, he’s seeing how far he can go before it’s either too much or too ‘weird’ for the audience - or himself. How far he can bend his brain and become not only someone else, but another gender entirely.
Musically, it’s not revolutionary. And certainly no IIWYG. It’s playful , fun, mid tempo pop funk, led by a jazzy drum line that’s prominent in the mix - locked in tight with a deceptively simple bass line that teases hard on the high points of P’s full voiced, non-falsetto verses, sang ‘straight’ with a touch of sassy falsetto on the last word of ‘I need a maaaaaan’
For the breezy bridge, a slinky, addictive horn line slips in unexpectedly and, instantly, you want to hear it again - and you do, only this time P cooly emotes over the top: “If money all u got/I don’t need it/If u can’t make me hot/I don't need u around/If u cant turn me on/No I don’t need it/I need a lover who is strong/I ain’t got time to fool around/I need a maaaaaaan. ’
Initially, that final word is delivered coyly, quietly, in a soft falsetto. You think he’s bottled it, realising he's gone too far, but then, unambiguously in his full ‘street’ man’s voice, he forcefully intones, groovily, almost rapped: ‘I need a REAL man’. We’re left in no doubt. He needs a man. Then ‘I need a MAAAAN/I need a M-A-N/ A Real man.’
Then, undoubtedly enjoying this fresh persona and its artistic potential, he plays with it, brilliantly, confindently. He begins singing jokes over a walking, thick, synthetic bassline for the next verse: “U say u got a fancy car, a big Mercedes Benz/You tell me that Springsteen is one of yo best friends’ (And now we hear the music get groovier, funkier, added organ, drums getting more confident with little licks and fills, of yeah we’re grooving now - you can feel the chemistry, a synergy, the psychic exchange of ideas, osmosis of mathematical gases, the air tingling with kinetic energy. P’s voice gets wilder - but still full voiced, his ‘man’ voice - singing: ‘Money don’ make no man sucka/Get offa that phone/I won’t check you one mo time/I need a real MAN/Think I don’t? I need a M-A-N/ A real man/ Then ge lets out a wee celebratory ‘whooo!’. It’s spine-tingling. He’s in the zone, the freak unleashed.
Then, it happens. He whispers sensually (imagine the complete opposite of Rick James’ delivery of the same line) ‘Give it to me’. We know what he's talking about. A thrusting middle eight then turns the groove on its head, a key change where the tempo shifts to staccato notes and we hear a horn section fully kick in too -to these ears, it all conveys a solid, secure, strong, masculine sexual force dominating - it’s mature sounding, senstive yet forceful. Prince seemingly enjoying being with a ‘real man’ in the Biblical sense.
An organ is then introduced. Calm down, not that one - a church organ, with a funky little solo. Then P lets out a rap: ‘A lil’ money don't hurt/But I’d rather have body that works’ Then a huge blast of the chorus: ‘I aint got time to fool round! I need a MAN. A real man. Think I don’t?’ A groovy little keyboard solo plays in the background. Then some jazzy guitar licks. ‘One more time!’ P shouts, now directing the band. Or the ‘performance’. ‘M - A - N/ The only way to get me hot/I need a lover with a LOT’ He’s not talking about what’s this guy’s got in his wallet, people. A jazzier groove then kicks in with a bouncy, fun bassline. Then P interupts: ‘Hold on now…’ The band stops. P shouts at the top of his voice - still not falsetto - ‘GIVE IT TO ME!’ Then the band explode into the groove once again, with a shrieking single synth note introduced - a la Housequke - playing throughout. ‘Skip the change, keep grooving!’ P shouts, in the moment, lost in sheer joy. ‘Work!’ he/she shouts. ‘I need a man! M - A - N! Aooowwwwww!’
Then a weird bit of hummingbird percussion hovers over that single synth note - with a lovely little acoustic guitar riff that hasn’t been present before - and could likely have justified an entire new song - plays. He shouts ‘Give it to me!’ again, a horn blast, and then silence. It’s over. Someone came, clearly. Oh to be a fly on the wall when Bonnie Raitt first listened to this tape. What can you say? Only Prince. Utterly audacious.
7. “Promise To Be True”
Somehow, upon reading this song title for the first time, I expected it to be a ballad. And, somehow again, I imagined it as a huge synthetic production, an Emancipation-style declaration of adoration and worship - exposing the ultimately plastic nature of the relationship though the shallowness of the chosen instrumentation, whether consciously or subconsciously.
Well, I love it when I’m wrong - and when I’m completely wrong, my heart beats fast with the increased serotonin levels in my bloodstream as more neural connections are made in my brain to stop any walls and plaque from forming and calcifying my thoughts. Being wrong is great - it’s the only way to remain a humble, learning creature, worthy of consciousness and sentience on the third apartment from the sun. And, by Christ, was I wrong on this one. I’m still buzzing from hearing this tune for the first time - it’s undoubtedly my favourite song on these three CDs. There’s ‘better’ songs, of course - grander statements, genuine artistic breakthroughs, amazing surprises - but this song has rewired my brain a little, in terms of what I thought P was capable of producing. I judged it by its rather bland title and I was wrong.
Similar to the aforementioned ‘I Need A Man’, and the next two songs (nicely juxtaposed, Mr Howe) this has been written specifically from a female perspective, with, P - again, like ‘I Need A Man’ genuinely vibing off the newfound and limitless new artistic possibilities that such a perception offers, now that he’s allowed himself to be open to it. Promise 2 be True starts off with just P’s vocal, pitched in a deliberately high camp, sassy tone, chastising and tearing a strip off ‘her’ man, who has just either arrived home in the middle of the night, drunk or full of shitty street drugs. Likely all three - just like Rick James in the Give It To Me Baby video. But where Rick was, well, a bit sexually aggressive shall we say, this is the same power play scenario told from the woman’s perspective.
Opening with an almost mamba-ish, big, full, groovy, staccato drum beat (and is that a fucking cowbell?!), we hear Prince being rudely awoken by ‘her’ man: 'Well hellooo’ P exclaims. ‘What time do you call this?! Don’t try that tail-waggon routine on ME. Ah want to know where you BEEN! Now SPEAK! Thats right, get 2 talkin’/Or get to walkin/ (backing vocal arrives, shining like a new god dream, a doo-wop style woo-oooohhhh, you immediately pay attention). Then P asks her inebriated man: ‘Am I supposed to believe that?!’
Intro now over, we get acquainted with the verse - uptempo, fast yet cool, somehow laid-back and high octane, like sitting in a starship’s main deck while travelling at lightspeed. It’s a neat trick … then the vibe truly arrives - astonishingly groovy, swingy, 50s-style Stax-y horns hitch a ride on top of the undeniable groove and a wonderful, playful descending bassline appears in the mix, with P banging on about his man having lipstick on his collar. It’s such an familiar yet utterly alien groove - endlessly fascinating - but it isn’t ‘truly special’ … that is, until a majestic, life-affirming, angel-kissed chorus suddenly slides in like Torvil and Dean doing the Bolero at a Bronx rollerskating rink in the 60s. Suddenly, it becomes obvious that this song - simultaneously pastiche and visionary - past present and future at once - is the tune ‘Hey Ya’ thought it was. It genuinely boasts a killer, rollercoaster chorus that will not leave your brain until the day your conciousness leaves this Earth.
I know I’ve been very, um, positive about most of these tracks over the past few days, and I don’t want to guilty of hyperbole and exaggeration, but this is the genuine treasure on this set - a sure fire hit single that P simply tossed on top of his grooves and grooves up on the shelf to languish unheard, unknown, unloved. Unbelievable. To have this up your sleeve when you’re putting out ‘Push/Pish’ just makes it all the more obvious that P thought of his albums like orchestrations, a collection of colours and moods - he’d never just fire his 13 best songs of the year on a disc and enjoy the chart glory. If it didn’t fit the flow, it didn’t get a look in. Another orphan then, but this one is Annie - a shining star, distinctively ‘different’ and genuinely special.
That chorus, if I could describe it, is a three-part doo-woppy harmony of sugarsweet candlestick roller skate rink vocals singing the song’s title, with some wonderful end-of-line call and response ad-libbing from a high falsettoed P (Promise 2 b true baby! Promise to always be true’. It’s a classic, retro girl group motif - incredibly catchy, bubblegum hit material. 'Listen to me chile!' It also has a deeply groovy mid-song breakdown - just bass n drums - that build up again to lead into an orgasmic middle eight that then seamlessly launches into the chorus one more time. It’s such a groove, never lets up, the joy keeps coming - you are privy to the endorphin pumping pleasure in creating something genuinely wonderful. And no key change, not needed. He simply jumps the octave in the verses after the middle eight, taking it to the stars. ‘One more time! Woo Wooo!’
Then, when you think it's over, the bassline changes and comes to the fore in the mix in a classic, old school 'walking' style. It carries the song all the way to the end fade over that hi-energy chorus harmony melody hook. Again, truly surprising - an alchemic brew of late 50s early 60s groove-soul with a lot of Prince weirdness and some great, if mixed low, horns towards the conclusion. Ends in a gospel vocal layering accompanied with a churchy organ. P ushers himself on ‘Go on chile!’ ‘Promise to be true/True/Truuuueeeeee’ And it’s gone. Thee minutes of perfection. The air seems empty without it. Infact, I’m going to listen to it again right now. I expect you’ll all feel the same soon.
8. “Jealous Girl (version 2)”
Prince famously described his songs as children - but not all babies are born equal. Nor are they equally favoured by their parents. The truth is, the vast majority of Prince’s children were orphans, works either never intended for an album or simply not making the cut or fitting the the vibe of the work’s concept/mood. But that doesn’t mean they were unloved - Prince had a number of children that he continually pulled out of his crowded basement - he was the anti-Joseph Fritzl, in a way - and paraded them in front of other creators like a true proud parent - or, some might suggest, pimp - to see who would want to adopt them as their own. The most famous example of these favoured orphans would likely be Wouldn't U Love 2 Love Me - a child Prince even offered up to everyone who walked past, even Michael Jackson at one point. Michael rejected this orphan child, likely because it was too old - around eight at that point. What? Come on, I’m drawing an analogy, nothing more.
There are other examples where P was clearly a proud parent. If I Could Get Ur Attention, 101, Manic Monday, Latino Barbie Doll (which mutated into Baby Don’t Care), I’ll Never B Another Fool, Kept Woman etc. The common denominator with all these tracks P continually attempted to foist upon others (and there are numerous other examples) is interesting - they are all written from the perspective of a woman, or could be perceived that way - either explicitly or implicitly. These favoured orphans are all gender neutral, very modern indeed.
But Jealous Girl falls into the explicitly female camp. And camp is certainly the word, as Prince adopts the persona of an envious, paranoid psychopath who wouldn’t think twice about sinking a stiletto into the eyeballs of any woman who even looked at her man. Originally recorded in 1981, the song had been offered to myriad female performers over the years, folk both in and out of Prince’s inner circle (The proto-Vanity 6 ‘Hookers’, The Bangles and - in an act as bizarre as offering Joni Mitchell the high octane pop froth of Emotional Pump - the great Bonnie Raitt. Prince must have been persuasive, however, because Bonnie even got round to recording an initial vocal, apparently - unlike The Bangles who knew instantly this was no Manic Monday. No-one needs to hear Susannah Hoffs sing the line ‘So I cut up her face.’
A jittery, skeletal rhythm funk guitar underlies the entire track, it’s gently done to complement the prominent hook - here performed by horns - do do do do doooo dooooo - a pretty simply pop motif … on the face of it. A gentle, breezy, lightly energised yet flippant sounding falsetto enters: ‘We been together so so long/Honey I'm ur biggest fan/Other women want u/ But I’d never let them take my man’ So far so, well, conventional. Cookie cutter P. Then something jarring occurs musically - the tempo changes and Prince goes full male voice, snotty, punky, full of attitude - that consciously schizophrenic tendency he enjoyed adopting: ‘He took my girlfriend out on a date!/I didn’t like that so I cut up her face!’ The darkness then simmediately lightened by a multitrack harmony that serves as the chorus: ‘Hey, hey what can I say?/I’m just a jealous girl’ A punch line, quite literally.
The poppy horn line hook works well too. Then, the second verse, same nonchalant, aloof, guilt-free falsetto: ‘I understood that she went to your house/Thats ok cuz I blew up her car’ Killed her pet mouse would have rhymed better, but like Paulie in the Sopranos would say, ‘It is what it is’. Then the chorus line again, becoming more addictive every time: ‘Hey, hey what can I say? I’m just a jealous girl’ As good as it is, I just can’t see Bonnie Raitt - or Susannah Hoffs for that matter - revelling in such sociopathy.
And then, just as you think the musically might be too deliberately breezy to evoke this girl’s shameless state of mind, too clever for its own good, an unexpected turnaround occurs, with a huge chorus of Prince falsettos transcending the affected sly darkness of the lyric. It turns the lights on.’Jealous giiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirl/I’ll never let u go/Jealous giiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirl/Baby I love you so’ Is he the man in the relationship here? Maybe. A guitar solos in the back ground, sassy horn fills then an instrumental break. Suddenly, we’re back to the verse with added quirky multitracks of weird harmonies layered, layered, layered and building up - ‘Baby you’re the one I been dreaming of/Cus you're the warden in the prison of love!’ (Showing my age, but I remember some bootleggers giving this track that actual title, and it’s understandable - the line is delivered pretty powerfully here.
Then - oh no it’s not over yet - we get funky. The rhythm guitar track that was previously muted appears high in the mix and P jams with himself, the drums pop, vocal experiments abound with phrases an fills - yet it’s still airy and breezy. A new guitar line appears - weird, muted chords, alien funk - then it breaks down and the sound is used to signal a build up to the chorus once again, the instruments entering one by one - the drums sound different, huge, weird, echoed - ah, like a big prominent heartbeat taking over the song, conveying the rush of envy a jealous heart feels maybe? Then everything disappears and, aye it’s a jealous heart, pounds out - completely alone - to fade. Jealously will leave you with yourself for company, seemingly, the clear message.
9. “There’s Something I Like About Being Your Fool”
You have to wonder how many forays into reggae were tossed in The Vault. Like Jealous Girl, this was originally recorded in 1981 and perhaps even marks P’s very first flirtation with Jamaica’s second top export. Again offered to Bonnie Raitt, this one is actually not inconceivable, with a bashful smile of a lyric, about not caring how badly he’s being treated in a relationship (always the victim, P) because he’s so in love with the perpetrator.
He’s not asking why he’s being treated so bad this time around, he’s fully accepting of it. Completely complicit in a strange relationship. Which, incidentally, was written around this time too. Be interesting to hear the original SR to see what vibe it had - I’m guessing it was more like this - not reggae, Christ, but slower, more languid and introspective than the version we got on SOTT.
The music of TSILABUF evokes a blissful yet naive state of mind, like the ‘Jealous Girl’ but the other side of the coin. Whereas she was the perpetrator who didn’t give a damn, P is the victim who similarly doesn’t care. Which makes the dark lyrics about all his mistreatment all the more delicious and tasty.
It’s a song composed on a cloud, everything is oxygen, all instrumentation floating on a bed of fuzzy, blinkered adoration for someone who we can tell is a bit of a bastard. It’s obvious to everyone but the singer that they need to get out of this relationship. But there’s just something P likes about being her fool. Again, it’s much smarter than what we absorb on an initial play - a wee chronicle of a kooky relationship that doesn't work but somehow does. Not built to last, but for a moment in time, it fills the entire world.
The music is less foreboding than other P ‘reggae’ influences tunes such as ‘If It’ll Make You Happy’, less overtly sexual than ‘Ripopgodazippa’. More like an airier, spacier, lighter but fuller bloodied and better-conceived, ‘arch’ Blue Light. But don;t let that put you off. It’s catchy as hell and really addictive with a lovely little horn motif running throughout as the main hook.
P sings warmly about a living hell in the verses - he accepts it utterly. ‘You do me like my enemies do’ It all builds up to the hook line and song title ‘But there’s something I like about being your fool’ - before that wonderful, simple but swinging, nine-note instrumental horn hook, which also serves as the song’s chorus.
‘When U tie me up/It’s hard to get me loose/Cus there’s something I like about being your fool’ It’s such a beautiful languid rhythm - and nearing the end, when it’s just grooving, we hear, very faintly, Prince telling the band to move to the key of ‘G’ before moving into a middle eight, then he asks for ‘E’ for a turnaround. And then there’s that lovely chorus melody again - sung over the horn hook midway, be ore he launches into a mellow little guitar solo with lovely Caribbean-style flourishes, complimentary to the songs light, lazy vibe - but don’t assume that means things aren’t tight here - this is The Meg’s anus of reggae. The bass carries the tune until the horn chorus hook and, at the end, unexpectedly, P plays out with some out of place, heavily distorted yet playful guitar scales .. and then it’s over. Like perfume in the air, soon gone.
Final four songs tomorrow. Thank you for your endurance lol.
[Edited 9/17/20 8:23am]