Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dearly beloved...

36 Prince and the Revolution, ‘Let’s Go Crazy’

Singers have been singing about sex since Adam wandered through Eden humming to himself while eating an apple. Old blues songs didn’t mince any words or hold back any details. Elvis frightened white America because he moved in a licentious way while making white girls go weak. Robert Plant wanted his lemon squeezed until the juice ran down his leg, for God’s sake.

My first dawning that music and sex were inextricably linked was in 1971. I ordered a copy of The Mothers Live at The Fillmore from the RCA record club – it was on sale and worth a punt. I knew nothing about Frank Zappa or the Mothers Of Invention or that ‘The Mothers’ was polite shorthand. Boy was I in for a surprise.

What greeted me was an album I could never play without headphones on – my parents would have killed me. My mother refused to let me buy a copy of Joe Cocker’s Cocker Happy because she considered the title vaguely rude. She never actually said that, I just picked that up from her roundabout explanation over time. What would she say if she heard The Mothers rapping overtly about sex with groupies, prostitutes and mudsharks??? This was all a scarey proposition for a teenage boy growing up in sheltered New Zealand suburbia. Things would never be the same again.

In retrospect this was all great training for my time as an academic, studying English at university. Shakespeare and Chaucer were no great revelation because Frank Zappa had laid the groundwork (so to speak). I was able to understand double entendre and sexual symbolism at the drop of a hat (watching Benny Hill on television may have also helped).

By the 1980’s and 1990’s the world had moved on in many ways but singers were still singing about sex. My life had certainly moved on and changed dramatically – my beloved mother had died and I was married with children of my own. The standards my parents had set remained with me though, and I still don’t own a copy of Cocker Happy. Although I was no longer listening to The Mothers Live at the Fillmore I was listening to Prince.

Depending on who you listen to, Prince is either a genius, a chancer, a sex maniac, a freak, or all of the above. Those who think him a chancer/freak should listen to Sometimes It Snows In April. For a while there (1982’s 1999 until 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls) I was a rabid fan. Then he wrote ‘slave’ on his face, started releasing 10 CD sets of everything he twiddled with while insisting the world call him an unpronounceable symbol.

Let’s Go Crazy though is Prince in his purple prime. It kicks off the Purple Rain album with gusto! All attitude, sexual strutting and Hendrix guitar – it’s a massive statement of purpose after the lengthy wig outs that mostly make up 1999.

We’ve come a long way since Elvis haven’t we, but in many ways Prince is a direct descendant of those old blues records that sing of strutting red roosters bossing the barnyard. Everything is very explicit in the song. He’s Prince and when he says ‘let’s go nuts’, he’s not talking about getting a bag of cashews. You want further evidence? How about, ‘She picked up the phone, Dropped it on the floor, (Sex, sex) is all I heard’ . This is pretty tricky stuff to sing about without lapsing into corny self-parody. To sing it you need to be convincing. Prince somehow manages it while dressed in purple and mugging the camera, to say nothing of his antics with his guitar.

My Prince listening days are pretty much over. My sons and extended family tell me about his latest album from time to time (pretty good according to them) but I can’t believe he’s ever going to better Purple Rain as an album and Let’s Go Crazy as a song. And let's hear it for The Revolution!

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