#2 Prince: 1999 (Super Deluxe Edition)

For a Christmas present, he sent for me to come out on the road to see him, all expenses paid. It was New Year’s Eve in Dallas for the 1999 tour. That’s when I totally got it. I had never seen anybody give so much to an audience. I got weak in the knees. I was by the soundboard and the soundman got me a chair. Then I was literally up screaming with the crowd and dancing, and it was like, ‘Oh, my God. This guy’s incredible.’ That’s when I realized who I was working with.

Audio engineer Peggy McCreary

Oh, I’m sorry, did you forget about my Prince Journey? Did you think that albums on the journey couldn’t possibly finish this high? I regret to inform you that we’ve already entered the greatest run of albums in music history, so we’re likely to see Prince albums populating Necessary Evil’s top five until likely ‘Batman’ in around 2028. Also, it’s my (29th) birthday today, and you’re not going to let me talk about one of the greatest albums ever??

Back in 1982, this must have felt like it. Prince’s fifth album must have sounded like the ultimate and crowning masterpiece of His career. Not just ‘to date’, either, as ‘1999’ is such a comprehensive set of searing yet succeeded ambitions that it would have seemed unfeasible that Prince had anywhere left to go. He seemed to have finally perfected his mission statement: combining His formative ‘Minneapolis Sound’ with rock, reggae, electro pop, and heavy metal guitar screeches to create something entirely new, and to combine it with perfectly crafted pop songs to appeal to the mainstream. Prince had a one off hit song back in ’79 with the peppy I Wanna Be Your Lover, but as He’d grown as an artist and expanded his palate with more experimental and ambitious albums His commercial success had’t matched his critical one. Now, promoted by pop hits like Delirious, the inescapable title track and Little Red Corvette – legitimately one of the most perfect pop songs ever crafted – ‘1999’ provided that proper breakthrough. Despite being a double album, it entered the the US top 10, sold a million copies in only a few months and – despite being released in late 1982 – it’s staying power was enough for it to be the fifth biggest selling album of 1983.

Of course, this was no surprise to Prince, and only exactly what He had planned for.

Prince always knew how good He was, He was well aware of what a musical revolution He was heading up, but He also accepted the ceiling that would always be on His ambition were He outside the castle walls. So He plotted His excursion into the inner circle. He would craft enough of the most undeniable and infectious mainstream pop songs to bring in the fans to experience His more outlandish sonic explorations elsewhere on the album. Audio engineer McCreary remembers being chided by Prince for whistling Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon in the studio: “That’s the competition!“. Perhaps ‘1999’ had to be a double album because Prince was not yet confident enough in His ability to completely marry His expansive eclecticism with His incredible pop nous. Maybe, despite all of the confidence He projected, He was wary of His diehard fans labeling him a sellout, and so bolstered the record with such a sheer amount of spectacular genius (Delirious is the only track on 1999 less than five minutes long) as some sort of compensation. If that’s the case, then ‘1999’ might be the most enjoyable case of nervous overcompensation ever committed to record.

And these big hit songs (in design, execution, and – after release – reality) were hardly soulless panderings to commercial interests. Delirious was an inspired take on rockabilly that continued Prince’s mission to bring back rock music to the black community and also set fire to the barriers imposed by the ‘problematic’ segregation of broadcast stations at the time. 1999 as a song is… yes, I know, it’s reached that point of cultural saturation where attempting to properly evaluate its merits is like debating how bright the sun is, so the majesty of the track might by now be impossible to appreciate. On original release, the song only reached #44 on the US charts, and failed to make the top ten on any country on Earth apart from Australia and Belgium. It’s rerelease in 1983 added Canada to that list and scraped the US top ten with its #12 placing. In 1985 – after Prince Himself had released two subsequent albums – it finally achieved immortality by placing #2 in the UK and #3 in Ireland. The track reached the UK top ten again in 1999 (natch) and #27 after His death in 2016. Little Red Corvette though, that was the real breakthrough. An important breakthrough single for black artists in an era when The Police and Men at Work were in heavy rotation, and also an important single for people who like good things. Prince tuning down his previous explicit eroticism just enough to not ruffle the mainstream’s feathers (“She had a pocket full of horses/Trojans, and some of them used”. I still maintain it’s the greatest ever song about someone who’s carrying around used condoms) and putting it in a perfect pop song that now might sound like a staple but sounded like nothing else on the radio back in 1982.

And these were the easy listens designed to pull people in! The rest of ‘1999’s 70 minutes are when Prince truly has the handbreaks off – more so than at any other point in His career up to that point (and perhaps for many years afterwards) and offers up the most incredible music of His life. Of anyone’s life. Let’s Pretend We’re Married is a career highlight, managing to take a hook and central musical premise even simpler than Delirious – one that lesser artists would assume is a three minute throwaway – and edging it it out for a joyous seven minute electronic epic. International Lover isn’t quite as accomplished a ‘Top Shagger Ode/TSO’ as the previous record’s Do Me Baby, but it highlights Prince’s evolution from the brutally explicit sexuality of previous records to a more playful lyrical style (though it loses points because Prince – despite getting to the level of actually owning private jets in the future – never actually called one ‘Seduction 747’). Dance, music, sex and romance were pretty much Prince four guiding motives in His early years (and, sigh, I guess you’d have to chuck God in there, I guess), so it was good to get them all collated on the eight minute dance epic D.M.S.R. Automatic is another jawdropping all-timer, still sound quite unlike anything else (in terms of both sound and dang quality) forty years later. A nuanced and possibly extremely problematic dissection of desire as neither really good nor bad, just an unshakable impulse you have no control over, and included a video that was banned everywhere and never even submitted to MTV, ending with backing vocalists’s Lisa Coleman and Jill Jones enacting S&M revenge on Prince while he lay tied to a bed (“I remember how you kissed me/Not with your lips but with your soul/With you I’m never bored, talk to me some more/I can hear you, I’m going to have to torture you now”). The video wouldn’t get an official public airing until 2017. Oh! Speaking of the Revolution! No, they’re not yet fully credited as the recording as the album’s creators, but this was the first album to properly feature the band. And you see that album cover?

Yeah, it’s backwards, but it’s there!

The amazingly surly All the Critics Love You in New York is… a funny song?? A joke?? A spoof?? It sees Prince seemingly mock the hip new wave movement – and the general critical fawning over anything baring the tropes – by affecting a disengaged and passionless voice and, perhaps accidentally, making one of the greatest new wave rock songs of the era. He also peppers the track with stirring gutar shredding because that’s just A-U-T-O-matic. And on the incomparable Lady Cab Driver motherfucker just throws everything at the wall, musically. It’s a marvelous eight minute funk-jazz epic (despite claiming on All the Critics… that it was “Time for jazz to die”) as a millionaire cab driver – who obviously just does the job as a lark to pick up people like Prince – takes Him to her mansion and tries to bonk His existential dread (“Lady cab driver, can you take me for a ride?/Don’t know where I’m goin’ ’cause I don’t know where I’ve been/So just put your foot on the gas, let’s drive/Lady, don’t ask questions/Promise I’ll tell you no lies/Trouble winds are blowin’, I’m growin’ cold/Get me outta here, I feel I’m gonna die”) straight out of him. Prince ends up dedicating every… lunge… to various people He believes are at the root of his ennui that he wishes to fuck away (“This is for why I wasn’t born like my brother, handsome and tall/This is for politicians who are bored and believe in war”. There are about 19 similar dedications), including “Yosemite Sam and the tourists at Disneyland”?? The tourists at Disneyland? Absolutely fuck Disney adults, right? But Yosemite Sam?? Come on Prince, are you that big a Bugs Bunny stan?? Lay off Sam, alright?

It’s quite a ride. In both senses. Oh! In that sense too!! Many layers.

So why isn’t this album the best of the year?? Thank you for bringing that up, as I hadn’t thought about it at all over the past twelve months. Over the past five years. Thank you for bringing that up, because in 2018 I didn’t state that “My current journey through Prince’s back catalogue means that I’ll be coming into contact with ‘1999; around 2022, and I was worried that it might be the first instance of Prince embarrassingly winning the album of the year with a 40 year old record, because I couldn’t imagine any contemporary record being better than an album I’ve grown to regard as Prince’s greatest”. Weeeeeeeeeeell… I no longer believe that this is Prince’s greatest album first of all. The highs are definitely among his highest ever, but I’ve never been able to connect with D.M.S.R and I straight up think Free is a stinker. One track I don’t love and one track I hate? Yeah, there are high standards around the Prince household I’m afraid. His best is yet to come (although I’m not 100% sure at what album), and there are no laws against Him coming first in the future.

Also, in a blatant attempt to give other artist’s a chance, I decided that the entire 2019 reissue would be in contention. All 65 songs and almost six hours of it. Edits, mono versions, amazing b-sides, a lot of amazing tracks from the vault and live recordings. I didn’t include the DVD because I don’t have a DVD player. Still, only one record managed to beat it. And it was marginal.

But ‘1999’ only fails when measured up to the artist’s own back catalogue. It’s an absolutely extraordinary record, and a masterpiece that only 0.001% of recording artists ever could hope to match. It also captures the last moment when Prince was attempting to separate his pop genius from his more experimental jazz stylings. For the next few records, he would simply attempt to make all over masterpieces.

Also, he had this idea about making a movie.

The Story so Far

For You (1978) 2018 #68

Prince (1979) 2019 #54

Dirty Mind (1980) 2020 #7

Controversy (1981) 2021 #6

Metacritic: 100

Just thought I’d stick that there

3 thoughts on “#2 Prince: 1999 (Super Deluxe Edition)

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