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.
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 peppyI 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.
It’s a long way to the end if I want to jack you off. Year four of my approximately thirty year crusade to revisit and document each Prince album annually. I’ve so far found that His first two albums, unfortunately, really don’t stand up to modern scrutiny, but his third album ‘Dirty Mind‘ was as demonstrative a mark of His genius and as revelatory an LP in 2020 as it was in 1980. That album reached #7 on the year end chart and, fair warnings, we’re going to see a fair few of his following albums do the same, as that masterpiece officially kicked off one of the greatest run of albums any artist has done, ever.
While ‘Dirty Mind’ is much lauded over and intensely debated to this day, and His fifth album frequently joins it on lists of greatest albums ever (as does His sixth. And His seventh. And His eighth. And His ninth. And occasionally His tenth. Probably not His eleventh though), His follow up and fourth album ‘Controversy’ doesn’t get anywhere near the same attention. It seems to be looked upon as merely a transitional point between Prince really nailing down the style and the look on ‘Dirty Mind’ and then later finding the right mix of invariables to make him the biggest star in the world.
I feel I can’t rank this record any higher. It’s designed to accompany a drug trip and I have been stone cold and continuously, shamelessly sober since its release three weeks ago. Well…kinda… all my prescription medications kind of mean I’m blissfully high as a kite 24 hours a day so as not to acknowledge the overwhelming pain of day to day existence. But that’s my norm, so it doesn’t count. Sometime in January, I’m going to take some psychedelics and then blog about my altogether more valid opinion. That’s not a joke. It’s an excuse to take drugs as a professional study, why on Earth would I turn that down?
Yeah, it’s a bad idea, but name one good idea in my wntire life? And look how succesful I am. Exactly. Expect a potentially life destroying blog entry some weekend in January. You realise that I’m killing myself for your entertainment? Good. Just checking we’re on the same page.
(*or should that be semenal?? No. No, ‘seminal’ is the correct spelling. I just checked)
After his firsttwo albums, all things considered, Prince was really nothing special aside from an admittedly talented performer with the nice little gimmick of being able to play a lot of instruments. Aside from taking a little detour into filthiness with Soft and Wet and proving his rock chops, if only briefly, with I’m Yours, his first album was deserving of little more than a polite applause for the ability on show. His second album, although technically superior in almost every sense, containing his first hit in the heavily disco influenced I Wanna Be Your Lover and, to me, his first stone cold classic in When We’re Dancing Close and Slow* , it was actually frustrating to listen to 40 years later with the benefit of hindsight and knowing exactly what this talent would one day become. There was close to nothing to these albums, they were more often than not box ticking genre albums. Where was the invention? Where was the subversion? Where was the star quality? There was next to no clue where Prince was about to take his sound, his image or his provocativeness.
The potentially 29 year project to revisit each album in Prince’s back catalogue year by year continues. And, to be honest, living with his self-titled second album (what?! You self-title your first album, not your fricking second!! Jesus absolutely nothing about this album is quite right!) for a year has felt more like a slog, an irritating inconvenience, than the wonderful dissection of genius that I’d hoped this project would be.
I thought 1978’s ‘For You’ was an extremely accomplished debut, if chronically unexciting in places, that nonetheless showed occasional hints of real talent buried deep beneath the beautiful if uninspired orchestral arrangements. The real disappointment with ‘Prince’ is that, despite it probably being a better and more accomplished album than its predecessor, there doesn’t seem to be much desire to push his sound further and evolve much from his debut. If anything, it’s basically a simple reworking of his debut with eyes on making his sound more commercial. As great as it is in places (and, as we’ll get into, it really is great in places), there’s an ever so slightly mercenary feel to ‘Prince’, it must have felt to most observers in 1979 that this shy little weirdo from Minneapolis was obviously happy to just keep releasing the same album again and again, perhaps with slightly more commercial styling than last time.
And so I embark on the largest, most ambitious, vital and- dare I say it?- woke undertaking of my young life. Yes: ‘young’. Relatively, I mean. In comparison to most trees.
Starting with Necessary Evil 2018, I am going to include one Prince album a year on the list, starting with His 1977 debut and ending when I reach His final album, ‘Hit N Run Phase 2’ that was released in 2015 (one of the very few Prince albums I’ve never actually heard, though I was sufficiently unimpressed with it’s predecessor to beg “oh God please don’t subject us to phase 2…”). I will eventually provide the definitive reaction to each and every officially released album credited to either Prince or New Power Generation (word to the wise, New Power Generation released some stinkers). Prince was a recording artist for thirty seven years, but I’m going to be concentrating on the years in which He actually released music. That means this will take me thirty years. It’s a big task, but I’m man enough to do it.
I’m not going to bore you with dog piss stories about how Prince was so important to me and he made an impression on my life and how this is all actually a tragedy for me…
No, it goes without saying that Prince should be recognised as at least as important a musical figure as dreary tossers like Bob Dylan or Paul McCartney. He was one of music’s all time great visionaries, yet he never neglected the importance of a great cod-piece. Prince’s run of albums from 1980’s Dirty Mind through to maybe 88’s Lovesexy is a burst of musical creativity and productiveness that has only been matched by the Beatles in the late 60s. Only the Beatles never wrote a lyric as good as “Look here, Marsha, I’m not saying this just 2 be nasty/I sincerely wanna f**k the taste out of your mouth”
So difficult not to refer to it as a ‘purple patch’…
So instead I’m going to attempt something near impossible: ranking all the Prince albums I own, which probably amounts to about 2.8% of his recorded. Prince has an irritating and presumably mischievously intentional habit of putting at least one stone cold classic on even his shittest albums, so just dive in people!!