I came home for Thanksgiving Break in 1982, with my dirty laundry, records and stereo in tow. The best part about my college experience was the fact that we had one whole we off. A whole week! So, what’s a college “man” going to do with a whole week off? In my case, find some college from my hometown and cruise the record shops. At least, that’s what we did before Thanksgiving.
While in one store, I kept eying a double album that was priced at a single album’s price. The album cover was some psychedelic take on a purple version of space with faraway white dots representing the stars of the universe. Then, using various G-, PG-, R- and subtly X-rated characters to spell out “Prince 1999”. Before leaving on our excursion, I had read about this album. I knew Rolling Stone gave it a 4 out of 5 stars rating. So, I decided I was going to purchase this album.
Now, I was familiar with Prince’s work. I loved his song “I Wanna Be Your Lover” from the winter of 1979/1980. Then, I knew about the controversy about his 1980 album Dirty Mind, and I had listened to his next album called, ironically enough, Controversy. But, I was not prepared for what I had just prepared. So, that week, I listened to the whole double album five or six times. Sides 1 and 2 are five classic songs that could keep a whole fraternity party dancing all night long. I’m not kidding! Side 1 consists of what seems to be one long dance version of a small medley of songs that are now considered classics: “1999”, “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious”. That album side could be played nearly anywhere without any problems.
But, to me, Side 2 is THE side to dance to. Side 2 consists of only two songs, once again seguing into each other. The first song is “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”, and the second song is “D.M.S.R.” [FYI: D is for Dance, M is for Music, S is for Sex and R is for Romance.] Now, Side 2 is more adult oriented with its content. But, you can sure burn a dance floor with this album side. Being a socially-backward guy, I was taken aback the first time I heard college women singing the vulgar lyrics of both songs at the top of their lungs.
Now, I do enjoy Sides 3 and 4, but they weren’t made for the dance floor. Those sides did hint at what Prince would be doing the rest of the 1980s.
What was strange is that yet another dance-pop oriented album was about to be released the following week. I was prepared to pick that album up, since I had enjoyed his previous album, Off the Wall. Michael Jackson had made an album in 1979 that I was still using to get the frat dance floor going nearly three years later. Now, he was dropping this new album called Thriller. Even though the first song he released a lame duet with the great Paul McCartney called “The Girl Is Mine”.
But, remember, Off the Wall had some great dance songs. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”, “Rock with You”, the title song, they were all great for dance mixes. But, I was not ready for what Thriller was going to hold. Fortunately for Michael Jackson, “The Girl Is Mine” is the third song on Side 1. Because, the first two songs are “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” and “Baby Be Mine” were great dance songs. And, Side 1 ended with what I thought was somewhat of a novelty song, “Thriller”. Now, that song is ubiquitous because of a video that was going to be released almost a year later. In the meantime, I was lukewarm on the album. So, I flipped the album over to play Side 2.
Side 2 was another great dance side. Look at this line-up of songs: “Beat It”, “Billie Jean”, “Human Nature”, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” and “The Lady in My Life”. Side 1 still had the dance fire-brand “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”, but the dance floor could be filled with Side 2’s line-up of songs.
So, all of a sudden, now I had two of the greatest dance albums of all-time in my album collection, and they both came out within a month of being released. For the rest of the decade, the two would be competing with and against each other musically. Remember that Eddie Van Halen guitar solo in “Beat It”? Prince had his own in “Little Red Corvette”? Remember the new wave sounds of Prince’s “Delirious” that Michael rode his own new wave with “P.Y.T.” It was like Michael Jackson and Prince were listening to every different kind of radio and were now incorporating these sounds as they changed rock, dance, R&B, well, music throughout the 1980s.
Looking back, Michael musically peaked with Thriller, while Prince was still an album away from peaking with Purple Rain. The two would be intertwined throughout the ’80s and into the ’90s. Prince did his work by his prolific output, while Michael milked each album with every hit song he could find. But, there was no denying what those two did for music and the reprocussions that we are still experiencing today. We all finally got pop music that incorporated all genres of music. The irony was that the two albums that changed music forever was released within a month of each other. I just can’t escaped that fact.