Have you ever had back spasms? Man, they are the worst. Ever since my first back surgery back in 2002, I have had back spasms to varying levels of tolerance. So, after a great Easter Sunday spent with my family, my back staged a delayed retaliation against the lower half of my body that knocked me down all day yesterday. All I could do was lay around and sleep. Thank goodness for PBS docuseries on the great American blunder called The Prohibition. I actually learned more about it in much greater detail than I had ever in my youth. That Puritan culture that came over from Europe has really screwed with our sensibilities over here. Fortunately, I grew up Lutheran, who along with the Episcopalians were the only American protestant denominations to refuse to sign the measure to get alcohol banned over here. Between that and Luther’s 95 theses, we some major wins on our side. But enough of that stuff, let’s jump into some rock music.
Monday, I wrote about a double album that I think just might be the most perfect album ever released, at least during my enlightened years. That album was The Clash’s masterpiece, London Calling. Now, today, I want to talk about another double album that I thoroughly enjoy. However, this one was more of a slow burner for me. Everyone who follows this blog knows that I am a HUGE Prince fan, so much so that when he passed away, my brother texted my boys for them to check on me that day. At the time, I wondered why everyone was calling me, until one of the boys spilled the beans on their uncle. Anyway, I will always hold Purple Rain AND 1999 as two of my ten favorite albums of all time. Yet, the album that I have continued to revisit over the years has not been those two, but Prince’s third masterpiece of the Eighties, Sign ‘O’ the Times.
Now, me being a singles guy deep down, I have always dug the big three songs on this album: the title song, “U Got the Look” and “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.” Everyone knows those songs anchor the album. Still, it’s the songs in between that make this album so rich and such a great listen. So, where do I begin? Most people might go to “Housequake,” that funky song with the altered vocals (known as “Camille,” a Prince alter-ego) and a great concert centerpiece. Others might choose “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” another Camille vocal that makes the whole song a bit unnerving. Me? I keep finding myself loving “It” more and more after every listen. To me, this is a stripped down version of his Nineties sound, making it the perfect transition from the Eighties glory days to the Nineties funkafied era. Plus, you get to hear some string sections that must have been written for a totally different song by the great composer Clare Fisher.
But I have to tell you that three songs truly provide the depth of this album. First, there is “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” and “Slow Love,” two diametrically opposed songs in that the former is a folkish song while the latter is an R&B song just begging to be placed on one of those “Make Out” mixtapes we used to record back in the Eighties. But, what they have in common is a lyrical nod to Joni Mitchell, whom Prince loved. The third song of this triumvirate is the oddball “Starfish and Coffee.” This song represents Prince just telling all the Top 40 fans to “F-off” because he’s going in places you could never imagine, much like he did back on his self-titled second album with “Bambi.”
If you loved Around the World in a Day or Parade, Prince gave us a much more confident version of his neo-psychedelic sound with “Hot Thing.” Then, there was the last Revolution song, the James Brown-esque “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night.” Both songs proved that the Purple One still had his funk card. Yet, for all of the brilliance of all the songs on this album, one song remains THE song on this album and maybe in the whole Prince catalogue, which we all know is stuffed with timeless songs.
I will NEVER get over the emotional response I had when I first heard the man’s most overt religious song, “The Cross.” This song is Prince’s “Stairway to Heaven,” plain and simple. Like that aforementioned classic, this song is a slow-building rock song that has the emotional depth that Contemporary Christian artists could only dream about. When I saw Prince on his Lovesexy tour, “The Cross” was the climax of that show. Never before or since had a performance of a song move me so much. The man cut to the essence of Christianity, which humans have totally screwed up. Today, as a sufferer of debilitating chronic back pain, his lyrics of “If We Can Just Bear the Cross” means more to me than anything I ever learned in confirmation classes 40+ years ago. The lyrics are short, concise and succinct, proving that less can be more.
Since Prince’s untimely passing, his estate his re-releasing some of his twenty-first century albums on vinyl, and believe me, I do not care how many purple vinyl albums I have, I will always get his stuff. Currently, I have everything from his debut through Graffiti Bridge on original vinyl, as well as Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. But, I have been slowly adding his most recent releases beginning with lotu3flow3r/MNPLSound to HitNRun2, still awaiting 20TEN‘s vinyl release along with all of the Nineties stuff. I just like vinyl more than the CDs I still own and treasure. I still love the sound of that needle in the grooves. Plus, as an old fart, I can read the liner notes better on the bigger album.