My Favorite Prince Song
Note: This story was originally published on my blog (in slightly different form) on April 25, 2016.
I was at the library doing research for the follow-up to my debut novel when I got the news of Prince’s untimely passing. My first thought was that it was a hoax, the type of hoax that Prince, who never tired of courting controversy, may have perpetrated himself. And celebrity death hoaxes are relatively commonplace, anyway. (Didn’t someone perpetrate an internet death hoax about Gabourey Sidibe a few weeks ago? Come to think of it Abe Vigoda — God rest his soul — had to deal with that more than a few times when he was alive, too.) But no, the story was true; Prince Roger Nelson was indeed dead at the relatively young age of 57.
When I was in elementary school and just beginning to take an interest in pop music, Prince was the third person of a chart-topping, record-busting pop music triumvirate — Michael Jackson and Madonna being the other two. At that time, you could not tune into any Top 40 radio station without hearing a song by at least one of those artists at least once per day. In fact, it wasn’t at all unusual to hear songs by all three of those artists multiple times in one day.
I guess that’s why the loss of Prince felt oddly personal, especially considering the fact that I never knew the man or even saw him perform live. As I walked home from the library, I meditated on all the records of his that I eagerly consumed as a youngster.
The first Prince song I ever remember hearing was “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” I loved the disco-y baseline, funky guitar riffs, and Prince’s trilling falsetto. And I always broke into mystified giggles at the top of the second verse (“I want to be your brother/I want to be your mother and your sister, too”).
I was a little older when “Delirious,” one of the best dance tracks of the eighties, hit the charts; “Let’s Go Crazy” and “1999”, also imminently danceable, were laden with subtle but no less evocative religious symbolism. “Raspberry Beret” is one of the best story-songs ever written. Even though I didn’t quite “get” the lyrics as a kid, I always appreciated the swell of the violins and cellos in the background. I got into a rather passionate argument with my brother, Larry, who always — always — misunderstood song lyrics, about “I Would Die For U”. (My brother thought Prince was saying “dapple.”) Despite my youth, the lyrics of “When Doves Cry” reasonated with me (“maybe I’m just like my mother/She’s never satisfied”), never mind the fact that “Doves” doesn’t have a baseline. I never cared for “Purple Rain” too much but I have to say that the closing guitar solo was ass-whoopin’, arguably one of the best of all time.
But my favorite Prince song most definitely has to be “Kiss.” Even now, thirty years after I heard it the first time and the eighty-six kazillion times I’ve heard it since, I can honestly say that I have never — not one time — tired of it.
I love its instrumental sparseness. After all, there are only four instruments on the track — electric guitar, accoustic guitar, bass, and drums. Prince’s vocals, that miasmic falsetto interspersed with well-timed grunts and improvisations, were spot on, as always. And “Kiss” is short and sweet; the radio version of the song clocks in at just under four minutes.
But the thing that I always loved most about “Kiss” were its lyrics. Or, more accurately, the surprisingly simple message bedrocking them — that one didn’t have to be “special” to attract the romantic interest of a worthy partner.
What’s amazing about it is the fact that NO ONE else says that. Pop music, with all of its romantic hyperbole, would have you believe that only the prettiest, nicest, smartest women can warrant romantic interest from an amorous songster. What Prince said in “Kiss” was along the lines of “you can be decidedly average but if I like you, I will put up with you.” Not only was Prince offering basic human tolerance, he was also promising pleasure, sexual and otherwise. (“You just leave it all up to me/ And we can have a good time.”) What other major league pop star has made such a pronouncement?
I don’t know the answer to that question. I do know this — no pop star, no matter how talented or innovative, will ever quite fill Prince’s musical shoes. I know that his work will live on forever, that people who weren’t even alive during his musical reign will be analyzing and copying his unique style for as long as humans continue to make music.