1999 – Prince (1983)

1999 album cover
1999 album cover

While yesterdays entry Computer Games from George Clinton was for some the pinnacle of electro-funk (thanks to “Atomic Dog”), just as many thought Clinton’s music was too cartoonish to be taken seriously. It may have been one of the reasons he never really caught on in the mostly segregated world of mainstream radio.

On the side of the electro funk equation was Prince. Through much of my middle school years his music was the sort of thing that all young black people kept to themselves, as his raunchy androgyny was something of a community secrete. As soundtracks to saucy relations, songs like “Jack U Off”, “Head” and “Controversy” established him as an alternative to the bubbly R&B of the late ’70s.

Then in 1982 Prince would start his accent to his place in the ’80s musical trinity alongside Madonna and Micheal Jackson. 1999 was striking in that Prince had a cohesive and refined style that included drum machines and synthesizers. Unlike others using the same musical toys, Prince’s new backup band The Revolution would also play traditional instruments, with electronics sent to the background in live performances. 1999 saw the fusion of rock, funk,new wave and R&B, a direction hinted to as early as Dirty Mind in 1980. The fact that 1999 was Prince’s fifth album since 1979 attested to his prodigious creative splurge that would continue well into his career.

1999 was hugely influential, thanks to the one two punch of the title track and the followup single “Little Red Corvette”, two tracks that almost blended into each other on the original 2 LP set. All the raunch Prince was known for peppered with the occasional political statement was in place.

Prince had played around with new wave styles in the past as in “Ronnie, Talk to Russia” on Controversy, but 1999 would take it a step further with synths and the double whipping sound that would become a trademark Revolution sound. While “Automatic” and “Delirious” were concessions to new wave, it would be the familiar styles of “D.M.S.R.” and “Lets Pretend We’re Married” that were initial R&B radio favorites.

In one album Prince pretty much established the blueprint for about a third of all ’80s R&B. The ballad “International Lover” showed a side of Prince not often seen as a smooth crooner. The song became part of the early Quite Storm movement. Other songs like “Lady Cab Driver” foreshadowed a common narrative that would be delivered by the Time and Apollonia 6.

It was not too long after the release of 1999, that the title song was played on MTV. It was a big deal in that very few black artist were shown on MTV. Those new fans who saw Prince in his vaugely Edwardian metalic purple army coat were no doubt attracted by the danceable funk and new wave mix of “1999”, but bought the album for its clever diversity and titillating raunch, as only Prince could deliver it.

So there you have it. By the Spring of 1983, “Atomic Dog” became the funk anthem of the hood while “1999” did it for the rest of us. Funk was never the same afterward. The popularity of “1999” prompted a few re-issues, each with the track D.M.S.R. included after it was omitted on early CD pressings in order to make the entire album fit on one CD. 1999 was the perfect preview to the sounds that came shortly after with Purple Rain. By that time the Prince sound had already launched a 1,000 clones (or so it seemed).

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