by Dave de Sylvia EMERITUS
April 18th, 2006 | 65 replies

Release Date: 1982 | Tracklist

From a very early age I began to associate Prince with my cousin. Bear with me. She was a good twelve or so years older than me and after finishing school she went to live in America for a couple of years and, similarly, Prince came to represent everything that was exotic and American in my mind with that oh-so-feminine falsetto and slick proto-Saved By The Bell loud suits. When she'd periodically return home she'd take with her the best America had to offer a seven or eight year-old: Reese's Pieces; peanut butter-filled M&Ms; LA Lights with and without peanut butter filling- it was like Christmas twice a year to compound real Christmas. Good thing we didn't go to church, then. So anyway, Prince for me exemplified this high life I imagined my cousin was living over in Cape Cod, Massachusetts- a location I correctly identified as a cross between bustling New York City and a small fishing village in the west of Ireland. In other words, he was hot shit.

And I hated him.

I hated his stupid high voice, I hated his stupid hair and you better believe I hated him for wearing a red suit. Remember what I said about Christmas? It didn't apply to this guy. It was only as the years rolled on that a few wrongs seemed to be righted. First off it became clear that he was singing falsetto on purpose and that wasn't actually his real voice. Next, I began to notice that a lot of musicians actually adored the guy (not least my cousin, who saw him live when he forgot his name and had the ticket stub to prove it). Slowly it began to become apparent that he was actually the purveyor of many of those classic tracks I had stored in my consciousness and attributed to nooneinparticular: Raspberry Beret, When Doves Cry, Gett Off, 1999, you know the ones.

As Prince's fifth album, 1999 predates my grudge by fully twelve years. In 1982, it became his first top ten album; this was no doubt aided by the dubious practice of counting double-vinyl release twice. In retrospect- hell, it was probably so at the time- it's unfathomable that we could deny him the honour, but it's a bothersome piece of trivia nonetheless. 1999 came quickly on the heels of the classic Dirty Mind and Controversy, two albums which though reasonably successful were more revered by musos for their scope and genre-hopping eloquence than by his intended mass audience. It's no coincidence that Prince's first four albums are so conspicuously underrepresented in later compilations- they didn't achieve their intended purpose of making the artist then known as Prince an artist known by everyone. If 1999 didn't succeeded in realising him goal, it certainly laid the "black carpet," so to speak.

Thematically, 1999 patrols much the same territory as his other '80s compositions: sex, race, social issues and liberal applications of, umm, more sex. The title track kicks off the pop side of the album- the first four tracks were all singles- a funky party anthem which has thankfully dated with far more grace than its title. An apparent protest against nuclear proliferation, '1999' was originally conceived as a three-part harmony. The verse was however re-written in the studio to accommodate three lead vocalists, each trading phrases, which created a sort of Family Stone vibe which acts in contraposition to the more aggressive, clipped delivery of the chorus.

The next two tracks are more "pure pop" though sticking closely to the party soul which pervades through the album. 'Little Red Corvette' was originally the b-side to '1999' before achieving chart success of its own merit, becoming his biggest hit to date. The Beach Boys parallels are more than likely coincidental, however it's by no means an exaggeration to place Prince and Wilson in the same category at this time, young men caught between realising a fuller, more personal artistic vision and writing hit singles about fast cars and faster women; there's even a happy synthesis as Prince's coveted corvette is one of his now legendary thinly-veiled sexual metaphors (can you drive?)

As a piece of music, 'Little Red Corvette' is the least interesting on the album, though sure to elicit the most immediate emotional reaction. Similarly, 'Delirious' is one of the simpler compositions on the album, though instead of the breezy synth-heavy approach Prince instead adopts a strong fuzzy bass-line to give the song a nouveau-rockabilly feel, inadvertently charting the tiny step one needs to take from 12-bar blues to slick dance-floor soul. The album cut of final single 'Let's Pretend We're Married' is an indulgent seven minutes in length, perhaps itself an overarching sexual innuendo, setting the tone for the blunt machismo of this proto-rap track which culminates in Prince proclaiming: "I want to fuck the taste out of your mouth!" Charming.

These four tracks alone suffice to explain why 1999 was the pop sensation it was, and as a whole it's undoubtedly a landmark pop album in tandem with Dirty Mind and Purple Rain, however there remaining tracks are equally if not more interesting for their non-adherence to pop rules. All the singles were cut down from five minute-plus durations, yet it's the uncompromising 'Lady Cab Driver' and 'Automatic' which truly push things musically, taking in almost eighteen minutes as a pair. Both deal with the singer's favourite subject with the rigorous attention to detail for which he's legendary. 'Automatic' is Prince's very own ode to bondage which he so graciously limited to just nine and a half minutes of pop minimalism, as paradoxical as the term may seem. He utilises little more than a drum machine and sparse bass to keep his sonic experimentation in check, an early vision of his later, more heavily orchestrated, flirtations with sound effects. 'Lady Cab Driver,' from the 'Darling Nikki' school of borderline obscenities, walks a similarly risqué track of highly charged sexual bravado and trials in funky synth-pop.

Though it would be remiss and even insulting to profess that there's just two sides to Prince, it's a useful analogy to draw in this instance. The two sides of 1999, despite their huge similarity, are perfect examples of the two ways in which to digest Prince's music, and the two ways in which his music is meant to be taken. On one side we have the timeless pop songs which Prince would so effortlessly produce over the next decade without ever becoming staid or repetitive yet, on the other side, we have a Prince who exhibits all the same pop sensibilities and ability coupled with an insatiable lust for endeavour and exploration which drove him to redraw the boundaries of pop music in the '80s. It may come across as indulgent and even trite in places, despite my championing of his experimental virtues, but it"s certainly not an album that's revered for arbitrary reasons.

Returning to an original point, it's arguably as much down to chance that Prince became a pop sensation in 1982 and '83. OK, maybe the double album theory is a little watery, but there's another story. MTV was in its infancy and of the few who were making full use of video's capability as a medium, two were already soul legends: Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie.

So maybe it was just because he was black.

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user ratings (552)
other reviews of this album
danielsfrebirth (5)
One of the greatest pop albums ever made; also one of the most insane...

Comments:Add a Comment 
April 19th 2006


Duran Duran were white and they owned MTV as much as anyone back in the day. :mtv101: But Simon LeBon is now blacker than Michael so we'll let them in on a technicality.
Here's the thing... I know Prince is awesome and a mad talented guitarist, but I've always just found him too creepy. I have the big hits stored somewhere in the back of my mind, but now that I've grown up a little I think I might try Prince again. This looks like a smashing place to start.
As for the review, I give it 1,999 symbols out of 2,000.

April 19th 2006


Ireland doesn't have Reese's Pieces??? Good lord, no wonder you've resorted to liking glam metal.

but theriouthly, great review.

The Jungler
April 19th 2006


Great job, I'm not to into Prince, but I've got to give him another chance.

black guy
April 19th 2006


I agree with both you album rating and your description of Cape Cod.

April 19th 2006


Great review, great album.
I love Prince, Little Red Corvette is one of my favourite songs ever, along with My Name Is Prince and Seven. Oh, and 1999. And...
No, no, I'll stop gushing like a fanboy.
Well done, anyway.

April 19th 2006


Peanut Butter M&Ms are amazingly awesome. Great review, Prince can make some nice groovy songs but sometimes I think he sounds stupid and corny. I don't know, it's hard to explain.

April 19th 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

This album rocks my socks. Really nice tight review, too. You touch on all the important things and give a lot of interesting information. I also like all the personal impressions. Nice read. This album almost gets a 5 star rating from me, but alas I can't go quite that far. It's just a superior work all around.

May 30th 2007


Album Rating: 5.0

Dear Sir ,

It is true thing PRINCE iq good and Funky ! the trouble do not want 2 move out of 80s ! but on other hand he made

a lot of great hits in 80s so I feel like PRINCE is missing somethin like : Wendy and Lisa ! yeah sign of times was great LP but Prince is playing it safe . not like 1999 or Purple Rain with that LP every1 went crazy during 80s . but prince play it safe during Around the World in a day ! PRINCE suppose 2 B bigger after Purple Rain but WB refused

January 15th 2009


Album Rating: 4.5

Fanboy-isms aside, Prince is better than everybody. Its hard to reccomend only one album to somebody whos trying to get into the massive world of Prince, but this is definitely a good start for his dirty funk. Lady Cab Driver is just a masterpiece. This is most likely my second or third favorite by his (next to Sign O The Times and possibly Parade or Lovesexy). In all honesty, anything from the 80s by him is guaranteed quality songwriting. Dude is insane, and even crazier live. This Message Edited On 01.15.09

January 15th 2009


Album Rating: 4.5

Well, after reconsidering what I originally posted, I decided to elaborate.

Do you mean well when you say "how did i miss that comment?" ;)

August 27th 2009


Album Rating: 5.0

A true pop masterpiece. If I liked more pop this would probably be classic

March 21st 2010


Album Rating: 5.0

this is a classic

May 1st 2010


This album kicks arse. For You and Prince were alright, but nothing special. Dirty Mind and Controversy are really great but this is his first amazing album and a fantastic starting point for the equally masterful Purple Rain. Watch this space!

May 12th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0

yes this is a classic album

August 5th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0

No lame cut in the lot

July 16th 2011


Album Rating: 5.0

What a cool album.

July 16th 2011


Definitely. Not my favorite Prince, but certainly an awesome record.

June 20th 2012


Album Rating: 4.5

How in the hell was a decision made to cut DMSR from the 1st generation copies of 1999 on CD? Fucking criminal!

If the songs on side 3 were a little stronger I'd 5 this. Honestly 1/2 the time I go straight from DMSR to Lady Cab Driver.

May 28th 2013



May 28th 2013


Album Rating: 4.0

got this on vinyl [2]

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