On Friday May 14th, the Prince estate hosted a livestream of a 1985 concert to support the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. The concert, taped on March 30th, 1985 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY, featured Revolution members Bobby Z, Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, and Matt Fink.
To commemorate this event, The Grumpire Grumps compiled a Spotify playlist of their favorite Prince tunes. Here in this addendum, musician, writer, bartender, international stud and raconteur Mike Vanderbilt explains his picks.
“When You Were Mine”
Dirty Mind (1980)
With 1980’s Dirty Mind, Prince began to settle into the groove that would define the Artist for much of the ‘80s. Featuring synthesized drums and eschewing funkier influence for more simplistic riffing, Dirty Mind found Prince embracing the new wave sounds that were gaining popularity in the early part of the decade. “When You Were Mine” is a note perfect encapsulation of Prince at this moment: a short, synth-heavy punchy tune dealing with the sexual politics of jealousy, longing, and commitment. The live version from an August 1983 show at First Avenue finds a now defiant, combative Prince altering the final verse from “I know you’re going with another guy cause I love you baby that’s no lie” to “I’ll kick his ass baby, I ain’t too yellow.”
“I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”
Sign O’ The Times (1987)
Like “When You Were Mine,” “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” is a favorite Prince tune for rock ‘n’ roll acts to cover (The Replacements and noted Replacements tribute band Goo Goo Dolls have both performed it throughout their careers). For all of his impressive musicianship, many of Prince’s more straight ahead rock tunes are deceptively simple— “I Could Never” is all of three chords and a lead line derived from a Cm scale—simple enough that your average garage band can pull them off. While officially released on 1987’s Sign O’ The Times, it’s not surprising that the tune—with its upbeat, punchy style—was originally demoed in 1982 when Prince was exploring more new wave, punk, and power pop inspired sounds. Notably, the official video features protege Sheila E. performing a gangbusters drum intro.
“Ronnie, Talk To Russia”
By 1981, punk rock had kicked down the door on its way to the national consciousness, and while the roots of the counterculture were steeped in anarchy of Crass and the Poison Girls or the “stoopid” sensibility of The Ramones, The Clash, taking a cue from Detroit’s MC5, have long been perceived as ground zero for addressing politics in the punk movement. Prince always had his ear to the street as far as what was happening in rock ‘n’ roll, and the influence of The Clash and Ramones on “Ronnie, Talk To Russia” is undeniable as he blasts Ronald Reagan while blasting through two-minutes of punk inspired rabble-rousing.
“Little Red Corvette”
With “Little Red Corvette,” Prince mines three of the quintessential classic rock ‘n’ roll tropes: fast cars, fast women, and lonely Saturday nights. On “Corvette,” Prince out-Springsteens Springsteen with a story song about two young lovers in the night, rife with metaphor and an undercurrent of neon drenched, dangerous sexuality. “Little Red Corvette” is notable in the Prince catalog as being one of the few songs that don’t feature the Artist himself playing the guitar solo. Bandmate Dez Dickerson handled lead guitar duties (he can be seen in Purple Rain performing with his band The Modernaires), and has admitted that the solo is actually quite difficult to play live as the recorded version is composed of four different takes. Undeniably it remains one of the most memorable guitar solos in rock ‘n’ roll.
While putting together 1989’s Batman, Tim Burton—with the knowledge that Prince would be providing the soundtrack to the film—had been utilizing Prince songs in the rough cut of the film, including “1999” during the Joker’s rampage through the Flugelheim Museum. Prince wrote “Partyman” specifically for the sequence after meeting with Jack Nicholson, who Prince stated reminded him of Morris Day. The song slyly approaches the themes of duality present in the Batman mythos—Bruce Wayne and The Bat, Jack Napier and The Joker—as well as Prince’s persona: a reputation for being the party man himself despite constantly practicing with his band and composing and recording new music.
“So Far, So Pleased”
Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic (1999)
There were plenty of Prince fans who tuned out in the ‘90s and beyond as the Artist began to explore more funk and jammy free form jazz, but for the pop tarts who enjoy a tight three minutes, later-era Prince records feature some gems. “So Far, So Pleased” was featured on Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic and continues the tradition of Prince adding the sexiest singers of the day to his rock ‘n’ roll harem, this time around in Gwen Stefani performing co-lead vocals (the Purple One would return the favor, reworking “Waiting Room” for No Doubt’s Rock Steady album). “So Far” finds Prince at his most playful as he pines for a night of passion from a teasing Stefani, explaining that he could “spend the night and leave at 10:15.”
As artists get older, there’s a tendency to lose some of that fire, but “Fury” from the 2006 album 3121 finds Prince lighting it up once again. Prince’s guitar effortlessly stings and riffs (with perfect overdriven tone) throughout the psychedelic influenced rock ‘n’ roll power house. His performance of the tune on Saturday Night Live is a must watch as His Royal Purpleness shreds to the climax, casually walking off the stage as his guitar continues to feedback.
“Can’t Stop This Feeling That I Got”
Graffiti Bridge (1990)
“Can’t Stop This Feeling That I Got” began its life in 1982 and ended opening up Graffiti Bridge, Prince’s twelfth studio album and soundtrack to the film of the same name. Graffiti Bridge—the film—pales in comparison to Purple Rain, if only because the Warner Bros. soundstage doesn’t have the character of downtown MPLS and rock club First Avenue— an important character in the film. However, the soundtrack is another top notch Prince release from front to back. “Can’t Stop” exists somewhere between the vibe of “Trust” and the whimsical “Delirious,” with Prince spouting rock ‘n’ pop cliches—he can’t sleep at night and he’s got a shakin’ in his shoes—over a driving drum beat…and it makes for a fun and funky side one, track one.
“I Would Die For You”
Purple Rain (1984)
There is a thin line between dated and iconic for the era. The cold, electronic new wave-inspired production on “I Would Die For You” immediately places the listener in a cocoon in 1984 with its driving robotic drum machine, but the track finds Prince at his most human, exposing the man behind the myth that had already begun to grow before Purple Rain—the album and the film—catapulted him to superstardom. “I’m not a woman, I’m not a man,” Prince exclaims in the opening salvo as he runs down a list of his contradictions and complications as the artist expresses that none of it matters, and he would indeed die for you.