25 July 2008

O9. TTB/Chrome: Forcewave.

The fifty best Prince songs of all time. Part I: #50-#16.

Being a Prince fan these days can be trying. I'm fine with his having found solace as a Jehovah's Witness (look at what religious exploration brought to Madonna's Ray of Light album and Boy George's The Martyr Mantras records), though I find his abandonment of his earlier, dirtier material comparable to parents who abandon their previous offspring when they marry into and create a new family (like in the film Shotgun Stories). What made Prince absolutely unique were the way he kept his contradictions in balance, like a philosophical juggler, and his music flourished.

I've been a Prince fan since 1983, and I've remained so during some dodgy times. As with all things, there are ebbs and waves in this relationship, and I'm finding him hard to defend with his reactionary recent actions involving the internet (suing his fans, not allowing anything involving him or his music to appear on YouTube or any similar website, and shutting down his New Power Generation Music Club site with little notice). But his music still endures, and I've decided to take a little illustrated journey through his Purple archives and deliver you what I think are his fifty finest moments, in ascending order.

50) PEACH (1993)

Released on "The Hits" compilation, "Peach" is strip club anthem Prince at its finest (see also "319," "Darling Nikki," and "Gett Off."). I love the little Hanna-Barbera sound effects and the metronomic sex grunt between every three and four beat.


Some of Prince's funniest funk ended up being recorded by his protege groups, and none are quite so daffy as this phone call conversation between the girls of Vanity 6 and the nameless new girlfriend of "Jimmy," the man who seems to be dating everyone in all of Minneapolis. It's silly girl fight drama, except that Jimmy's new girlfriend's voice is handled by Prince in his sassiest tone. It's deliciously weird, and one of the brightest spots on the surprisingly solid Vanity 6 record.


The first Prince song I ever heard. A near-perfect fusion of disco, R&B, and New Wave.

47) BLACK SWEAT (2006)

Chronologically the newest song on this list, this showed that Prince can still rock it if so inclined. Linn drum machines, sassy falsetto, that weird-ass squelching synth hook, and a sense that Prince was actually having some sexy fun in the aughts. Shocking, yes, I know, but a refreshing primer in how to rock it Prince-style. I knew it was something special when I saw MTV playing it. Ah, MTV. Once, Prince helped them explode their narrow racial prison in the early eighties, and oh how quickly they abandoned him.

Originally intended for the 1999 album, it was removed and replaced by the execrable "Free" (to this day the only Prince song on any of the classic albums that I cannot abide listening to. Misidentified on some early bootlegs back in the day as "A Better Place 2 Die," this is one of those philosophical power ballads that Prince still occasionally does, but not this weird a fashion. The verses are tangled affairs, playing strange games with phrasing and flow, and it's still electrifying to hear.

45) NOTHING COMPARES 2 U – Sinéad O’Connor (1990)

Written for The Family, Prince's project that gathered the remnants of The Time and The Counterrevolution together with his then-girlfriend Susannah Melvoin (Wendy's twin sister). The song didn't break out of the purple ghetto until Sinead O'Connor covered it for her 1990 album I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. I don't know what the real story is behind the night when Prince allegedly tied up and terrorized O'Connor following her cover's monstrous success, but I know that it certainly stands as one of the finest vocal performances of a Prince composition ever recorded.


When Prince plays around with current dance music sounds, you never know quite what you're going to get. Sometimes you get genius ("51 Hours," "I Wanna Be Your Lover," and this effort), sometimes you get something that's kind of interesting ("Loose!"), and sometimes you get crap (any of the Tony M raps during Prince's hip-hop phase). "Eye Wanna Melt With U" is a great example of Prince taking the techno-rave sounds that were dominating the club scenes both underground and mainstream, and Princeifying it. Also, one of the best songs about deflowering ever recorded.


From his aborted score for James L. Brooks' film I'll Do Anything, this is one of the simplest and most pointedly devastating songs Prince ever made.

42) TAKE ME WITH U (Duet with Apollonia) (1984)

A swooping and propulsive love song, and certainly the best vocals Apollonia ever recorded during the course of her career. Originally intended for Apollonia 6, Prince decided that the song was just too good not to put on his own record. I'll agree with that logic, even though it did entail "Computer Blue" being shortened considerably.

41) SLOW LOVE (1987)

Written with Carole Davis, this is one of the most perfect R&B ballads of the 80s. The horn section is top notch, and the vibe is majestic for love and lounging.

40) FOR YOU (1978)

The first publically-released missive from Prince, and it is a multitracked statement of purpose. Beautiful and otherworldly, open to all, and as reassuring a debut as any artist ever gave his public.

39) WHEN 2 R IN LOVE (1987)

From The Black Album and Lovesexy both, this is one of Prince's most effective love ballads; explicit, moving, sinuous, and using his primo effects pedal rig on the drum machines.

38) SUGAR WALLS (Dance Mix) – Sheena Easton (1984)

Another of Prince's songs that he let other people take to the next level, this was a huge hit, bringing unbelieveable levels of nastiness to Top Forty radio. Easton never sounded this provocative again, and her producer Greg Mathieson managed to screw up some of Prince's synth programs for the demo- only the extended 'Dance Mix' uses the correct Prince synth line, and for that alone, it is what you seek out.


Nasty, but with a purpose. Along the same apocalypsexy line as "1999" and "Crystal Ball," but with much more of an emphasis on the sexy than either of the others. He still wants to fuck the taste out of our mouths, but it's only because the relief of certainty in the next life has freed him up to have some fun.


Written with love-of-his-life (at least for the 80s) Susannah Melvoin (Wendy's twin sister), this psychedelic masterpiece uses drum programs playing in reverse and Susannah's deliriously out-there lyrics about a differently-abled classmate to make a distinctively weird and beautiful record. This is one of the songs Prince performed when he appeared on Muppets Tonight.

35) OLIVER’S HOUSE – Sheila E. (1984)

One of the best tracks on Sheila E's stellar first album, this tale of an ambivalent manchild whose going away party becomes ground zero for some High School drama could have a short film made about it, so intricate and fascinating are its plot turns and wordplay. Much respect is due any song where people taking turns throwing down, then take turns throwing up.

34) 200 BALLOONS (1989)

One of Prince's biggest selling B-sides, this Batman track languished on the B-side of "Batdance" despite being superior to it in all qualities except weirdness. Propulsive and cinematic, and how can you not love a song where Prince wants to be your busy bee and says you must take him for what he r?

33) ALL MY DREAMS (1986)

One of the finest of The Revolution's body of work, this originally would have closed the aborted Dream Factory album. Prince's synthesis with Wendy and Lisa in the studio was at its peak, and its wild metaphors and playful backmasking add to a jubilant and saucy tale of painting submarines and Maxfield Parrish dreams. Ah, if only.

32) CIRCLE OF AMOUR (1999)

A slice-of-life look at four girls who would get together after school and explore each other in an intimate fashion. It's one of Prince's finest 90s offerings, and there's a kind of silly sincerity in his voice that just resonates strongly. There's a swooniness to this song that somehow makes me think of Rufus Wainwright, and the wistful tone serves as a welcome contrast to Prince's cold and hurtful comments about Wendy and Lisa's own private lives. It's from The Truth, the primarily acoustic record included with his three-disc Crystal Ball box set in 1998 (not to be confused with the abandoned 3-album Crystal Ball set he had initially fashioned after shelving the Camille project but before winnowing its tracklist down to the double album Sign "O" The Times.

31) MANIC MONDAY/1999 (1985/1982)

Linked together because they pretty much share the same melody (try it at a karaoke night sometime if you don't believe me), here's an example of Prince's thematic unity throughout his work. Days that don't quite start out how their respective narrators planned them, but with roots in a fierce sense of will and determinism, regardless of whatever life throws at them. It's just that one is about being late for work, the other is about the end of the world. But both endure to this day.

30) LISA (1980)
An ode to Lisa Coleman, who at that time had just replaced Gayle Chapman as Prince's chief live keyboardist. This is one of the more exciting of Prince's unreleased tracks, combining the primitive thrust of Dirty Mind with the cold electronic funk that would surface on the following year's Controversy album. It's got that fusion of hypersexed braggadocio and crushing naivete that defined "Bambi" on the self-titled 1979 album, but there's something here that demonstrates the significant inroads the underground sounds of punk and eurodisco had made into Prince's Minneapolis mindset.

29) LOVESEXY (1988)

Prince's last great sex song, also one of his last great spiritual songs. Defined as "the love u feel when u fall in love, not with a girl or a boy, but the heavens above," lovesexy the feeling involves finding new erotic methods of communication (including making love with only words and vari-speed voice recorders as well as race cars burning rubber inside the pants. Lovesexy the song is a shoulda-been dance club hit, uptempo and perfectly syncopated with some of Prince's greatest drum programming ever. This is one of those songs that kind of got away.

28) UPTOWN (1980)

Prince does not typically excel at making political material (notable exceptions: "Money Don't Matter 2Night," the unreleased version of "Live 4 Love," and the sorta-risible but kinda-awesome "Ronnie Talk 2 Russia"), but if any one song managed to craft a complex political manifesto out of all that is Prince, this is it. This is the national anthem of the Funk Utopia, and it has aged beautifully.


B-side of "When Doves Cry," this was initially supposed to be an Apollonia 6 track. It works much better as a Prince song, especially with Brenda Bennett's backing vocals. It's a shame that more of Prince's songs didn't feature vocals from Bennett, whose timbre complements Prince's voice beautifully. This is one of Prince's greatest sad songs, all the more so for its shuffling and propulsive rhythm and acoustic guitar licks. This was covered by Living Colour back when that meant something.

26) TRAIN (1986)

Another track meant for the Dream Factory record, this eventually surfaced on one of Mavis Staples' Paisley Park albums. But no offense to Miss Staples, Prince's original version is near perfection. Bluesy and relentless, with spectacular use of the horns from the Counterrevolution.

A Revolution track that easily wins the contest for eeriest song Prince ever recorded. One of the only times that he has addressed issues of death and spirituality completely divorced from religion, and the keyboards include remarkable shrieking wave envelopes (similar to what Howard Shore used in his score for Scanners).


I actually had heard Cyndi Lauper's cover of this song long before I'd heard Prince's version (I didn't actually hear the Dirty Mind album until 1989), and while her arrangement and performance is superb, when you hear Prince's original, it's jaw-dropping. It's one of those Rosetta Stone records like Grace Jones' Compass Point records, where punk, new wave, reggae, R&B, disco, and new wave were all playing exploratory sex games with one another and the end result was some amazing material. "When You Were Mine" is like new wave rockabilly (see also "No Call U," "Delirious," and "Horny Toad"), and it is one of the most immediate and timeless songs of his ever recorded.


One of those Prince songs that kept floating around in search of a home before eventually surfacing on the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack. Supposedly written on a Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel binge, this is one of the most lyrically adventurous of Prince's efforts, a bluesy drone that endures on the level of Tom Waits' greatest smoky late-night material. My personal favorite version was from the aborted triple album Crystal Ball, where it was directly sequenced to follow opener "The Ball."

Performed once, at Prince's 1984 Birthday Show at First Avenue in Minneapolis. A Holy Grail for Revolution fans, mainly because all of them play on it and it sounds like nothing else Prince has done before or since. Very danceable, with the Revolution laying down some superlative grooves. Of all the extant material that only exists in questionable quality, this is the one I'd most like to hear a proper recording of.


One of those songs that seemed to kick around for years, being recorded several times. Initially sometime in the early/mid-80s, then given over to Wendy & Lisa to rework for the Dream Factory project, which they did- adding Indian instrumentation and letting a tabla drive the rhythm alongside the Linn LM-1. Then The Revolution fell apart, Prince shelved most of Dream Factory, and rerecorded the track during the Camille sessions of 1986. After shelving that project, he finally found a home for the track on Sign "O" The Times. I prefer the Dream Factory version, but all are pretty damned great. There are some lyrical differences between the two, though, with the released version being a bit more defiant and diminishing personal responsibility.

Removed from the Batman soundtrack because Prince found the song too dark, this is one of the strangest and creepiest of Prince's transitional period songs. It certainly wouldn't have fit Jack Nicholson's take on the Joker (even though it contains his voice), but it meshes beautifully with Heath Ledger's take on the character. You can expect a more in-depth look at this comparison/theory sometime this weekend here at this site.


As with "Manic Monday"/"1999," herein is another case of two songs sharing pretty much the same melody. In this instance, though, Stevie Nicks, while listening to a tape of 1999 on a California honeymoon drive, started coming up with the "Stand Back" lyrics while listening to "Little Red Corvette." She called him, and he appeared, as if by magic, to program and play the synthesizers for the recording of "Stand Back," only to disappear when they were done. "Little Red Corvette" remains one of the best car sex songs of the past forty years, and it endures as a pop, rock, and R&B classic. But "Stand Back" carries that legacy even further, for years being a staple of classic rock radio, not particularly known for hospitality to female artists, synth programming, or Prince. So between the two of them, there's no one alive at that time who wasn't affected by one or both tracks.

18) BOB GEORGE (1987)

Hysterical, brutal, mean, moving, and a song no one but Prince could have come up with. It has the bleak inevitability of a murder ballad, the sonic assault and nightmare logic of the hardest horrorcore, the beats of hip-hop's most insane club jams, and the voice of Prince giving us the inverse of his Camille persona. Also, major points for being the source of the title of Dump's Prince tribute album "That Skinny Motherfucker with the High Voice."


A smooth and rapturous ballad that stops just short of camp, providing the kind of magic that only Prince can (though Susanna and The Magical Orchestra did a pretty good cover of this song a couple of years back). Absolutely peerless vocal phrasing on this one.

16) LOVE… THY WILL BE DONE – Martika (1991)

Martika was a pop tart with hard-won chops and a great deal of will. She'd be worthwhile for her own solo material, but with this Prince song, she helped bring to life one of the most beautiful of songs that Prince has ever made.

Part II, which covers the fifteen best Prince songs of all time, will be coming soon. I hope you enjoy the reading and seek out some of the music (through legal channels). There is always a whole new world of Prince to discover.

Your laws of motion and physics may take their leave.

New York is finally getting a Zaha Hadid building. Alas, it is only temporary, and double alas, it debuts after I will have returned from my annual northern excursion.

But this is simply not to be missed.

For those of you who don't know, Zaha Hadid is the best architect and building designer working today. I first encountered her work when she designed the sets for the Pet Shop Boys 1999 Nightlife tour, and I've been a fan ever since. I got to see her Guggenheim retrospective in 2006, and it was one of the most amazing design experiences I've ever had. Absolutes that we've taken for granted in the fields of construction and design simply do not apply, and I find her willingness to incorporate curves into the nonstop straight line aesthetic of the planet's artificial structures both inspiring and deliriously freaky.

24 July 2008

Just when you think you've heard it all...

Did Russia learn nothing from Footloose?

What's even more ridiculous than this is that Russia is chock full of hate rock bands, any one of which are responsible for more violence, destruction, and acts of suicide than emo kids.

This just seems like that brouhaha from Mexico earlier this year about emo kids getting beaten up by assholes because of their iconography and attitudes. It's all because of antiquated macho bullshit, and it's all homophobia, regardless of people want to dress it up as 'caring about teen issues.'

Rock Stars vs Religious Hierarchy, part I

On today's examples of weird interactions between assorted famous people: Alanis Morisette versus snooty French cardinals.

Thanks to the San Francisco Gate.

Further enhancement: Radio outreach.

This Saturday, July 26th, from 2-3pm.

For the first time since 1994.

I will be on the air of 91.1FM (wrvu.org for those who want to listen outside of the Nashville area) bringing my Semi-Annual Retro-Whatevra Show right to your earhole.

Miss it and perish.

At the movies: The X-Files: I Want to Believe

It was a dark time for fans of intrepid FBI agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder and their television show. Arcing from underground phenomenon to cult crossover to mainstream success to entropic and protracted flameout over the course of its nine seasons, The X-Files was simply an inescapable part of pop culture in the nineties. And now, six years after the show whimpered out of existence, Mulder and Scully are back. For much of the world, currently in the midst of a recursive bout of Batmania, the question is "Why?" But after having seen The X-Files: I Want To Believe, I can gleefully report that for fans of the show and characters as well as idea-driven SciFi thrillers, the question to ask is "Why did it take this long?"

The central mystery of the film is quintessentially mysterious, gross, and creepy. We also have a psychic convicted sex offender added into the mix, as well as some stem cell research. The best part for viewers is that it requires almost no knowledge of the labyrinthine alien colonization/black oil plot that dominated 1998's X-Files: Fight the Future film, and only the slightest familiarity with the characters themselves. As a film, it's more satisying than Fight the Future, and it's also a better beginning to a new and revitalized X-Files franchise. What I Want to Believe does is rather moving; it allows us to reconnect with characters we had thought left behind to reruns and punchlines at the expense of SciFi/Horror enthusiasts, it answers a few questions and poses a few more, and it allows the foundation for something new and wonderful to come from The X-Files franchise. Even if done as straight-to-DVD releases, we could have one of these every 12-18 months and I would be ecstatic.

Time away from Mulder and Scully have allowed Anderson and Duchovny to evolve both as performers and as characters. Anderson, in particular, brings her a-game. Much has been made of recent admission that reconnecting with her iconic character has been more difficult for her than she'd imagined, but that reticence fits in with the arc of this character in this film, and its cumulative effect is devastating. There's one moment when she talks with the parents of an ill child and, for just a moment, you see the stricken mask of her Lily Bart from The House of Mirth creep slightly across her features, and the moment is as immediate as being punched in the solar plexus. Billy Connolly plays the aforementioned psychic convicted sex offender, and he can seem overly schematic at times. That said, he still adds a few remarkable moments to the proceedings, certainly taking a difficult character and imbuing him with some uneasy gravitas.

There are moments when an exchange of dialogue seems awkward or mawkish, something that sounds almost right but feels like it might could have used a precision rewrite, but those are few and far between. There's a weird surprise gay plot point, but I'm not sure what message it's actually trying to convey- whether it's merely an example of equitable treatment of characters or if it merely is aiming to toss out some monstrous gay menace. I lean more toward the former, as that interpretation contrasts with Scully's ongoing travails with caring for a child with a rare brain disease.

What The X-Files: I Want to Believe does is allow you to catch up with old friends, and even if no X-File is ever opened in the future, we're allowed an end credits cookie that offers us a moment of peaceful potential. It's a warm ending to a cold film, but we live in a much colder world. And I take from I Want to Believe's ending a sense of satisfaction and anticipation. Here's to more from Chris Carter and these characters in the future.


Between the Acid House revival and Batmania, it really does seem like Moby was on to something when called a track off his most recent album "Everyday It's 1989."

But on the Batmania tip, I just have to serve up this thoughtful piece from The Bilerico Project, which aims to get at the heart of the historical Batman. It's entertaining, informative, and camp, and that's three for three in my book.

At the movies: Encounters at the end of the world.

My review of Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World is up at ATR/The Tennessean. I know there are heaps of issues with their 'website,' but they are in the process of getting that under control.

Regardless, I hope you check the piece out; it's a hell of a film, and I've been pleased having it kick around inside my subconscious since this year's Nashville Film Festival.

The world we live in.

Constacia, my beloved '96 Pontiac Grand Prix, is in a bad way. The poor thing's starter is dead, and I had to have her towed to Reverend Momma's hood, far far away. In the process of doing so, I had to push that car down through the Green Hills theatre's parking garage. In the process, I jammed two fingers and wrenched my right leg, and it hurts like a motherfucker. So I have muscular trauma and car repairs to deal with in the morning before I head to work.

On the good news side of things, I saw The X-Files movie tonight (review coming shortly), and it's good. It will do nothing for people who don't deeply care about Mulder and Scully, but if you do, it will make you beam, occasionally awkward dialogue and all.

Time to go sleepy. Something big tomorrow, though.

23 July 2008

Forgotten places.

So the folks at Oddee have this interesting list up for viewing- the ten most fascinating ghost towns in the world.

It's a nifty little read (though I have some vague political issues with two things in the article; a special prize to the first reader who guesses what they are in the comments section), but the main reason I'm putting it up here is for its prominent featuring of Kolmanskop, in the Namibian desert. Eagle-eyed viewers and fans of art and horror cinema will recognize it as the location for both Richard Stanley's Dust Devil and Kristian Levring's Dogme 4: The King is Alive.

And if you haven't seen Dust Devil or The King is Alive, do so. You will not regret it.

Also, that uncompleted cursed future luxury park in Taiwan is mondo creepy.

So I read this... Read Between My Lines: The Musical and Life Journey of Stevie Nicks by Sandra Halliburton.

I love celebrity tell-all books as much as anyone, and you just know that a life as interesting and chaotic as that of Stevie Nicks has got some dirt to dish and tales to tell. Sadly, this effort feels like an expanded research paper. It's almost all direct quotes from other materials, and it feels, honestly, like a biography-by-Google. That's nothing against Ms. Halliburton, who seems to have a profound respect both for Nicks and her fans, but the text of this book simply isn't up to snuff. It's like a several-hundred page Wikipedia article, but with an awkwardly-constructed timeline.

I will confess, I learned a few things about Stevie that I didn't know before (including one devastating anecdote about what happened between her and Prince following "Stand Back"). But I can't get past the fact that all the information in the book comes from other interviews. And then the very last chapter is just fan testimony. I would call myself a Stevie Nicks fan, but I don't think it's really something that belongs in a legitimate biography.

An unchallenging read with some decent tidbits, but nothing too explosive. Halliburton indirectly references the urban legend about Nicks having an assistant anally administer cocaine, but in a way that seems disingenuous; she mentions the rumor in order to acknowledge it and capitilize on its notoriety, but she leaves the terminology vague and nonexplicit, so as not to offend Nicks or her fanbase- which line do you want to walk?

22 July 2008

O8. Untitled.

International pop music interlude: Depeche Mode

In somewhat of a depressed mood as per the death of Estelle Getty. The following song always tends to brighten my spirits.

Depeche Mode - "Shout" (Live in Hamburg, 1984)

"Picture it... Sicily."

We've lost our first Golden Girl.

Estelle Getty had quite a few other roles in her life (Mannequin, Tootsie, Torch Song Trilogy on Broadway), but she was always going to be Sophia Petrillo, the foul-mouthed voice of common sense and doyenne of cutting to the chase on The Golden Girls and, metonymically, all of American life from '85 up until '92.

She was so good on The Golden Girls that I actually made my mother go see Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot in the theatre during its five minute theatrical engagement.

And she is now the first of the Golden Girls to leave us. And she died horribly, just as she lived horribly over the past few years. Lewy Body Dementia... as cruel as Alzheimer's, but not as well known. No red carpet galas for LBD (though there is an Association, and I just bet they rename themselves The Estelle Getty Foundation for LBD Research and Awareness, and if they don't, then some rich people need to get on it), and the woman who showed us a glorious and independent life in the golden years was unable to enjoy her own.

The saddest thing about Estelle Getty's death is merely what it demonstrates about the world. I loved The Golden Girls because it showed me what strong friendship could mean, and how as long as you had a network of people who cared about you to rely on, you could handle anything life threw at you (as long as there was cheesecake and sex to be had). And even that can be taken away by the vicissitudes of the body.

Maybe the Cathars were right.

Hats off to you, Miss Estelle Getty. One way or another, at least the paralyzing fear is gone.

O7. Hoffmanic.

20 July 2008

A brief, spoilerific thought about The Dark Knight.

The ending of this film is provocative in a way that no other mainstream film has dared in quite some time. Politically, it's a staggering statement; the acts of spying, endangerment, and rendition that the Batman commits may be justifiable for some, but that still doesn't absolve him of the responsibility for violating the social contract. The Dark Knight, the film, is sitting very close to having one of the biggest openings of all time, and it's my sincerest hope that the millions of people seeing the film take some of its hard-won lessons to heart.

My thoughts on the film as a whole, I'm still formulating. I know there's going to be a big thing about Ledger vs Nicholson and the still-controversial Prince soundtrack to the '89 Batman, but I'm still working that up. As for real reviews of the film, go here and here.