1982, Music

1999 (1982) by Prince

Listening to this record immediately after Marvin Gaye’s Midnight Love is instructive: Prince shows how cutting edge musical technology can be used without permanently dating a record. Hint: it helps if you write good songs and it helps if you’re idiosyncratic.

Prince has written a bunch of really catchy songs – even the songs he jams are really catchy. I can’t say I love Prince’s lyrics (I’m not sure I’ve heard a Prince so where I liked every word) but his songs are co catchy, his arrangements so interesting, his performances so great, that it really doesn’t matter. There’s the odd line that sticks with me here and there but, for the most part, I like this better when I don’t focus on the lyrics.

This is the earliest Prince record I’ve heard to date, so I don’t know how long he’s been doing this fusion thing he does (though I’ve heard via reading and podcasts that it was for most of his career) but he expertly fuses so many different genres in basically every song that every time we think we have him pegged down, we have to guess again. Calling this music “R&B” feels like a disservice.Yes, the music is rooted in contemporary R&B and funk but there’s so much more going on, with ideas taken from sub-genres across the R&B spectrum and from pop rock as well.

And Prince is such a compelling performer – not just as a singer with that incredible range, and those vocal effects, but also a player – that even when the songs are maybe not the greatest, the arrangements and his performance make them work in such a way that you cannot believe nobody had tried this kind of fusion before he did. Prince makes it sound easy and obvious and natural in a way that no other R&B performer I am aware of ever has when attempting such “crossover” music. (And that’s in part because categorizing Prince is foolhardy.)

Great stuff. A little overlong, a little self-indulgent, sure. But I’d much, much rather listen to this than Lionel Richie or Michael Jackson.

8/10

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