Prince didn’t live up to the hype.
Supposedly he was 16 or 17, certainly under twenty, and recorded all the instruments himself and produced too, we were unimpressed. McCartney had performed this trick almost a decade previously, sans the age, and the wizard, the true star known as Todd Rundgren, specialized in doing the hat trick, writing, performing and producing, this seemed like a gimmick.
Kinda like today. When kids who haven’t reached puberty are promoted as the next big thing. They haven’t lived yet, where’s the experience, never mind the talent?
So Prince’s initial album, sold to the rock market, didn’t. Yes, Prince was on Warner Brothers, known for white music, not black. He got press in “Rolling Stone.” And he had no impact, until…
It was 1979. Death to Disco time. If you could dance to it, rockers wanted nothing to do with it, there’d been too much Bee Gees, too much white suits, too much of everything rockers hated. This was before the Ramones became a cultural institution, their backlash didn’t permeate beyond New York City and London. This was before Blondie broke through. This was before MTV. This was just as the music business crashed.
But suddenly Prince had a hit on black radio, with a track known as “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” which most white people never heard, since it made not a dent on AOR. As a matter of fact, it was years before Prince truly got traction in the white world. “Dirty Mind” made minor inroads, and then with “Controversy” he opened for the Stones and was booed off the stage. Musicians are ahead culturally, although retarded when it comes to business.
Anyway, my car is in the shop. Long story, don’t ask.
And they gave me a loaner.
With no Sirius and a standard sound system. The sound is tinny. The stations bogus. And I’m surfing the dial until I come to Jason Bentley and “Morning Becomes Eclectic” on KCRW. And he’s right in the middle of the new single by Bob Moses, “Heaven Only Knows,” which resonates immediately.
It doesn’t even have a million streams on Spotify, it’s got even fewer on YouTube, but if you’re the target audience, you’ll get it.
But who’s the target audience?
This is the modern world, Kanye sucks all the air out of pressdom, and if you’re not a rapper, you get no notice. Unless you’re an obscure, flavor of the moment, which print gives attention to to seem hip. But those acts plowing ahead with careers, under the radar, are ignored.
Like Bob Moses.
But KCRW has acolytes. These bands sell tickets in Los Angeles. There’s a subculture, if not an industry.
And I’m contemplating all this as I drive to Santa Monica, where it’s not yet summer. That’s right, it’s a hundred degrees in Texas, kids are out of school, but it might as well be the beginning of spring out here, dark and cloudy. And I stop at 365 to stock up on provisions and when I emanate and turn on the radio in the Crosstrek, I hear…
“I Wanna Be Your Lover.”
I ain’t got no money
I ain’t like those other guys you hang around
But it’s the riff that engages me, that hooks me. What is that, a guitar? It’s completely different from what the rockers were employing at the time, but it’s the same instrument. And the repeated riff is nearly as strong as the one in “Smoke On The Water,” and it keeps repeating, until you get to the subtle bridge and then the chorus.
I want to be the only one you come for
We listened to Frank Zappa records to hear this scatological stuff, to hear limits tested, but you could get away with this in the world of R&B, of urban radio, when all the attention was not pointed at it, before MTV, before Michael Jackson truly crossed over.
It’s kinda funny
But they always seem to let you down
This is a theme in Prince’s music, the man who makes it on PERSONALITY! And art. He ain’t got money, he can’t compete with the usual suspects, trading on their cars and their cash, but if you give him the time of day, he’ll give you the ride of your life.
That’s right, musicians always wanted to make money, but they used to know they were the other, far from the mainstream, and if you dug their act, you couldn’t get it anywhere else.
There ain’t no other
That can do the things I’ll do to you
Confidence. Today’s acts beg you for attention. But Prince believed if you just turned your head, had a look, went on the trip, there’d be no challenge, no other, it would only be HIM!
And I get discouraged
‘Cause you treat me just like a child
And they say I’m so shy, yeah
But with you I just go wild, ooo, ooo, ooo
This is the fantasy, as you lie in your bed, wondering why you’re not popular, why you can’t get a date. The foundation of music used to be the outsiders, the football captain, the homecoming queen, got no traction, it was the oddballs who led in this sphere. And they believed, if they only got a chance, they’d win.
I don’t want to pressure you baby, no
He’s just laying it all out. It’s almost subtle. But the track is irresistible.
And I’m sitting there parked, as the sun comes out, and I cannot turn “I Wanna Be Your Lover” off. I’m thinking what a loss Prince was. He was one of the few who could still surprise us, who still might make us notice, who still might have a hit. He didn’t chase trends, he might embrace them now and again, but he was always just a bit off center, doing his own thing, and we never stopped paying attention.
We still are.