Category Archives: Prince

Today’s Top 5: 33 Years Ago Today (Aug. 6, 1984)

Can it be? Thirty-three years ago as I write, I was basking in the glow of having just seen Crosby, Stills & Nash show at the Mann Music Center, an open-air venue, in Philly. The ticket stub for the concert, which was paper clipped into my Doonesbury-themed desk diary for decades, is currently AWOL…not that it matters much. I have my memories.

Two weeks earlier, on July 24th, I saw Roger Waters (with Eric Clapton on guitar) at the Spectrum – another great show despite the former Pink Floyd bassist chiding the audience to “stop the fookin’ whistling.” (He apologized after intermission; in England, he said, whistles equate with boos, but Eric explained to him that in the States – or, at least, Philly – they equate with cheers.) And nine days later, on the 14th, I found myself at the back of the Mann’s ample lawn, right where it turns to pavement, to see Huey Lewis & the News.

In that same time span, I picked up three albums: Stephen Stills’ Right by You, Otis Redding’s Best of and the Byrds’ Greatest Hits, Vol. II; and, as the month unfolded, just two more: John David Souther’s Home by Dawn and Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers, which I already owned on cassette but wanted on vinyl. I wasn’t quite walking in lockstep with pop culture, in other words, though I owned eight of the top 25 albums listed in this month’s Record charts.

And if you’re feeling a slight twinge of deja vu – that’s because, yes, we have been here before. My plan to spin this intro into a Top 5 based on this month’s Record magazine has been waylaid by forgetfulness on my part: Once I retrieved said issue from the temperature-controlled vault and saw the cover…oops. l featured it in a Top 5 on January 30, 2016.

What I didn’t say then, but will share now: Those few purchases were due to me being out of work for a spell: The single-screen Hatboro Theatre, where I worked (and worked, and worked) as an usher for the previous year, closed its doors for the final time on Sunday, July 22nd. To rephrase a Joni Mitchell lyric, they paved paradise and put up a Wendy’s. (That’s me in the doorway in the accompanying picture, which I scanned way back in 2003; if I ever come across the original photo again, and it’s here somewhere, I’ll scan it at a higher resolution.)

There was good news on the horizon, however: On the same day that I saw Huey Lewis, I interviewed for and scored a new job as sales associate at a major department store – in the Domestics department. I learned to fold towels and sheets, and keep my cool when accosted by overzealous customers.

Also, an interesting side note – as my desk diary shows, the day before that CSN concert, I received the bill for the fall semester at Penn State Ogontz, which was one of a dozen-plus PSU satellite campuses scattered across the commonwealth. The total cost: $1123. Today, to attend the same campus – which has since been renamed Penn State Abington – the cost is $6770 for tuition, $236 for the student fee and $252 for the Information Technology Fee – $7258 altogether. That’s more than twice the (cumulative) rate of inflation! That’s just not right.

In the wider world, the dominant stories in the news revolved around the Summer Olympics, which were taking place in L.A. The presidential race between incumbent Ronald Reagan (R) and challenger Walter Mondale (D) was in the offing, but the campaign was on the back burner – unlike today, political campaigns were not year-round exercises. The economy was doing okay, but not great: Unemployment stood at 7.5 percent on August 1st; and inflation was 4.29 percent.

Popular movies of the summer included the feature-length music video known as Purple Rain, which opened on July 27th; Ghostbusters and Gremlins, which had been in the theaters since June 8th; and not Police Academy, which was released in March and, at this point in time, was past the end of its life cycle. (Those were the kinds of films the Hatboro Theatre had towards the end.) On the TV front – aside from the Olympics, everything was in repeats. TV in the summertime was always dull, in those days; the (wrong) assumption was that few people watched.

Anyway, enough of this voluminous intro. Here’s Today’s Top 5: 33 Years Ago Today (Aug. 6, 1984), though the charts – courtesy of my go-to site for such things, Weekly Top 40, are for the week ending the 4th. They’re the top songs of the week.

1) “When Doves Cry” by Prince. The now-classic ode to pigeon love ruled supreme for the fifth week in a row.

2) “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr. The theme to the original Ghostbusters clocks in at No. 2.

3) “State of Shock” by the Jacksons with Mick Jagger. Moving up from No. 4 to No. 3 is this unlikely collaboration…

4) “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. Slipping to No. 4 from No. 3 is this great song from the Boss, which remains a delight to hear in concert.

5) “What’s Love Got to Do With It” by Tina Turner. In its 11th week on the charts, this instant classic – which, according to Wikipedia, had been first offered to Cliff Richard(!) – jumps from No. 9 to No. 5 on its way to No. 1.

And a few bonuses…

6) “The Glamorous Life” by Sheila E. This semi-mainstay of today’s oldies radio (at least as heard on WOGL-FM in Philly, which I’ve been groovin’ to of late) reaches its top spot on the charts this week…No. 31.

7) “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama. The seventh single by the British girl group was its first U.S. top 10 single. Here, in its third week of release, it’s one of the “power plays,” jumping from No. 55 to 43.

8) “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince. And, to bookend this Top 5, here’s another chart entry from the Purple One, a “power play” that enters the charts at No. 45.

Today’s Top 5: September 1983 (via Musician)

IMG_1063September 1983: I was 18, attended Penn State’s Ogontz campus, lived at home and worked part-time as an usher at the Hatboro Theatre, a single-screen movie (not-quite) palace that was torn down the following year to make room for a Wendy’s.

At the start of the month, the Eurythmics ruled the charts with “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”; and Billy Joel held the top spot with “Tell Her About It” by its end. Popular films included Mr. Mom, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Risky Business, Cujo and Easy Money.

My purchases for the month: Kate Bush’s The Dreaming and her self-titled mini-LP (kind of a mini-sampler); Michael Jackson’s Thriller; Joan Jett’s Album; Patti Smith’s Easter; Linda Ronstadt’s What’s New; Heart’s Passionworks; Led Zeppelin’s Coda; the Beatles’ Revolver; Bad Company’s Desolation Angel; Pat Benatar’s Live From Earth; and Harry Chapin’s Heads & Tales. I also picked up five singles: Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Breathless,” Janis Joplin’s “Down on Me,” the Zombies’ “Time of the Season,” Don McLean’s “American Pie” and Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.”

I also bought this issue of Musician. Prince is on the cover, and there’s an in-depth interview with him inside, but I bought it because of the name below his: Joan Jett.

IMG_1064Anyway, at that point, Prince was still riding high on the success of 1999, which had been released the previous October, but the Q&A (by Barbara Graustark) is about much more than that double-LP set. It delves into his early years, rocky relationship with his dad and entry into music, as well as the esoteric subjects of the songs themselves.

“I think I change constantly, because I can hear the music changing,” he says. “The other day I put my first three albums on and listened to the difference. And I know why I don’t sound like that anymore. Because things that made sense to me and things that I liked then I don’t like anymore. The way I played music, just the way I was in love a lot back then when I used to make those records. And love meant more to me then—but now I realize that people don’t always tell you the truth, you know? I was really gullible back then. I believed in everybody around me. I believed in Owen [Husney, his first manager], I believed in Warner Bros., I believed in everybody. If someone said something good to me, I believed it.”

Anyway, onward to today’s Top 5:

IMG_10661) Prince – “Controversy.” In addition to the Graustark piece, there’s a short Q&A with rock critic Robert Hilburn.

Musician: I liked your first two albums, but it seemed to me that the third record, Dirty Mind, was really a growth.

Prince: Yes, the second record (For You) was pretty contrived. After the first record, I put myself in a hole, because I’d spent a lot of money to make it. With the second record, I wanted to remedy all that, so I just made it a “hit” album. I usually write hits for other people, and those are the songs I throw away and don’t really care for. Dirty Mind started off as demo tapes; they were just like songs inside that I wanted to hear. So I took it to my manager and he said “This is the best stuff I’ve heard in a long time. This should be your album.” The drag is that I don’t know how I could make another album like that. I usually change directions with each record, which is a problem in some respects, but rewarding and fulfilling for me. I have mixed emotions.

Musician: The fourth album, Controversy, sounds more new wave. 

Prince: It depends a lot on what instrument I write on. When I write on guitar, I come up with songs like “When You Are Mine” and “Ronnie Talks to Russia.” When I start with drums, I get “Controversy.” Controversy is a little erratic. I’m really proud of this new album (1999).

IMG_10672) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “Fake Friends.” Charles Young has an excellent profile of former Runaway Joan Jett that, among other things, delves into her gum-chewing prowess: “‘I like to make a lot of noise and blow bubbles,’ chews Joan, now twenty-three and still fully cognizant cool. ‘It’s a good way to clear out sleeping space on airplanes.'” Of her old band, she says: “We were just a good band that wanted to have a good time onstage. What were all those other groups singing about? They didn’t have to answer those naive questions: ‘Oh my God, this is your career? What are you going to do if you find the right boyfriend? Will you dump your career?’ Well, not me. When I listen to our old records or read old articles, I still don’t understand what got people so uptight. They were afraid we’d rob their houses or kill someone.”

Of this song she says, “I think ‘Fake Friends’ is not so much about anger as a show of disgust. It’s not a big deal to lose fake friends, people who just tell you what you want to hear. You don’t have to be in rock ’n’ roll to understand that.”

IMG_10693) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “The French Song.” In addition to the Young piece, there’s a review of Jett’s third album, simply titled Album, by one R.J. Smith, who summarizes it as “better than Wayne Newton, gravel in a Maytag, and is frequently the equal of Jett’s two earlier records.. It shows her uneasily accommodating to her arena-sized success. But if the record’s an on-again, off-again rumbler, it frequently bangs about with the glory of a buffalo padding down Park Avenue.” Later, he observes that “[t]he production terraces the sound on Album in surprising ways. On ‘The French Song,’ for instance, half the chorus soothes like a Stevie Nicks velvet glove, just before the rest of it interrupts with a punch.”

He concludes with: “‘I am what I am,’ Jett growls in ‘The French Song,’ like Popeye immediately after a green fix. And what she is comes into focus on Album: not the dedicated fan of I Love Rock ’N Roll, but a professional who knows it’s too late to turn back now. For the first time, it’s her original material and not the covers that carries the day. She has to think harder about what to do next, in the wake of her chart-topping success. Album isn’t a full answer. Still, it provides more than enough reasons for waiting around until she tries again.”

IMG_10704) Kate Bush – “Sat Into Your Lap.” In June 1983, EMI release a five-song EP to help introduce Kate to us Americans. It featured two tracks from The Dreaming, including this one.  J.D. Considine first raves about the cleaner sound for the tracks lifted from The Dreaming. It “makes it easier to absorb the layers of detail Bush packed into “Sat Into Your Lap” and “Suspended in Gaffa.” The rippling rhythms of “Sat” are far more effective when you can hear them all, and the nuances of Bush’s vocals stand out impressively. But at the same time, the sonic clarity also shows up just how much of Bush’s handiwork is gimmickry and how little is magic.” He also equates “Babooska” with an “elementary school Christmas pageant,” and concludes with “[a]fter The Dreaming suggested that Kate Bush was both daring and different, this record seems to show that she’s really pretty much the same as any other over-ambitious chanteuse.”

IMG_10725) The Plimsouls – “A Million Miles Away.” J.D. Considine is much nicer to the Plimsouls, one of the great lost L.A. bands of the ‘80s (and featured to great effect in the classic Valley Girl film): “Now here’s a garage band that has come to terms with its time. Even though producer Jeff Eyrich has slicked up the Plimsouls, tightening the arrangements and turning ‘A Million Miles Away’ into mainstream hit material, he’s left the band’s drive and bite intact. So not only are the Plimsouls able to make the most of their smarts, as on Peter Case’s ‘Shaky City,” they also enjoy the luxury of sounding dumb, as on the grimy ‘Lie, Beg, Borrow and Steal.'”

RIP Prince

IMG_1052The first Prince album I purchased was 1999 – on Oct. 18, 1983, almost a year after its release on Oct. 28, 1982. Why I waited so long: I was somewhat on the fence about whether I liked his music. Oh, I thought he was talented, don’t get me wrong, but the bulk of my musical obsession was focused elsewhere, as the other two albums I bought that same day show. That said, once I did hear 1999 in full…well, I bought Purple Rain on the day of its release the next year, and it went on to become my No. 2 album of ’84, right behind Talk Show by the Go-Go’s. (Yeah, yeah, I can hear the snickers echoing through the tubes that make up this thing we call the Internet. If I only knew then what I know now…or not. I’d still make the same call. For where I was at that point in my life, it made and still makes sense.)

Anyway, there was a stretch in the ’80s when he was one of the best musical artists riding the charts – 1999 (1982), Purple Rain (1984), Around the World in a  Day (1985), Parade (1986) and Sign o’ the Times (1987), specifically, though his Batman soundtrack (1989) had its moments, too. (Lovesexy, on the other hand…the less said, the better.) Anyway, I remember sitting around a table at a Folk Show staff meeting in early ’86 while one of my fellow deejays – like me, a long-haired, unlikely Prince fan – raved about “Raspberry Beret.” Prince’s music pushed past long-established boundaries, in other words.

Aside from his music, what I always found amazing (and/or amusing): Prince’s extracurricular activities. He wrote hits for Sheila E., Sheena Easton and the Bangles, among others, including “Manic Monday.”

That song wasn’t written for the Bangles, though, but Apollonia 6. Prince supposedly became infatuated with Susanna Hoffs, however, and decided she should sing the song instead. Here’s Apollonia 6 demo (which sounds almost exactly like the Bangles’ version).

He also oversaw the final LP of one of the great, lost bands of the ’80s, Paisley Underground pioneers the Three O’Clock, whom he signed to his label, Paisley Park Records. That 1988 album was Vermillion, and features the Prince-penned “Neon Telephone.”