“if a girl answers (don’t hang up)” – vanity 6 (1982)

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Just recently, Prince’s discography was made available for digital streaming online across various platform including Pandora, iTunes, Spotify, and others.  Prince was very particular about how his music could be accessed and he was a strict opponent against online streaming.  Less than a year after his death, one of his most valued beliefs was compromised.  On one hand, I like the idea that Prince’s music is more accessible.  On the other, this development is against his wishes.  I’m conflicted.  Regardless, Prince is gone.

A few days after his music was published to all the music streaming sites, I added the Prince station to my Pandora account.  I only listen to Pandora during my morning routine and I like listening to pop and dance music to start my day on a bright note.  Listening to the station, I’m hearing Prince’s hits, his more obscure tracks, and music from his contemporaries or artists influenced by Prince.  It’s a great blend of funky soul.

One thing Prince doesn’t get enough credit for is how he mentored new acts.  Primarily, he liked to mentor new female acts.  Prince was a feminist who believed women should have a bigger presence in pop music.  He would write songs for these acts, produce their albums, or even contribute music and vocals.

I was reminded of Prince’s musical feminism when Vanity 6 appeared on my Pandora station.  I was so excited by this because I hadn’t listened to that album in a long time.  I hadn’t even heard any Vanity 6 or Vanity solo tracks come up on Pandora, so I assume this was included with the rest of Prince’s discography when his catalog was made available online.

Vanity 6 was a female vocal trio and only released on album in 1982. Their eponymous release, Vanity 6¸ is a fuck pop and R&B album filled to the brim with sex and attitude.  The group was led by Vanity, Brenda Bennett, and Susan Moonsie and who did all the vocals as well as background vocals.  Prince wrote most of the songs on the album as well as produced and arranged instrumentation.  He would often credit his work to other musicians or credit his work under the fictional studio name “The Starr Company.”

The song that played that made me remember the group also happens to be my favorite song from their album.  “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)” is a funky, funny, and cleverly written rap song.  Despite being the best song on the release, it was never released as a single leaving Vanity 6’s other songs like “He’s So Dull” or “Nasty Girl” to be the most remembered.  Regardless, this catty rap song is a girl group treasure and an overlooked gem in Prince’s lexicon of work.

In the song, the girls of Vanity 6 want to go to a party.  The problem is that they need a ride.  Vanity wants to call her boy toy Jimmy, but is afraid of what happens if a girl answers.  She’s told to not hang up and just talk about it.  Then, drama ensues.

The phone picks up with Vanity asking for Jimmy.  The girl on the other end of the line is Prince with an affected voice.  Immediately, Prince’s vocals are confrontational, charged, and funny as he claims that Jimmy is in the shower.  Getting wise, Vanity asks if taking out the trash is the reason why and Prince replied “No, that’s something he used to do. Now he’s taking out me.”  Vanity and Prince continue taunting each other over the line and throw out amazing insults like “Tramp, I’m dating your dad” and “I’m sorry, baby, but I never go to singles bars.”  The phone exchange happens during the first half of the song until the phone gets hung up.  Prince tries calling back, but there’s no response.  Just a funky backing track.

Vanity 6 disbanded in 1983.  Vanity was getting more attention in the group from Prince than Susan and Brenda.  Also, Vanity had moved on to record with Motown.  She had even dropped out of acting opposite of Prince in his 1984 hit film Purple Rain with the role ultimately going to Apollonia.

Unfortunately, that’s how things worked out.  Vanity 6 is, by far, my favorite of Prince’s side projects.  They released one great album and would’ve undoubtedly released several more.  Vanity 6 is a funny and nasty record and never fails to put me in a good mood.  So, go online to your favorite streaming service, put on the Prince channel, and enjoy what comes your way.

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“1999” – prince (1982)

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When I decide on an artist or song to write about for my weekly blog post, there are a few things I consider.  Most importantly, I take into consideration how I am feeling at the time.  I might plan to write about a particular track and then change my mind last minute.  I might be ready to discuss that song or I might have a new idea that is more pressing and I need to put into words quickly.  This happens more often in the case of one-hit wonders or artists with smaller discographies.  For artists with larger bodies of work, or artists who have had a significant impact on me, I tend to take my time.  Since I have a self-imposed rule to not repeat an artist for this blog, finding the right moment to talk about the right song can be a little overwhelming.  I knew Prince was somebody I wanted to spotlight at some point, but I didn’t want it to be like this.

Simply put, Prince was an enigma; a very stylish and purple one at that.  Notoriously private, he was able to craft a persona that was explosive and full of raw sexual energy, but tender at the same time.  Prince was also very protective over his body of work.  Lawsuits were often brought against people for infringing on his copyright and he worked tirelessly to secure all the legal rights to his music from Warner Brothers.  It was all about control and the freedom to carry out his vision and maintain his image.  After nearly four decades of recording music, I would say he was successful at keeping the public interested and engaged.

I keep a running list of potential songs to write about and I have several down for Prince.  With such a massive discography with more than 35 studio albums, there was a lot to choose from.  Popular hits like “When Doves Cry,” the masterpiece that is “Purple Rain,” or even deep cuts like “Stare” all would have been excellent to dissect and review.  Personally, I am a big fan of his album Dirty Mind and his 1987 concept album Sign “O” the Times.  If Prince was still alive and I had felt ready to write about him, I probably would have picked a track from one of those two albums.  Again, I didn’t want such an occasion to be like this.

As I read through news sites and my social media feeds, I loved seeing the tributes coming in including links to his 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Performance of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and all the references to his mastery of basketball and making pancakes.  My favorite tribute was an article written by The Onion with the poignant and perfect headline “Nation Too Sad To Fuck Even Though It’s What Prince Would Have Wanted.”  I went back and listened through several of my favorite tracks and sampled some albums.  Unfortunately, this was the time to write about Prince and I had nothing to say.  Even some of the songs I had previously considered were receiving second thoughts.  I kept asking myself, what song would be the perfect song that embodies Prince and his outlook on life?

Released in 1982, “1999” has stood the test of time as being one of Prince’s greatest tracks.  Despite the amusing date that is 17 years outdated and I’m sure leaves many kids wondering “what does it mean to party like its 1999?”, this song is the perfect representation of Prince; who he was and what he was all about.  “1999” is an amazing track, but it is overlooked as a powerful protest song.  Prince & the Revolution are dancing until the end because war is all around them and everyone has the bomb.  With absolutely no fear or cares about the evils of society, Prince’s humanist approach is to just live your life, party, and have a good time.  He may not want to die, but it isn’t going to stop him from dancing because everyone is going to die someday.

“1999” opens with an explosive array of musical noise that immediately leads into the track’s signature riff.  Dez Dickerson, Lisa Coleman and Jill Jones of the Revolution join Prince on the vocals throughout the song.  With all the voices playing off eachother and taking lead over each verse, it conveys a strong sense of unity and that this is truly a party that will never be forgotten.  The track is also a testament to Prince’s genius as a multi-instrumentalist.  He plays most of the instruments on the album produced it as well.

Prince passed away in his home yesterday near his recording studio.  He had been hospitalized in Illinois just a few days prior.  I also had been reading stories about his final performance last week.  He held a party and performed to an elated audience.  Rumors and speculation regarding his health and physical appearance have been circulating.  I don’t know all of the details about his health at the party, and I don’t want to speculate and further the distribution of potentially false information.  All I know is that I’m glad he lived his life on his own terms and did so until the very end.  Prince was greatest musician in recent decades because of his musical genius and ability to craft works of art that were not only wildly mainstream and popular, but culturally significant as well.

That article from The Onion captured Prince with such accuracy.  We’re all going to die, so let’s not waste time worrying about the inevitable.  Now is the time for celebration.  Listen to Prince.  Watch videos of Prince.  Talk about Prince.  But don’t do all of that with sadness.  Do it with joy. Just as it is sung in “1999,” life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last.