A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Friday, January 20, 2006

PERMANENT RECORDS: KISS ME ONCE, KISS ME TWICE, LIFE CAN BE SO NICE

Permanent Records is a year-long project. Each Friday (or thereabouts), I will post a new entry about one specific album, chosen due to its significance to myself as a fan. Though the list is numbered, a particular record's placement should not be considered a ranking. There will be 52 albums in all.

This endeavor is based on a concept started by Chris Tamarri at Crisis/Boring Change.

50. PRINCE & THE REVOLUTION - PARADE (1986)
Subtitle: Music from the Motion Picture Under the Cherry Moon
Produced, composed, arranged, and performed by Prince & the Revolution
Label: Warner Bros./Paisley Park



There's no shortage of good Prince records to write about, and consequently, no shortage of writing about his records. The guy had an incredible string of albums. You can reach out blindly and take any CD from his stack of releases between 1982 and 1991, and you'd find it pretty easy to wax poetic about any of them. (He's also had good stuff before and since, but I'd say 1999 through Diamonds & Pearls is really his golden period.)

And yet, I find myself falling short when it comes to the fevered enthusiasm that will infuse a lot of the entries in this series. Prince is Prince. Even with as elusive as he is as an individual and as mercurial a performer, you don't really have to say much except his name and that will suffice. Yes, he's quite kooky now, and his best days are probably behind him musically, but unlike, say, Michael Jackson, modern ears don't have to strain so hard to remember reasons why we liked him in the first place. Nor has the kookiness declawed the old material. Its appeal still stands.

Funny enough, when it came time to choose a record this week, I found myself drawn to one of Prince's less celebrated works from his period with the Revolution. Buried under the shame of the Under the Cherry Moon film--movies being a chink in Prince's armor much as it is in Madonna's--Parade gets little play outside of its big hit, "Kiss." That number may also be part of the problem. Its size almost eclipses the rest of the disc. "Kiss" will never die. It's undeniable. One need only play the opening, with the haphazard guitar strum, that first "Ahhhh," and everyone knows exactly what song it is. When you reach "Kiss" on Parade's tracklisting, the rest of the album steps back, like it's a superstar cameo and the moment needs to be milked for all it's worth. Remember when George Clooney showed up near the end of The Thin Red Line, and you went, "What the hell is George Clooney doing there?" and before you figured it out he was gone? "Kiss" is the George Clooney of Parade.



The rest of Parade, however, is pretty easygoing. I have what I like to call "listenable albums." These are records I can put on at any time and listen from start to finish without any strain. No matter how many times I hear these records, they will bring the same joy. It doesn't mean these albums aren't deep or rewarding, because of course they are, otherwise I wouldn't care about them. There's just something effortless about how the music interacts with its audience, and vice versa.

"Christopher Tracy's Parade" kicks the whole thing off, its drums marshalling the troops, the marching band horns, the invitation, the statement of intent: "Everyone come behold...Goodness will guide us if love is inside us." It evokes images of Prince's paisley procession pulling a pied piper routine, people pouring out of their houses to join the caravan. It makes me want to get up and dance, it makes every time feel like the first time...even though it's not

You see, part of why "Christopher Tracy's Parade" sounds so inviting is because it sounds so familiar. I wouldn't say that Parade is derivative of previous Prince albums, but rather, he is at such a peak here that listeners know exactly what they are going to get. This goes to my "listenable" description. If the music were the ocean, and we surfers, this would be the time of day where every time we take our board out, a good wave comes and picks us up. Every ride is a good one. (Somewhat ironically, the second track is the funky "New Position," a sexy plea for some spice in one's love life set to a subtly rising and falling steel drum rhythm. "Honey, we can't last without a shot of new spunk." Maybe Prince looking ahead?)

The single that got me hooked on this record back in the day was "Girls & Boys." In five-and-a-half minutes, "Girls & Boys" is everything Under the Cherry Moon was intended to be in an hour and a half. (I can't say for sure, because I've never seen it all the way through, but I'm reasonably sure.) It's Prince doing his version of a romance set in the glamorous Europe of the early 20th century, complete with star-crossed lovers, heavy emotion, and scandals amidst rendezvous "on the steps of Versailles." Its first 2/3 are more heart than groin--though not entirely, given that the lovers are meant for each other because they both have an impressive derriere--and the restraint builds pressure for the inevitable release in the finale, when Prince makes his full-court press during his pseudo-rap. "Hear the words I'm saying/ feel the sex I'm laying" isn't really open to interpretation. "Girls & Boys" also contains some of the finest harmonies Wendy & Lisa contributed to any Revolution effort, engaging in a little call and response with the Purple One. They have a similar role on "Anotherloverholenyohead" later on the album, and it's fitting that the two songs were originally coupled as a sort of double A-side.



Parade is full of such gems. "Life Can Be So Nice" has a delirious dance riff that begs to be revisited and remixed. "Do U Lie?" is a charming mid-tempo swing with shades of Cole Porter. "Mountains" is funky and rejoicing, with a grandiose Prince narrative where love conquers all, even the power of the devil and the misdeeds of man. It's an eclectic mix. No two songs fit the same mold, and yet it's all candy from the same factory, a sampler box with only the good ones. The album is constructed so that each song runs together with only the most minor of pauses. You're meant to eat them all at once.

Of the twelve songs on Parade, however, Prince truly saves the best for last. "Sometimes it Snows in April" is the one song on the disc that inspires the sort of hyperbole I am often known for. (I once had an editor who only approved my writing about a certain band with the proviso that I avoid hyperbole, to which I asked, "But what if it's true?") A soft ballad for piano and acoustic guitar, it's a lament for Christopher Tracy, the man who opened Parade with such ebullience. We aren't told how this character has died (Christopher Tracy is the role Prince played, so maybe it happened in the movie?), but that doesn't diminish the grief that comes with loss. Because this isn't about a specific death, but really, the pain of being left behind--be it in the literal sense of surviving a friend, or in a metaphorical sense of being on the wrong side of any change. The effect is devastating, and though I can heap hyperbole on "Sometimes it Snows in April," Prince avoids it. There are no wailing guitar solos or vocal histrionics, no over-the-top outpourings of emotion; this song is all about quiet, about sitting alone with your feelings. The chorus is so simple--"Sometimes it snows in April/ Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad/ Sometimes I wish life was never ending/ And all good things, they say, never last"--and yet, says so much. The title is more than a metaphor for how life is full of unexpected tragedy, it's evocative of the mood of the song and of a certain image. There is a silence when snow falls, a stillness. The world is in stasis, as are our bodies and our emotions, and "Sometimes it Snows in April," as it rings out an otherwise happy album, manages to have the same effect on the listener: stop, hear, experience.

It’s a risky thing, ending an album on a down note, but Prince knows what he's doing. Parade's main thesis seems to be love as life affirmation, and "Sometimes it Snows in April" doesn't go off message; rather, it reinforces it. Its melancholy is our perspective. How can we appreciate all the rest of these things if we never take the time to reflect on their preciousness? The last line of the record is "And love, it isn't love until it's passed." Only the settling hum of the final piano key outlasts the words. The verse that precedes it speaks of seeing Christopher Tracy again, up in Heaven, where we can regain all that we think we lost. There is more than this, and it does all mean something. It's not a downer at all, but optimistic. It's a crazy little thing called life, that starts with a parade and ends in a funeral, but one wouldn’t make sense without the other.*

Prince wouldn't be Prince without bouncing between such extremes: love and sex, pleasure and pain, life and death. And regardless of which side you're on at the moment, it's always a party. Or, dare I say, a Parade.



* Not unlike last week's album, the Jesus & Mary Chain's Automatic, where the celebrated hedonism also required its antithesis, the comedown.

#52 #51

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Current Soundtrack: Prince, Parade; The Hits/The B-sides disc 1

Current Mood: sick

golightly@confessions123.com * The Website * Live Journal Syndication

[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2005 Jamie S. Rich

4 comments:

Chris Tamarri said...

Yes. Parade. Oh yes.

Whenever I'm at any kind of function with dancing (mostly weddings, anymore), I have the exact same conversation with the DJ.

Me: "Do you have any Prince?"
DJ: [looks mock offended] "Do I have any Prince!?"
Me: "Right on. Think you could work something in?"
DJ: "What do you want to hear?"
Me: "Anything but 'Kiss'."
DJ: [looks disappointed, like he's gonna have to go to his safety school after all]: "Oh. Um, okay."

And within twenty minutes, I'm dancing to "Let's Go Crazy". Always the "Kiss" bridesmaid, that one.

It's not that I don't like "Kiss". It's just, as you pointed out, it's so big that it's less a song and more the idea of one. I blame Pretty Woman. And, not for nothing, but it's not a great dance song, too slow to boogie to, too fast to slow it down. Not that anyone ever seems to notice.

Meanwhile, Parade keeps sneaking up in my esteem. It'll never beat Purple Rain--there aren't many records anywhere better than Purple Rain, let alone in Prince's catalog--and it doesn't have any of my top tracks--no "Pop Life", no "Little Red Corvette", no "Erotic City", no "When You Were Mine"--but it might be the second-best Prince record, top to bottom.

I could talk Prince for days, so I'll be off lest I do just that.

Good pick, Jamie.

Greg McElhatton said...

I really can't argue with most of this--and it's so nice to hear someone else talk about "Sometimes it Snows in April."

If it wasn't that Symbol and Come were in-between D&P and Gold Experience I'd argue with you on his golden period extending to that far, but that's both a small and then a huge stumbling block to ignore! :)

Anonymous said...

Prince is due to play SNL on Feb. 4th with Steve Martin as the host. First time Prince has played the show since 1981. Should be interesting as he always puts on a good show.

M Lechmann said...

I would go ahead and extend his golden period back to Controversy. That album was pretty mind-blowing on its release. At least it blew mine.

You will have to watch Under the Cherry Moon alone, in the dark, multiple times to appreciate its brilliance.