Prince’s most important album (no, not that one) gets a monster re-release; A first reaction…

(November 29, 2019).  On Friday, Nov. 29, Prince’s estate – in conjunction with Warner Bros. – released the highly touted deluxe version of the late artist’s groundbreaking album 1999.

Prince’s 1999 (Super Deluxe Edition) was officially released Nov. 29, 2019.

The new 5xCD/10xLP “Super Deluxe Edition” – also available on digital and streaming services – features previously unreleased tracks, live versions and remixes of old songs, plus a remastered version of the original album, along with a DVD of live concert footage from a December 1982 tour stop.

Hmmm…CDs and DVDs?  And vinyl LPs?  Certainly screams 1999 to me.

In all, Super Deluxe Edition boasts 65 tracks and nearly six hours of music. No critic’s review will ever completely do it justice – for it should never take longer to actually listen to an album than to write about it.

But I will attempt to here.  

To appreciate the re-release of what is IMHO Prince’s most important album – Purple Rain notwithstanding – I had to start with 1999’s remastered eleven original tracks.  I admittedly hadn’t played the full album in decades, so listening anew would be essential to forming any kind of comparison between the original and the alternate versions.  

Little did I know that my listening would also provide a renewed perspective on what 1999 meant to the adolescent teenage boy that I was in 1982, and, more importantly, what it meant to Prince’s career and to the music world since its release 37 years ago.

From a teenage boy’s perspective, 1999 was that dirty magazine you snuck in the house, which your parents would not have otherwise allowed (more on that later).

From a commercial perspective, 1999 sent Prince’s career into a new stratosphere.  It launched his first pop crossover top-10 single in “Little Red Corvette,” the song that was among the few by black artists that MTV played in heavy rotation for the first time in early 1983. It changed Prince from reliable early-‘80s soul chart mainstay to rising pop superstar in a matter of months.

On the new deluxe album, “Little Red Corvette” gets serviced six times, more than any other 1999 track.  There’s the remastered original, plus the familiar single edit and a dance remix promo-only version, the latter two of which were the versions radio favored back in the day.

Then there’s the most interesting “Special Dance Mix” – an 8:31 marathon version that was available in 1983 on a 12” single. It has lengthier instrumental bars during the intro and isolated guitar riffs in the middle.  There’s an added bass synth near the end, along with Prince’s nearly forgotten “Mayday” rap – a clear reminder of what made his ‘80’s 12” singles so special back in the day.

The “Special Dance Mix” of “Little Red Corvette” is the extended 12” single version from 1983.

A fifth “Tour Demo” version appears in a mixed medley with “Lady Cab Driver,” “Head,” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover.”  The final version – a live recording from a show at Detroit’s Masonic Hall nearly 37 years ago to this day on Nov. 30 – includes a dedication “to all the fast girls in the house” and an interesting replacement of “jockeys” with “Negroes” in a key line of the second verse.  Clearly, Prince knew who the bulk of his audience still was back in 1982.  

The success of “Little Red Corvette” in 1983 famously paved the way for a re-release of the single “1999,” the title track that had already been a soul chart hit in late 1982, but which resurfaced eight months later to become a pop top-20 entry in summer 1983 as Warner Brothers capitalized on Prince’s expanding crossover appeal.

On Super Deluxe, only four versions of the title track appear, and even that feels like one too many.  Of course, the original 6:13 album version is essential (and streaming listeners will be happy to know that the song’s original fade into “Little Red Corvette” is restored).  

Fans of radio-edit 45s will appreciate either the 7” stereo edit or the 7” mono promo-only version.

The problem is the latter two are indistinguishable, and either one could have been omitted without being missed.  That same treatment is afforded “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” which appears in the two 7” versions (mono and stereo) plus a video edit that seems more over-indulgent than anything else (this is a problem that plagues several songs on 1999 Special Deluxe Edition). 

More interesting is the live Detroit performance of “1999,” in which Prince and the Revolution play the song faster but tack on a whole five additional minutes after the “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?” line that closes the original.

Indeed, this 10-minute live version of “1999” feels like a party unlike any other Prince jam on the album (although the last 1:45 of just audience applause could have been clipped considerably). 

“Delirious,” the album’s third single – as well as the third track in the album’s overall sequence, gets three entries on Super Deluxe – and it’s the six-minute “Full Length” version that delights the most.  

“Delirious,” with its combination rockabilly/new-wave vibe, was the original album’s shortest cut at exactly four minutes long.  The extended version on Deluxe includes additional vocals and a longer intro that remain true to the original, plus an extended finish that make it clear what we’ve been listening to for 37-plus years was an edit from this original full-length master.  

Not being an earlier fan of “Delirious,” if this version existed on a 12” single previously, I hadn’t heard it – but might have liked it more if I had.

So the album 1999 with its three big hit singles was thus a marathon commercial success, rising to No. 9 on the Billboard album chart in a remarkably long run that was unheard of for black musicians at the time.  It would not exit the Billboard 200 until October 1985, nearly three years after its debut on the list in November 1982. (The album re-entered and charted even higher with a No. 7 peak after Prince’s death in 2016.)

But its crossover impact wasn’t one-directional.  Not only did 1999 introduce reluctant white folks en masse to Prince’s color-blind brand of Minneapolis funk (both “Corvette” and “Delirious” charted higher pop than they did soul), but it further immersed Prince’s black fans in his unique, synth-infused style of pop to which we’d been introduced a few years earlier – a style that was closer to punk and new wave than it was to the soul and R&B we’d come to love.

Until 1981/82-era Prince, particularly in disco’s premature wake, we wanted our funk to be like that of the Gap Band, Zapp, P-Funk and Cameo – soulful, highly percussive and with a black aesthetic.  

The closest thing to black soul on 1999 – besides maybe “D.M.S.R.” and the last two minutes of the title track – was the closing ballad “International Lover,” with Prince in full falsetto vocal delivery.

“International Lover,” with all its innuendo and sexual airline flight metaphors (and a slow-draggy motif reminiscent of “Do Me Baby” from 1981’s Controversy), contained the album’s best line: “If for any reason there’s a loss of cabin pressure, I will automatically drop down to apply more.”

Interesting on this Super Deluxe Edition is the demo version of “Lover” – dubbed “(Take 1) – Live In Studio” – which finds Prince singing the ballad in baritone.  The fact that Prince had transformed “Lover” with his famous falsetto left this listener wondering how many other of his demos had similar metamorphoses.  

The second-most interesting part of “Lover – Take 1” is the ending monologue when Prince gives a straight read of the airplane flight attendant speech, and playfully thanked passengers for flying – of all things – “Morris International.”  It lends credibility to the legend that Morris Day and The Time were in the studio at the same time recording their popular What Time is It? album.

By the way, for those who erroneously think “Lover” is Prince’s best ballad, the estate included excellent live versions of his classics “Do Me, Baby” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” – both from the December 1982 Detroit performance – as reminders to the contrary.

Originally the B-side to Prince’s “1999” single, the Super Deluxe version of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” may be even better.

In fact, a demo version of “How Come?” – dubbed “Take 2” – appears for good measure.  Listeners will be pleased with the 50-second ad-lib beginning at the 4:00 mark, plus the soft piano finish at the end.

What Prince had begun with his first four albums, especially Dirty Mind and Controversy (the latter of which included the original “Do Me, Baby” plus the title track and “Let’s Work” – live versions of which are included here), the Purple One – never being the conformist – completely blew out of the water with 1999.  

Just about every song on the original 1999 contained at least one sexual reference – either directly or indirectly.  Even the more-apocalyptic-than-carnal title track managed to stick one in (“got a lion in my pocket, and baby he’s ready to roar!”) without Prince even getting so much as a second look in the pre-Parental Advisory days of 1982.

Two in-your-face examples were “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and “Lady Cab Driver,” both of which pushed the sexual envelope far more than any other Prince songs had before. 

I still remember as a 16-year-old hearing the aggressively verbal (and at times rough) sex simulation on “Lady Cab Driver,” or the line “I sincerely wanna fuck the taste out of your mouth” on “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” all the while wondering if I was even supposed to be listening aloud to this explicitness in my parents’ home.

Somehow I had convinced myself that Prince had been subtle enough that my folks would never notice.  In retrospect, he had been anything but that, especially on “Married” and “Driver.”

More Prince: The “Hallway Speech” version of “Computer Blue” may be my new favorite Prince song.

Regarding the album’s original eleven tracks, anyone looking for new surprises in Super Deluxe – besides those already mentioned above – might be disappointed.  “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute) – Original Version” is the 1982 album’s only other alternate take here, with an unpolished demo feel that’s void of the reverbed vocals on 1999’s original. 

What surprises most is that nine of the album’s eleven original tracks had single edits to begin with (all included here), causing this listener to wonder how many might have been planned for single release before the album originally ran its course (after “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” charted here in the US; notably, “Automatic” was released as a fifth single in Australia).

Which brings us to the less familiar tracks on 2019’s Super Deluxe Edition.  Some have been in existence on the black market for years, while others are true new finds.

The best of the “new” songs

Best among the new ones is “Vagina,” a seemingly trans-friendly tune that casually addresses the sexual ambiguity of “Vagina,” a “half-boy/half-girl” that Prince’s LGBTQ-friendly protagonist spots in a gay bar and who enjoys the “best of both worlds.”  The song is a guitar-driven bop (using today’s vernacular) that features an energetic Prince doing some early beat-boxing at the beginning and being at some of his most provocative, topically speaking.

Prince’s “Vagina” may be the best “new” song on 1999 (Super Deluxe Edition).

“Rearrange” is a true funk number that lyrically turns up its nose at “old-time funk,” while halfway paying tribute to it.  Surely, the “rearrange your brain” refrain along with the song’s other lyrics borrow mightily from George Clinton’s “free your mind and the rest will follow” motif.

“Turn it Up” resurfaces here as another example of early-‘80’s drum-programmed synth-pop.  Prince is in full-form here as himself, singing the new-wavy track in all his falsetto glory and evoking all the yells and screams you’d expect when he gets revved up.

“Bold Generation” is an early version of the song “New Power Generation,” which Prince included on the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack in 1990. Truth be told, this 1982 edition is actually better. It carries a 1970s soul vibe, plus the melody is more prominently displayed here than on the NPG version.

“If It’ll Make U Happy” is a 1982 recording noteworthy for its traditional, non-programmed drumming as well as its unwavering three-note melody, which plays throughout the verses and choruses.  In that way, it may seem a bit monotonous, but the song’s charm is maintained by its stellar drum work.

“Money Don’t Grow on Trees” is Prince at his most soulful early in his career.  The guitar riffs (particular the ones in your right ear if you’re listening through headphones) make this song a complete gem.

“Possessed,” is among the previously available tracks that is included here for its 1982 context.  It’s nearly nine minutes of Prince and the Revolution at their funkiest with a unique (for Prince) four-on-the-floor bass drum beat that could have played well in any disco at the time. 

Another of the better “new” tunes is “Do Yourself a Favor,” an uptempo synth-pop ditty that Prince sings in baritone and leaves you wondering what it might have sounded like in his famous falsetto vocal (and a slightly slowed-down tempo).  The last two minutes of this nine-minute jam are particularly interesting as Prince goes into a Morris Day-like diss that borders on hilarious.

Prince’s “Do Yourself a Favor” from 1999 (Super Deluxe Edition).

“Purple Music” is perhaps the song that comes closest to sounding like it could have been included on the original 1999.  It clocks in at nearly 11 minutes and focuses on the Purple One being “so high” – but clearly on the music (Prince famously eschewed elicit drug use at the time).  

“Purple Music” drones on forever but eventually takes an interesting left turn at about the 8-minute mark when Prince goes into character and states “It’s time for your morning bath sir, what would you like to bathe in this morning?”

As he rap-sings the line “every subject, any key, purple music can’t be judged…it happens naturally,” you’re compelled to believe him (after all, how many times did he prove it over the decades?).

“You’re All I Want,” “Yah, You Know” and “No Call U” are all more playful tunes (maybe a little too fun for the original 1999 album) and musically are distant cousins to “Delirious.”  The first two, strangely, don’t follow the Prince rule of replacing the word “you” or “you’re” with “U” or “UR” in his song titles, making one wonder if that was a more recent error by the estate or something intentional on Prince’s part (yes, we Prince fans are that obsessive about these things).

The prospect of that type of an error by the estate re-raises the 3-year-old controversy of Prince’s music being released in ways the artist may not have intended before his untimely death in April 2016.  Yet the fact that he left no will detailing what should happen to his immense catalogue upon his death has made it fair game for this type of release.  

Fans have had duplicitous reactions to these posthumous releases – in some cases chastising the estate (and, in this case, Warner Brothers) for capitalizing off Prince’s work, but consuming it nonetheless.

In my view, the release of 1999 (Super Deluxe Edition) is more a testimony to the importance of the album and to this most creative period in Prince’s career…and fans should be all the happier for it. 

Bottom line: 1999 (Super Deluxe Edition) is a must-listen for any old Prince fans, and a nice get for prospective new ones. However, given some of the fluff with various single edits, etc., it may not be worth the hefty price for all its physical forms – you may want to stick to streaming it.

DJRob

Prince in a still shot from “Little Red Corvette” (1983)

DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.

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