Sadly this wasn’t my nickname at school, or indeed at any point thereafter. It’s taken me 12 posts to make a penis joke, but there you go, that’s what prolonged exposure to Prince clearly does to me.
Sign of the Times (I can’t reproduce the squiggle here) was my first ever 12″ (okay on 6.4.87, since you’ve begged me to tell you), I had been buying singles for a while and I thought there seemed something a bit sophisticated about 12″s. I also felt a bit daring buying this alien artefact with its cross-dressing man on the cover (I know, it wasn’t him but we all thought it was and I certainly wouldn’t have put it past him). I had heard the single on the radio and DLT or some such dismissing it as ‘a bit gloomy’ and loved just how sparse it was. I had plenty of time to drink it all in too as my dad was very late picking me up from karate that night, I remember spending ages staring at it, wondering what the B-side ‘La, la, la, he, he, hee’ sounded like.
The music? I think ‘Sign of the times’ is an absolute classic track, I still love the sparseness of the arrangement and Prince’s perfectly timed, perfectly produced vocals and the lyrics are spot-on too, although I now realize he stole a little bit from Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Whitey on the Moon’, but so what? It isn’t quite my favourite Prince track, but pretty damn close. I found the aforementioned B-side really odd at the time and find it a bit overlong now – a product of writing, playing and producing everything yourself and having a record company in thrall to your genius (and for my money he was a stone-cold genius for 2 and a bit years) I guess is that there’s no-one around to tell you that the last 6 minutes of that funk jam is a bit superfluous; it is good though and there are the usual smutty references to cats and cream and suchlike, none of which was lost on me as a mucky 15 year old. Not a bad way to start a 12″ collection.
Gett Off was a bit of a different beast. It was the usual funk hip-hop based tale of derring-do in the boudoir and contained a line I have still yet to use, ‘now move your big ass round / so I can work on that zipper baby’ – I just haven’t quite found myself in the right set of circumstances – possibly helping out on wardrobe at nativity play with a rather large, recalcitrant donkey? Similarly the line, ‘I like ’em fat and I like ’em proud’ is not one I’ve ever wheeled out to charm the ladies with. Its an okay track this one but for me it marks the point where Prince crossed over from being witty, funny and rude to becoming a bit like an irritatingly, overly-affectionate dog. This is a guy who fantasised about being a girl in order to taste all those, no doubt, fabulous Sapphic delights in ‘If I was your girlfriend’ which I still find funny and clever, to boasting about ’23 positions in a one-night stand’ – in other words from mucky-clever to just mucky-mucky. The B- side is just another mix of the A-side too, something I will immediately ban when I become World President, that’s just lazy guys, LAZY !
Roped into this because of alphabetical proximity (you really didn’t need to be told that I keep all my records in strict alphabetical order did you?) are two more 12″s The Primitives Crash and Prince Buster Al Capone. ‘Crash’ was a song that always seemed to be playing in student discos when I went out and so it was one of those tracks I never needed to own because it was so ubiquitous. I stumbled across the 12″ in 2002 and I bought it – trying to capture my hairy youth again? possibly, trying to recapture a perfect pop moment more like. Two and a half minutes of highly-buffed music that I can’t help dancing to even to this day, with a nice indie guitar edge and enough ‘na, na, na, na’ s to keep any sane person happy. If only they had shoe-horned a talkie bit into the middle of the song, I would probably have expired, quite happily, half-way through.
As for Prince Buster I was pretty much brought up on ska and reggae and so I lack any real critical faculties where it is concerned. All three tracks here are superb, ‘Al Capone’, ‘One Step beyond’ and Texas Hold Up’. Was there ever a more joyous, life-affirming music than ska (when its done right)? Madness were probably the biggest group when I was growing up and their joyous reinterpretation of ska certainly did it for my generation, in spades, but this was the original, real thing and Prince Buster just ruled. I can’t listen without smiling and, when alone, attempting some mal-coordinated skanking. True story, but don’t tell the kids.