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Jan 13

THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS PRINCE – “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”

Popular49 comments • 7,379 views

#705, 23rd April 1994

bootiful Sometimes U have to state the obvious: this should not have been Prince’s only UK number one under his own name (or glyph). But a check of the stats shows he rarely came that close – he was an undisputed star, archetype, household name, whose most remarkable and famous singles settled in the middle of the Top 10, or at its outskirts. This is the charts’ fault, not his: so much of the spice of 80s pop, its distinctive decadence, seems to loop back to Prince. He should have a chain of entries here.

In his heyday, as a creature of mad playground rumour, no priapic feat seemed weird enough for Prince: he is the only star I can remember where one whisper was that he was really a virgin, making it all up. What made Princely sex so mysterious and scary to the naïve teen mind was that he went way beyond the cartoon smut you got in rock music and the accessorised seductions of 80s soulboy pop. Not just in terms of kink, but in his evocation of the force of desire, its power – playful and frightening – to mutate and twist reality. The line that sums up his whole deal and appeal, for me, is in that magnificent first verse of “When Doves Cry”: “Animals strike curious poses / They feel the heat, the heat between me and you”.

But that isn’t the version of Prince we get here – no vogueing fauna in sight. This is a man devoted and restrained, singing to and for his wife-to-be and playing it as sweet as he possibly can. “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” is a high, heady, perfume-drunk ballad drawing from the well of Thom Bell’s work with the Delfonics and Stylistics. Prince disciplines himself, staying almost throughout at the absolute top of his register, a high-wire act he pulls off without a hitch but also without any moment which completely sells the decision. The music is opulent boudoir funk, the best line – “How can I get through days when I can’t get through hours?” – is very good, and there’s a casual classiness to the record missing from most of what we’ve covered lately.

Even so this is a good single, not a great one – and as it turned out, one of his last hit singles. That – as well as all the name-change foofaraw – makes “Beautiful Girl” a slippery record. On the one hand, well-behaved enough to become a slow-dance standard; on the other, overwhelmed by the high tide of its maker’s eccentricity. In his day the strangeness, the seduction and the unearthly pop instinct had created uncanny fusions, curious poses indeed. The pose on this record is well-struck, but more ordinary, its only real problem the many things I’d always play instead of it.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    punctum on 4 Jan 2013 #

    Also it wasn’t a very good record. I suppose it had its “moments” but I listened to the thing once.

    Why far more radical than Quincy Jones and why is QJ “over-rated”?

  2. 27
    anto on 4 Jan 2013 #

    re:26 – I find Quincy Jones’ stuff just that bit too sharp and slick.
    With Prince one of the things I admire is his willingness to follow the oddest whims all the way. The way a track like “New Position” puts the drums right up beside the vocal or the way he speeds up his voice on “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and how it enhances the mood of sexual confusion in the song.
    One of my favourite moments in any of his songs is after the second chours on “Pop Life” when the songs drops out completely and we’re left with some kind of semi-chaotic crowd noise which sounds like Grand Central Station on a particularly busy morning, and then the song matter-of-factly fades back. I always thought it was brilliantly random, that bit.

  3. 28
    punctum on 4 Jan 2013 #

    Don’t forget the test-your-strength fairground machine DING! in the same bit. Very Todd Rundgren.

    Agree with all you say about Prince but I think the brilliance of Quincy J is in his use of space and studio echo; he doesn’t fill up every corner of his productions with activity but leaves a lot for the listener to fill in – this is true from Jimmy Smith’s “The Cat” to the Brothers Johnson’s “Strawberry Letter 23.” And when he wasn’t being George Martin to Michael J’s Beatles, i.e. after Bad, the difference was immediately noticeable.

  4. 29
    Ricardo on 4 Jan 2013 #

    #24: “The Most Beautiful Girl” sounds like Prince’s farewell letter to pop

    In terms of chart performance, it pretty much was – the odd Top 20 single notwithstanding. And of the two – count ‘em -, Top 10′s he had afterwards, one of them was a reissue (“1999″) and the other (“Gold”) was the one which harkened back the most to his Purple Rain era – he even went so far at the time (1995) to proclaim that song as would-be even bigger than “Purple Rain” (the song).
    But as the above line demonstrates, it wasn’t for lack of trying. His cover of The Stylistics “Betcha By Golly Wow”, “The Holy River”, “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold”, “Cinnamon Girl” and “Black Sweat” were not exactly singles lacking in choruses and tentative hooks – the word “tentative” being key here. It’s just that, as was mentioned already, his idea of pop became decidedly out of step with the times – even his not-so-subtle nod to The Neptunes, “Black Sweat”, with its 2006 date, sounded already a bit late by at least one year.

  5. 30
    Steve Mannion on 4 Jan 2013 #

    I felt ‘Black Sweat’ was a successful attempt to sound intentionally like his late 80s self. It sounded far more like classic Prince to me than anything more contemporary (although its stripped down slinky style had been mirrored by The Neptunes as you say e.g. ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’…but he surely gave them such ideas in the first place). The video reflects this too – equally classy and funny in exactly the way that made him so powerful in the past. So obviously it was out of time in that respect but a welcome return.

  6. 31
    Auntie Beryl on 4 Jan 2013 #

    #29: Gold, the single, in retrospect sounds like Prince’s farewell to pop, to accessibility, all the more than TMBGITW. He threw the kitchen sink at that one: it doesn’t surprise me at all that he himself considered it be a rival for Purple Rain.

    I could spend several paragraphs on how terrific that record is, but I’ll cut to the chase: listen to the last minute or so and the fadeout. As the Beatley/Purple Rain “na na nas” recede, a female narrator chirps:

    You are now an official member of the New Power Generation
    Welcome 2 the dawn

    I always pictured this piece as a spaceship landing, a benign force inviting Prince within, and flying off. Ladies and gentlemen, Pop Prince has left the building. He’s off to do something else, somewhere else; some planet where the local appreciation of his talent matches his own evaluation. What’s left behind is a skilled impersonator, almost: a great live (tribute) act, and a recorded afterlife which consists stuff that sounds like someone doing a bad impersonation of peak-period (and Black Album era) Prince.

    It’s a measure of how quickly he fell from recorded grace that, before reading Tom’s post, in my mind I had conflated Betcha By Golly Wow with The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, and somehow assumed both were covers.

  7. 32
    Tom Lane on 5 Jan 2013 #

    The last big hit Prince had in the U.S. (#3). In fact, he’s only had 3 more Top 40′s since this one. What you have here is an easy Prince single. The kind he could have done all throughout the 80′s & beyond if he really wanted to. But he didn’t. You could call this slight, but it sure was nice to hear his falsetto high on the charts back in 1994. I’d give it a 7.

  8. 33
    Mark G on 5 Jan 2013 #

    I don’t think Prince was ‘reduced’ to giving his album away, I genuinely think he (or someone close to him) genuinely thought it a radical new way of getting his album into the largest number of houses. Which it clearly did, but who could know that beyond that job-done, how many households actually bothered to play it?

    I mean “Guitar” would have been a nice “prince is back” type pop hit, but that was never to be, we all had one.

    The one lesson I’d cite from Ian Dury’s advice, and it’s good advice, is: Don’t do nothing that is cut-price. There is a number of situations where a bargain is offered and the record-buying public go “yes please”, and a year later (or whatever) the same artist says “here’s more but now it’s full-price” and the audience go “um, no why can’t it be at the old price?”

    Example 1: Faust followed up a 49p album with a normal-priced one, the sleeve and record not noticeably more luxurious, and people either were too stingy to stump up, or actually didn’t want or need another Faust album.

    Example 2: Peter Frampton comes alive, a bargain priced 2LP with his best shoulda-been-hits, sells millions. Next up, a studio collection of new stuff, it sold a bit but it was clearly ‘get-used-to-reducing-sales’ time.

    Example 3: Newspaper freebies of brand-new albums. Ray Davies did one, but there were other problems with his company so we’ll exclude him from this: Prince did two and I never got round to playing the second one.

    Exception: Mungo Jerry did a series of 33rpm e.p’s which kept them in the charts between 1970 to 1975 (the last ep was 1973 I think), pretty much unbroken apart from one which missed which just proves that it’s not infallible..

    Anyways, there is only so much music anyone needs, and certainly from one artist. He tried the ‘deluxe’ mail-order route but there were too many to keep up with, and output was erratic and not-vital. The idea that Prince fans were rich-type-people who would happily pay for well-tooled formats. That market exists now, it didn’t then.

    If anyone is interested, that “21 Nights” big photobook with live ‘after-show party’ CD included is £5 in Fopp. I didn’t get one, it’d take up too much space in my house!

    (Barnes and Noble website has it for $50 brand new, second hand $0.01)

  9. 34
    Ricardo on 5 Jan 2013 #

    #31: Oh, I personally love “Gold”. But as I already stated, it was an idea of pop out of step with the times. As you so rightly said, Prince threw the kitchen sink on that one. It’s just that kitchen sink-throwing pop couldn’t have been less fashionable in 1995 on either side of the Atlantic, what with Britpop laddism, superclub dance music, earnest teen pop and what was still left of the (by then) Adult Contemporary 80′s (Elton, George Michael, Simply Red, etc.) dominating this side of the pond; and post-grunge’s onslaught, gangsta rap, hip-hop soul, country and post-alternative pop/rock in the Hootie & The Blowfish vein doing the same in America. None of these were exactly known for their willingness to risk ridicule or look excessive, so it’s no wonder Prince (and Madonna and Michael Jackson too, BTW) faced such mixed fortunes in the mid-90′s.

    #32: And yet one of those three was the “1999″ reissue.

  10. 35
    Tommy Mack on 6 Jan 2013 #

    I haven’t heard this for years, but I could still hum the peeling little guitar riff after “could you be…” in the chorus.

    This was the first Prince song I was properly aware of. As sex-obsessed pre-pubescent boys we’d always admired Prince: he was dirty but witty and clever with it too and less likely to preach to us than MJ and we respected him because he could play a dozen different instruments (ha, a rockist even at that tender age…) Even though I’d only really been deliberately listening to music for a year or so, I was kind of aware that he’d been quiet for a couple of years and it was good to have him back.

    Now I’m more aware of his back catalogue, of course, this isn’t up there with his very best, but then, Christ, he pretty much invented modern pop music, give the guy a break: I’d say a 7, maybe an 8 for Nostalgia’s sake.

  11. 36
    Bean 1 on 10 Jan 2013 #

    Everyone has to remember Prince has been doing this a long time. He writes,produces, and sings his own songs. He also plays and writes his own music. What other artist does it all. Maybe Ellton Jhon. He is one of our icon’s.He does it for him and no body else. Always has always will. He could care less what enybody else thinks. I’m just saying

  12. 37
    Basil Brush on 10 Jan 2013 #

    Ellton Jhon a ha ha ha boom boom!

  13. 38
    Ottersteve on 10 Mar 2013 #

    I liked many of Princes songs during the 80′s – provided they were sung by somebody else.

  14. 39
    swanstep on 10 Mar 2013 #

    Since this has become a general Prince discussion, I can report that my first exposure to Prince was in 1981 seeing this video for Sexuality from the Controversy album. Damn good track (which a lot of people still don’t know as it never made any of Prince’s hits collections), exciting performance in the vid. – it was obvious that he was going to be huge (although Prince had in fact already got to #3 in NZ the previous year with I Wanna Be Your Lover, which is in full falsetto like TMBGITW).

    Anyhow, TMBGITW is the second #1 single of the year that I actually bought at the time, and this one I still like a lot (whereas Love Is All Around’s charms are now a complete mystery to me). Tom says:

    “Prince disciplines himself, staying almost throughout at the absolute top of his register, a high-wire act he pulls off without a hitch but also without any moment which completely sells the decision.”

    Really? Those final notes from about 3m 40s do it for me. In fact, if I I have one major complaint about TMBGITW it’s that too short…it feels to me like it should go on for another 2 or 3 minutes with Prince falsetto scatting to the heavens. Maybe then Tom would be convinced! (Compare with Adore, the final track on Sign Of The Times, which spreads out for a glorious 7 minutes there, while its 4 minute, single version (the one on Hits) feels so much more dismissable.)

    One other thing about this record, which is consonant with its occasional, released on Valentine’s Day in the US, wedding-dance, slow-but-not-too-slow-jam character: it was really helped by its very thematic video. I confess that I did then and I still do get a little teary when the Mom-figure comes out (I assume it’s not Prince’s mom) to watch her Whitney-ish daughter become the 43rd President of the US. Not coincidentally, this is when Prince’s falsetto ascends to the heavens.

    Checking the charts in NZ: only Alphabet St and Batdance got to #1 before this one, but Kiss, Doves Cry, and Rasp Beret got to #2, and many other songs got to #3-#5. So, a lot deeper chart presence overall than in the UK. (Both the US and the UK think of themselves as primary sources for new music with only very occasional ‘invasions’ from outside interrupting the main directions of flow. These imperial mindsets seem inevitably to produce blind spots that places without aspirations to be *the* center of pop music don’t have, at least not in the same way.)

  15. 40
    stebags on 8 Apr 2013 #

    HATED this.
    Mainly cos I worked in a factory that easter and the commercial radio they had on played this every other record.
    The record they plkayed inbetween was The Beautiful South’s Good as gold, I felt exactly the same about that.

  16. 41
    mark g on 8 Apr 2013 #

    Did you carry on, regardless?

  17. 42
    Patrick Mexico on 9 Apr 2013 #

    I’m carrying on regardless – in the face of inevitable ridicule – that M People had some proper great tunes for proper lads with proper haircuts around this time, especially Renaissance, Movin’ On Up and the slower-burning number Don’t Look Any Further. That “Tonight, we’re gonna make a little paradise” thing just does something to me, even though I know it’s wrong. Like putting double cream on top of ice cream and giving it a calorie-filled “shell.”

    That “genius and aerobics” quote had a point, though.

  18. 43
    Chelovek na lune on 9 Apr 2013 #

    Maybe, but their version of “Don’t Look Any Further” added nothing to (and changed little fundamental about) the original, which I came across on a Streetsounds album a few years after its original release; and which enjoyed a somewhat superior vocalist, too. It is a fine song, but M-People’s version (apart from bringing it to wider audience) served little purpose. I must admit to a soft spot for “Colour My Life”, however.

  19. 44
    Mark G on 9 Apr 2013 #

    Plus, The Kane Gang ‘copied’ it first

  20. 45
    Patrick Mexico on 9 Apr 2013 #

    Genuinely never knew it was a cover. I’m showing my age.. well my tender years here! Must apologise – being born in 1985 has made me an awful, bigoted revisionist, especially when it comes to blaming Nirvana for nu-metal, and acid house for “chavs.” And maybe this song for Bruno Mars? I have issues, and when we somehow get to the end of the decade, I’m gonna pay, gonna pay, gonna pay..

  21. 46
    Erithian on 27 May 2013 #

    Pretty much what others have said – it’s obviously a quality product, but rather one-dimensional compared to his best material. Falsetto rarely impresses me, and sure enough the most interesting part of the song is where the lower register comes in to add a bit of shade. If he’s at all bothered about whether he ever had a UK number one, though, I’m glad he did.

  22. 47
    Patrick Mexico on 29 May 2013 #

    #46 I’m with you 100%. 6/10 is spot on. Great we get to discuss the Purple One on Popular, but there’ll be an increasingly common theme through the nineties and beyond of legends topping the charts with rather ordinary fare.. but at least we get to talk about them.

  23. 48
    swanstep on 23 Feb 2014 #

    Gotta ask….Have any popularistas got out to any of these Prince small-club gigs happening in London and now Manchester? The Guardian’s reports on them have me drooling half a world away…

  24. 49
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 23 Feb 2014 #

    Nope, it’s kinda like the Tower of London — I’ve lived here for 30 years and never been there either.

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