Jan 13

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

Popular56 comments • 10,289 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.



  1. 1
    TheWoose on 2 Jan 2013 #

    I always took the fact that this took Prince to #1 as a sign o’ the times (sorry) – that the charts were so awful the slightest hint of quality would leap to the top, in a way that wasn’t always possible in the 80s.

  2. 2
    23 Daves on 2 Jan 2013 #

    Oddly, I always thought this could have been a seventies Bee Gees ballad at the time, although The Stylistics comparison is probably more in line with his intentions (and there’s something of a seventies soul/ disco/ ballad influence feedback loop going on with Prince and the Gibb brothers too).

    I do like this track, but – like quite a few of the number ones which have turned up on “Popular” recently – it doesn’t have any real resonance for me, and nor is it the kind of track I wish I’d hear more often. My sole memory related to this is being sat in a university bar, hearing it come on over the sound system, and having my friends mutter: “It’s really not one of his best, is it?” while everyone slowly nodded in agreement. Nobody felt sufficiently strongly to add to the conversation about why it was such a disappointment, but then nor did anyone dispute this general view. I feel strangely unable to add much to that now, unfortunately, despite having had nearly twenty years to chew over it. It’s just one of those pleasant noises for me that neither offends nor excites.

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 2 Jan 2013 #

    I became obsessed with Prince in the mid to late 80s ( buying limited edition singles and seeing him live on the Parade and Lovesexy tours – even paying to see ‘Under the Cherry Moon’ at the cinema) and I would rail against the powers that be and the British record buying public when his songs failed to achieve the success that I felt he deserved.
    In retrospect, I suspect that his lack of success was partly because he didn’t play the PR game as well as others – cf his appearance at the 1985 Brits where he came across as simultaneously smug and geeky – and partly because his music was simply ahead of the times.
    Perhaps another reason he didn’t achieve chart success before this song was that he was perceived/portrayed as the weird one in contrast to Michael Jackson. By the time of TMBGITW Jackson’s reputation was at a low whereas Prince may have seemed relatively normal in comparison.
    I enjoy this song but one of the problems of Prince’s prolific output was that he had released several songs in this style before – ‘Adore’ from Sign ‘O’ The Times being the first that springs to mind. It’s OK – just not as great as the man could be in his prime.

  4. 4
    speedwell54 on 2 Jan 2013 #

    I remember being really pleased when this gave him a No1. Certainly not his best single, but he obviously ‘deserved’ a No1, and without it I think it might have become a famous fact about him. I’m hardly ever a fan of the US charts, but he had 10 bigger hits than this over there, and I think they are pretty much right.
    (When Doves Cry, Let’s Go Crazy, Kiss, Cream, Batdance, Purple Rain, U Got The Look, Raspberry Beret, Sign O’ The Times, Diamonds and Pearls)

    After this he never had a single digit placed hit again- either side of the pond. Shame. 7.

    BTW buses!

  5. 5
    thefatgit on 2 Jan 2013 #

    I’m guessing that most of the comments crew on this thread will have their own favourite Prince single (“Sign O’ The Times” is mine), that probably will not be TMBGITW. It’s still a great song, though. It’s just a shame that an artist with so much jaw-dropping awesomeness in that discography of his achieves only a solitary #1 as an artist (“Nothing Compares 2 U” gave him his first #1 writing credit of course) in the UK, and not under the name “Prince”. The symbol, a mixture of male and female icons in the form of as stylised ankh was a construct without pronunciation, until Warners copyrighted it as Love Symbol #2. By then, Prince was often being referred to as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince or simply The Artist. Just a couple of years earlier, with The New Power Generation, he had enjoyed a bit of a resurgence with strong songs like “Gett Off” and “Diamonds And Pearls”, seemingly out of step with the musical trends going on around him. Prince ploughed a somewhat lonely furrow musically. So the Minneapolis sound he helped to cultivate and micromanage was entirely separate from any East Coast or West Coast R&B movement. I suppose this just adds to the uniqueness of the man who had been cited as being influenced by a myriad of artists early in his career, not least Jimi Hendrix and Little Richard.

    This differs from Kraftwerk who also managed a solitary #1, but are often regarded as progenitors of Hip Hop and EDM. Prince, although massively regarded among modern artists can’t necessarily lay claim to any specific 21st Century genre. Does this make him any less of a genius? I don’t think so. I’m pleased we get the chance to discuss him.

  6. 6
    flahr on 2 Jan 2013 #

    Irrelevant correction to #5: Prince also write Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You”.

  7. 7
    MikeMCSG on 2 Jan 2013 #

    # 1 Given this held off my favourite single of the decade from the number one spot I’d have to dispute your lack of quality competition point although the rest of the Top 40 including the next three number ones support you.

    # 5 Yep “Sign Of The Times” for me too. I’m not really a fan but with such a stylistic range it’s hard to believe anyone can’t find something appealing in his canon.

    Linking with the current discussion on Lena’s blog it’s interesting to recall how long it took Prince to notch a decent-sized hit over here. Early reviews compared him unfavourably to Rick James and Grace Jones and treated his cock-rock antics as an embarrassment and he got no airplay until “1999” in 83. Along with The Go-Gos he was one of the last ( temporary ) victims of that post-punk cultural resistance to American product.

  8. 8
    George on 3 Jan 2013 #

    There is a bit of the old Q/Mojo approved worthiness about ‘Sign Of The Times’, which isn’t really the fault of Prince or the song. I won’t mention the dreaded R word. It’s not on the album of course but the 12” version of ‘U Got The Look’ (Long Look version) is the best thing associated with that period.

    His best song overall? I couldn’t pick one.

  9. 9
    Ed on 3 Jan 2013 #

    @5 “Prince, although massively regarded among modern artists can’t necessarily lay claim to any specific 21st Century genre.”

    I’d give him just about all of modern R&B, both for sonic innovation and general vibe.

  10. 10
    chelovek na lune on 3 Jan 2013 #

    Can’t really disagree with what seems to be the general consensus thus far: that this is Prince does (superior) pop, but tones his eccentricities down or leaves them out altogether. I’d rate it seven, the immediate accessibility and charm of the song counting in its favour.

    And I don’t know where to start when considering favourite Prince tracks….having just relistened to “Glam Slam” (again, not his very best) for the first time in perhaps 20 years, I’ d forgotten just how very fine that track was- performance- wise, sonically and more….if only he’d exercised better quality control (and editing) later on…

    I do have to nominate Simple Minds cover of “Sign O’The Times” as one of the most ghastly and overblown covers ever…and regret that so few of Prince’s many protegés (or, more usually, protegées) went on to attract much attention. Probably the most high profile of them, Wendy and Lisa recorded the odd track that was simply delightful.

  11. 11
    wichita lineman on 3 Jan 2013 #

    Re 9: seconded.

    I always thought this was very attractive, very charming, and it didn’t bother me that he had toned down his idiosyncrasies to write what was effectively a wedding song. I was also very pleased for him that he had scored a no.1 at last.

    It says a lot about the lumpen squareness of pop chart britannia in the mid/late 80s that Prince was regarded as a weirdo and therefore even something as undeniable as Kiss only got to no.6. It also says something that post acid/rave, relatively minor Prince songs like this, Gett Off (no.4), Batdance (no.2) and Sexy MF (no.4) did better.

    Didn’t everyone call him TAFKAP at this point? Pronouncing the acronym, I mean? I did.

  12. 12
    Cumbrian on 3 Jan 2013 #

    I have long come to understand, especially knocking around here with lots of people who write about music and live it as their number one passion, that I know basically fuck all. I’m here to improve my standard of thought and, hopefully, my expression of that thought. Hopefully, I’ll learn something and have my ears opened a bit too.

    What I do know is this though: Prince might actually be the closest thing to (cliché alert) genius I have ever seen. I managed to get a ticket to the O2 run of shows, after seeing him put on a blistering Super Bowl Half Time Show – a show so good that I immediately went onto Amazon and bought 5-6 Prince albums on the strength of that one 15 minute performance. There’s no zealot like a convert, I guess, but I threw myself into those albums (the run from “1999” to “Sign of the Times” plus “0(+>“ tacked on for some reason) and found so much to enjoy that I went out and got more. I’d not gone to massive extremes and got everything but by the time the gig rolled around, I’d actually sunk into trepidation. He was great at the Super Bowl but how good could he actually be when it was a run of the mill show – rather than a worldwide audience of millions?

    Maybe I got him on a good night but he was amazing. The best concert I have ever been to, with a whip tight band, a setlist packed to the gills with hits with the odd obscurity thrown in and Prince himself playing multiple instruments with seemingly equal facility. It was superb – the highlight of my years going to live gigs.

    So I know nothing except that Prince is the greatest I have ever plunked my money down to see. On record, if he’s got faults (which he does) the biggest seems to be a need to release things without a good editor stopping him from filling albums (at least his later ones) with tracks that just don’t cut it.

    All of which means it’s a shame that this, rather than many of his other singles, is the one that made it to #1 in the UK. It’s an OK (at least to my ears) turn at Philly Soul – though I definitely hear the Bee Gees comparison now it has been mentioned, marred for me by special effects to chime with the lyrics (water drops falling when mentioning tears and the like). He’s capable of so much more than this. Indeed, on “The Gold Experience” (an album, I had to bit torrent to get hold of as it is out of print on CD – ironically, I suppose given his opposition to the Internet when it comes to people getting his music), there’s at least two or three tracks that do so much more and have his own personality written through them (like “Now” and “Endorphinmachine” in particular), never mind all the stuff he released in the 80s that somehow failed to get to #1 in the UK. It passes the bar for me to vote for it in the year end poll but not much more.

    I still think he’s got it, albeit in fits and starts. I’m not saying any of his later work is as good as “Kiss”, “U Got The Look”, “Housequake” or “Gett Off”. Still, I’m convinced “Black Sweat” from “3121”, had it been released by, say, Justin Timberlake, would have been a worldwide #1 – and there is stuff on “MPLSound” and “Lotus Flower” that is excellent, as well as the previously noted filler; if he’d concentrated on just getting together his 12 best tracks from “3121” onwards into one album, he’d have released something that would have startled people (as it was, people sat up a bit when “Musicology” came out – if his next album had been all killer, well…I don’t know what would have happened, would likely have been interesting though).

  13. 13
    hardtogethits on 3 Jan 2013 #

    Oh gosh, again I fear saying the obvious and making several sweeping generalisations. I’ll paraphrase David Hepworth, from BBC4’s recent “The Richest Songs In The World”. The key to having a massive hit rather than a cult hit is to sell to women. Although this does not sit easily with me, I think it’s a truism. There’s a reason why “you were working as a waitress…” outsells “I’ve been a husband and a lover too.” And a female whose opinion I value over anyone else’s once told me “Every woman wants to be told that she’s beautiful.” (“Really? Every woman?”, I thought. But that’s not The Point). And the conversation continued. In common parlance, “Beautiful” has been reclaimed – it defies proverbial allegations of superficiality (the “ful” part of the word confirms it’s NOT only skin deep!), and in any case it’s delightfully non-conformist (since it’s in the eye of the beholder, the beholder must really mean it and no one can argue to the contrary. You’re not sure? Ask James Bunny, Christina Bunny, One Bunny.

    (And, slightly OT FWIW BTW, one of the reasons the Beautiful South chose their name is because they perceived that men had difficulty even saying the word “Beautiful”).

    And so, Prince turned one heck of a trick here.

    Of course, he was completely bloomin’ marvellous to begin with, and then he wrote a lovely, coherent, soulful song that could appeal to everyone. Look at Prince’s preceding hit titles – just the titles – and in almost every instance, from just 2 or 3 words, Prince’s originality is apparent. Who ELSE could have written “When Doves Cry” or “Raspberry Beret”? Yet see the title of “TMBGITW” and, obviously, it could be a cover version of a previous worldwide hit.

    Of course, I have no idea whether Prince was consciously reading his Lexicon of Pop when he wrote this. Just that he seldom used the book (poss. because Barlow never took it back to the library).

  14. 14
    lockedintheattic on 3 Jan 2013 #

    It’s interesting that his commercial peak in the UK came significantly after his critical peak – which can be seen even more clearly from his album chart performance over here: his 5 UK album number ones all came after 1989 – Lovesexy, Batman, Graffiti Bridge, 0(+>, and Come.

    Even a massive Prince fan like me would acknowledge the last three of those are far from his best work (although as has been mentioned by others above, with a decent editor they could have been far better).

    This song also marked the peak of his dispute for creative control with Warner Bros – they allowed him to release this on his own label, but after its success relations broke down, which began the period where he started appearing in public with ‘Slave’ written on his face. Over the coming months this single should have been followed up by two singles ‘Love Sign’ and ‘Dolphin’ that got a fair bit of TV & Radio play in the UK, but which Warners wouldn’t let him release. Instead he gave them the filler Album ‘Come’ with the rather dull singles ‘Let It Go’ & ‘Space’. which promptly flopped.

    Whatever the rights on wrongs of that case, I think the main response from the public to all these antics was to shift perceptions of him from creatively weird to ridiculous, and his sales never recovered afterwards.

    Oh – and this was the single cover: http://goo.gl/3poSU

  15. 15
    Steve Mannion on 3 Jan 2013 #

    #14 I remember ‘Love Sign’ and ‘Dolphin’ being on MTV a lot at that time. The latter had what must surely be Prince’s lowest budget video ever. No dolphins in it though, as they’d all been loaned out to Adiemus, Atlantic Ocean and Brian Transeau. The smug bastards were inescapable in 1994.

    I couldn’t stand this at the time but I always liked ‘Diamonds And Pearls’ (would’ve been a great Xmas ’91 #1 ahead of BRHAP) and quite fond of the extra-croony ‘Eye Hate U’ too.

  16. 16
    James BC on 3 Jan 2013 #

    This might not be as flashily brilliant as other Prince songs, but it’s beautiful and a very worthy number one. The bit where his deep voice comes in near the end and starts complementing the falsetto is quite innovative in its own subtle way.

  17. 17
    Nixon on 3 Jan 2013 #

    #11 I missed the original name change announcement, and so when I first heard a DJ play this – pronouncing the acronym as you say – I was convinced that Prince had changed his name to “Taff Cap”.

    (I imagined him wearing some kind of natty tam o’shanter or something.)

    I think it’s really quite lovely, and as #16 said, the contrast of voices near the end is great. But I’m probably not to be trusted, as I quite liked his late-career Philly revival stuff, didn’t mind Emancipation, and I think I’m one of about eight people in the world who even quite liked contractual-obligation scribble “Chaos and Disorder”.

    (Digression: my favourite Prince memory is of my then 8-year-old sister sending off some cereal tokens for a (random) free chart single, and being rewarded with a magnificently NSFW copy of “Cream b/w Horny Pony”)

  18. 18
    Brendan on 3 Jan 2013 #

    For some time from the first time I heard it, Raspberry Beret was my all-time favourite song (whether a 13-14 year-old should be trusted in such matters is another matter) and I still believe that his run from 1999 to Sign o the Times is as good as anyone’s in the history of music. That said, of course, I can only agree with everyone else that this is pleasant but nowhere near his peerless best, but it’s obviously good that he made the pantheon at least.

  19. 19
    thefatgit on 3 Jan 2013 #

    One more thing, I’m not sure if it’s glaringly obvious, but there’s more than a hint of Charlie Rich’s #2 hit from 1973 in TMBGITW to these ears.

  20. 20
    23 Daves on 3 Jan 2013 #

    #3 (and elsewhere as well!) – American artists breaking Britain (or otherwise) often seemed an odd business in the seventies and eighties, with plenty of US big hitters achieving only moderate success in the UK or even none at all. Bruce Springsteen feels as if he should have been bigger in the singles charts here, Cyndi Lauper also did staggeringly little in the UK…

    In his memoirs “All Of The Moves But None Of The Licks”, John Peel’s mentor and industry executive Clive Selwood talks about the problems he had getting The Doors to sell in large quantities in Britain, and puts a lot of this down to the sheer disinterest within Polydor who felt that they just weren’t an act anyone here would be interested in, therefore shouldn’t be prioritised. He states that in almost all the cases he was aware of where an American star was failing the break Britain in the manner expected, the main reason was record company apathy rather than cultural differences. He theorises that a UK office of a record label is more likely to be interested in pushing their own discoveries or acts they’ve had a close working relationship with than some overseas artist, unless of course some pressure is applied by the US arm.

    Sheer speculation in the case of Prince, of course, but it does occur to me that REM had no success at all in Britain (with many journalists putting it down to ‘how American’ they seemed) until they switched labels from IRS to Warners, which I’ve always found suspect.

  21. 21
    lockedintheattic on 3 Jan 2013 #

    #20 There were always rumours that Prince was continuously annoyed with Warners that they promoted Madonna more than they did him – one such rumour was that the real reason Prince pulled the Black Album was that their main pressing plants were prioritising production of Madonna’s ‘You Can Dance’

  22. 22
    hardtogethits on 3 Jan 2013 #

    #19. It’s in part glaringly obvious, as I was trying to point out at #13. But there are grammatical similarities which are easier to overlook. In both songs, the title – which is way longer than the average title – represents the seven concluding words of a politely-posed question, which inevitably affects the singer’s delivery. “Could you be…” / “Did you happen to see…” It seems incredibly trivial, but the fact that the words preceding the question rhyme (see / be) also give the impression that the lines could be placed together in the same song. I’ve occasionally wondered if Prince was paying homage to the original song.

  23. 23
    thefatgit on 3 Jan 2013 #

    There’s also interchangeability in the cadences of both songs, HTGH. Although sung in different keys, the “be/see” notes match the “world” in both songs. The only difference really is the sentiment where TAFKAP celebrates his lover’s beauty (as you point out in #13 it’s not just about superficiality, she’s beautiful in every way), and poor Charlie is striving to recover his lost love. I suspect Charlie knew this too, and was too dumb/proud to realise.

  24. 24
    punctum on 4 Jan 2013 #

    The critical jury is currently out on Prince. The depressing prolificity of his latter-day output suggests that in pop some level of control of the output of artists is not always a bad idea; when Prince briefly turned into a symbol, whose squiggle of a contour I am not even going to attempt to reproduce here, I would have immense difficulty recalling the names of the hundreds of tracks with which he has been free to deluge us in recent years, let alone their content. Set that against the unbroken series of eight near-perfect albums from 1980’s Dirty Mind to 1988’s Lovesexy (nine if you count 1987’s semi-bootleg The Black Album) and you would yearn for Don Arden to come in and apply the heavy hand to his shoulder, since these records, with immaculate spunk, redefined the perimeters of the fence of pop, in terms of arrangement (the bass-less “When Doves Cry”), concentrated concision (“Kiss”) and expansive harmolodic post-psychedelia (“The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker”), not to mention the most sensitive and outrageously narrow elision between male and female (“If I Was Your Girlfriend”). In addition he wrote and produced a mini-orchard of post-New Pop exegeses for his own stable of acts, including Jill Jones, Sheila E, Vanity 6 and The Family, as well of being capable of supplying huge hits for everyone from Chaka Khan via the Bangles to Sinead O’Connor; a microhistory of socio-pop trends in the eighties could be summed up by a theoretical four-track compilation EP including “He’s So Dull,” “The Glamorous Life,” “Baby You’re A Trip” and “Susannahs’ Pajamas.”

    Untrammelled freedom, however, meant indulgence; and it is doubly ironic that Prince’s only UK number one single as a performer came practically at the point when the pop had petered out of him. Indeed, he allegedly wrote “The Most Beautiful Girl” in one evening, after the A&R man at WEA had expressed doubt about whether he had any hit songs left in him. The song is relatively traditional in structure when compared to the immense, cheeky adventures of “Little Red Corvette” or “Alphabet St,” but it is still Prince’s last great ballad. A mixture of David Gates’ “If” and Marvin Gaye’s “If I Should Die Tonight” remixed in one of Thom Bell’s leftover silicon chips, the vocal delivery is faultlessly truthful and the production, though leaning towards the low-cost studio aura of his subsequent work, is endlessly imaginable – take, for instance, the triple punctum at the start of the second verse where the line “How can I get through days when I can’t get through hours” is answered by the grave ticking of a hugely amplified clock, to be followed by a shimmering mid-air pause after “I can try but when I do I see U and I’m devoured” from whose silence he strokes a tremulous “Oh yesssss,” and finally the double staccato synth fanfare over “Who’d allow, who’d allow a face 2 B soft as a flower.”

    His devotion is unquestionable (“And when the night falls before that day (i.e. “the last day of all time”) I will cry, I will crrryyyy/Tears of joy, ’cause after U all one can do”) and there is still that improbably logical Cocteau Twins ethereality at work in the song’s middle eight, underneath Prince’s solemnly delirious talkover: “…’Cause baby, this kind of beauty has got no reason 2 ever B shy/’Cause honey, this kind of beauty is the kind that comes from inside,” diminishing to a planet-sized whisper inside your ear. In the closing choruses he moves effortlessly from doowop basso profundo to liberated extra-aural high-pitched yelps of come, in the end becoming the girl that God made; the parent album was entitled The Go(l)d Experience (the parenthesis is mine) and Fishbone samples aside isn’t too bad, if otherwise not too diligently radical. “The Most Beautiful Girl” sounds like Prince’s farewell letter to pop, and its number one status was therefore probably justifiable in terms of a pre-posthumous tribute.

  25. 25
    anto on 4 Jan 2013 #

    I’m not that keen on this one mainly because it seems to anticipate the whole Gok Wan man-whose-everywomans-best-friend-and-thinks-he-knows-them-better-than-they-know-themselves school of thought which I find creepy. Certainly the video seems to push this notion forward.
    Even so I’m not going to be too harsh on Prince not least because I’ve always thought his approach to pop production/arrangements was far more radical than say, Quincy Jones (who I think is over-rated). Also Prince is such a wonderful songwriter. Only yesterday I found myself humming “When You Were Mine” – completely unaware that one of his songs had been reviewed on this site.
    Somehow he’s been cast aside though. For me one of the saddest sights in recent in pop of recent times was when Prince was reduced to giving away one of his albums with that vile rag the Mail on Sunday. It was dressed up as some new and interesting way for a new release to reach the public, but..well the Mail on Sunday for heavens sake.

  26. 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”?

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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)

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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

  37. 37
    Basil Brush on 10 Jan 2013 #

    Ellton Jhon a ha ha ha boom boom!

  38. 38
    Ottersteve on 10 Mar 2013 #

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

  39. 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.)

  40. 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.

  41. 41
    mark g on 8 Apr 2013 #

    Did you carry on, regardless?

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 44
    Mark G on 9 Apr 2013 #

    Plus, The Kane Gang ‘copied’ it first

  45. 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..

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. 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…

  49. 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.

  50. 50
    hectorthebat on 11 Apr 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 24
    Porcys (Poland) – The Best Songs of the 1990s (2013) 5
    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year 24
    Pop (Sweden) – Singles of the Year 2
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – Songs of the Year 50

  51. 51
    Chelovek na lune on 21 Apr 2016 #

    R.I.P., aged just 57.

  52. 52
    Lazarus on 21 Apr 2016 #

    Gah! Just beat me to it. Getting bloody silly now.

  53. 53
    thefatgit on 21 Apr 2016 #

    Whaat? No! WTF?!?!

  54. 54
    Cumbrian on 21 Apr 2016 #

    Seriously. Fuck 2016.

    The Greatest I Ever Saw. RIP Your Royal Baddness.

  55. 55
    mapman132 on 26 Apr 2016 #

    I expected a huge burst of Prince-related chart activity in the near future, but I never expected it this quickly since his death was announced with maybe a half-day or so left in the Billboard chart week. It appears I underestimated how quickly people react in the digital age:

    On the Billboard 200 albums this week:
    #1 The Very Best of Prince (only reached #66 when released in 2001)
    #2 Purple Rain (in contrast, spent 24 consecutive weeks at #1 in 1984/85)
    #6 The Hits/B-Sides
    Other Prince albums at #31, #61, #95, #147, and #160.

    On the Billboard Hot 100:
    #17 Purple Rain
    #20 When Doves Cry
    #28 Kiss
    #29 Little Red Corvette
    #39 Let’s Go Crazy
    #41 1999
    As usual, nothing below the top 50 due to Hot 100 rules regarding older tracks.

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens next week.

  56. 56
    Auntie Beryl on 26 Nov 2018 #

    …and this is where I came in. I remember looking for New Stuff (to me) On The Internet in the new year of 2013, and happened upon Popular. Can’t remember what specifically pointed me this way.

    I can see my first Popular comment upthread, too.

    Due to a recent change in employment circumstances, I’ve had the chance to go back and revisit many of these wonderful write-ups and comment crew contributions. They remain ace. Tom, when you get the feeling, I’m looking forward to the next entry, although the mark might not be high.

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