Jan 13

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

Popular57 comments • 10,550 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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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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)

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 37
    Basil Brush on 10 Jan 2013 #

    Ellton Jhon a ha ha ha boom boom!

  8. 38
    Ottersteve on 10 Mar 2013 #

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

  9. 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.)

  10. 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.

  11. 41
    mark g on 8 Apr 2013 #

    Did you carry on, regardless?

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 44
    Mark G on 9 Apr 2013 #

    Plus, The Kane Gang ‘copied’ it first

  15. 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..

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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…

  19. 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.

  20. 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

  21. 51
    Chelovek na lune on 21 Apr 2016 #

    R.I.P., aged just 57.

  22. 52
    Lazarus on 21 Apr 2016 #

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

  23. 53
    thefatgit on 21 Apr 2016 #

    Whaat? No! WTF?!?!

  24. 54
    Cumbrian on 21 Apr 2016 #

    Seriously. Fuck 2016.

    The Greatest I Ever Saw. RIP Your Royal Baddness.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 57
    Gareth Parker on 2 May 2021 #

    I think I could go to a 7/10 here. Not his best work as noted, but still a single of immense charm for me.

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