33 And 1/3 Under 45: Track Nine: Diamonds And Pearls

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebooktwitter, or instagram for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on April 15th, 2019 and can be found below.

Love say “Take my hand, it’ll be alright.
C’mon, save your soul tonight.”

I had a really hard time picking what album to cover this month and kept putting it off. But then I fell down an unexpected rabbit hole and ended up deep in early 90s Prince, which is a pretty great place to find yourself. It all started because our stupid president released his first campaign ad for 2020 and used some music from his favorite (probably) Christoper Nolan movie, Batman: The Dark Knight Rises and had it almost immediately taken down by Warner Bros. for unauthorized use. He has a long history of using music for campaign things without permission, but that’s neither here nor there. So I ended up dipping back into the only Batman soundtrack that actually matters, Prince’s soundtrack for Batman (1989), and decided to just continue on through from there.

All hail, the new king in town
Young and old, gather ’round

Since I last wrote about Prince, I’ve gone through his entire catalog, and can sincerely say there’s not a single album with his name (or symbol) on it that I don’t love. But a run of albums that really stand out to me are the early-mid 90s, specifically 1991’s Diamonds And Pearls. It kicks off with this huge vocal-driven gospel track, “Thunder,” that immediately lets you know that you’re in Prince’s church now. Even though this record isn’t one of his universally beloved or top 5 albums, it’s a really fascinating era for Prince. It’s his first with a full band lineup since The Revolution disbanded five years earlier. This time, The New Power Generation brings a real 90s party vibe with them. Every song on the record shines with the quirky production, hip hop beats, and rap verses that immediately take you back to the early 90s. And the album itself perfectly captures that tone. Diamonds And Pearls is a whole lot of fun, but hidden under the party are some deeper undertones. Even with that, though, the vast majority of the album is just about sex and dancing. And there’s a whole lot of real 90s slang. You know I eat that kinda thing up. Who couldn’t love deep metaphors like “Mack Daddy In The House” and “clocking a freak in the low pro?” Plus, the cover (up top) has one of those sick holograms!

Yeah, we gettin’ funky in the house tonight.
Doin’ the jughead
Come on, get stupid, get stupid

But even moreso than the new music styles Prince was embracing, this era is interesting because Prince was kicking his feud with his label, Warner Bros, into high gear to get out of his contract. (For more on that: I highly recommend his 1996 triple album Emancipation, his first release after he finally succeeded.) This album explicitly lays out the struggle Prince is having after the dopey dance track, “Jughead,” in a perfect example of the dichotomy of this record.

What you need is a manager” “For what? Money minders are like parasites. They pose as wheelers and dealers for your rights. And most companies say that you need em! Not me! But I’ve kicked back, observed, and watched ’em bleed ’em. Artists young and old. Where’d this unwritten law come from anyway? That years after the contract, you should still be getting paid? Boy, I go broke and hit the skids before I take care of a rich sucker’s kids. Hell, A contract ain’t got no pension plan. Years after this, my kids are still gonna make the grand.”

Moments like this really stuck out to me when I realized I only initially grabbed Diamonds And Pearls because of some jackass trying to steal someone else’s music to fearmonger in a propaganda video. There’s a lot more here than just catchy songs like the title track, “Diamonds and Pearls,” or singles like “Cream,” and “Gett Off.” It’s more than Prince fully embracing the 90s sound. It really is a time capsule for 1991, both for Prince and for the world around him. Immediately after “Jughead,” comes “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night,” which seems like a sexy 90s slow jam, until…

Hey now, maybe we can find a good reason to send a child off to war.
So what if we’re controllin’ all the oil, is it worth the child dying for?
If long life is what we all live for, then long life will come to pass.
Anything is better than the picture of a child, in a cloud of gas.
And you think you got it bad.

It got me thinking about the context of the world in 1991.  This album came out in between what I would consider the two defining moments of George H. W. Bush’s presidency. The first Iraq war had been over for just over 7 months and that imagery was obviously still very present in the public’s eye. And just over the horizon, about a year later, the first President Bush was about to pardon most of the people involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, to finalize the cover up of one of the biggest presidential scandals in American history. And who was the Attorney General who pushed this gross misstep of justice? William Barr, of course! The man who wrote the “synopsis” of the Mueller report. So maybe this fun trip to the early 90s was a bit less of an escape than I thought it would be. Nostalgia can be a great tool to dip into and get away from it all for a bit, but I’ve been trying to remember that a lot of the bad parts about the times I fondly look back on are still here and have only gotten worse. But like everything, it’s more important than ever to contextualize the whole picture. We still found reasons to dance and fall in love in the 90s and we sure as hell will now, too. Don’t let the bastards get you down.

Don’t talk if it’s against the rules? Just walk away and be a fool?
That’s what they want you to do.

Strollin’, Strollin’ We could have fun just strollin’.

33 & 1/3 Under 45: Track One – Sign O’ The Times

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world. Welcome to the opening track.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you.

The original column was published on November 15th, 2018 and can be found below.

It’s silly, no? When a rocket ship explodes and everybody still wants to fly
But some say a man ain’t happy unless a man truly dies
Oh why?
Time. Times.

I realized something recently. I don’t listen to music on accident. I’ve never really listened to the radio, not really as a kid and not now. Because of that, there’s a whole lot of music that everyone seems to know but me. But with the way I talk about music, and spit seemingly endless trivia, this always comes as a surprise to people. I have these huge gaps and I’ve been making a real effort to fill them lately. There are several reasons why I’m finally expanding my base, so let’s hit some of the big ones.

I’ll address the elephant mascot in the room real quick and just say, yeah, the world is absolutely terrible and the regular old escapism I’ve relied on for years just isn’t cutting it anymore. But that’s obvious and boring and stressful to talk about, so let’s get more micro here and forget the macro for a second.

I recently got married. My major source of stress/pride at the wedding was that, instead of a DJ or a band, I pre-mixed music that we chose ourselves. I’ve always loved pop, but my partner was much better versed in dance music and R & B than me. So when it came time to mix these playlists, there was a lot of music in there that had this vague familiarity, but was basically foreign to me. But, after listening to these songs over and over (and over), I started feelin’ it a bit. And seeing everyone on the dance floor really made me take a closer listen to what I was missing.

Right around the same time I was making this playlist, my partner gave me a bag of CDs for my birthday. Now, if anyone knows me, they know I don’t really let people just pick media for me. I do tons of research, make a plan on how best to immerse myself in the material, and dive DEEP into what makes whatever I’m into SO good. (Yeah, I know, the most sterile way to enjoy media organically, but what’re you gonna do? I only get to listen to something for the first time once.) But this time, my almost-wife made a plan for me and pushed me to start filling two of my biggest gaps, Prince and David Bowie.

And then I put on Sign O’ The Times. My god, Sign O’ The Times.

I’m sure you’ll hear more about Bowie in a later column, but I’m here to talk about Prince. I followed her plan and started with 1999. It was great! But it didn’t *really* speak to me yet. Yeah, “1999” and “Lady Cab Driver” ruled, but I didn’t really feel like I was missing out all these years. Then I went on to Parade. Ok, I was starting to get it. “Girls & Boys,” “Under The Cherry Moon,” and “Kiss” were some killer tracks. Then it ends with “Sometimes It Snows In April,” and my god. I was really looking forward to the third album in her list.

This was the album I needed to get me through the weeks leading up to the wedding and the dreaded midterm elections. The opening title track is somehow both so 1987 and so relevant. I’ll let Prince speak for himself.

In France, a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name
By chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same…
Hurricane Annie ripped the ceiling of a church and killed everyone inside
You turn on the telly and every other story is tellin’ you somebody died
A sister killed her baby ’cause she couldn’t afford to feed it
And yet we’re sending people to the moon…
Baby make a speech, Star Wars fly
Neighbors just shine it on
But if a night falls and a bomb falls
Will anybody see the dawn?

Double albums tend to have a bunch of filler, but every song on this album is so damn good. Just when the first disc starts to wrap up, as my unmarried life wrapped up with it, you get the fantastic ballad closer, “Forever In Your Life.”

“I never imagined that love would rain on me
And make me want to settle down”

All that is wrong in my world, You can make right
You are my saviour, You are my light
Forever I want you in my life
There comes a road in every man’s journey
A road that he’s afraid to walk on his own
I’m here to tell you that I’m at that road
And I’d rather walk it
with you than walk it alone
You are my hero, You are my future
When I am with you, I have no past
Oh baby, my one and only desire
Is find some way in this doggone world
To make this feeling last

The second half of the record is just as great as the first, and if you’ve never heard it, you gotta give “If I Was Ur Girlfriend” or “Strange Relationship” a listen right now. The jams in “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” and “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night” are worth the price of admission on their own and really showcase just what a diverse and talented group of musicians Prince brought together for this era of his career.

But the last song on this record I gotta talk about is possibly my favorite Prince song, “The Cross.” I’m not going to pull any lyrics because the song shouldn’t be experienced without hearing Prince’s voice. The first time I heard Prince’s screams in this song, I said, out loud, “My god. I get it now. This isn’t just Prince. This is Prince.” I’m an atheist, but my god, “The Cross” is a religious experience. And no one should die without knowing it.

I may be late to the party, and I know Prince isn’t here anymore. It breaks my heart, but records like this show that Prince made sure the party would keep raging long after he left us. This isn’t just a perfect record. It’s not just the highest point in a career filled with mountain ranges of highs. It’s not just about holding on to the love around you while your society darkens and radicalizes it’s traditional “values” around you. It’s a little of everything we had in 1987 and it’s a little of everything we still have.

It’s A Sign O’ The Times. Oh, yeah