295: Face Down

Emancipation (1996)
Face Down – a joker card that pricks the Emancipation bubble of pomposity – is possibly the funniest song to come out of Paisley Park. An aborted plan to release it as a single caused an equally-funny music video to be made and if a gif doesn’t exist of the shot where a bandy-legged Prince plays the violin then the Internet has failed. The genesis of the song lies in NPG member, Mr Hayes. According to him, a critic’s scathing review of The Gold Experience provoked the keyboardist to go on an expletive-laden rant which Prince found hilarious. Two days later this inspired gangsta-rap spoof was born, with the roastee updated to Warner Bros and their contract negotiations. The singer unleashes both barrels at his former label with the uncensored abandonment of somebody no longer needing to please suits, but what makes the tirade a comedic tour de force is the call-and-response section that deliberately blows the wind out of his sails. Insipid synths greet each shout of “horns!” and “orchestra!”, tripping up the ego and snarkily satirising the limitations of the genre. They slay me every time (although the shouts of “bass!” prompt a funky solo you could club seals with). Face Down is Prince, the trickster god, at his most ribald but it also became the catalyst for this particular persona’s destruction. Due to the coarse lyrics, Larry Graham would leave the stage whenever this song was played – a response that started a dialogue between the two musicians and became the ground zero of Prince’s eventual conversion. The self-described “skinny motherfucker with the high voice” would no longer cuss for kicks and a song born out of four-letter words (seldom heard with such dignity and bite) would later be the cause of their disappearance.