382: Free

1999 (1982)
Given his high-profile slave rhetoric in the middle of his career, it’s interesting that even back in the early eighties Prince was writing songs based around the concept of freedom. The previous two albums featured songs about freeing your mind (Uptown) and body (Sexuality), whereas Controversy, like Sign O’ the Times after it, included a line about some people seeing death as the ultimate freedom. This theme obviously culminated in 1996’s Emancipation where in particular artistic independence had become the muse, but given that not long before he wrote Free Prince had felt, for maybe the first time, his creative autonomy restricted with his label’s refusal to put out Let’s Rock (later retitled as Let’s Work) as a one-off single, it’s not unthinkable that the frustration with his label may have first found its outlet in this piano-rock, power ballad. Free acts as 1999‘s escape valve, a socially conscious slow jam releasing the pressure built up from three sides’ worth of hypnotising machine funk. An insulator between what feels like the album’s cold and hot sections. After this clearing of air, the music begins to sound looser and warmer. Less nihilistic. The intro starts with the sound of armies trudging over foreign soil but this time Prince isn’t telling them “to fight your own damn war” he’s wanting everybody to “fight together… 4 the right 2 be free”. And Prince marches over the battle line with this message of optimism and unity until his voice descends into anguished screams, to be tended to by the backing vocals which appear like the lady with the lamp emerging from the fog. A national anthem for the lonely and downspirited, reminding them to count their blessings and silver linings as “there’s others doing far worse than us”. By the way, it may seem planned but it’s purely coincidental that I’m posting this song which ends with the lyric “be glad 4 what U had and for what U’ve got” today on Thanksgiving. Or is it I wonder? Kismet is a mysterious maiden.