23: Gett Off

Diamonds & Pearls (1991)
The songs Prince recorded in the 90s have been dwindling as we get to the business end of this list. And here we have the last one. 

Gett Off is a guaranteed floor-filler. A DJ super-weapon. It was one of five records I chose to DJ at my own wedding reception and the hilarious sight of elderly relatives getting down to Prince’s raunchiest single was the wedding gift I never knew I wanted.

Like on Kiss, Prince reaches into his James Brown bag of tricks for maximum dancefloor destruction. It starts with a Get Up Offa That Thing scream – a piercing stop-everything-and-listen fanfare that could be Prince, could be Rosie, could be a climaxing faun. Then The Payback beat kicks in (sampled via En Vogue) punctuated with saxophone kettle squeals from The Grunt to stop anybody’s hips getting too complacent. By the end of the fourth verse he’s mentioning James by name and launching into bars of Mother Popcorn.

It’s not all JB though. The chorus quotes Dyke and the Blazers, and the “Get Up” sample is taken from a JR Funk record, but the biggest interpolation on Gett Off is of Prince himself. He was like a chain smoker around this time, using the dying embers of previous songs to light the next. The more conventionally spelt Get Off from the New Power Generation EP lent its title, but whole verses were lifted verbatim from Glam Slam ’91, which itself was the progeny of Glam Slam, Love Machine, Twelve and Escape

It was a fertile time. Glam Slam begat Glam Slam ’91 begat Gett Off begat the trio of Violet The Organ Grinder, Gangster Glam, and Clockin’ The Jizz. There’s also whispers of a Gett Off’s Cousin hiding in the vault like the illegitimate offspring of a scandalous affair.

Gett Off was only ever meant to be a single. A club promo to generate hype for the forthcoming album. However, it did so well that it barged its way onto Diamonds and Pearls, delaying the release and making a mess of the rapped tracklist on Push. It replaced Horny Pony, a mere radio commercial compared with this real outpouring of unbridled animal lust. Lines like “It’s a sex dance, it’s the new dance, and it’s rockin’ from coast to coast” sound fist-gnawingly bad next to the louche “it’s hard for me to say what’s right when all I wanna do is wrong”.

Who wants Prince as a cheesy radio DJ when you can have him as a randy nature spirit drunk on lust? Throw in the VMAs performance with its Caligula backdrop and assless chaps and you have Prince at his Bacchanalian best. A totem to what one reviewer described as “rampant male sexuality, unfettered by the playful androgyny of the past”.

Eric Leeds’ flute further strengthens the image of Prince as a satyr. The alluring sound of ancient Arcadia harnessed to the testosterone howl of an electric guitar. Maybe then, the James Brown references are a distraction. Maybe the real thrust of Gett Off was Prince channeling his inner Pan, the horned god of male virility.

The pipes of Pan, last heard in rock during the ocarina solo on Wild Thing, still held an ancient command over mortal libidos. Prog rock threatened to forever neuter its power, demonising the instrument in the same way Pan’s cloven hooves and horns were appropriated by Christian artists in the Middle Ages to depict Satan. But Prince wrested the flute from the sexless grasp of Jethro Tull and turbo-charged it with a hard rock riff of pure sex fury.

I was 12 when I first heard this single. It’s sexual lyrics washed over me, like most song lyrics still do, but there was something monstruous in that riff. A glimpse of an adult world beyond comprehension. Around the same time, a friend and I accidentally discovered a stash of porn mags hidden in a hedge. Neither incident seemed particularly shocking at the time, but stay in my memory as the first rumblings of sexual awareness.

Is that why I chose to play it on my wedding day two decades later? I’m now questioning my motives. I thought it was because of its dancefloor appeal but maybe I wanted to complete the circle of my journey to adulthood. Get Off’s riff blows up dancefloors no question, but it also has the same affect on libidos and pre-teen innocence.

88: Diamonds and Pearls

Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
It gave its name to an album, tour and a pair of dancers but there’s always been something immutable about the song Diamonds and Pearls. Can you even imagine a remixed version? Sacrilege! The downside is it will always sound the same. Repeated listens won’t unearth any surprises because its diamond-like transparency has already revealed its depths. There are no mysteries to be unlocked except how a world containing famine, war and reality TV can also house something as crystal pure as this song. So I keep it in a box for safe keeping. Glad it exists but rarely take it out to play with. Its immaculate, smooth exterior allows no space for the terrestrial grime of life. Others may be able to enclose it like an oyster and make a pearl by coating it with layers of meaning, but to me it will always remain an exquisite glass bead.

106: Cream

Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
Cream was released two weeks before the Diamonds and Pearls album and given the song’s evocative title, raunchy video and the fact Gett Off was still high in the charts it’s not hard to see why it gained a reputation as another sex song. It starts with an orgasmic moan that lasts for 16 bars. What else are you to think? Listened to in the context of the album though Cream becomes a pep talk like Push and Willing & Able. Prince telling himself he’s still the cream of the crop, the crème de la crème. In the liner notes to The Hits 2 compilation and in concerts over the years he is keen for us to know he wrote Cream while looking in the mirror. This wasn’t Narcissus’s transfixed gaze, it was a fighter psyching himself up to get back into the arena after a bruising loss – in this case, the commercial flop of the Graffiti Bridge film. It’s Eye of the Tiger for the reinvented Daddy Pop. Having said that it does drip with sensuality. Like its dairy equivalent Cream is low on nutrition but rich in extravagance. You may want to limit your intake because you can have too much of a good thing but for smooth bluesy pop, baby there ain’t nobody better.

169: Strollin’

Diamonds & Pearls (1991)
And now for an intermission. Put your phone on flight mode, disable notifications and pull the plug on your anxiety. Relax and watch All The Things You Feel Guilty About Parts 121 – 526 slip down the drain. You’re due a break from Maya’s drudgery and what better way than to dip your toe into this Raleigh Chopper ride through an endless, ice-cream filled summer. Strollin’ is a John Hughes movie about all the best parts of your childhood. A light-jazz reimagining of Lou Reeds Perfect Day minus the heroin. Ice Cube’s Good Day minus the AKs. The regularly scheduled programme – a 24-hour livestream of civilisation’s collapse – will soon return but in the meantime stay awhile in this carefree retreat. You’ve earned this.

213: Willing and Able

Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
It’s a welcome change to turn the spotlight onto one of Prince’s more jubilant songs after writing about three of his bleakest. Willing and Able bursts in like a playful puppy and instantly lights up any room and any mood. It cares not a jot for your hang-ups and blues. The chorus, whether Prince consciously knew it or not, comes from a line in Bob Marley’s Is This Love and you can detect a faint reggae rhythm beneath the layers of jazz, funk, hip-hop and gospel. With so many influences at play, it’s a small miracle the song is so lithe. It deftly takes the feelgood jazz baton from Strollin’ and dances and sings and does its thing with even more winsome bonhomie. I discovered the video version recently and it was like unexpectedly bumping into my best friend on vacation.

223: Insatiable

Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
Written ten months after the release of Scandalous Sex Suite it’s perhaps not surprising Insatiable has a similar sound. The drumbeats on both ballads are reverb-heavy, suggesting a cold, cavernous room with a bed as its altar. Seduction as sermon. Only this time there’s a camcorder involved. But Insatiable also contains elements of every Prince slow jam that’s come before. It has Do Me, Babys vulnerability, International Lovers cockiness, Adore’s reverence and humour. Prince is the Hokusai of soul ballads and the late-night seduction is his Mount Fuji; explored via different moods, landscapes and perspectives. Speaking of Japanese artists, there’s a tradition for calligraphers there to spend hours grinding inks, and only putting brush to paper at the end of the day in a single, short flourish. You can imagine Prince doing the same; spending daylight hours preparing the studio and then as soon as the sun sets, committing the track to tape in a steamy, one-take sitting. Another ode penned to the higher power that is Unbridled Lust.

269: Thunder

Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
It seems perverse to reach Thunder before we’re done with half of HITnRUN Phase One, as this Diamonds and Pearls opener is one of Prince’s most atmospheric pieces of art and an incredible way to kick off his best selling album of the 90s. But there’s something holding the song back from attaining the soul-soaring heights of Thieves in the Temple or 7. Quite possibly it’s the Funky Drummer loop dating it – a James Brown sample that wasn’t particularly fresh in 1991 and has only gotten staler since. But ’nuff bellyaching, Thunder is still a tour de force. Gothic horror meets Christian rock. We’re back in Nikki’s castle hearing doves cry and watching the devil dance in the pale moonlight to the sound of a sitar. The first 15 seconds alone burn with the intensity of God’s gaze and that’s before the choral elements rush at you like an Omen supercut. Maybe we can’t handle that much raw emotion and need a familiar drum-break thrown in as a life raft. Something mortal to help us on our journey through this realm of pure light, like a coin placed in your mouth to pay the ferryman. As the only solo recording on this album though it does make me wonder what it would sound like if the NPG were unleashed on it.

294: Live 4 Love

Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
Live 4 Love – or to give the song it’s full title: Live 4 Love (Last Words From the Cockpit) – is the big album closer, sung from the perspective of a fighter pilot on a bombing mission. It’s the millennia-long war between Eros and Thanatos, played out a mile above the Earth. This ambitious concept was toned down for mainstream consumption as an earlier recording included lines about the demise of the American Dream and bombs being dropped on “the families, the babies and the moms”. There’s also less FX in this starker draft, generating an atmosphere more in tune with the weighty subject matter; a less crowded battlefield for the Gods to clash on. Both versions feature a debutant Tony M, as the Angel of Death, and Sonny T who kills on the bass, but it’s Prince’s axe-work crowning the final minute that truly steals the show. His guitar solo is the screaming, unbearable tension of existence, as two primary drives wrestle for control of the cockpit in an aircraft spiralling towards the unforgiving ground.

307: Jughead

Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
The oft-mocked Jughead is the sacrificial lamb passed around the entire fanbase to reset swords and unify over. A panto villain that’s both punchline and punching bag. Whether the lion’s share of flack is earnest or Pavlovian I can’t work out but I will personally stand up to say I love its “stoopid” little face. How can you not? Okay, so it goes heavy on the acquired taste of Tony M (Prince’s vocal involvement totals less than 20 seconds) and I could go without the rant at the end that got Prince sued by his ex-manager for $5m. But the song itself is a frantic spring-cleaning of pretensions before the introverted calm of Money Don’t Matter 2 Night. Mellifluous humming from Rosie kicks things off and while you’re safely lulled, the traps are lifted and the Jughead dogs are let loose, panting and snarling, trained to attack the body and not the head. This “new dance commercial take 2” (Horny Pony was take 1) will never be fashionable but the most fun things in life never are.

338: Push

Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
A creation that could have only come out the mind of Prince. Which other performer, in a song about personal motivation, would rap a verse name-checking the album’s tracklist to then conclude with the line “snatching up kiddies like a circus clown”? The Vincent Price laugh that follows this non sequitur is for me the track’s highlight – the sound of Prince weirding himself out – and the song should have ended there, because for all Rosie Gaines’ strengths, rapping isn’t one of them. But there’s plenty here to distract you away from personal bugbears. Push is the answer to the question ‘how would The Family’s High Fashion sound if it was ingested and filtered through a civet cat, then rolled in a shredded Carmen Electra album? It’s a multi-ball melee. In fact there’s so much going on it’s incredibly easy to miss the touches of class that Clare Fischer’s strings provide. A dissonant grace amid the madness that I’ve listened to about a hundred times but only just noticed.

365: Money Don’t Matter 2 Night

Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
There’s a handful of placings on these pages that I feel compelled to justify as their ranking swims against the tide of popular opinion. Money Don’t Matter 2 Night is one such song and didn’t even feature in an early version of this list which may appal all those with it in their top 10. It certainly caused an outcry from a friend of mine who’s only familiar with the singles and partly due to their reaction it’s barged its way back in, ousting out the Stop The Cavalry bugles of Man in a Uniform. It’s not that I don’t think the music isn’t great – it is – it’s just that hearing someone with money sing about the unimportance of it all seems a little unseemly. The three verses are pitched to a gambler, an investor and the US Government in the midst of the Gulf War, but the tone, like the later Rich Friends or even the earlier Pop Life chimes as off-key, not helped by an accompanying Spike Lee video that pounds the poverty angle low and hard. But like Prince himself once said: “musical excellence, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder” and when held in the right light Money Don’t Matter 2 Night is a joy to behold. A smooth pop back-rub, with enough vocal and chord idiosyncrasies to work its fingers in deep. If I was only limited to just one Prince song a day then I couldn’t go a complete calendar year without hearing it, so it creeps back into the list at #365 to be listened to on New Years’ Eve. And if that offends your sensibilities, wait to you hear where its oft-despised, album-mate Jughead ranks (trigger warning: higher).

418: Daddy Pop

Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
The era of this album introduced to us a new macho-acting prince, armed with gun microphone, hip-hop and an attitude that would cause Rosie Gaines to later describe him as “kind of a male chauvinist at that point”. She was the only female musician in his new backing band, the NPG, and decided to leave his employ after the Diamonds and Pearls tour, feeling alienated by the gender imbalance and bullied by his trio of male dancers The Game Boyz. You can hear this testosterone shift throughout Daddy Pop with silverback lyrics and groans of “oh daddy, you’re the best” but old habits die hard and his homo-erotic choreography during live shows, and in particular this song’s performance on Arsenio Hall, showed he still knew how to mess with gender expectations. Underneath the Daddy machismo lies the Pop. A vivacious, keyboard-driven appeal to the mainstream, built upon a sped-up loop of Aretha Franklin’s Rock Steady (a song he later covered with Beverley Knight on his Indigo Nights release) and featuring Prince throwing his voice around the octaves like he was possessed by the lost souls of the entire Family Stone. My favourite fact about this recording is that a section from a live performance of Partyman is edited in at the end. A similar throne-polishing song, albeit under the guise of the Joker, reminding us that although the male entourage is new, the self-aggrandising lyrics aren’t. Baby, he’s a star and you sure might know it now.

470: Walk Don’t Walk

Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
With its Sesame Street melody, child-friendly lyrics and an open heart, this harmless track sets off on a superego-filled, buttoned-up jaunt down an unmemorable side-street. Things start to get interesting when it reaches the main road and has to fend for itself amidst revving engines, bleating horns and LL Cool J’s jeep with his boomin’ system adding to the general cacophony. The superego falls to the id encaptured in a hail of “Sha-na-na-na-na”s – a vocal hook taken from the much superior, unreleased Camille track Rebirth of the Flesh – and our walker emerges more confident, worldly and with a gait and attitude more reminiscent of the album’s earlier track Strollin’. Narratively these two tracks would have made a fitting couplet but I get the feeling that Walk Don’t Walk, along with the gospel-led Willing and Able, was used on Diamonds and Pearls to wrap the explicit lewdness of Gett Off up in a taming embrace. Two songs carrying strong positive messages of ‘being yourself’, sandwiching Prince at his most dionysian.