98: Gold

The Gold Experience (1995)
More golden than a dictator’s bathroom – or a Klimt painting during magic hour – Gold was written for the stadium and is armed to the teeth with power chords and pyrotechnics. It’s a Stairway to Heaven remix of Purple Rain, with even Prince promoting it to reporters as the sequel to his 1984 rock classic (is this why he sings “everybody wants to sell what’s already been sold”?). If Purple Rain was his swan-dive into the mainstream then Gold was his swan-song out. In the UK the only top 10 single he had afterwards was Warner Bros’ re-release of 1999 in its namesake year. The public moved on. Gold’s fireworks display then is a fitting lighters-in-the-air finale. Welcome to The Dawn, have a safe trip home. Triple-disc albums awaited those who stuck around for the aftershow.

116: I Hate U

The Gold Experience (1995)
This venom-sweet song was Prince’s first single after the independently-released The Most Beautiful Girl in the World and the contrast between the two ballads couldn’t be starker. If the earlier release is a totem of his love for Mayte, then it’s hard not to view I Hate U as his outstretched middle finger to Warner Bros after he returned to the fold – a reading not helped by SLAVE being written on his face in the accompanying video. I Hate U was not the soundtrack to my first broken heart (Massive Attack fulfilled that role) but I do remember the lyrics helping my flailing attempt to pick up the pieces. The concept that you could love and hate somebody at the same time was new to me and discovering this song was like finding my symptoms in a medical journal. Maybe I was a particularly sheltered late-teen but realising love and hate weren’t polar emotions and could feed each other much more than nothingness could was universe-realigning. Obviously, the idea wasn’t new. The Persuaders’ thin line is one of the main themes of both Othello and Romeo & Juliet. I read the latter play around the same time I first heard I Hate U, but Romeo’s brawling love and loving hate or Juliet bemoaning why her only love sprang from her only hate didn’t speak to me as directly as I hate you because I love you but I can’t love you because I hate you… ’cause you’re all that’s ever on my mind. Boom! Doc, you nailed it! What’s the prognosis? In I Like it There Prince worried what he could say that Shakespeare hadn’t said before (which probably explains why the next line contains a dubious abortion simile and the phrase “emotional ejaculate”) but in I Hate U he worded it better than the bard and his arsenal of oxymorons ever could.

128: Shhh

The Gold Experience (1995)
Prince first gave Shhh to 18-year-old Tevin Campbell for his I’m Ready album, but later reclaimed the ballad because why ask a boy to do a man’s job? Now the only trace of its previous teenage owner is the line “do you after school like some homework” – a phrase a late 30-something could never pull off. Prince’s Shhh starts with an energetic intro that sounds like a news theme – coming up tonight: candlelight accused of mood-killing – but soon settles into the type of slow jam he’s been perfecting since Do Me, Baby. Steel threads of guitar are delicately interwoven with orgasmic gasps and a hint of a scream that never arrives, all to keep you on the edge of satisfaction. Two-thirds of the way in we get another dramatic news fanfare – sex on kitchen tables: passionate spontaneity or unhygienic degeneracy? – and then a guitar solo swoops in to chaperone us to the song’s sweet and gentle conclusion. The delicate touch of an experienced hand. In comparison, Tevin’s Shhh is a fumbled dry hump behind the bike sheds.

136: Endorphinmachine

The Gold Experience (1995)
Two studio versions of Endorphinmachine exist. One recorded in 1993 which out-Aerosmiths Aerosmith with a raw slab of screaming RAWK. And the other released on 1995’s The Gold Experience where Prince beefs up his earlier track with overdubs and makes you smoke the whole pack of cowbell. Your preference may depend on which you heard first (the original was never released but regularly performed in concerts and on TV before the album dropped) or it may depend on your tolerance for cowbell. Either way you’re treated to some primo Prince screams and for once they’re not all kept in his pocket until the song’s crescendo. Straight out the gate, we’re hit with banshee wails as he grabs the horns of the devil’s music and rides it like a rodeo bronco. Another two orgasmic, neuron-popping screams grace the climax, one so powerful it blows the music out. This is what the Endorphinmachine does to you. It’s clearly based on The Excessive Machine – the contraption in The film Barbarella which pleasures you to death. Is this how he killed off his Prince persona? The “Prince esta muerto” sign-off makes painful listening today but its placement here suggests his first incarnation was bumped off with a turned-up-to-eleven endorphin overdose.

154: P Control

The Gold Experience (1995) / Crystal Ball (1998)
I first heard this song half my lifetime ago. Since then, with the majority of my cells replaced, I’ve become on a molecular level a whole different person. But the thoughts and emotions I experienced then will forever be part of my make-up. Adolescence and early adulthood is such a rich time for the universe to shape your soul. It’s when we are pushed out into the adult world to fend for ourselves and need to be armed with as much information about this strange terrain as possible. We become rabid consumers of music, film and literature, and are at our most susceptible to art penetrating our defences and leaving its mark. Life will never be as vibrant and illuminating again. If I came across P Control for the first time today I’d file it as one of Prince’s lesser-successful club hip hop experiments. His first release under his new symbol but a continuation of what his birth name had done for two albums already. But back then I was at the start of my journey of hoovering up everything he ever put out. I was playing catch-up. I borrowed The Gold Experience CD from the local library and played it for the first time, having no detailed context for how this fitted into his oeuvre. My entire Prince collection consisted of two recently bought 80s albums – 1999 and Purple Rain – and this was my first dive into something more contemporary. The opening track started with Emerson, Lake & Palmer synths announcing a Fanfare for the Expectant Fan. A snippet of a guitar riff and a foreign tongue kept me guessing which direction it would take and then BOOM! The beat starts and I’m being spoken to in a familiar language. A Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics rap that immediately connected and told me Prince was still relevant. I didn’t need repeated listens to acquire the apparatus to digest this. It was instant nutrition. The raw thrill of that first encounter still lingers with me. Twitter storms and broadsheet thinkpieces can debate whether the lyrics are empowering or demeaning (the word pussy may have once had enough of a wink to crop up in pre-watershed sitcom catchphrases and Bond films, yet the track isn’t that old) but my early exposure means I’ll still scream along with every single word.

210: Shy

The Gold Experience (1995)
The footsteps that sync with the first minute of Shy lead us into a tale of revenge killing and gang initiation. It’s all over the top and even the singer believes he’s being spun a yarn, but we’re suckered in like a surprisingly good TV movie. It certainly sounds like one. You can almost see the red street lights reflecting in puddles as the opening credits roll. A lone figure walking with their back to us, soundtracked by city noise and a lone tambourine. And then we’re taken on a rain-drenched journey while Prince’s guitar gently weeps… and shouts and laughs and teases. The use of slide is reminiscent of Vicki Waiting – another song about an attractive girl amid urban decay – and adds to the early 90s movie vibe. If it were a film, it would be one of those where you’re left feeling exhilarated at the end, despite not being able to recall a single plot detail.

260: Billy Jack Bitch

The Gold Experience (1995)
The “treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen” school of thought may have been vandalised by pickup artist shitbags, but it seems to work if you want Prince to write a song about you. Billy Jack Bitch is Prince’s diss track aimed at gossip columnist, Cheryl Johnson, who wrote years worth of disparaging remarks about him in a Minneapolis newspaper and nicknamed him Symbolina. After she gets asked “what if I called U silly names, just like the ones that U call me?” she gets treated to a barrage of “bitch”s, courtesy of a Fishbone sample and a Lenny Kravitz-backed chorus. Of course due to the ingenious way he structures the lyrics Prince could always claim the “CJ” mentioned is only an instruction to “see J” in the dictionary. But you’re fooling no-one Mr Plausible Deniability. The music behind the malice is a George Clinton-esque funk monster – a Knee Deep written to wound – and features horns from the HornHeadz’ New Dell Inn (and their version of Thelonius Monk’s Well You Needn’t on the full-length mix). It funks hard for a columnist pile-on but the real CJ admitted it helped her notoriety and later in the song she gets offered to be flown to the moon to “see how love will bloom” so if she was negging him it looks like it worked.

331: Now

The Gold Experience (1995)
Ahhhh the summer of ’93, I remember it well. Onyx’s Slam had just been released and there was a glut of hip hop tracks still in rotation all yelling at you to jump. Boisterous, chanted rap was de riguer as the margins between hip-hop and metal were drifting in a post Judgement Night love-in. Amid this rowdy backdrop Prince wrote Now, a testosterone-filled pogo-fest with a rap more G Love and Special Sauce than House of Pain but goes full fratboy mosh on the chorus. Smells like bro spirit. I once used to flinch at the anorexia-enabling “it’s flyer to be hungry than phat” line, but I’m willing to subscribe to the “it means don’t rest on your laurels” school of thinking in order to bounce to the “big booty heffa” beat guilt-free. Hunt down the Beautiful Experience video for the best lager-soaked rendition.

343: Interactive

Crystal Ball (1998)
Whether it’s the AOL sample on My Computer or the squealing-modem synths on Emale, referencing technology in the mid-nineties is a sure way to make a track date quickly. On paper, Interactive, a song released in 1994 as a CD-ROM game, always looked likely to age prematurely but luckily the music bears as little relevance to the software as it does to the Cyclops scene in Glam Slam Ulysses, where it also features. Yes, there’s video game bleeps and it birthed the NPG Operator segues found in The Gold Experience but the interacting that Prince wants to do in the lyrics is not exactly point and click. He’s more concerned with It than IT. “Baby, baby, baby, let’s do it” he begs and I don’t think he’s talking about the falling in love that birds, bees and educated fleas do. What really future proofs this rocker though is the guitar-shredding during the last 50 seconds. Prince’s timeless solo makes Interactive sound like Endorphinmachine‘s baby brother and grants immunity from the ravishes of Moore’s Law.

434: The Most Beautiful Girl in the World

The Gold Experience (1995)
There’s a wealth of elaborate wrapping surrounding this song. Multiple releases, remixes and covers. An EP. A TV Movie. The Most Beautiful Boy in the World. The Shoop-influenced Staxowax. The Crystal Ball track 2morrow. It obviously meant a lot to Prince being the first release under his unpronounceable moniker. Warner Bros allowed him to independently release it, hoping a flop would show how indispensable they were. Oops! Worldwide hit. And the beginning of the end of their working relationship. Buried under the layers of flutestramentals and bilingual covers is the sugared artichoke heart of the original. An apocalyptic love-song, bursting with literal sound effects and featuring both his piercingest, glassware-troubling falsetto and deepest baritone. Being his first and only number one in the UK it’s often the song that non-Prince fans associate with him. As if a fraction of his light can be contained within the bars of a single hit. I always want to take their hand and lead them on a merry dance through the many-splendoured, winding streets of his kaleidoscopic back catalogue. Or dependent on mood, just shake them by their shoulders and scream in their poor, deprived faces “HE’S SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT!” 433 songs more in fact. But regardless of its towering mainstream appeal and underneath the surface gloss, TMBGITW is a heavyweight ballad which, much like the Angel of the North, has foundations deeper than it is high. A song to birth Goddesses to.

490: Dolphin

The Gold Experience (1995) / The Undertaker (1995)
This closes the more saccharine of the four sides of The Gold Experience lp and probably wouldn’t have made the top 500 if it hadn’t been carried over the line by the low East wind of the Undertaker sessions. The unpolished version included on that rehearsal album dials down the cloy and gives over half the track to the steady, brooding 30 second leadout of the original minus the dolphin clicks. The lyrics are unchanged but world-wearier and the underwater, panning effect of the guitar shimmers with a sleazier intensity.

498: We March

The Gold Experience (1995)
Partyups grown up, holding down a job and now wants to fight for social justice instead of the right to party – and it starts superbly. Shimmering, celestial murmurs and a power chord beamed straight in from Saturn kick it off. Mayte quotes the 3 musketeers en Espanol and Prince punctuates with “We March” vocal stabs. But then the beat kicks in and it’s weaksauce. More Samantha Mumba than Selma. It would sound at home in any generic 90’s pop fluff and reminds me of the neutered Led Zeppelin break propping up Sophie B Hawkins’ Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover – the sound of John Bonham spinning in his stairwell. The overlaid screams and siren samples fail to mask the balsawood build and the marching samples seem out of place and out of step. An army that’s more Salvation than Seven Nation. He dabbled with this sound before – Frees intro begins with it but has the foresight to fade out before the song starts – yet I can’t help comparing it to other artists’ military backed rhythms. We March would rout at the threatening onslaught of Bjork’s Earth Intruders “grinding skeptics into the soil” or the steadily encroaching, off-stage tattoo of Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting (Organon Mix). But this is a song about cohesion rather than threat. Prince may throw in the odd “watch your back” and “we’re kicking’ down the door” but more importantly “All is what we’re marching for”. It’s the sound of the world marching to the beat of just one drum. And in 1995 it is not an all-inclusive drumbeat if you can’t imagine it being used to soundtrack a macrobiotic yogurt advertisement. The man’s a genius.