85: Nasty Girl

Vanity 6 (1982)
Nasty Girl was kept out of the billboard top 100 as it was considered too raunchy for radio, as was Grace Jones’ euphemism-laden Pull up to my Bumper the year before. Yet in 1977 Stephen Tyler was free to sing about masturbation, threesomes and going “down on a muffin” on Walk This Way. You used to be given a lot more license for explicitness if you were a man. Or if you were submissive. Donna Summer’s orgasmic moans or Jane Birkin purring filth in French to Serge were deemed fine for the airwaves but a woman singing about looking for a one night stand? Absolutely not. Or was it the “seven inches or more” line that threatened radio controllers’ manhood? Despite the pearl clutches, Nasty Girl still reached number 1 in the dance charts. The lyrics are tame by today’s standards and the gyrations and lingerie on show seem positively prudish compared to the softcore porn of your modern pop video but its impact in the early 80s ripped up the rule book and set the stage for Madonna’s chart domination later that decade. Everything from Janet’s Nasty to Beyoncé’s Naughty Girl can trace its roots back to Vanity 6’s only hit. It spawned a thousand covers and became Pharrell’s go-to sample for both Britney and Janelle. You could call it a feminist anthem but just don’t linger on the meaning behind the band name. It takes the shine off.

363: Make-Up

Vanity 6 (1982)
A woman sits at her vanity mirror lost in her own reflection as an electrical storm, pregnant with the future seeds of Detroit Techno and Chicago House, growls malevolently outside. My answer to André 3000’s question of ‘what’s cooler than being cool?’ would be this ice cold beat which shivers with a detached intensity and the equally robotic-in-delivery lyrics are asinine yet strangely menacing when anti-sung over the ahead-of-its-time techno rumblings. It’s Weird Science meets Bladerunner. A YouTube make-up tutorial given by the Kraftwerk shop dummies. The album’s high-point Nasty Girl may have reinvented Janet Jackson but Make-up inspired whole genres, making it an icy crucible of dance music worlds.

372: Vibrator

Unreleased (1983)
Prince often wrote songs where a sex toy would inexplicably appear in the final verse. 18 & Over, Mellow and Supercute all feature this late stage cameo with varying levels of subtlety but there’s one song in the vault which devoted the entirety of its verses, chorus and title to the humble battery-operated boyfriend. Vibrator is musically very repetitive but insanely catchy and with some grade A lyrics – my favourite being the comparison between her old and new (electric) loves: “uncharted waters sailed with ease, land is always in sight, but with u it’s always abandon ship and we didn’t even get away from the dock 2night”. It’s when Vanity’s ten-battery “body massager” runs out of juice however when the song really gets going, with a hilarious left-turn into a comedy sketch featuring Jill Jones as clerk number one and Prince reprising his role from If a Girl Answers. Possibly influenced by Purple Rain being in the script writing phase when it was recorded, Vibrator follows a standard screenplay three-act structure, with a sung setup, a comedic confrontation and a literal, final climax. It’s the classic ‘girl meets boy, girl leaves boy for toy, toy dies, girl goes on a quest for batteries’ story. The song got shelved, along with the rest of the second Vanity 6 album when Vanity quit the band but her pleasured moans would live on, later resurfacing on a couple of Madhouse releases and throughout the Come album credited as “she knows”. As famous enacted orgasms go Vanity is only kept out of the top three by Donna Summer, the woman from Lil Louis’s French Kiss and Sally.

419: If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)

Vanity 6 (1982)
This feels like a skit that was bestowed such a top drawer backing beat that it got extended and upgraded to song status. Funny and funky. It features a slap bass riff, adapted from Teena Marie’s Behind the Groove, which for the first half plays as backdrop to the heated conversation you’re eavesdropping in on. Prince uses his Jamie Starr voice to play The Other Woman and has a cuss-off over the phone with Vanity, before Brenda weighs in with a barbed Sugarhill rap. It’s a phone-hack of the band’s own little nasty world. When the actors exeunt, the second half’s stage is given over to the locked groove, with only occasional sung “don’t hang up”s and ringing phones to keep it company. If a Girl Answers sounds a lot like its New York new wave contemporaries: Tom Tom Club and ESG but with necrophilia jokes and cartoon threats of violence thrown in for the lulz.