friday random ten, 1987 edition

1. Marianne Faithfull, "I Ain't Goin' Down to the Well No More." Faithfull's re-emergence in the late-70s was one of the most startlingly wonderful in rock and roll. Eight years later, she made the move into the chanteuse she's run with pretty much ever since. It was an eclectic transition, to say the least … she covered Dylan, no surprise there, redid "As Tears Go By" (no surprise there), stepped back to the days of Tony Bennett and mixed it with some Tom Waits and Doc Pomus. This song was perhaps the most intimately bare of the set: a middle-aged English woman, in her time the essence of a certain kind of beauty, with a voice ravaged by smokes and junk, offers up an acapella version of an old Leadbelly song.

2. Terence Trent D'Arby, "Wishing Well." And people think Prince changes his name too often. D'Arby was born Terence Howard, took on his stepfather's name to become Terry Darby, added his middle name and an apostrophe when he became a singer … and then years later, he changed his name again, this time to Sananda Maitreya. Whatever his name, it's hard to remember 20 years after the fact how big a deal D'Arby was in 1987. He was cocky and ambitious, and his music was a fine blend of old and new. "Wishing Well" hit number one, but nothing else did, and while he's more than a one-hit wonder, D'Arby's career hasn't come anywhere near what was expected.

3. Prince, "Bob George." Meanwhile, the guy who had already reached the heights expected of D'Arby was becoming increasingly weird. Fresh off of one of his greatest albums, Sign 'o' the Times, Prince entered the studio to … well, there is more than one story, but apparently he wanted to make a record that would help him regain some of the black audience he had purportedly lost. The resulting album was funk, for the most part, but weird-era-Prince funk, and Prince's weird was a lot different than, say, George Clinton's weird. Just before its release at the end of 1987, Prince pulled the album, making it an instant bootleg classic. He released Lovesexy in its place, not getting around to giving an official version of The Black Album, as it was called, until 1994. "Bob George" features slowed-down vocals that make Prince sound like a psychotic body-builder, lyrics that could have passed for lesser Geto Boyz, minimalist production with hot gee-tar, and cutting remarks about "that skinny motherfucker with the high voice" that should have given away the joke. Good luck finding a video for this one.

4. Eric B. & Rakim, "Paid in Full (Seven Minutes of Madness)." Sometimes it's hard to decide what year a song belongs in … where do you stick The Black Album, for instance? In this case, the tough decision is to decide who the artist is. Eric B. & Rakim did the original "Paid in Full," but they are reported to have hated this seven-minute mad version created by Coldcut. Settle in, because this one takes awhile to tell. Eric B. & Rakim were among the greatest artists of the old-school rap era. Rakim is honored to this day as arguably the most influential rapper ever. The Paid in Full album was named the greatest hip-hop album of all time a couple of years ago by MTV. Which is to say, it's impossible to overstate the importance of this album. Meanwhile, an Israeli singer named Ofra Haza had become a surprise favorite amongst European club fans. Her music didn't clearly fit into any category with obvious connections to club music, as is evidenced by this All-Music Guide description of one of her early albums. "Inspired by the ancient melodies taught to her by her mother, in 1985 Haza recorded Yemenite Songs, which featured traditional instruments as well as lyrics drawn from the 16th century poetry of Shalom Shabazi; not only a major hit at home, the album was also a worldbeat smash in England as well." One of her songs, "Im Nin' Alu," did sound like worldbeat, and it was a big hit across the globe (it, also, has lyrics by Shalom Shabazi). Here the chronology gets confusing … "Im Nin' Alu" was a hit in 1988, but she had recorded an earlier version for the Yemenite Songs album. Whatever … among the people who knew of Haza's song were a couple of English club DJs who went by the name of Coldcut. Like all good remix artists, they sampled a wide variety of material in search of the perfect sound. In this particular case, those sounds included "Paid in Full" … and "Im Nin' Alu." Meanwhile, Eric B. had done some on-target sampling of his own in the original, in particular the bass line from a Dennis Edwards track, "Don't Look Any Further." So, what do we have? Bass from a Motown track, excellent work by Eric B. & Rakim, an Israeli singer, two English DJs, and … a track so magnificent it fulfills every promise of the first sample on the track: "This is a journey into sound." A journey that takes in the world and forces you to shake your booty.

5. The Bangles, "A Hazy Shade of Winter." So far, we've had Marianne Faithfull covering Leadbelly and Ofra Haza sampled into Eric B. & Rakim. So why be surprised by this one? The Bangles had impressed Prince, who wrote "Manic Monday" for them … this is all connected somehow. Anyway, Marianne had Leadbelly and Coldcut had Ofra Haza … the Bangles had Simon & Garfunkel. I swear, you can't make this stuff up! Of course this recording was for a Robert Downey drug movie.

6. Roy Orbison and k.d. lang, "Crying." Now here is an influence that makes perfect sense. It's a rare singer that can take on a Roy Orbison ballad, much less one who can pull off a duet with the Man. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you k.d. lang. Now, k.d. had a rather intimate relationship with irony in her early career … she's always been capable of belting out the big ones, but especially in her country years, there was more than a little tongue in cheek. "Crying" may be a great piece of acting, but I don't buy it … I think lang locks into the song and actually feels it. No one takes over a Roy Orbison song, but their duets were not just a master and his junior.

7. Pet Shop Boys, "Rent." Can't say that shuffle play has done particularly well with this segue. In any event, I'm not sorry this song popped up … it's the story of my life, and my wife hates it when I play it. (For those who don't know me, I'm the singer in this one, not the one being sung too … that would be my wife.) I'm just surprised it took until 1987 for someone to crystallize the concept of romance down to this: "I love you, you pay my rent." For all of my posturing about which artists and songs best reflect "my hopes and dreams," the truth is, there are very few songs that get me down as accurately as this one.

8. Bruce Springsteen, "Tougher Than the Rest." Bruce is still my favorite, though. Tunnel of Love was his last truly great album, and that was 20 years ago. It's easy to forget … his concerts remain inspirational, and he's made much more than an album's worth of good music over the last twenty years … plus, who cares about albums in the 21st century, anyway? Nonetheless, even someone as great as Bruce Springsteen peaked before he turned 40. The video for this song is fascinating in a plane-crash kind of way. First, the video itself is a mess … a song about a couple of lonesome potential lovers circling each other with fear and anticipation, the video of the song itself is fine, but it's interspersed with shots of typical Bruce concert hijinks that are jarring in the context of the song. Then there's the OTHER inserts, of various loving couples … it's very sweet and nicely diverse, but it's not really that happy of a song. But what REALLY makes the video interesting is the interplay between Bruce and Patti … lots of long loving looks from Patti, which is no big deal until you remember that Bruce was still married to Julianne at the time. Not that you couldn't imagine a certain level of unhappiness in Bruce's love life after listening to Tunnel of Love.

9. Michael Jackson, "The Way You Make Me Feel." Can't have Prince without Michael, at least not in the 80s. Is it just me, or have the events of the past 20 years resulted in a lack of appreciation for the greatness of Michael Jackson back in the day? Bad was no Thriller in terms of sales, but then, Tunnel of Love was no Born in the U.S.A. and people didn't hold that against Bruce. There are a lot of terrific songs on Bad, including this one, but there are also the kind of hints that in retrospect seem more than hints ... as Christgau wrote at the time, "[T]he more knowable he gets, the more fucked up he seems. This is a record that damn near wrecks perfectly good dancin' and singin' with subtext."

10. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, "Light of Day." I'm gonna have to quote Christgau again, because his line about Joan Jett is one of his best ever. After giving her then-latest release a B+ for the fifth straight album, he wrote "not since her start-up has she made something special of her populist instincts. It's almost as if that's the idea." (He finally broke down and gave her an A for her greatest hits compilation in '97.) If you haven't already watched the video at the top of this post, now's the time … you can watch two great populists having a real good time together. Also recommended for fans of hot-shit guitar playing.


friday random ten, 1986 edition

1. The Housemartins, "Happy Hour." We start with a canny bit of jangle pop. It sounds like the kind of cheerful ditty suggested by the title, and all is fine if you don't listen to the lyrics. "What a good place to be! (Don't believe it!)" That's Fatboy Slim on bass.

2. Bob Dylan and the Heartbreakers, "Sukiyaki." "Sukiyaki" was an annoyingly irresistible Japanese pop hit in the early 60s. You couldn't avoid it, and after a few hundred listens, you no longer wanted to avoid it … you started looking forward to it. One fan was Bob Dylan, who played an instrumental version in Tokyo in 1986.

3. Madonna, "Live to Tell." No word on whether or not Madonna was one of the four thousand artists who covered "Sukiyaki." This one's from the movie At Close Range. How many people remember that movie? How many remember this song? Her film career might have been a train wreck … her music was anything but.

4. Gregory Abbott, "Shake You Down." I know several people who taught English at Cal and also made music. None of them had as big a hit as Gregory Abbott did with this song. He was before my time (in the English department at Cal, that is). This is a gorgeous song no matter what department he was teaching in. He's also a lot better looking than the average grad student.

5. The Beastie Boys, "Paul Revere." Minimalist rap music, from one of the most influential albums of the hip-hop era. Aw, why bother with qualifying phrases … one of the most influential albums, period.

6. Prince, "Kiss." Rick Rubin wasn't the only minimalist working in the mid-80s. "Kiss" is Prince stripped to the bare essentials. Not only did this song survive a version by Tom Jones, the song thrived in that version. Madonna, the Beasties, Prince … fuckin' A, the 80s kicked serious musical ass.

7. Salt 'n Pepa, "Tramp." Dismissed by those who think rap is a man's game, Salt 'n Pepa had more hits than most acts, and their hits were good ones.

8. Run-D.M.C., "Walk This Way." Remember a few songs ago, when I called Licensed to Ill one of the most influential albums ever? Well, this track right here is arguably the most influential rap song of all time. "Walk This Way" makes explicit what was bubbling beneath the surface of rap music. Not content to sample, Run-D.M.C. invited Steven Tyler and Joe Perry to join them on the track, and instead of playing around and transforming the song into something barely recognizable, they did it as a mostly-straight cover version, only with rapping replacing singing (it didn't hurt that Tyler's original was rather more chanted than sung). I could spend the entire blog post listing the ways this song impacted pop music. It revived the comatose Aerosmith, for one thing. It introduced rapcore … it pushed Run-D.M.C. into the mainstream … essentially, it brought two audiences together that had been eyeing each other warily for some time. Plainly put, this is one of the essential tracks in the history of popular music. The video is classic in its own right … it tells the story of the merging styles of music better than I've done here, that's for sure.

9. Janet Jackson, "Nasty." GIMME A BEAT!

10. David & David, "River's Gonna Rise." Shuffle play was doing so well … tracks 3-9 work perfectly as a set. And then comes this song, which doesn't belong, does it? But then, I'm not sure where this song would fit, except on the original, long-forgotten album on which is appeared. Boomtown makes a case for albums and, thus, against shuffle play, because this song barely makes sense out of context. Which doesn't stop it from being a powerful song, worthy of remembering. David & David made only one album. One David, Ricketts, seems to have disappeared from the music world … the other, Baerwald, went on to some fame as a solo artist and as a crucial part of what made Sheryl Crow's Tuesday Night Music Club so successful. What makes Boomtown so surprising is that a searing examination of Reagan-era America would come from a couple of L.A. studio pros.

God ain't in his heaven
Something ain't right
I hear church bells ringing
In the middle of the night
They're dragging a man by his insides
Through the broad daylight
Thieves have their season yeah
But it's getting on midnight

And the river's gonna rise
It's gonna rise
There'll be dancing in the street
When the river done rise

Cold wind is blowing
Flags flapping much too slow
The monkey men sell paradise
To the girls from Tupelo
Black shirted boys in the badlands
Play machine gun rodeo
The downtown missions packed too tight
With folks that got nowhere to go

But the river's gonna rise
Gonna rise
There'll be dancing in the street
When the river done rise

God ain't in his heaven
Something ain't right
The tv newsman smiles and says
The curfew starts tonight
They're killing a man from the inside
In broad daylight
While the propped up puppet wags his head
And watches all the proud things die

But the river's gonna rise
Gonna rise
There'll be dancing in the street
When the river done rise


poll results, 1983 edition

The poll results are in from last week's Random Ten for 1983. 21 people voted ... you got to choose your three fave songs ... 15 of the 21 included "Little Red Corvette," the only song in fact to be on more than half the ballots. So I've added another poll for this week (1984), and there's another Prince song on there for you fans.

For those keeping score at home, "99 Luftballons" came in second, appearing on 9 ballots, while bringing up the rear was "Let the Music Play" with 2 ballots.


friday random ten, 1984 edition

1. Lou Reed, "I Love You, Suzanne." Lou has made some interesting music in the last 20+ years, but the deterioration in his vocals means we will probably never again hear a decent pop song from Lou Reed. Despite his greatness as a rock poet of darkness, Lou Reed is also capable of pop brilliance. On this track, you get his always-exquisite rhythm guitar work, perfect drumming from Fred Maher, and the usual from Fernando Saunders, one of the most recognizable bass players ever.

2. Time Zone, "World Destruction." This is not a pop song. Wikipedia claims this was the first "rapcore" song, coming three years before "Walk This Way." Not sure about that designation, but it's certainly true that there was some fertile artist collaboration going on: Africa Bambaataa meets Johnny Rotten.

3. Chaka Khan, "I Feel for You." Speaking of artist collaboration … Chaka Khan sings a Prince song with harmonica accompaniment by Stevie Wonder and rapping from Melle Mel. I'm sure I'm forgetting something obvious, but this has to be the best superstar production ever, in terms of the end result. Too many such get-togethers suck, but this is an iconic song of its time, a terrific track to this day, with a lineup of artists to rival the Million Dollar Quartet. I mean, Traveling Wilburys have nothing on these folks.

4. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, "Relax." We went to Europe for the first time in 1984, and while we were in London, all the young people seemed to be wearing t-shirts that read "Frankie Say Relax." I had no idea what it meant. I eventually found out. The video (see the top of the list) ain't exactly the Village People.

5. Bronski Beat, "Smalltown Boy." Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to Shuffle Play. The (banned) video for "Relax" still makes your jaw drop … the video for this song still makes you cry.

6. Eurythmics, "Sex Crime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)." Long before Prince's Batman, Eurythmics created a movie soundtrack that didn't seem to please the filmmakers. As great a pop song as "I Love You, Suzanne," but with a different topical approach, to be sure. Give it up one more time for Shuffle Play. (My primary extracurricular activity in high school was drama. 1984 was the last thing I ever did … I played Winston Smith, and I guess some people found that appropriate at the time.)

7. The Pretenders, "My City Was Gone." A slight cheat, this was released as a single in 1983 but was on an album in '84. One of the great post-modern ironies was that Rush Limbaugh used this as his theme song … Rush has good taste in music, the song has a great instrumental lead-in … somehow, I don't think his listeners appreciate the lyrics. Here's a question for you: why do rock critics tend to prefer Chrissie Hynde to Annie Lennox?

8. Cyndi Lauper, "Time After Time." For one year, at least, Cyndi was more popular than Annie and Chrissie combined. I mean, my daughter never wanted an Annie Lennox or Chrissie Hynde hairdo. I blame Captain Lou Albano for her decline.

9. Prince, "Erotic City." Prince has written a lot of songs over the years that use his special brand of spelling, but this is the only time I've heard "funk" spelled with a c.

10. Hüsker Dü, "Turn on the News." OK, so Shuffle Play ain't perfect. I'm always glad to listen to Hüsker Dü, though. I really loved this band. Let me say that again: I REALLY loved this band. They were the best American punk band … yes, I loved the Ramones too, but I can't lie. They should have been gigantic stars … they should have been as popular as Nirvana, at the least. On the other hand, my wife pretty much couldn't stand them, at least the noisy songs (of which there were many, including "Turn on the News") because of Bob Mould's penchant for turning up the volume so high on his guitar and playing such incessantly powerful chords that even when he wasn't playing for a moment, you could still hear the damn thing. Meanwhile, looking over this list, it might be the Random Ten with the most connection to gay male culture of any so far. (The video link doesn't include "Turn on the News," but neither does any other video I could hunt down. The sound mix is atrocious, but longtime fans will appreciate how appropriate that is. And Bob's guitar is always making noise.)


friday random ten, 1983 edition

1. Randy Newman, "I Love L.A." The essence of Los Angeles, stated in such a way that us LA-haters can smile smugly while the Los Angelenos can claim the song as their own: "Look at that mountain, Look at those trees, Look at that bum over there, man, He's down on his knees." Gotta get Toto as musicians, of course.

2. The Violent Femmes, "Add It Up." Shuffle play is cheating a bit here … some sources claim this was released in 1982, some say 1983. Add it up … all I know is, nothing exemplifies the beginnings of college rock more than the question "Why can't I get just one fuck?" That's Brian Ritchie on bass.

3. Nena, "99 Luftballons." The German version, not that it appears to make any difference. Actually, maybe it does matter … as this website, among others, shows, the English version wasn't a direct translation of the original (for one thing, there is no "red" in "luftballon").

4. Madonna, "Borderline." Here she is, folks. Arguably the biggest pop star of the time between this first album and 2007, arguably the most important, and surely the most popular figure for cultural studies scholars until Buffy the Vampire Slayer bypassed her. It is impossible to overstate the impact of Madonna in popular culture, and this is her first appearance in the Random Ten. (At the time, most people assumed Cyndi Lauper would be the star who would "last.") Stewart Mason gets at one reason for the appeal of Madonna's vocal approach: "Madonna delivers the best vocal performance of her early career, when her limitations were at their most obvious. Soulful without a lot of show-offy melisma or blue notes, Madonna joins a long list of pop singers who deliver a more compelling performance simply by virtue of not being able to obscure the song's emotional content (the way that Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston so often do) with needless vocal gymnastics."

5. Prince, "Little Red Corvette." Prince is not as popular as Madonna with the cultural studies folks, and he's not as big a pop star (although he comes pretty close). Musically, he's got them all beat. This is one of his more subtle (for Prince) and ingenious double entendre lyrics. "It was Saturday night, I guess that makes it all right."

6. Donna Summer, "She Works Hard for the Money." The hardest-rocking of the disco queens. She turned 35 at the end of 1983, and her career had peaked. It was a fine career. It's not so far from the subject of "Bad Girls" to the subject of this song.

7. The Isley Brothers, "Between the Sheets." I've bored plenty of people over the years with my Theory of Rockers' Career Trajectories, but damn if the Isleys aren't an outlier. In the 50s there was the rock gospel of "Shout" … in the 60s, the primordial rocker "Twist and Shout" at the beginning of the decade and the funk of "It's Your Thing" at the end. The 70s saw "That Lady" with Ernest Isley's Hendrix jams. And here they are in 1983, still at it. (The video link is as much "Three Sheets to the Wind" as it is "Between the Sheets," but the Ballentine-Ale-drinking karaoke singer is actually pretty good.)

8. Shannon, "Let the Music Play." The story told in Wikipedia is too good … I'll just cut and paste:

The original version of the record was produced by Chris Barbosa, a Latino from New York who composed it with Ed Chisolm. He redefined the Electro Funk sound by adding Latin American rhythms and a heavy syncopated drum sound isolating it from sounding like Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" and Freeez's "IOU." This made "Let the Music Play" the first freestyle record in dance music history.

The song played a surprisingly historic role in Western pop music. By the early 1980s, the backlash against disco had driven dance music off mainstream radio stations in the U.S. The rhythmic ingenuity of "Let the Music Play" allowed it to circumvent the prevalent anti-disco bias and become a huge hit, ushering in the dance pop era. "Let the Music Play" and Madonna's song "Holiday" are considered to be the two songs that opened the door for such other acts as Jody Watley, George Michael and many others.

9. Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel, "White Lines (Don't Do It)." I'm not a big fan of anti-drug songs, but this is damn near irresistible. "Get higher, baby! And don't EVER come down! (Freebase!)"

10. Katrina & the Waves, "Walking on Sunshine." OK, this really is cheating … this shouldn't be here, but I ain't changing it now. The song was originally released in 1983, it's true, but the version on my hard drive is the revised version for American release in 1985, marked incorrectly as 1983. So it's not a 1983 song. And the original is considered better by aficionados. Guess what? They're wrong. This version is punched up for AM Radio, even though no one listened to AM Radio anymore by 1985, did they? It's kinda like what they did to Bette Midler's "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" … the album version was more "authentic" to the Andrews Sisters, but the single version kicked way more ass. As does this version, wrong year or not. A perpetual favorite at day baseball games, and, I suspect, mostly remembered as a crap pop tune of little merit, but I defy anyone to listen to it and not get all jumpy excited. (The video link is esp. recommended for Belle and Sebastian fans, who I suppose would not get all jumpy excited.)

[Edited to add Spotify playlist]


prince 1985

Tom pops in with another photo. This one is from just before spring, in 1985. The four of us (Tom and Mary, me and Robin) were on our way to the Prince concert at the Cow Palace, and someone took our picture, as the admonition for the show was to wear purple, and as the photo shows, yours truly has purple dye in his hair. The show was the worst of the five Prince shows I’ve seen … the Cow Palace sucks, Robin and I at least had bad colds, and Tom and I passed on seeing Hüsker Dü in order to attend this concert. Anyway, here’s the picture … for some reason, we had Robin’s brother’s high school graduation photo on the mantel above the fireplace:

Prince


friday random ten

No special version today, just ten random tunes. This is something of an anniversary ... my first Random Ten was posted on May 13, 2005, so with this one today, I've been doing them for more than a year.

1. Gwen Stefani, "Hollaback Girl." Annoying, fun, great beat. The perfect pop song.

2. Sister Sledge, "He's the Greatest Dancer." "One night in a disco, on the outskirts of Frisco."

3. Prince, "When 2 R in Love." An early ode to phone-text luv.

4. Bruce Springsteen, "Incident on 57th Street." One of his greatest. Even after 33 years, it's still stuck to Rosie in my mind.

5. Donovan, "Sunny Goodge Street." He wasn't much as a Dylan wannabee, and his hippie period was too gooshy. But his lite-jazz pop defined a certain aspect of Britain to a lot of American listeners.

6. Stephen Malkmus, "The Hook." "Bad" singers are an acquired taste. We all like some bad singers and dislike others, and there are some legendary rock and rollers in the category of "bad singers," so it's not like you can just dismiss anyone who sounds tone deaf. For his lyrics and his noisy not-pop-but-catchy hooks, Malkmus and Pavement are indie rock legends. But I bet a lot of people never get past disliking his "bad" singing.

7. Patty Griffin, "Every Little Bit." Griffin, on the other hand, is a "better" singer than Malkmus, but I imagine many find her pipes too precious.

8. Pink Floyd, "Wish You Were Here." This has always been a better album than Dark Side of the Moon.

9. 2005-bush-kanye. 16 seconds of America circa 2005, from (I think) Scott Woods.

10. Lisa Germano, "Geek the Girl." "Oh oh, I'm not too cool."


karma 3000 and top ten

I finally reached 3000 songs on my Karma, with the addition of "Add It Up" by the Violent Femmes. I don't think I'll go any higher ... in fact, I think I'll do some pruning. I still have several hundred meg of space, and I could probably triple the number of songs if I lowered the quality of the files, but 3000 is enough.

Meanwhile, here's the current, and as always very suspicious, Top Ten. One day I'll figure out what Queen Latifah has that makes my Karma love her so much. Last month's ranking in parentheses:


1. Queen Latifah, "Ladies First" (1)
2. Bruce Springsteen, "Glory Days" (2)
3. Prince, "Delirious" (-)
4. Donovan, "Riding in My Car (Car Song)" (3)
5. Marianne Faithfull, "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (4)
6. Simon and Garfunkel, "Cecilia" (5)
7. En Vogue, "Don't Let Go (Love)" (6)
8. Peggy Lee, "Fever" (7)
9. Willie Nelson, "Whisky River" (-)
10. Lucinda Williams, "Concrete and Barbed Wire" (-)

It's obvious what's happened ... everything is the same as last month, except for the addition of songs by the three people I saw in concert last month. Falling out of the top ten are Hall and Oates, "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" (8th last month, 11th this month), Andrew Gold, "Lonely Boy" (#9, #12), and Buffalo Springfield, "Kind Woman" (#10, #14 ... another Lucinda song snuck into #13).

[edited to add Spotify playlist]


thoughts on prince, musicology version

Just to catch us all up, this was my sixth time seeing Prince, but my first since 1988. Went with Robin, Neal, Sara and Sean ... sat with Neal and Sara (first time Robin and I had been to a concert without sitting together since 1978).

Prince's band was hot, tight, and on target. Setlist resembled all the ones I'd seen of earlier shows on the tour, and now I know why: it's a v.choreographed performance, so I don't imagine there's much room for the kind of improvisation needed for setlist changes (except for the acoustic middle section, about which more in a bit). Only real surprise was a truncated encore ... while he's been playing three songs, for us it was "Purple Rain" and then out. Which isn't to say we were shorted, since by then Prince had been playing for 2 1/2 hours.

Upon entering the HP Pavilion, we were greeted with the customary "free" CD of Musicology. Robin and Sean had pretty good seats, but our seats were perhaps the worst in the house: directly behind some enormous wires. Once the show started, we dealt, mostly by moving around a bit here and there, but it was an unhappy beginning. The stage was in the center of the arena ... I can't say "in the round" because it was shaped more like a cross, but you get the idea. After a couple of videos, Prince came on around 8:20 with a slamming version of "Musicology" and then ripped through four songs from Purple Rain. It was on. The band was superb, the construction of the show was airtight, the women from the crowd who were invited onstage to dance on two occasions added a homey feel, and there was nothing to make me change my opinion that Prince ranks in top three live performers I've ever seen. The setlist went as far back as "I Feel For You" and covered most of Prince's musical bases (there was rock and roll and there was funk, there was acoustic solo stuff and neo-psychedelia ... about the only thing missing was the hip-hop stylings that Prince has never really gotten right). The band's interludes during Prince costume changes were mostly fine, and seeing the legendary Maceo Parker was an added bonus.

After the bonecrushing first hour, Prince played a longish acoustic set that was charmingly enjoyable. "Little Red Corvette" remains one of his finest lyrics ... I'm not sure anyone has ever done better with the timeworn cliches comparing driving a car to making love ... and this acoustic version was intimate and delightful, the one time when I really really missed having Robin sitting next to me. "Cream" was kinda odd in this environment (and won my vote as the song most out of whack with what I assume are Prince's current JW beliefs). He sang/talked a blues song that most fans call "The Rules" that was the weirdest thing in the show ... Prince took on the persona of the wizened blues man passing along his advice on the fellas and the ladies to all the, well, fellas and the ladies in the audience. To hear Prince talking about watching sports on teevee and listing the rules by which men and women could co-exist, as if he was Albert King rather than the androgynous oddball who created masterpieces like Dirty Mind, was amazing. "The Rules" was also very funny.

In the midst of the acoustic set, he sang "Satisfaction," which must have given Prince himself some ironic satisfaction, given the famous moment in '81 when he was booed off the stage opening for the Stones. Having never seen the Rolling Stones in concert, I admit it was fun to finally be able to sing along with "I CAN'T GET NO!" (Later, with the whole band along with awful guest singer Nikki Costa, he gave us "Whole Lotta Love" ... as I told Neal at the time, I've seen Led Zeppelin, and Prince might have approximated Jimmy Page, but Nikki was no Robert Plant ... folks, if you like this woman, do yourself a favor and go buy some Pink albums.)

After the acoustic set, the band came back for more roof-popping noise, every bit as great as the first set. When the band finally left the stage, the screaming for an encore was as brutally loud as any I've ever experienced. On his return, Prince played the inevitable "Purple Rain" and was gone.

Robin, who saw Prince with me twice back in the 80s, said the main thing she noticed that was different this time around was that Prince seemed happy. That's not something I would have thought of, but I think she's absolutely right. Neal, who I believe had seen him twice before, was glad that Prince played most of the songs he'd been looking forward to, and only a couple from Musicology. The crowd seemed ecstatic for most of the show. (And a few words about the audience. It was skewed towards the middle-aged but with enough younger people to make it interesting, more white than not but in general much more diverse than the usual concert crowd.)

Me, I had a great time. As I said before, Prince, along with Bruce and the Clash, ranks at the top of my list of live performers, and he's still got it. But ... yes, there is a but ... as great as the show was, it was ultimately a greatest-hits concert, which made most of the crowd extremely happy, but means that what we got wasn't much different from what you see when the Beach Boys show up singing "Fun Fun Fun" at the county fair. For whatever reason, Prince has decided to return to the mainstream for awhile, and this tour is our reward for his decision: one great song after another, played by a superb performer at the top of his game, with a killer band whomping out support. It was a terrific show, and I'm glad to reacquaint myself with Prince the live performer after so many years. But there's no escaping the fact that this was a show dominated by music first created two decades ago.