Prince’s fifth album, 1982’s “1999,” pushed the Purple One into the commercial mainstream, set the stage for the globe-conquering “Purple Rain” album/film and gave Y2K its theme song almost decades early.
A super deluxe reissue of “1999” – 5 CDs (or 10 vinyl records) plus a DVD – chronicles the intensely prolific period of creativity from which the album was born.
Disc One features a remaster of the original, 11-track album. Disc Two includes singles pulled from the album, including edits and remixes as well as non-album B-sides such as “Horny Toad” and “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore.”
Discs Three and Four contain the treasure trove for Prince fans, two dozen mostly unreleased recordings Prince made between November 1981 and January 1983. It’s an impressive document of the artist’s sheer productivity, made all the more amazing by the fact that during this same period, Prince produced and in some instances created albums for The Time, Vanity 6/Apollonia 6 and Sheila E. — not to mention beginning the creative process that would result in “Purple Rain.”
Disc Five is a live concert from the “1999” tour, recorded in Detroit in November 1982, while the DVD features a concert recorded in Houston a month later.
In Prince lore, the massive success of 1984’s “Purple Rain” tends to overshadow the commercial and artistic breakthrough of its 1982 predecessor, “1999.” Make no mistake, though: “1999” was a certified Big Deal.
The title track-album opener was a worthy successor to the title track-album opener of 1981’s “Controversy,” calling for a sex and music-fueled revolution in the face of Cold War nuclear fears. The next track, “Little Red Corvette,” broke things wide open, a damn-near perfect pop song that challenged white radio to ignore it. “When You Were Mine,” from 1980’s “Dirty Mind,” already had established Prince’s facility for new wave pop, but “Little Red Corvette” was something else entirely – bright with looming shadows, the lyrics’ sexual bravado tempered by a melody that emphasized the vulnerability at the song’s heart. John Mellencamp, who went by John Cougar Mellencamp at the time, was so smitten he’d stop in the middle of his own concert to play the tune for the crowd over his boombox.
Side One, which closes with “Delirious,” had the hits, but the rest of the album proved just as strong, with just-as-memorable cuts such as “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” “Automatic,” “Something in the Water Does Not Compute” and “All the Critics Love U in New York.”
Prince’s artistry fueled his productivity and, it would seem, vice-versa. The more he created, the more he was driven to create. That’s why he was released an album a year between 1978 and 1992 (save for 1983, when he consolidated the gains of his previous work and set the stage for even greater accomplishments). Pure unbridled genius meets good old-fashioned Midwestern work ethic? Who knows? The result is what music fans revel in, and this new collection is a sweet, deep dive into a specific period of Prince’s artistic reign. Jump in, the water’s fine. — Curtis Ross