Prince’s Hot Rock: The Secret Life Of America’s Sexiest One-Man Band
Most influential one-man band
By Debby MillerApril 28, 1983
What does a twenty-two-year-old musical wizard in bikini briefs have that other rock stars don’t? Whatever it is, it makes him the world’s sexiest and most influential one-man band.
The rules he plays by, instead, are his rules. He comes on strong. Is he – with his androgynous look, his royal name and his sex-mad lyrics – scarier to white audiences than Mr. T? Album-oriented radio is certainly skittish about playing Prince, saying that funk doesn’t cut it with their heavy-metal-loving listeners. On the other hand, his videos are popular with MTV viewers. Prince’s audience actually seems to be as integrated as that of the old soul stars (Prince’s management company estimates his concert audiences to be forty percent white). People who like, say, James Brown have found Prince, and they like the way he uses elements of rock & roll while keeping an R&B backbone in the music.
And although armchair sociologists might suggest that a really outrageous performer has a better chance of succeeding in conservative times like these and may cite Little Richard’s reign in the Fifties as an example, neither Little Richard nor Prince would have made a dent in the music market without talent. Prince, whose refusal to speak to the press has made him less visible than other musicians, probably is popular in spite of, not because of, his image. After all, he has a following of people caught up in the visceral charge of his music, not an audience of voyeurs.
He can count among his fans John Cougar, who was so impressed on hearing Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” that he started touting Prince to his own concert audiences. Before 20,000 fans in Tulsa, he ran backstage to get his cassette deck, then played a tape of Prince’s hit single into his microphone. For the LP Cougar is producing for Mitch Ryder, the first 45 is likely to be Ryder’s recording of Prince’s “When You Were Mine.” And Cougar has – unsuccessfully, so far – been trying to get a message to Prince: would he sing on Cougar’s new album?
What Time Is It?
Joni Mitchell songs blare out of the PA between the sets of Prince’s road show, at his request. Vanity 6, three women in lacy camisoles, open the concert. “I love lingerie,” explains Vanity, the leader of the group. “I used to sneak into my mother’s closet and try to wear her lingerie to school.” She picked her nickname because “a girl’s best friend is her pride,” she says. Like her cohorts, Brenda and Susan, Vanity gave a demo tape of her songs to Prince a year ago. “He said there were a couple other girls whose minds seemed to run alongside mine,” she says. Prince then arranged to bring Vanity, a twenty-two-year-old former model from Toronto, to Minneapolis to meet the other two, flying Brenda in from Boston. Soon, the three were writing songs like “Drive Me Wild” and “Nasty Girls,” in which Vanity coos, “I can’t control it/I need seven inches or more.”
It all seems a figment of Prince’s imagination, a living fantasy. “Prince and I happen to think alike,” says Vanity.