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Why Prince’s Self-Titled Second Album Is A Post-Disco Classic
In Depth

Why Prince’s Self-Titled Second Album Is A Post-Disco Classic

The record on which ‘his original ideas broke through’, Prince’s self-titled second album served notice that a star was in the making.

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By the time Prince came to record his self-titled second album, he’d learned a few important lessons. Having driven himself to the brink of exhaustion with the protracted recording sessions for his debut, For You, he spent just two months fashioning a follow-up which benefitted from the knowledge that less can be more. Layers of overdubs had given For You a full sound and proven the then-teenaged Prince’s confidence in the recording studio, but the leaner arrangements on his new record allowed his songwriting skills to shine. As Prince himself later put it to Rolling Stone: “I knew how to make hits by my second album.”

Listen to Prince’s self-titled second album here.

“His original ideas broke through”

He could have taken more time over it but, indicative of the speed with which he would become known for working, Prince entirely recorded and mixed his self-titled second album from late April to mid-June at Alpha Studios in Burbank, Los Angeles. The finished work, too, was a breeze, clocking in at a mere 41 minutes but deploying more than enough hooks to ensure it stayed in the mind for far longer. Speaking to this author for the book Lives Of The Musicians: Prince, Susan Rogers, Prince’s studio engineer from 1983 to 1987, observed: “That first record was craft-heavy… His original ideas broke through on the next record. You can hear on the Prince album: this kid can write.”

Proving just that, the album’s opening track and lead single, I Wanna Be Your Lover, took him one place shy of the Billboard Hot 100’s Top 10 while going all the way to No.1 on the Hot Soul Singles chart. Setting his self-titled album’s stall out from the off, the song introduces Prince as a downcast suitor pleading to be noticed while also slipping in a nod to the kind of attention he’s offering in return: “I wanna turn you on, turn you out/All night long, make you shout.”

Praised by Rolling Stone for giving the world “the most thrilling R&B falsetto since Smokey Robinson”, and later hailed by hip-hop producer Timbaland as “one of the most innovative songs ever released”, I Wanna Be Your Lover was a snappy introduction to Prince’s rapidly developing skills: its live 4/4 drums keep it fixed firmly on the dancefloor, but its squelchy synth lines and chicken-scratch guitar, delivered with the lightest of touches, pull the song into the post-disco world of late-70s R&B, signposting the major leaps Prince would make on his first album of the following decade, 1980’s Dirty Mind.

As if continuing the story, the second cut on the album, Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?, again finds Prince on the back foot, though it’s his guitar prowess he now flexes, giving the song a muscular heft that still holds its own among the best Prince songs while also making good on its creator’s ambitions to target the white rock market. Elsewhere on the album, Bambi finds Prince’s nascent rock god in full flow, firing out flurries of riffs that offer early evidence he would develop into one of the best guitarists of all time.

“I think we just saw the Second Coming”

These telling excursions aside, Prince’s self-titled second album is, in the main, set in the R&B mould – albeit one which reflected how the club market was changing right beneath its scenesters’ platform-booted feet. The songs With You and Still Waiting offer comfortable slow-dance moments for those under-the-mirrorball smooches, but it’s on the record’s most upbeat tracks that Prince starts to feel his way towards the future. Clocking in at a taut four minutes – but also given a nine-minute 12” mix that would make No.3 on Billboard’s Disco 100 – Sexy Dancer sits in confidently lustful support of Prince’s claim, to Right On! magazine, that his second record was “a lot nastier” than his first. With an arrangement as sparse as I Wanna Be Your Lover’s, it also proves that Prince was beginning to make an art of building simple grooves which – like the lover in the previous single – he could turn inside out forever but still keep fresh with just the simplest of elements.

Meanwhile, I Feel For You is a three-minute gem that, remarkably, wasn’t lifted for single release under Prince’s name, but which Chaka Khan would turn into the hit it always deserved to be, just as Prince was soaring to new charts heights with the Purple Rain album. Riding the sort of synth lines which would become central to Dirty Mind’s new-wave punk-funk hybrid, it was also the type of song that Rolling Stone had in mind when, reviewing the album, they noted that “the simplicity of Prince’s words, hooks and rhythms are pure pop”.

Released on 19 October 1979, Prince’s self-titled second album peaked just outside the Top 20 in Billboard’s Top LPs & Tapes chart but went all the way to No.3 on the magazine’s Soul LPs chart. Befitting the confidence with which he constructed the album, Prince also set out on his first tour, throughout late 1979 and early 1980. It was a just reward for an artist whose label, Warner Bros, had previously deemed too inexperienced to hit the road following the release of his debut. Now, however, less than a year later, it was a very different story. As former Warners exec Marylou Badeaux recalled for Lives Of The Musicians: Prince, a showcase for the label left her astounded: “I couldn’t even sleep that night. I said, ‘Oh my god. I think we just saw the Second Coming.”

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