Top Five Prince Songs You Didn’t Know Were About Homeland Security
Prince Rogers Nelson passed away on April 21, 2016, at the age of 57. One of the most prolific and best-selling musical artists of all time, with over $100M in sales during his 40-year career (and a reported sales surge of 1600% after his death), his music spanned an amazing range of styles and appeal, from Funk to R&B to Pop to Soul to Rock, and all points in-between. Prince was famous for explicit lyrics (in fact, Prince’s explicitness actually led to the Parental Advisory Label on albums — gee, thanks, Tipper). But hey, we’re all adults here.
As explicit as The Purple One could be with some matters in his lyrics, he certainly had an equal proficiency for deeper meaning. With so many songs to choose from, surely a few would serve as appropriate (if not prescient) soundtracks in the modern field of Homeland Security, no?
Here are my top picks, but you be the final judge….
5. “Ronnie Talk to Russia”
Ronnie talk to Russia before it’s too late
Before they blow up the world
Before they blow up the world
Don’t you blow up my world
The song “Ronnie Talk to Russia” from Prince’s 1981 album Controversy, implores Ronald Reagan to de-escalate with Russia to prevent a nuclear war. A child of the Cold War period and part of a country fearing for its own safety for decades, it’s no surprise that many of Prince’s earliest songs deal with nuclear apocalypse, though admittedly few as singularly focused as “Ronnie Talk to Russia.” Reagan had just started his presidency, following escalating tensions in US/Soviet relations since 1947 (at the time of the songs release, Carter had withdrawn SALT II, the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan, and the US had boycotted the Moscow Olympics). This one is hard to miss. Ten years later came the generally acknowledged “end” of the Cold War. Coincidence that His Royal Badness asked, and the world answered? Hmmm.
4. “1999” (Extended Version)
But when I woke up this mornin’,
Could have sworn it was Judgment Day.
The sky was all purple,
There were people runnin’ everywhere,
Tryin’ to run from the destruction,
You know I didn’t even care.
They say two thousand zero, zero,
Party over, oops, out of time.
So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999.
No, it’s not about Y2K. The song “1999” was released in 1982, and certainly tops the apocalyptic Royal Badness charts (the extended version ends with a childlike Prince asking, “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?”). Prince’s Homeland Security approach to nuclear annihilation may be a little heavy on the dance-party response strategy, but radical ideas are kind of our modus operandi in Homeland Security these days, right? We’ve got some pretty conflicting opinions on the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and wiretapping, so maybe Skipper’s idea about dealing with it all through a dance-off might be on the right track. (To be clear, “1999” is certainly not the only song in which Prince advocates partying as the preferred response — check out “Uptown” and “Partyup” from 1980’s Dirty Mind.) Let’s see where Prince goes with this theory.
3. “Sign o’ the Times”
In France a skinny man
Died of a big disease with a little name
By chance his girlfriend came across a needle
And soon she did the same
At home there are seventeen-year-old boys
And their idea of fun
Is being in a gang called The Disciples
High on crack, totin’ a machine gun
Hurricane Annie ripped the ceiling of a church
And killed everyone inside
U turn on the telly and every other story
Is tellin’ U somebody died
But if a night falls and a bomb falls
Will anybody see the dawn
It’s silly, no?
When a rocket blows
And everybody still wants 2 fly
As the title track to The Prince of Funk’s 1987 album, Sign o’ the Times, this song took another serious tone, addressing social fears and broader homeland security threats — before we really even knew what to call them. Perhaps the most prescient of the song list here, it’s fascinating to compare the then and the now. Those verses? Disease (then, HIV/AIDs), violence and drugs (then, the War on Drugs), natural disaster, bombs…it’s all there. And it’s 1987. I’m scouring the lyrics for any sign of advice, but no dance party recommendations. This is becoming concerning.
And I saw an angel come down unto me
In her hand she holds the very key
Words of compassion, words of peace
And in the distance an army’s marching feet
(one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four)
But behold, we will watch them fall
One of the tougher ones to crack, “7” is from Prince’s Love Symbol Album in 1992 (bonus detail: the next year, Prince becomes “The Artist Formerly Known As…” and uses the symbol from this album in place of his name, as a result of a dispute over the use of his name with his record label). Theories on the meaning of this song vary widely, from inspiration by the Bible’s Book of Revelation, the number seven’s recurrence, the seven churches, seven major world religions, seven emotions, and a contest of seven lovers. What is patently clear is the religious overtone, with all of its moral paradox and ethical dilemma, and the power of belief in a cause beyond earthly reward. Well, this is where we talk about religious terrorism, and we’re officially beyond the 80s dance party response. When does faith become religious extremism? When do we act? And why? (Here, a listen to “When Doves Cry” might also be called for.)
Which takes us to our Number One Prince song you didn’t know was about Homeland Security. Actually, on second thought, let’s change the title of the post for just this one to “The Prince Song You Definitely, Absolutely, 100% KNOW is About Homeland Security.”
1. “Cinnamon Girl”
Cinnamon girl, mixed heritage
Never knew the meaning of color lines.
9/11 turned that all around,
When she got accused of this crime.
So began the mass illusion,
War on terror alibi.
What’s the use when the God of Confusion
Keeps on telling the same lie?
No room for doubt. Obviously not to be confused with Neil Young’s song of the same name, Prince’s song is from his 2004 album Musicology. Controversial at its release (equally due to its message as its highly evocative accompanying music video, which depicts a bullied young Arab-American girl dreaming of setting off a suicide bomb in an airport), the song explicitly criticized rising Arab-American discrimination in the aftermath of 9/11 and the expanding Global War on Terror. “Cinnamon Girl” questioned whether xenophobia, vengeance, and rampant political posturing was provoking an escalated and even more potentially horrific response. Explicit, indeed, and quite a different apocalyptic concern than we began this list with. No, Prince isn’t asking us to dance this time — but he’s certainly trying to make us move.
Do you have another song from High Priest of Pop you think belongs on the Homeland Security Mixtape, Prince Memorial Edition? Tell us your choice, and why, in the comments.
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