Behind The Song: Prince's Kiss

06/03/2011
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One of our most popular features on antiMusic is our Singled Out series where musicians tell us the story behind their new songs. Today we doing something a little different, presenting the story behind a classic song. The tale of Prince's hit "Kiss" comes to us from the new book 'Prince: Chaos, Disorder, and Revolution?' by Jason Draper. We'll have a review of the book next week but today, Jason shares the story behind "Kiss":

Prince took over the three studios at Sunset Sound while working on the [Parade] album. He used one for Parade, another for his side project The Family, and a third for an album by the Minneapolis band Mazarati, which was being produced by David Rivkin and Revolution bassist Mark Brown. Legend has it that he had cut the first four songs for Parade on the spot, in sequence: that he sat down behind the drums, asked Susan Rogers to roll the tape, and played through all of the drum tracks, using only his handwritten lyrics as guidance, then added the bass, keyboards, guitars, and vocals to each of the songs, one after another.

For most listeners, the highlight of Prince's 1986 album Parade was "Kiss," a song Prince almost didn't record. His cavalier attitude to giving away new songs (see "Manic Monday," reclaimed from Apollonia 6 during the Purple Rain/Apollonia 6 sessions, but unreleased until Prince gave it to The Bangles) made him believe that he could write hit tracks for just about anybody, even if he hadn't masterminded the band's image and sound.
Next door to where Prince was recording Parade, Revolution bassist Mark Brown and engineer Bobby Rivkin were working on a self-titled album by a group known as Mazarati. Brown had started playing with the group on the Minneapolis club scene during a break from touring with The Revolution. Not wanting to end up the same way as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (who were fired by Prince for moonlighting with another band), he wore a mask on stage and called himself The Shadow. After a while, however, Brown knew that he would have to come clean to Prince or face serious consequences. But when he did, Prince surprised him by deciding to take Mazarati under his wing.

Prince was too busy to produce the group himself, but donated one song to the project, "100 MPH." Then, as the sessions continued, he offered them another unused track: a bluesy acoustic number called "Kiss." Rivkin and Brown sat up all night wondering what to do with the song before opting to give it a strident funk backing. When Prince returned to Sunset Sound the following day, he quickly changed his mind about the song's worth. "It's too good for you guys," he told them. "I'm taking it back." He had originally suggested that he would reward Rivkin for his efforts by giving him a co-production credit, but eventually listed him only as the song's arranger, even though the main elements of the song originated from Rivkin and Brown's version. ("Terence Trent D'Arby asked me where "Kiss" came from," Prince later boasted. "I have no idea. Nothing in it makes sense. Nothing! The hi-hat doesn't make sense.")

Before long, Prince had completed the minimal final version of "Kiss," stripping away a lot of the detail Rivkin and Brown had added, and chose it to be the first single from Parade. Warner Bros. felt that it sounded like a demo, but Prince was determined to release it without any changes, and he was right to. A taut, sparse blend of funk and R&B, sung in a falsetto Curtis Mayfield would have envied, "Kiss" would become Prince's first transatlantic Number One hit since "Let's Go Crazy." (The other song he had written for Mazarati fared rather less well. "100 MPH" stalled at Number 19 on the R&B chart, and didn't even register on the Hot 100.)

"I remember the first time that I heard the song 'Kiss'" guitarist Dez Dickerson later recalled, "really feeling that he had managed to recapture some of that raw R&B emotion from some of his earlier music." The promo video is equally stripped-down. It features just Prince, Wendy Melvoin, and an unidentified female dancer, proving just how valuable Melvoin was to Prince at the time.

From Prince: Chaos, Disorder and Revolution, (c) 2011 by Jason Draper. Published by Backbeat Books, an imprint of Hal Leonard. ISBN: 978-0-87930-961-9. $19.99. Reprinted with permission. www.backbeatbooks.com

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