There are certain things that I will just forever associate with the eighties.
Flouro. Paisley Park. Those keyboards that looked like guitars. Plastic bangles. The Bangles.
With Manic Monday pretty much all of those things collided, coming together and becoming something magical. But the real magic behind it was of course the musical genius that is Prince.
Last night Prince staged the first of his hastily arranged Piano and a microphone shows in Australia in Melbourne. After having cancelled a series of European dates in the wake of the Paris attacks, the Purple one found space in his schedule for the ocean continent and his contingent of fans down there.
I once saw Prince in concert but it was in the nineties, around the time of Diamonds and Pearls. His music was still such a prolific part of popular music culture back then that it was almost a safe bet that you'd loved (or loathed) something he'd recorded. Diamonds and Pearls was one of those albums of his that was everywhere but one which didn't feel like one particular thing working as a whole. It worked in parts of course, but it also had parts that worked against itself.
Prince's stamp over music back then was so prolific that his boutique label, Paisley Park was almost as well known as he was. Paisley Park has essentially been a vehicle for his own music, but over the years a lot of other artists have been associated, particularly the female acts that Prince mentored or developed. You know, Sheila E, Jill Jones and Apollonia and all the alumni of the Revolution, New Power Generation blah blah blah.
Although Paisley Park was a world of its own (you know you wanted to get caught up in the stuff happening there, and not at Michael Jackson's Neverland), you didn't necessarily need to be signed to Paisley Park in order to benefit from it or Prince's interest. The interesting thing about some of Prince's music is that it was often most powerful when brought to life by female vocalists. His lyrics, often incredibly sexual in the late seventies and early eighties, were like reflections of a different kind of male sexuality, with its kinks and all. They were powerful and evocative, and seemed to be a huge contributing factor to how someone of such diminutive stature could seem so larger than life, especially to female audiences.
That said, it was often when they were sung from a female perspective that they took another layer. Think of what Cyndi Lauper did with When You Were Mine. What Martika did with Love, Thy Will Be Done or what Sinead O'Connor of course did with Nothing Compares 2 U. The collaborations weren't always successful though - Madonna and Prince's Love Song divides a lot of her longtime fans and there are a lot of artists who got the mentoring but not the cultural impact that should've come with it.
Back then, the angle that seemed to come with a lot of Prince's proteges was the backstory. Often it was the relationships that seemed to convince someone of Prince's talent to get behind someone who wanted to make it on their own. Otherwise you get the feeling that he was more than happy to bring the best talents into the fold of whatever musical outfit he was fronting.
Vanity 6 was one of Prince's first protege projects. Vanity 6's lead singer was, Vanity AKA Denise Vanity Matthews-Smith. Prince produced their first (and only) album and they managed to make some inroads particularly with Nasty Girl which was a Prince styled funk/dance piece. When Vanity left the band, Apollonia was recruited and Vanity 6 became Apollonia 6 (who got their own Prince styled funk/dance piece - Sex Shooter a few years later). Vanity kept on at music for a while on her own after that point.
Additionally, as was often the done thing in the eighties, Vanity worked in film and as a model even if she was more prominently associated with the music biz. She had a troubled time of it and eventually turned her back on the entertainment biz in favour of her religious beliefs and evangelism.
Sadly, she passed away yesterday, and Prince, who was informed just prior to taking the stage in Melbourne dedicated much of his show to her last night. There are a number of tributes, largely from eighties acts doing the rounds online today - among them, Billy Idol. But for a review and more on how things went down last night at Melbourne's State theatre visit here.
Rolling Stone has a brief article about Vanity and her passing. And regardless of the trolling, smart ass comments in the comments section on Rolling Stone, I say RIP Vanity.
Vanity's music perhaps wasn't enduring, but she, with Prince's help, nonetheless played her part in contributing to the change that a new generation of female dance/pop acts championed as of the beginning of the eighties.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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