Thanks to @deejayumb and @EdgarkKruize for inviting me to do this. This is my first ever Twitter thread so apologies in advance if anything goes wrong. I’m hear to talk about Prince’s ‘Slow Love’ from Sign o’ the Times. #SOTTDELUXE #PrinceTwitterThread.
One of the things that’s always fascinated me about Prince’s career is his co-written songs. We often talk about songs he wrote for other artists, and he famously covered a variety of other artists songs, but the co-written songs in his oeuvre are more rarely discussed.
But there are a number of them, from his first single, ‘Soft and Wet’, co-written written with Chris Moon…
To much later on in his career, like ‘Hide the Bone’ co-written by Brenda Lee Eager and Hilliard Wilson…
I guess the big question is why would someone so prolific need (or desire) to co-write songs. I’m not talking about the music, which he often developed in rehearsal with the help of his incredible bands, but the lyrics, which, for the most part, he wrote alone.
What is it about these lyricists that drew Prince’s attention? Obviously with Chris Moon, it’s simple. He gave him studio time and helped set him off in the direction he remained following for the rest of his career.
With Eager and Wilson, he noticed it via their work for his friend Mavis Staples and was at a point in his career where he was trying to amass as much material as possible.
There are two lyrical collaborations on Sign o’ the Times, both on Side Two. When I was a kid and first heard the album, this was my favourite side.
But I think most Prince fans have experienced the strange process where every side of SOTT becomes your favourite side in turn. For a long time it was Side 3, now it’s 4.
The first lyrical collaboration is with Susannah Melvoin, credited only as Susannah, ‘Starfish and Coffee’. The second, coming straight after, is ‘Slow Love’, co-written by Carole Davis.
He was also playing around with lyrical ideas with Sheena Easton, which prompted the B-side ‘La, La, La, He, He, Hee’…
There are a lot of mysterious names in the Sign o’ the Times credits. But as a teenage cinephile almost as obsessive about VHS tapes as I was about music Carole Davis’s name was instantly familiar
Carole Davis is an actress who appeared in The Flamingo Kid, and in the same year that Sign o’ the Times was released, Mannequin.
When I wrote my book about Prince, I contacted Carole to ask her about the process of collaboration and how it began.
She told me she met him while auditioning for Purple Rain.”They offered me the role, but at the time I’d just come off The Flamingo Kid and the script was only ten pages long and had page after page of what looked like porn. In the movie business, Prince was completely unknown.”
At the time I was writing the book, that ten page script/treatment wasn’t widely available. IBut it later showed up, somewhat bizarrely in my opinion, as part of Prince’s posthumous biography The Beautiful Ones.
In this treatment, Prince playing a man who alternates between “screaming the book of Revelation” to someone and being “drunk in the corner of some bar—masturbating.” He also planned to play the part of both his mother and father.
Let’s face it, some of Prince’s ideas were batshit. Though I still like the idea of this movie. If he’d never met co-writer William Blinn, maybe we’d think of Prince as some nutty Brian De Palma wannabe, at least as far as film was concerned.
It’s easy to see why Davis ducked the movie and gave him a song instead. She told me, “It wasn’t much of a collaboration. I wrote the song and he wanted to buy it from me. He had his lawyers call me, and they offered me $25,000 to buy the song outright.”
She refused, and… “they got back to me about a month later to give me 50 percent of publishing and writers (writing credit), which I accepted for the opportunity to appear on a Prince record.”
What was it that drew Prince to this song, and secondly, what position does it fulfil in the album as a whole?
Obviously the simplest answer is that it is a song about sex, sung from a female perspective, at least until Prince rewrote it (though he didn’t change much: the main alteration being switching from “the man on the moon” to “the man in the moon”)
You can hear Carole’s version on her Heart of Gold album. From 22:26 here:
But it’s also about time. Prince was obsessed with time. Even if he later came to believe it was “a trick”. Obviously, it’s there even in the album’s title.
But also in plenty of other songs from throughout his career: ‘Still Would Stand All Time’, ‘Tick Tick Bang’, ‘Breakfast Can Wait’, ‘Time’, ‘Manic Monday’…the list goes on and on.
Lyrics too: “Baby, you’re much too fast…”. The concept of ‘Slow Love’ was bound to appeal, especially as it includes a lover who’s better than his “race-car driver” rivals. In some ways, it’s lyrically similar to ‘Little Red Corvette’.
On the song ‘Adore’ at the end of SOTT, Prince sings about the end of time…
So that’s what attracted him, but what role does it play in Sign o’ the Times? This is just a pet theory and it doesn’t fully hold but for me Side 1: the party Side 2: Love and Sex Side 3: Psychosexual drama Side: 4 Religion and romantic devotion
‘Slow Love’ stands in contrast to ‘It’ and ‘Hot Thing’, but he also hasn’t quite reached the commitment shown in ‘Forever in My Life’ yet. It’s about a lover trying to prove himself among rivals, a theme that fits with Prince’s early lyrics but disappears from his later songs.
It also has an important significance on the record musically. One of the great losses during the editing process for Sign o’ the Times was all the arrangements by Dr. Clare Fischer (on songs that didn’t make the album but are now in the box-set).
‘Slow Love’ is the last remaining example of Fischer’s arrangements on the finished album. As Clare’s son Brent told me:
“‘Slow Love’ was very fun for my father to work on, simply because he likes those kinds of bluesy ballads, and he’s done a lot of work like that as a jazz musician, playing on somebody else’s record as a keyboard artist or playing on his own recordings…”
“…So he got to put into play all of those great influences—Ellington, Strayhorn, and also a little bit of Shostakovich too.”
The Ellington and Strayhorn mention here is fascinating when we get to the live performance version on the Utrecht part of the box-set as ‘Slow Love’ leads into ‘Take the A-Train’, the famous Duke Ellington number written by Billy Strayhorn.
That live version is surprisingly elaborate, Prince doing the same sort of gospel transformation thing he’d later do with ‘Satisfied’: “Shut the door, baby…”. Over the five minutes you can hear all of those influences Brent mentioned.
All the Sign o’ the Times songs have a strange afterlife, and he often revisited them during subsequent relationships. He considered ‘Slow Love’ for Mayte to sing while working on her album. I’m not sure if that version circulates but I don’t think I’ve heard it.
I’m not sure how much more Prince thought of this song after that but I’m pretty sure it must have helped inspire the later track ‘One Kiss at a Time’ though.
(P.S. Apologies for typos and mistakes. The Beautiful Ones is an autobiography obviously not a biography…but hey, at least I’ve learned how to do a thread. I’m even more impressed by @deejayumb and @EdgarKruize and the rest of their team now.