Number Ones: #131


  • PRINCE Alphabet St. (Paisley Park)
  • Week Ending 7th May 1988
  • 2 Weeks At #1

Following #1s on my Top 40 in 1984, 1985 and 1986, Prince failed to reach the summit with any of the singles from Sign O The Times in 1987. No fewer than three of them made #2 (the title track, If I Was Your Girlfriend and I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man), while U Got The Look got to #3 in a very congested period (Pet Shop Boys, U2, Yello and Depeche Mode all vying for honours). However, this may have been part of a wider issue with my personal charts at the time, since many of my favourite albums in 1987 could tell much the same story (Hysteria, Solitude Standing, Tango In The Night and most ridiculously of all, Actually).

Come the next dose of Royal genius, a breezy jam centred on a simple guitar lick and a synth drum rhythm that’s typically just enough behind the beat to create a uniquely Prince sound, would the same fate befall it?


Prince being Prince, and this being the late 1980s of course, there was precious time to stand still. A new album, a new era, was now a yearly treat and the period from early 1986 through to 1988 proved exceptionally fertile (and not a little complicated). From an official perspective alone, it was prolific enough with Parade leading almost straight into Sign O The Times, and Lovesexy coming just over 12 months after that.  Yet the 1985/86 sessions had yielded all manner of possible releases, from single to double – to even treble – albums with titles such as Dream Factory and Crystal Ball.

Material from all of these, plus a whole project under his Camille alter-ego, provided the bulk of the songs for what eventually became a downsized Sign O The Times, with the rest confined to bootlegs or locked away in The Vault at his Paisley Park HQ (at least until the Super Deluxe Edition’s arrival in 2020). So the picture painted by what actually got released to the public didn’t always match the activity going on in the studio; Prince moulding, trimming and refashioning his work in a mind-boggling variety of ways.

At face value, the run of albums from Sign… to the infamous Black Album and then the apparent volte-face to Lovesexy‘s overwhelming brightness tells a story of an artist’s muse becoming dark, darker still, and then emerging from the aftermath in a more playful positivity. In truth, these conflicting aspects of his work were always there, side by side, it’s just the way he chose to present them to us (perhaps with some interference from Warner Brothers) which shaped the narrative.

Nonetheless, Alphabet St. – the first new music from Prince in 1988, was a surprise in its simplicity and upbeat tone. Zany, idiosyncratic….and very funny….a little bit sly, a little bit naughty, and yet it could almost pass for something from Sesame Street when the chorus kicks in. So clever, it’s absurd!

The 7″ mix runs to barely 3 minutes, making its entrance with a defiant “NO!” before the beat kicks in, and if there is more enjoyable example of Prince’s effortless pop genius in his entire catalogue then I haven’t heard it.

Alphabet St. did rather raise my expectations for the album it trailed; Lovesexy could never be another Sign…, and it obviously lacked the intrigue surrounding The Black Album, which would have been a guerrilla release to catch everyone by surprise. It felt like a deliberate shift in tone, one that worked perfectly on the single but strangely palled over the course of 45 relentless minutes. The happy chaos of Alphabet St. itself was stretched to almost double its 7″ length. Horny ponies are duly checked.

The cluttered-but-shiny production, the cartoonish vibe, the sense of barely-contained sonic indulgence….when it worked, the results were wonderful (I Wish U Heaven is suitably sublime), but all too often it ended up a bit of a mess (Dance On, Glam Slam). The excessive approach almost does for the title track, where a frenetic orgy of silly high-pitched voices and heavy breathing threaten to derail a promising Little Red Corvette-type pop/rock gem.

Lovesexy was the point where my Prince fandom began to wobble. Not my loyalty, or hope that the next record would be a return to unparalleled brilliance, but how I responded to his music and the reduced impact each album would have for me. It’s actually a better record than I thought it was in 1988, and I prefer it to almost everything that came after (aside from Diamonds & Pearls, perhaps).

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