As I mentioned earlier this week, I was excited to find my old Kindle and the first book I read was Michaelangelo Matos’ 33 1/3 book on Prince’s Sign O’ The Times album.
Prince’s estate remastered and reissued the album last year and I admit to finally sitting down and listening to the album in its entirety. Artists who want to release double albums are ambitious and that’s a positive thing but I’m not sure they take into account the time it takes for the listener to really listen to the whole thing.
That being said, while reading Matos’ book, I was reminded of the song that stood out the most to me on this recent reissue, The Cross. I can’t explain why I never really paid attention to the song on earlier editions of the album but maybe it took a pandemic and a beautifully remastered reissue to make me finally fall in love with the song.
Matos does a great job of explaining why the song stands out so well…
“It’s a gospel song sung and played like a rock song, and it’s one of the most intensely committed things Prince has ever recorded…The most common description of The Cross is ‘the Staple Singers fronting the Velvet Underground.’ Who knows how much Prince listened to the Velvets: maybe more than I’d suspect, maybe never at all. It doesn’t matter, because if you replace Pops Staple’s voice with Otis Redding’s that description is dead on.”
I’d like to take a minute to let a few sonic ideas sink in…
First, I love both the Staple Singers and Velvet Underground and the idea that someone would mash them into one group makes my brain crave that imaginary sound like it craves ice cream after every meal. Just take the VU and Nico album…imagine Mavis singing Sunday Morning and then Pops taking over lead vocals on I’m Waiting For The Man and then back to the female leads for Femme Fatale, and on and on.
And now I’m thinking about Otis Redding singing a Velvet song. If we stick with the Nico album, I can hear him singing There She Goes. What would it sound like for Otis to sing Pale Blue Eyes from the self titled album? Or maybe I’m Set Free?
Actually, a song like I’m Set Free reminds me a lot of Prince’s The Cross with the slow build and consistent drums which brings me back to the original topic of this post.
Growing up in a religious household, we didn’t listen to Prince due to his flamboyant sexuality. So I find myself listening to Prince more as an adult and always juxtaposing his sexual songs with his religious songs. I remember growing up in the church and people desperately trying to claim U2 as a Christian band so we would be allowed to listen to them. You would comb through lyrics to prove your point in the hopes you could have their albums in your collection.
No one tried to claim Prince as a Christian artist and yet his songs about his beliefs are often much more straight forward, just like The Cross. Prince would later become a devout Jehovah’s Witness in 2001, but that was years after the release of Sign O’ The Times.
It’s always a welcome surprise to hear The Cross as it comes near the end of the double album. It’s a welcome change in pace and message from Prince. It will always be one of my favorite songs of his.
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