Chart Week: March 26, 1983
Song: “Little Red Corvette” – Prince
Chart Position: #27, 5th week on the chart. Peaked at #6 for two weeks in May.
A few weeks back I heard Prince’s first Top 40 hit, “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and wondered when the first time I ever heard a Prince song was. “Lover” reached #11 in 1979, and the radio stations my parents listened to at the time were likely to have had it in their rotations. So odds are I heard it back when it was first released. Later in the early 80s, Prince had several songs that charted on the R&B lists, and my mom spent a good chunk of her radio time listening to our local R&B station. There’s a good chance I heard songs like “Controversy” and “Uptown,” too.
While I have some very vague, and most likely imagined, memories of “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” as I thought it through I decided “Little Red Corvette” was the first Prince song I ever heard. The Music Gods were listening because this countdown played later that week. What became Prince’s biggest pre-Purple Rain song jumped ten spots back in that week of 1983.
I like imagining the first time people heard artists that took music and shifted it in dramatically new directions. Teenage girls who were enamored with the Beatles putting Revolver on for the first time. Disaffected youth in London’s tower block apartments putting on The Clash for the first time in 1977. Suburban white kids listening to It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back in 1988. I imagine their little minds being blown by music they probably couldn’t totally comprehend or appreciate. I know some of them are turned off by these new sounds, but others take to them immediately and have their worlds opened up because of it.
I and a lot of my friends had that experience with Prince in 1983. We were all bumping up against puberty, bodies changing, hormones raging, minds going down sometimes disturbing paths. And then this song and the album 1999 showed up to work us into a frenzy. There was something in that slow, synth fade up that begins “Corvette” that triggered all our hormonal antennae and had us sitting up, blocking out distractions, and paying very close attention to what followed.
“Little Red Corvette” is probably the first song that I immediately knew was about sex. Not sweet and tender kisses. Not holding hands. Not even making sweet love. Nope, this weird cat Prince was singing about something I had no comprehension of: hot, sweaty, crazy-ass S-E-X. But I knew I wanted to know about it. Maybe with that cute girl who had a locker next to mine, or the girl who sat across from me in art class and always laughed at my dumb jokes. I remember thinking there was some secret message deep in Prince’s music that would unlock all the secrets to this amazing new world that involved getting naked with girls.
Eventually I bought the 1999 album and my mind was further blown. Whatever subtleties Prince used on “Corvette” and “1999” were totally shed on songs like “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and “Lady Cab Driver.” I could get away with playing side one of the extended cassette when my mom was around. But side two? Hell no. But I made sure to listen to it often, and carefully, when she wasn’t around.
These awakenings are inevitable, regardless of era we grow up in or the music we listen to. There’s a direct connection between the flood of hormones and the music of our youth that combine to make us look at the world a little, no, a lot differently than we had before.
There’s a whole generation of us who have Prince to thank for helping us to make that leap.
This song also has one of the sneakily greatest lyrics of the 80s in it. However, most folks missed it until years later as the line was cut from the radio version. Today you’ll almost always hear the album version played, but in 1983 saving those nearly two minutes was more important and it rarely got radio time. Of course, America probably wasn’t ready for what Prince shared at the end of the album version:
Girl, you got an ass like I never seen, ow!
And the ride
I say the ride is so smooth, you must be a limousine
I remember rolling on the floor the first time I heard those words. When I got older I realized as much as young Prince tried to camouflage his horniness in metaphor and misdirection, he couldn’t complete hold it back. These lines are like the hyper kid who has behaved all the way through a church service and then loses it just before its end.
- Hello 17 year old me! ↩