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Aug 11 2017

Vanity 6: sex sells, or something more?

Introduction

Vanity 6 - Logo (last.fm)

To the attentive listener, 1982 was the first year that clearly demonstrated how much music Prince could produce. In that year 3 albums containing Prince music were released, one being a double-album. At the time it was not widely known (yet) that Prince released his own music using aliases.

Just as the year 1987, 1982 will also be reviewed over multiple articles. Today part 1: Vanity 6.

Vanity 6 (tumblr.com)

Vanity 6

Sex

From Prince-album Dirty Mind on, sex was an important component within Prince’s music. That album contained the first sexually explicit songs, like Head and Sister. That was continued on album Controversy with Private Joy and Jack U Off. The album also contained insights into his theories regarding sex in the song Sexuality: a plea for all who really want to live in freedom; through sex people can grow, truly be free and find God.

The Hookers (prince.org)

The Hookers

As early as 1981 Prince started work on a new project, an all-female-group, that was to be called The Hookers (to be placed opposite of the ‘pimps’ of The Time). The ‘band’ consisted of Jamie Shoop, Susan Moonsie and Loreen Moonsie. The entire concept was Prince’s idea. Several songs were recorded for an album, but work was paused when the Controversy tour started. The wife of his set- and lighting-designer Roy Bennett, Brenda, was on tour with her husband and was asked by Prince whether she wanted to be a part of his female group.

Vanity

Vanity 6 - Promo (qebvlog.tv)

Vanity 6 – Promo

Yet, something was still lacking: a female version of The Time’s Morris Day. Someone with the same apparent self-assurance, bravado and cool. In January of 1982 Prince met the Canadian Denise Matthews: at last a female version. Both of them felt they saw themselves in each other. Denise was also asked to join the female group.

Prince originally wanted to rename Denise to Vagina. She was less convinced, however, which led to the name Vanity being proposed. The name of the group changed accordingly: Vanity 6. The concept remained intact. Contrary to what was perceived as ‘normal’ for a female group, Vanity 6 had a distinct sexual image, which left nothing to the imagination. The 3 members (Jamie Shoop and Loreen Moonsie had left) wore lingerie on album and single covers, as well as on stage.

Vanity immediately went along on tour with Prince and a romance quickly developed. After the Controversy tour the new project became a priority. In a very short period of time 9 new songs were written and recorded.

Vanity 6, the album

Vanity 6 - Vanity 6 (youtube.com)

Vanity 6 – Vanity 6

On August 11th 1982, 35 years ago (!), the debut (and final) album by Vanity 6, named Vanity 6, was released. the songs are accredited to Vanity 6 and The Time members. Production and arrangements are done by The Starr Company. In reality 7 of the songs are composed by Prince, of which 2 songs were written in conjunction with Terry Lewis and Jesse Johnson (both part of The Time). The song He’s So Dull is by Dez Dickerson (guitar-player in Prince’s live-band at the time). Vanity 6 is the second satellite act formed and thought up by Prince. The concept, the look, the music and the performers were all selected by Prince. The way of working was identical as well. Prince recorded all the music, played all the instruments and gave directions towards the vocals.

Music

Musically, the album is far removed from the Controversy sound. Electronics, drumcomputers and synthesizers are prominently present and (in hindsight) seem to look ahead to 1999. In contrast to what the image of the band seems to suggest, the album is highly enjoyable. The music is upbeat, happy and varied. And the lyrics are often very funny and, with Nasty Girl, it contains one of the best Prince songs. The song is a typical Minneapolis sound production and has been a major influence on a lot of the (19)80’s music.

Lyrics

But the lyrics drew a lot of the attention. Particularly opening song Nasty Girl in which Vanity bluntly states I need seven inches or more, the minimal requirements for a man. The reviews at the time were remarkably positive, citing the combination of humor, female supremacy and (despite the electronic music) soul. The feminine aspect was revered. Which is kinda funny, given the fact it all came from Prince and the fantasy behind the entire concept came from a (obvious) male point of view.

Vanity 6 - Video (youtube.com)

Vanity 6 – Video

As is the case in much of Prince’s work, the woman is dominant and (very) clear about her wishes and judgment. Clearly dissatisfied with her lover’s ‘abilities’ Nasty Girl ends with Vanity’s remark Uh, is that it? Wake me when you’re done. I guess you’ll be the only one having fun. Drive Me Wild is about a woman who exactly knows what she wants and has no problem relating that. The funniest song on the album is If A Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up), which is basically a phone-call (that ends in a fight) between Vanity and another woman (played by Prince) about their (common) boyfriend Jimmy. After a couple of rude remarks, Brenda has had enough and takes over the phone from Vanity and a long rant commences:

Hey- that’s gone too far, here gimme the phone
Hey tramp take a bath in puke
What’s more you can kiss where the sun dont shine
And if that dont work- we can duke!
You see the only kind of man that would play with you is one that plays with himself
None my friends can stand the sight of you, much less the smell
If I wasn’t a lady I take my money and buy you a brand new face
Then I’d take my underwear and stick ’em in your mouth and you’d love cause you got no taste
And if that don’t work, call back your dead daddy and show him what you look like now
Honey I’d bet he’d never come back cause you’re one ugly cow

© If A Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up), Vanity 6, 1982

Make-Up is a minimalist song, in which Susan identifies different types of make-up and, in a robotic way, describes what she does before going out for the night. Bite The Beat turns out to be Head in the female form: when I first saw your teeth I knew you were qualifiedit tastes like caviar. The closing ballad 3 x 2 = 6 is the most serious song on the album and is about insecurity in love and vulnerability.

Success

Given the sexual nature, at the time, the album was not played frequently on (American) radio. The singles never were hits, but the album nevertheless sold around 500,000 copies. Not bad for a debut album.

Songs

All songs written by Prince (accredited to Vanity 6), unless stated otherwise.

Vanity 6 - Nasty Girl (single) (princevault.com)

Vanity 6 – Nasty Girl (single)

  • Nasty Girl
  • Wet Dream
  • Drive Me Wild *
  • He’s So Dull **
  • If A Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up) ***
  • Make-Up *
  • Bite The Beat ****
  • 3 x 2 = 6 *****

 

* Composed by Prince (accredited to Susan Moonsie)
** Composed by Dez Dickerson (accredited to Dez Dickerson and Vanity 6)
*** Composed by Prince and Terry Lewis (accredited to Terry Lewis and Vanity 6)
**** Composed by Prince (lyrics, accredited to Brenda Bennett) and Jesse Johnson (music)
***** Composed by Prince (accredited to Vanity)

Review

The Vanity 6 album contains music as Prince had never sounded before (or since). He did many different (and new) things and was pioneering his use of the Linn LM-1 drummachine, lots of synthesizers and other sounds. Particularly Drive me Wild and Make-Up are great futuristic songs, containing a robotic way of portraying the lyrics. The guitar is rarely used on the album. However, the extended version of Drive Me Wild contains glorious screeching guitars by Prince. This version was only made available on a (vinyl) maxi-single. If A Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up) (a song that musically fits The Time) and of course Nasty Girl are two other highlights on an album that is way better than, based on the image, expected. Should you come across it: listen!

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Follow-up

Vanity 6 - Live (prince.org)

Vanity 6 – Live

Vanity 6 went along on the 1999 tour, also called the Triple Threat Tour. Vanity 6 opened the show with a 20 minute set. The act was, particularly in the live setting, judged on looks and ‘show’. The audience primarily liked the show, but didn’t take it all too seriously and their ‘message’ (if there was one) failed to come across. The Time played the music for Vanity 6 from behind a curtain. The Time followed the Vanity 6 set, to be followed by the main attraction of the evening, Prince, who closed the evening. Reviews for the Vanity 6 show were predominantly negative. The song and dance was deemed inferior. The group’s charisma was completely absent.

Vibrator

Rolling Stone cover Prince's Hot Rock (texture.com)

Rolling Stone cover Prince’s Hot Rock

After the tour in 1983, work started on the sequel to the debut. A great number of songs was recorded, among which top-songs like G-Spot (which ended up on Jill Jones‘ album), Manic Monday (later given to The Bangles) and 17 Days (in 1984 to be released as a B-side by Prince himself) and the (among Prince-music enthusiasts well-known) outtake Vibrator, in which Vanity is in search of batteries for her “body massager”. The songs contains some highly entertaining skits and ends with Vanity reaching her climax. Vanity’s moaning and groaning was later (partly) used in other songs, among which 7 on the Madhouse album 8 and in the song Orgasm off the 1994 Come album.

However, the follow-up for the debut album would never materialize, because Vanity left the Prince camp in the summer of 1983. Vanity was replaced by Patrica Kotero (renamed to Apollonia), Vanity 6 turned into Apollonia 6, but Prince was no longer committed to the project. The Apollonia 6 album suffered consequently and wasn’t any good.

Vanity’s passing

Denise Matthews - Blame It On Vanity (amazon.com)

Denise Matthews – Blame It On Vanity

After leaving Prince, Vanity had a fairly successful solo career as a singer and actress, but she had major issues with drugs. In 1994 she nearly died from an overdose on crack cocaine. After a lengthy recovery she became a “born again Christian”. She has never used the name Vanity again since, except for her 2010 autobiography Blame It On Vanity. Approximately two months prior to Prince’s own passing, Vanity died on February 15th 2016, due to complications of her kidney disease, which she contracted as a result of her overdose. Just as Prince, Vanity was only 57 years old at the time of her death.

In closing

Despite criticism that Vanity 6 was nothing more than Prince living out his (male) fantasy, the members of the group thought differently. The women are, lyrically, in charge. Musically, however, it was all Prince, as he was in control. But that was the way Prince operated. This modus operandi was used for The Time as well. During the same month (August of 1982) The Time would release their second album. More on that in two weeks.

Do you know the Vanity 6 album? What’s your take on it? Let me know!

 

8 comments

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  1. Betty joe

    I miss vanity and prince…

    1. A Pop Life (Erwin Barendregt)

      Definitely miss Prince…

  2. Laura

    Nasty Girl was a huge RnB hit. So I am not sure why you would say the songs received no airplay. I certainly remember hearing Nasty Girl on the radio

    1. A Pop Life (Erwin Barendregt)

      Thanks for your reply. I don’t state it never got played. I state the album wasn’t frequently played on the radio. But I might be wrong of course. I will check my (re)sources. Thanks again for replying. I do appreciate that.

  3. KAREN

    heard nasty girl today on the radio. great summary/review.

    1. A Pop Life (Erwin Barendregt)

      Thanks for the reply. Funny that by today’s standards, Vanity 6 seems kind of tame.

  4. KAREN

    Nasty girl gets regular airplay on mix 92.3 fm in Detroit. I agree ‘nasty girl’ was the best song Prince ever wrote/produced. The Vanity 6 album is truly a rare gem that I can listen to without skipping a beat. I have never heard 1 of Vanity’s songs on radio as a solo artist? She was like the Millie Jackson of the 80’s.

    1. A Pop Life (Erwin Barendregt)

      Thanks! Over here in The Netherlands, I doubt Vanity solo songs have ever been played on the radio. With the exception of the Jill Jones album, the Prince satellite albums were never that popular over here. Around the Purpke Rain album some hits made the charts, but that’s it.

Compliments/remarks? I´d love to hear them!