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Not merely a genius musician, Prince was a hugely gifted and evocative lyricist, able in the space of one album to oscillate from the vulgar to the sublime, the political to the playful. He credited Joni Mitchell, a major influence, with teaching him how to incorporate colors in his lyrics — so it’s the “Big Yellow Taxi” singer to whom we can credit “Purple Rain.”
Along the way, he developed his own Princely language. Symbols, like a drawing of an eye, appeared in place of “I.” You was invariably spelled as “U.” And what of those alien words — some portmanteaus, some acronyms, some seemingly gibberish — that appear throughout his oeuvre? Here is a guide to 10 of them.
The title of the fifth song off his his 1982 album 1999 stands for the holy quartet of “Dance, Music, Sex, Romance.” The song’s place in the apocalyptic concept album, which played on Cold War fears of nuclear annihilation, is to lighten things up a little. “D.M.S.R.” encourages the world to party it up before the bombs rain down. It was ultimately cut from the C.D. version to fit 1999 on a single disc.
Shockadelica is a mythical female witch figure who appears in Sign o’ the Times, embodied onstage by onetime Prince protege Cat. She is depicted in the “U Got the Look” music video as a jealous she-devil who snatches Prince away from Sheena Easton.
A term coined for Prince’s never-released (but much-bootlegged) The Black Album, it’s meant to conjure a heightened state of funky-lusty consciousness, likely achieved through the imbibing of … squirrel blood? That’s how the lyrics go, at least: “The blood is real good if u drink it real fast.”
Prince’s 10th studio album, whose cover depicts him perching naked on a bed of giant orchids, was a direct artistic response to his previous effort, The Black Album, which was withdrawn at the last minute after being deemed too dark. The gospel-inflected 1988 album reflected Prince’s newfound spirituality, love, joy and optimism, a feeling encapsulated by its title: Lovesexy.
Prince developed several alter egos over the years. None was more intriguing than Camille, who debuted on Sign o’ the Times in sexually charged songs like “Housequake” and “U Got the Look.” No gender is ever assigned the character — Camille is even sometimes referred to as “he” — but there’s no question that Camille, with her synthesized higher voice, exists to explore Prince’s feminine side.
6. “Spooky Electric”
Similarly, Spooky Electric is a surrogate for Prince’s dark side, a minion to the Devil who lures the wicked to the world of drugs and freaky one-night stands. “‘No!’ Is what Spooky Electric say,” Prince sings in the Lovesexy opener. But I know love is the only way.”
According to Urban Dictionary, “The funky version of hallelujah.” That fits.
8. “The Glyph”
Prince adopted a symbol (right) as his name in the early 1990s. While it was unpronounceable, he referred to it as “the Love Symbol,” and it was a combination of the traditional male and female symbols. His label, Warner Bros., sent out floppy disks to the press at the time in order to incorporate the symbol into their media coverage. It was all very strange, and very Prince.
Prince’s 31st studio album — released on March 21, 2006 — earned this numeric title and a song of the same name. Around the time of its release, Prince held bashes at his Los Angeles home, where his celebrity friends would dance until dawn to his band. He called the get-togethers “3121 parties,” and the number came to represent a state of mind: a welcoming place where friends can groove the night away. Prince had the number emblazoned everywhere in the house, including on his bath towels.
Prince released two albums in 2014: the rock-heavy Plectrumelectrum and the R&B-influenced concept album Art Official Age. The former featured his new all-female backing band, 3rdeyegirl. Alas, there is little consensus on what the word Plectrumelectrum actually means. “No one f—ing knows,” says one fan on the official Prince message boards. “But it sounds cool.” A plectrum is actually a fancy word for a guitar pick; electrum is a gold alloy used in ancient jewelry making. Together what are they? Definitely something that sounds cool.
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