In 1980, Denise Matthews met Prince. He pegged her to lead a new female trio he was putting together and when she accepted, he gave her the stage name Vanity and the trio Vanity 6 was born. They only released one album before Matthews left; their self-titled debut. With Vanity 6, I’ve stumbled upon an album that defines what exactly it is about the ‘80s I don’t really like. And yet, I enjoyed it a lot more than I might’ve guessed.
As a genre, I’m not sure what it is about ‘80s music; the synth-heavy sound of the music, the awful fashion, but I don’t like it that much. When I look back on pop culture in the ‘80s, it doesn’t seem as good as what came before (admittedly, the ‘90s were not great either. In fact, I’d argue they were bad for the same reasons, substituting different sounds and fashions).
So how do I find myself listening to this album and enjoying it? It has all the trappings of cheesy ‘80s pop and I give it a thumbs up. I feel like this is due to the musical spirit imbued upon it by the His Purple Highness, Prince. In the ‘80s, Prince had an intense musical output. On his own, he released 10 albums, either under the Prince moniker or with his backing band The Revolution. On top of that, he oversaw the release of several albums by side projects, such as Madhouse (the albums 8 and 16), The Time (the albums The Time, What Time Is It?, and Ice Cream Castle), and of course, Vanity 6 and their debut album (and even this doesn’t cover all the projects Prince was involved in. Check this list out if you’re curious about other Prince collaborators. The dude was prolific in the ’80s and beyond).
I honestly cannot explain why I like Prince. His music is so hit or miss for me; some of it is just so out there, with its overt sexuality and in-your-face envelope-pushing of the morality standards of ‘80s pop music. Then I hear a song like “Pop Life,” or “She’s Always In My Hair,” or “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” or “777-9311” and I get him. This album is more along the lines of the latter rather than the former; some solid ‘80s pop music, synth-heavy and funky as hell. And it very much has a lot of the musical spirit of Prince and Morris Day (vocalist for The Time) running throughout.
As with nearly every Prince project, there are some near-explicit sexual references throughout the album (the first three tracks are entitled “Nasty Girl,” “Wet Dream,” and “Drive Me Wild,” if that’s any indication). And a lot of the lyrics sound cheesily written and clunky, as is the custom for a lot of The Time and Prince stuff (specifically, “If A Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)” and “Make-Up,” while the hook from “3 x 2 = 6” is actually sung as “three times two equals six”).
But for some reason, this didn’t turn me off. Maybe it’s just the simple reason that this is Prince, his bread and butter. I’ve listened to enough Prince not to hear a cheesy lyric and immediately check out and that inadvertently prepped me for this album. Aside from the absolutely rocking album opener, “If A Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)” anchors the album in its quality and would fit perfectly in a flagship album of higher repute, like Controversy or 1999. The song features a great back-and-forth phone call between Vanity and a competing woman, arguing over a mutual boyfriend. The other woman is sung by Prince. Classic Prince. I’m beginning to wonder if I actually dislike ’80s music or just never gave it a chance. Or maybe it’s just Prince. Either way, Vanity 6 is pretty awesome.
Top 3 Tunes:
- Nasty Girl
- If A Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)
- Drive Me Wild