My Name Is Prince... for now, anyway [October 11, 1992]
Plus: the first great rave album, The Prodigy Experience
Greetings, Time Travellers! 👋 Welcome back to the week of October 11, 1992.
📰 In the news this week: The U.S. Presidential debates bring humiliation for current President George Bush, who is caught looking at his watch while an audience member asks a question about the recession.
📽️Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes and Rosie Perez star in basketball comedy White Men Can’t Jump
📺On telly, ITV launches their new Saturday teatime show, Gladiators.
🎶 Tasmin Archer is the new UK Number One with ‘Sleeping Satellite’ but for now let’s focus on…
This week’s Number 7: ‘My Name Is Prince’ — Prince
Do you like your name?
Is your name a source of power, a part of your identity? Perhaps your name is a family heirloom, a delicate braid connecting you to previous generations. Maybe your name was chosen for its special meaning, or maybe you’re more like Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction (“I’m American, honey. Our names don’t mean shit.”)
My name is Bernard, which is something of a Primark sweater of a name: dull but functional.
You’d be surprised at how many regional pronunciations of Bernard exist. Americans stretch it out—“Ber-nawrd”—so it almost rhymes with “Die Hard”, which is fun. Australians and English people elide the middle letters, pronouncing it like “Beh-nid”.
Here in Ireland, it is unmistakably pronounced as “Burn-Nerd”. Small children find this hilarious, and they love to put a heavy stress on the “Nerd” part. My own daughter regularly mocks me about it and asks why I don’t change it.
“But that’s my name!” I say.
“Get a better one, nerd,” she replies.
I’m not sure I want to change it though. Your name is such a fundamental part of who you are. A new name would feel like a new identity.
Heavy lies the crown
In the United States, names have a complicated history. Enslaved people had their names taken from them, and often were appointed new names by the people who enslaved them. A cruel slaveowner joke was to give some slaves very regal names, such as Caeser, King, Queen—and Prince.
Slavery wasn’t that long ago, historically speaking. The grandchildren of those freed in the Civil War were the people who gave us the first generation of popular music. For example, a slave who was forced to work for the Confederacy had a grandson who became a famous jazz pianist: Duke Ellington.
Duke Ellington’s real name was Edward, but he chose the regal stage name himself, as did his contemporary William “Count” Basie. Both men picked these names as a reflection of their lofty ambitions.
Another person who picked a regal stage name was a Louisana jazzman called John Lewis Nelson. He played around Minneapolis in the 40s under the name Prince Nelson, although he wasn’t as successful as Duke or The Count, and failed to land a record deal.
In 1958, Nelson fathered a son, and decided that this boy would succeed where he failed. He named the boy Prince.
So, you see, Prince wasn’t lying when he said his name was Prince. It’s not an honorific. It’s not a nickname or a stage name. He was, and always has been, Prince.
And Prince was fully aware of the history that came with that name, including the associations with slavery, as well as his father’s expectations. A piece in the Quietus says:
“In his unfinished memoirs, Prince describes his mother’s eyes lighting up, teaching him to write [his name], conferring onto him his father’s sexy authority. Prince never tired of trying to redeem this frustrated musician.”
My friends call me Your Majesty
My daughter recently surprised me by asking if she could change her name.
Not a big change—she just wants to legally adopt her preferred spelling. Still, it still came as a bit of a shock. Kids these days seem so cavalier about their identities, chopping and changing everything in the name of clearer self-expression.
I sometimes wonder who Prince really was in 1992, and if he even really knew himself.
Obviously, we all know what happens to Prince in the 90s. He released ‘My Name Is Prince’ (a song in which he states that his name is Prince twenty times) and then, almost immediately after, he changed his name to an unpronounceable emoji:
Now that’s comedy.
Prince changed his name because of a creative dispute with his label, Warner, with whom he had just signed a $100 million record deal. He said, “Prince is the name that my Mother gave me at birth. Warner Brothers took the name, trademarked it. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Brothers.”
If we see ‘My Name Is Prince’ as the opening salvo in this battle with WB, then the song takes on a different meaning. He’s not saying “My name is Prince”; he’s saying, “The name, Prince, is mine”.
Well, my name is Prince and I’m here to say
But I think there’s something else going on here too.
Prince always had a slightly fraught relationship with hip-hop. He tried rapping a few times in the early 80s before declaring the form to be a creative dead end. But hip-hop didn’t die, and songs like Public Enemy’s ‘Fight The Power’ made him realise that rap music wasn’t going away.
(There’s an excellent deep dive into Prince’s rap career here.)
The problem was that Prince—the man who could normally do everything—wasn’t an especially strong rapper. His solution was to bring in Tony M, the guy with the deep voice on ‘Gett Off’, who was arguably an even less good rapper than Prince.
‘My Name Is Prince’ feels like Prince’s attempt to jump the hip-hop bandwagon. The lyrics are written in the grand tradition of rappers introducing themselves and then telling you what they’re here to say, something that started with the Sugarhill Gang back in 1979. Tony M appears at the end of the song to spit some bars. They’re… fine.
Prince pushed hard for ‘My Name Is Prince’ to be the opening single from The Love Symbol Album, arguing that the hip-hop elements would make him relevant to a younger audience. Warner Brothers disagreed and pushed for a more traditional Prince song, ‘7’.
Prince won the argument, but ‘My Name Is Prince’ flopped in the states, failing to make Top 30. The great pioneer Prince seemed to be chasing a trend for the first time in his career, and he was being left behind.
Annoyingly, Warner Brothers were right about ‘7’. It went Top 10. It is very good.
This moment must have been a crisis of confidence for Prince. Every Prince has to become a King someday, but people like Dre and Chuck D were occupying his throne.
Maybe—and I’m just speculating here—that’s part of why he changed his name. The craziness of the Warners deal (a hundred million dollars!), the shifting musical landscape, the disappointment of ‘My Name Is Prince’.
It must have been tempting to hit the eject button and try not being Prince for a while. Maybe a new name can lead to a new destiny?
That’s just speculation. I have no idea what really happened in the mind of His Purple Majesty. All I know is that if you do change your name, make sure it’s something people can pronounce. Otherwise, people will just call you The Artist Formerly Known As Bernard until you get so annoyed that you just change it back.
Have you ever thought about changing your name? Do you think Prince was an underrated rapper? Share your thoughts on this piece in the comments:
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Elsewhere in the charts
Number 8 (↑ from 12): ‘Tetris’ — Dr. Spin
Here’s a fun fact: Doctor Spin is actually none other than Andrew Lloyd Webber, entering the world of novelty dance songs with a bit of help from producer Nigel Wright.
You have to wonder… why? Why, Andrew? Why are you putting out tacky, cash-grab records. You are already so, so rich. You do not need any of that Sesame’s Treet money.
And there’s a simple answer: it’s because he’s a Tory.
Number 9 (↑ from 23): ‘A Million Love Songs’ — Take That
Speaking of Tories…
In fairness, Gary Barlow wrote this soft-rock ballad when he was only 15, which is quite impressive. It’s quite sweet, although it sounds more like Barry Manilow than their actual Barry Manilow cover.
Also, maybe a bit risky? East 17 were coming after them with a far more edgy and fun sound. This battle of the boy bands is really heating up.
Number 17 (New Entry): ‘Sticky’ — The Wedding Present
The Weddos’ tenth single-per-month effort. Two more of these to go, and then we’ll talk about the whole lot when we review the compilation, The Hit Parade.
The B-Side on this one is a cover of Bow Wow Wow’s post-punk classic ‘Go Wild In The Country’.
Number 22 (↑ from 25): ‘Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough’ — Patty Smyth & Don Henley
Patty Smyth has had quite a life. She started out in Scandal, who had a hit with ‘Goodbye to You’, the video for which has some terrific First-Year-Of-MTV energy.
Smyth got married to post-punk legend Richard Hell, of Television and The Voidoids. While she was pregnant with their first child, Van Halen approached her and asked her to replace David Lee Roth. She turned them down, but she did do some backing vocals for Don Henley on tracks like ‘All She Wants To Do Is Dance’.
Towards the end of the 80s, Smyth broke up with Richard Hell and got married to the bad boy of tennis himself, John McEnroe. She then got her old pal Don Henley to lend some vocals on this track, and she finally had a global solo hit worthy of her talents.
Not bad for someone that even Google sometimes confuses with Patti Smith.
Number 36 (New Entry): ‘Everybody Wants Her’ — Thunder
Thunder here making an absolute mockery of the “grunge killed hair metal” theory. They had a great time in 1992 while both looking and sounding like Extreme.
There is so much cowbell on this record. It’s terrific.
Album of the Week
The Prodigy Experience — The Prodigy
Controversial opinion time. I’m not saying this to be contrarian and feel free to disagree, but…
The Fat of the Land and ‘Firestarter’ were the low points of The Prodigy’s discography.
They were fun, don’t get me wrong. I saw them live twice during the Fat Of The Land era, and I jumped around lots to ‘Firestarter’ in my student disco days, and I very much enjoyed the Prodigy’s rockstar era. But there’s no denying that the music is a bit knuckleheaded, especially compared to what they had done on previous records.
I say they, but The Prodigy are really a he. Liam Howlett always worked alone in the studio, splicing beats together like a funky Frankenstein. And his first work was something of a monster, a track that MixMag accused of killing rave:
It’s not Liam’s fault that other people copied this formula very badly (including Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, as mentioned above). If you forget about ‘Tetris’ and ‘Sesame’s Treet’, you can hear that ‘Charly’ is a work of genius, with massive beats supported by well-chosen, surprising samples.
‘Charly’ appears on The Prodigy Experience, but the rest of the record tries to put some clear water between The Prodigy and the kiddie rave pretenders. Opening track ‘Jericho’ comes roaring out of the gates with some very grown-up samples, including AC/DC, Jungle Brothers, Hijack, and the reggae classic ‘Kunta Kinte’:
The main vocal sample on ‘Jericho’ urges you to “keep on dancing/keep on dancing”. As if you had a choice. As if you could stop. Experienced is one of the most sustained, relentless onslaughts of rhythm ever committed to vinyl—a full club set from a DJ at the top of his game.
‘Everybody In The Place’ and ‘Out Of Space’ are two of the best and most memorable dance singles to emerge in the 90s. They’re both just joyous, kickass, go-bananas anthems, with ‘Out Of Space’ being a slight personal favourite (although ‘Everybody In The Place’ feels like an early preview of their sophomoric masterpiece, Music for the Jilted Generation.)
But most of the deep cuts on Experience could have easily charted too. ‘Your Love’ is irresistible, bordering on house music at times, while ‘Ruff In The Jungle Bizness’ sounds like if the Um Bongo ad went on a two-week bender in Magaluf.
The only breather from all the insanity is the slightly trance-ey ‘Weather Experience’ toward the end:
The Prodigy Experience is referred to as the first great rave LP. I don’t know enough about dance music’s esoteric genre borders to argue that, but it is without doubt a great album. Coherent from start to finish, never losing focus or repeating itself, always surprising. That’s the problem with The Fat of the Land—it’s just doesn’t hit these highs.
Howlett was just 21 when he made this record. He absolutely deserved to call himself The Prodigy.
Feel free to tell me that The Fat of the Land is good actually in the comments
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