What’s in a song?: Prince – Black Sweat

Here we go again. The well rehearsed eulogy which I seem to be presenting every other week. There really isn’t anything to be done except sigh and accept that the big names are leaving us. I was never the biggest Prince fan, you should know that before we begin. He was too impenetrable and aloof for the younger me while my older self never got round to giving him a serious listen. That said, I always knew the big songs; Nothing Compares 2 U, Kiss, Purple Rain, each leaving me with a clear awareness of his phenomenal talent. I suppose we’re all aware of it now as the newscasters explain in detail how surprisingly humble and giving he was behind the eccentric facade. But I just can’t be sad any more. I’ve been sad this whole year and it’s becoming stale and numb. So instead we will celebrate the luck we had in walking the Earth with these giants. We will drink to their memory and dine to the gifts that they gave us. My favourite? Black Sweat.

Prince’s protection of his art and distrust of contractual obligations is almost as well known as his music. Changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol to spite Warner Bros. was just the culmination of beliefs he had held since the early days. Indeed the reason he signed to Warner Bros. in the first place was specifically because they gave him full creative control of his first three albums. In this context it is entirely understandable that streaming was anathema to him, the grazing mentality these services encourage runs counter to his meticulously crafted music. Now, regular readers of this blog will know that I am very much in favour of streaming services and their ability to let music stand on it’s own merits. For the possibility to discover music beyond the norm and the freedom to form your own personal tastes without resorting to taste-makers. But like I said, Prince has my full respect because he never wavered in his artistic belief. Something to commend him by. Unfortunately, this highly micro-managed, aggressively protected catalogue has robbed us of any high quality, embeddable videos of Black Sweat for me to lovingly present between these paragraphs. So if you haven’t already, click here and hit play.

Music is contextual, listen to a beautiful song at the perfect moment and it will stay with you forever. Black Sweat fell on me at the right moment; a beautifully Welsh summer with a whole day of possibilities ahead. Being a student there was only one place to spend it; the pub. A pub with a surprisingly cheap jukebox and large windows presenting us with cinematic views of the Menai glistening in the dappled light. I think I ended up putting Black Sweat on four or five times with each successive play causing my friend (who ‘knew’ Prince) to tell me the earlier stuff is better. I don’t disagree, but this song is an absolute masterpiece. It’s arrangement so subtle, it’s melody so light with a beat so menacing; balanced with surgical precision. I feel like Prince is staring at me, daring me to mistrust his methods and goading a negative reaction. But I can’t give him one. There is nothing that sounds like this. There is nothing that mixes the elements in this way and it hooks me like drugs. I had to buy it, it was the only way. This song became Prince for me; a banner of his talent and a welcoming embrace. I was saddened last Thursday but stand thankful for these minutes. They will live forever.

I hope I don’t have to write another one of these in a while.

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