Prince Finally Pops the Question to a Mystery ‘Girl’: 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
Yes, Prince loved the ladies – but when it came to song titles, he was all about the girls: “Girls and Boys,” “Cinnamon Girl,” “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” “Girl 6,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” not to mention vault cuts “White Girls,” “Girl of My Dreams” and “Jealous Girl” – plus the name of his final band, 3rdeyegirl.
“Girl,” the b-side of “America” in the U.S. and “Pop Life” in Europe, isn’t even the only song in Prince’s canon with that exact same title. A different “Girl” strutted onto the self-titled debut by The Time in 1981.
Prince’s “Girl” was released in 1985, when he was dating Susannah Melvoin. The track, however, was recorded in the summer of 1982 when his main squeeze was Vanity (Denise Matthews). Vanity sings on the track, but you have to have a special ear – or equipment – to truly hear her part (more about that below).
With lines like “caress the flower, bring it to the garden,” “Girl” fits right in with the sunny Summer of Love atmospherics of Around the World in a Day staples like “Raspberry Beret,” “Paisley Park” and “Pop Life.” Stylistically, it’s length, sleek synths and cold electric beats also align to the 1999 era when Prince was experimenting with new wave sounds and the Linn LM-1 drum machine.
Lyrically, “Girl” is surprisingly intimate: The listener cozies up right there in bed, or in the tub, with Prince and the object of his affection. From deep and seductive spoken lines, to rapturous squeals atop his falsetto, the full Prince vocal experience is on proud display throughout the extended mix’s seven-plus minutes.
The whole song is a hot-and-heavy lobbying session to convince the girl to get with him. He channels the dirty part of his mind (“all I have to do is think about you and I can have an orgasm”) and the sly side, too (“if I was anything else, I’d be the water in your bath”). Then Prince utters the words we’d never think we’d hear him say at the time: “Marry me. Yeah, that’s right, marry me.” While Prince was already one of the world’s utmost sex symbols, the case he pleads is surprisingly romantic. “I’m a good listener,” he sings. “I’m a good kisser, too.”
Prince spent much of his life alone in the studio, often with just the company of an engineer. “Girl” is one of his most confessional songs about the dark side of being a recording genius. “Don’t you ever get lonely sometimes?” he pleads. “Don’t you ever want someone just to talk to?” And then the girl answers, and thankfully this time Prince didn’t hang up.
Fans who spun the 12-inch single backward were given a treat: Vanity performing “Boy,” a response song. “Boy, my flesh is on fire,” she sings in rapture. Her verses start at the end of the mix and work their way through the mid-section. If you don’t have access to a turntable, there are websites that offer free reversal of your MP3. When played regularly, it sounds like Prince is eavesdropping on Vanity while she’s on the phone in another room. The extended version of “Girl” likely pre-dates Prince’s most notorious experiments with back-masking, even though the hidden messages on “Darling Nikki” and “Baby, I’m a Star” made it to market a year earlier on the Purple Rain album.
“Girl” quickly became one of Prince’s most beloved tracks, testament to how sometimes his best songs wound up tucked away on a B-side. (His concert after shows were also often more memorable than the main events.) It would take “Girl” 22 years to make it to the stage; according to PrinceVault, the first time he performed it live was during his 2007 run at the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles.
Vanity was out of Prince’s life by the time “Girl” was released. “I needed one person to love me,” she told People in 1984, “and he needed more.” After she died in February, 2016, Prince told a concert crowd, “Someone dear to us has passed away, I’m gonna dedicate this song to her,” before playing “Little Red Corvette.”
He also changed the lyrics within “The Ladder” to sing: “This Prince, he had a subject named Vanity who loved him with a passion, uncontested.” According to the Australian concert review, he also wove her name into “The Beautiful Ones”. Two months later, Prince and Vanity reunited in the heavens, both at the age of 57.