P.M. Dawn Blends ‘1999’ With Talking Heads and Harry Nilsson: 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.
For the grand finale of P.M. Dawn's masterful 1995 album Jesus Wept, frontman Prince Be combined seminal tracks from Prince, the Talking Heads and Harry Nilsson in what seemed to be an attempt to figure out a happy place for himself in this universe.
Sadly, all that musical genius doesn't seem to have brought him much comfort.
"Fantasia's Confidential Ghetto" is a three-part, eight-minute long medley blending bold re-interpretations of Prince's "1999," Talking Heads' iconic "Once in a Lifetime" and Nilsson's 1972 novelty hit "Coconut."
As the leader of P.M. Dawn, Prince Be (real name Attrell Cordes), had demonstrated his willingness and ability to successfully re-imagine beloved songs two years earlier with the group's cover of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood." "Everyone who's an artist or musician is only a big giant ball of mush of everybody they've liked in the past," he explained to MTV in 1996.
There's a high level of absurdity running through all three of the covered tracks. "Coconut" focuses entirely on a doctor recommending an unusual cure for a patient's bellyache. "Once in a Lifetime" finds David Byrne bewildered by waking up to find he's living a middle-class suburban existence, and "1999" celebrates Prince's decision to stare down an impending apocalypse by dancing his life away the night before.
The re-working of "1999" is particularly noteworthy. With the song stripped down to a spare acoustic guitar and piano-based arrangement, Be / Cordes sings in a hushed, mournful voice that replaces the jubilation of the original with weary resignation.
Despite the critical and commercial success of group's first two albums – which spawned hits such as "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss" and "I'd Die Without You" – Prince Be had clearly grown frustrated by the music industry. In the same 1996 interview, he explained why he had essentially stopped doing live performances ("When I'm on stage, I never get to be myself") and interviews, and how he planned to end P.M. Dawn after one more album.
"I no longer want to display my emotions under the name P.M. Dawn, because if my emotions continue along the path that they have been, I no longer want them represented under [that] name," Cordes explained. "I wish for P.M. Dawn to remain pure."
Three years after Jesus Wept failed to connect with the record-buying audience in any significant manner, in 1998 P.M. Dawn released what would indeed turn out to be their final official studio album. It carried a title that name-checked Cordes' son and demonstrated a continuing disillusionment not only with the industry but with the world at large: Dearest Christian, I'm So Sorry for Bringing You Here. Love, Dad.
The album's lead single, "I Had No Right," spells things out even more clearly: "I had no right bringing you here / Knowing what I know, feeling the way I feel / I had no right being so uncontent, being so confused, being so not for you."