#16: Prince, ‘1999’ (1982) vs. Metallica, ‘Metallica’ (1991)


When I was in junior high in the early 80s there was a kid in our class, Kevin, who went on and on about this new thrash metal band called Metallica. He declared that one day they were going to be the biggest hard rock band in the world. We all knew he was a fool, of course; nothing could unseat Twisted Sister.

Turns out Kevin was right! By the end of the decade Metallica were well on their way to global metal domination and in 1991 they made it official with Metallica self-titled (aka the Black Album), which would go on to sell a bazillion jillion copies (approx.) and make Metallica fans out of everyone and their sister (twisted or not). I’d lost touch with Kevin by this point, but I wonder what he thought of the Black Album. I suspect he hated it – many “real” Metallica fans rue the day that their beloved thrashers recruited Bon Jovi producer Bob Rock to help them make an album of 12 polished tunes of melodic metal that included – yikes! – a love ballad (“Nothing Else Matters”).

I say they’re crazy (a band’s grassroots fans can be tiresome sometimes). The Black Album is freaking awesome. It’s dark, it’s heavy, it’s fun and it sounds amazing (thanks, Bob Rock!) without a bad song anywhere. Near perfect album.

With 1999, Prince continued to prove that not only was he a genius who could bend any music genre to his will, he also was the horniest son-of-a-bitch to ever pick up a microphone. Every song on this techno-funk masterpiece is either about sex or features it prominently, even when its tackling serious issues. Prince will car-fuck you (“Little red Corvette”) . He’ll Armageddon-fuck you (“1999”). He’ll even politico-fuck you (“Lady Cab Driver”). On “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”, he declares: “Look here Marsha, I’m not saying this just to be nasty/I sincerely want to fuck the taste out of your mouth/Can you relate?”

I don’t know who Marsha is, but I’m a little scared for her.

There is no question Prince was engorged with talent and this album is an orgy of amazing sounds, but 70 minutes of pulsating musical intercourse eventually makes me want to fake a headache.

Kevin (and Marsha for that matter), this one’s for you…


WINNER: Metallica, Metallica (4 points)


80s: 14

90s: 21

80s: 31
90s: 49

Next week’s battle – #15: The Replacements, ‘Let it Be’ (1984) vs. Lucinda Williams, ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road’ (1998)

#18: Prince, ‘Dirty Mind’ (1980) vs. R.E.M., ‘Automatic for the People’ (1992)

In the summer of my 13th year I met a girl at summer camp. She asked me to dance, I kissed her in the woods and when I went home I had my first girlfriend. Four years later, no longer together but silently knowing we should be, we found ourselves reunited at another summer camp; so she and I snuck out of our cabins down to the lake and went nightswimming under a starry sky. Several years after that, in 1992, she and I finally did the inevitable and got back together.

That same year, R.E.M., at the peak of their powers and popularity, brought John Paul Jones into the studio to enhance their jangly indie rock sound with lush orchestral strings and gave the world a moody, profound masterpiece called Automatic for the People.

That girl and I, finally together but living in separate university towns, would talk on the phone all night and listen to Automatic on repeat, puzzling over the enigmatic “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” and welling up over the painfully earnest “Everybody Hurts”. One summer night we saw R.E.M. at Toronto’s Molson Ampitheatre, got high on the grass and marveled at the perfect full moon that floated in the sky while the band played “Man on the Moon”.

A few years later, we danced to the nostalgic piano ballad “Nightswimming” at our wedding despite protestations from family members who would have preferred something more upbeat, like “Up Where We Belong”; and so there we swayed on the dance floor, the centre of attention, whisper-singing into each other’s ears: “Nightswimming deserves a quiet night/I’m not sure all these people understand”.

20 years later we still sometimes dance to “Nightswimming”, remembering that night.

So that’s my take on Automatic for the People. (Here’s a proper and great review of the 25th anniversary edition worth checking out.)

Dirty Mind? Well, I’m sure that many people really like it.


WINNER: REM, Automatic for the People (4 points)


80s: 14

90s: 19

80s: 31
90s: 41

Next week’s battle – #17: The Police, ‘Synchronicity’ (1983) vs. Jay Z, ‘Reasonable Doubt’ (1996)