Another thing which often causes surprise when I’m looking for some background on a song that I’m intending to feature on the blog is learning that it was either a much bigger chart hit than I ever recalled or, conversely, it was a comparative flop.
Prince really took off here in the UK in 1983/84, with a run of top ten singles lifted from the albums 1999 and Purple Rain. There was, inevitably and naturally, huge interest I what he was going to come up with next but very few were prepared for something as odd as this:-
By odd, I mean different. It was, unexpectedly, a pop tune, far lighter and less funky than many of the songs which had propelled him into the stratosphere. It was a happy, almost carefree song with a chorus that seemed not to be too far removed from a nursery rhyme. Prince had this reputation as a dangerous basdass mutha, with a raw sex on legs persona, who didn’t want to know what love is, but here he was writing and recording a song reflecting on the loss of innocence.
It was a tune that, more than anything else of the stuff I had heard up until now, convinced me that Prince was capable of living up to the hype. None of Little Red Corvette, Let’s Go Crazy, I Would Die 4 U and the afore-mentioned 1999 and Purple Rain had done anything for me and I wasn’t at all familiar with his back catalogue. The new single just oozed class and style right out of the radio with every play seeming to offer something new to the listening ears, such as the perfect interplay with the backing vocalists, the lush instrumentation that had a sort of world music feel to it or the fact that the lyric was, in places, just about as filthy as previous offerings – “They say the first time ‘aint the greatest / But I tell ya, if I had the chance to do it all again / I wouldn’t change a stroke.”
It’s a song written from the perspective of a hopeless romantic, with the sort of storyline that wouldn’t have been out-of-place on a Springsteen album. Puny little boy in dead-end job in a shop, with a boss who wasn’t fond of him, has his world turned upside down by the unexpected appearance one day of a confident female who is wearing an extremely bright and stylish hat….he knows immediately that she is trouble as she came into the shop through the out-door!
You can just picture the insecure and inexperienced boy cowering behind the counter as the girl in the raspberry beret makes a beeline for him – “Built like she was, she had the nerve to ask me / If I planned to do her any harm” – but his bravado leads him to call her out and the next thing you know, he’s got her on the back of his bicycle and he’s pedalling furiously to a barn on a nearby farm, trying hard to get there before the rain starts pouring down.
Next thing he knows, she has made a man out of him. And he’s fallen madly in love. He certainly will always remember his first time….with the overpowering image being the hat which doesn’t appear to have been removed throughout the tryst. It’s completely bonkers but at the same time completely brilliant.
For years, I only knew the 7” and radio version of the song. It was over on someone else’s blog (and apologies for nor recalling whose) that I was exposed to the 12” version in which the funk, and a nod to the blues, bookend the pop tune. It’s even more brilliant than the version with which we are most familiar.
Let me take you back to my opening gambit about the extent of chart success.
Raspberry Beret only got to #25 in the UK in August 1985. I wouldn’t have thought that.