How long did it take me to figure out that it wasn’t a girl singing this song? I can’t even remember. ‘Kiss’ has been a radio staple on both golden oldies and newer vibe airwaves since I was a kid and since it happens to be the one Prince song our mother actually likes, D and I got to hear it about a million times between the ages of five and ten years old. My proper Prince education would only start a decade on from that point, but already I was hooked on something I couldn’t really describe. It was the sound of a man embracing sensuality typically associated with the other sex, both of which he would combine into his symbol during his umpteenth reinvention in the ’90s. It was that amazing guitar tone, those brilliant phased hi-hats coming out of both speakers and of course, that precariously high melody that tip-toed around the keyboards like it was about to step on a mouse trap. It’s the sound of the last gasp of Prince’s then-backing band, The Revolution, who would disband after the album this single bookended was released, but also, it’s so well written that it honestly slots into any time period or genre, including now. That’s what I feel the true power of the purple one is; his songs are written at one moment but for the most part, make sense in all of them.
Of course, it’s easier to say this having been lucky enough to see Prince play my town over the weekend. Already past his half-century, Prince can dance, strut, pout, shred and scream for three hours without even looking remotely exhausted, and he does it all on high heels. In a night that featured any number of amazing highlights, ‘Kiss’ was perhaps my favourite moment; not only because it took me back to those summers in the family car practising my falsetto before I knew what falsetto was, but because as a song, it has so much going for it. The premise itself has kept me in good stead as a hell-raiser for many years: ‘You don’t have to be rich, to be my girl, you don’t have to be cool, to rule my world…’ is definitely a mantra that all prospective lovers should live by. But given that Prince is renowned for layering on the parts and writing some really memorable chord progressions, it’s the minimalist aesthetic of this 1986 number that continues to work in its favour. With a verse that literally pedals on A and barely shifts, ‘Kiss’, by default, places the emphasis on the melody. And by God, is it a great one, up there with some of George Michael’s from the same time period that are so gloriously inspired and demanding that you listen over and over again. ‘Purple Rain’ may be the song that defines Prince, but much of his genius is based on how he can rock the boat with so little harmonically.
Live in concert, Prince mixed this song in with earlier, sexier tunes like ‘Gett Off’ before turning up the heat, leaving his purple baby grand and breaking into an eye-popping dance routine that must put him in the same pantheon as the late MJ and James Brown. I think this, as much as the music itself, is what draws so many people to the man (especially in Sydney, where he’s on the verge of having sold out three arena shows in a week). Prince simply doesn’t give a fuck. He knows what gets a crowd moving because he’s been at it for longer than I’ve been alive, and he’s tireless in his efforts to make that happen. While trends come and go in music, he’s clung firmly to the funk and refuses to give it up as long as he’s breathing. And he’s certainly not past that stage, either; the guitar solos he nonchalantly whipped out like he was testing levels were among some of the most badass I’ve seen. The wah-wah-soaked bridge of this song is an incredible specimen of guitar history itself, punctuated by those whooping lascivious ‘oh’s of the man who’s behind it all. It’s all so nasty that it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Prince and the Revolution are directly responsible for many of my generation being conceived. ‘Kiss’, with its elongated vocal lines and heavily harmonised chorus really does to sound like a gospel number after a few runs, especially when there’s twenty thousand screaming fans singing it with you. We went to Church and we danced before the Lord in all his glittering glory. Now to pull out that old guitar and start practising my uber-high notes all over again…
Prince and the Revolution – ‘Kiss’