The Artist takes his time seriously Music: We'd like to mark the new year by printing all the lyrics to '1999,' but you-know-who won't let us.

December 31, 1998|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

It's the kind of marketing opportunity that sends visions of dollar signs dancing through a Madison Avenue ad exec's head, a "win-win situation" if you're given to such descriptions.

Everybody makes money -- the musician, the record company, the advertisers. People everywhere spend the year singing, "So tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1999."

If only life were so easy.

The buzz in advertising land says the rights for the song "1999" -- that early '80s combination of synth, rock and funk penned in 1982 by The Artist, formerly known as Prince -- could go as high as $1 million. But the now-glyphed one refuses to sign on to something as crass as the gross, shameless commercialization of his work.

He won't even grant permission for a newspaper to reprint the lyrics here on the eve of 1999.

"Not if you paid us $5,000, $10,000," says an administrator at Warner Brothers' print division in Miami. "He's been offered enormous sums at this time. We have to turn them all down, yearbooks, high school yearbooks and various publications."

What if we call Paisley Park Studios in Excelsior, Minn., where he records?

"I know what the answer is going to be," says the administrator, who will not give her name.

A Paisley Park phone number retrieved from the Internet connects to a residence, and it's not The Artist's. The information operator says no one can ever find a number for the studio, the home, not even for the nightclub.

Hmm. If The Artist, born Prince Roger Nelson, stays true to form, all those advertising campaigns that could be pumped up by "1999" will have to find another song.

Right now he is at war with Warner Records over the song's re-release rights. Warner signed The Artist when he was still Prince and owns the music he recorded for the label. Now, The Artist, who broke with Warner to start his own label, wants his music back. His online petition is called "Free the music!"

"Dig if you will the picture. [The Artist] is granted ownership rights 2 the entire catalog of music he wrote and recorded while signed with Warner Brothers," says the petition. "U can help r cause! ... they will c it's not only The Artist who wishes 2 have his music back, but all his friends as well."

The Artist wants his fans to sign the petition, which will be sent on to Warner. The record company's response has been to ship copies of the original version to radio stations. The Artist is countering with a soon-to-be released EP that will have seven "1999" remixes, including reggae and hip hop versions. But, as the '60s soul tune went, "ain't nothing like the real thing."

Perhaps that sentiment is behind the decision at M2: Music Television, a sister network to MTV. It's going to play "1999" for 24 hours straight, starting at midnight. Chances are The Artist, now 40 years old, won't be tuning in.

He'll be in Las Vegas tomorrow and Saturday, previewing the EP at MGM Grand's Studio 54 with longtime buddy Morris Day and the Time on the first night, and with label mates Larry Graham ZTC and the New Power Generation the next night.

Those of us without cable or tickets to Vegas will have to content ourselves with the old recording. The song had a great run, entering Billboard's charts on Oct. 30, 1982. After a few weeks it dropped off, then came back in the summer of 1983 and peaked at No. 12. The double-album, also called "1999," eventually sold more than 3 million copies.

Yet, for all the talk about "partying like it's 1999," the song actually has an undercurrent of Cold War doom. We're partying because the end of the world is near.

"Yeah everybody's got a bomb, we could all die any day," he sings. "I don't want to die, I'd rather dance my life away."

Recall the chest thumping this year between India and Pakistan as each country tested its nuclear arsenal? Thinking about that makes the song seem almost prophetic, though it would really be too much to add "The Prophet" to the name of one already known as The Artist.

Anyway, a year after "1999," the soundtrack to "Purple Rain" hit the charts. As of May 1996 that album has sold 13 million copies, far more than "1999." But who wants to hear "When Doves Cry" these days?

Now is the time for "1999" and, thankfully, there is a way around the tiff between The Artist and Warner.

Yes, Virginia, there is another "1999."

Roy Bennett and Sid Tepper wrote the song in 1960. Now, you might not have heard of them, but their tunes in the Warner catalog include the 1965 Vic Dana hit, "Red Roses for a Blue Lady," "G.I. Blues," which put a few pennies in Elvis Presley's pocket, and, not to be forgotten, "The Naughty Lady Of Shady Lane." The Ames Brothers took that tune for a 15-week ride on the Hit Parade in 1954.

Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures.

From '1999'

I was dreamin' when I wrote this

So sue me if I go 2 fast

But life is just a party, and parties weren't meant 2 last

War is all around us, my mind says prepare 2 fight

So if I gotta die I'm gonna listen 2 my body tonight

-- Prince (Controversy Music/1982)

To hear '1999'

To hear a segment of The Artist's song "1999," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the code 6207. For other local Sundial numbers, see the directory on Page 2B.

Pub Date: 12/31/98

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