Parade is genius. In the genius of this album is arguably the finest one minute and forty seconds Prince and the Revolution ever produced.
There are two simple elements to this song – which as you read this is now going to appear as if I am stating the obvious – and they are the lyrics and the music. Ok; I see the sea of perplexed faces, “Of course songs are about lyrics and music…” Allow me…
“I, how you say, I wonder you, I wonder you.”
Prince exquisitely captures that notion of “lost in translation” superbly. The song may have been recorded in LA but the European vibe that drenches this album is clearly apparent. Whatever the influence Wendy and Lisa, Clare Fischer, the script for Under The Cherry Moon, France were having, it’s all there in this song. The pause between “I” and “how you say” indicates the foreigness of the language or, perhaps, an internal dialogue – a person searching for the right word or words. And then there is the kicker “I wonder you”. Wonder – noun, a reaction to something that is beautiful. A word that indicates thought, consideration, preoccupation. A simply genius, foreign conceptualisation of the word love. Easy to understand how a non-native speaker may mistake this word for the one they wanted. Beyond that, it is also a word often used synonymously with adoration or awe. The vocalist conveys their sense of complete devotion to the object of their words.
The phrasing of each of the lines indicates this struggle to translate a compelling feeling; love, dreams, a constancy of desire and need. “Though, you are far, I wonder you, you’re on the mind.” It’s beautiful the way the struggle is summed up in a misspoken colloquialism that reinforces the fixed presence of the object in the thoughts of the singer.
Finally there is the fact that the vocal is performed by Wendy. The use of a female voice as a counterpoint to vocals on the rest of the album makes this song stand out. Reading about the recording of the song, it is interesting to note that Prince played the same trick he used on 1999 – recording a joint lead vocal and then reverting to a single voice…and he chose to leave his off. There is a sense of exotic in Wendy’s delivery and sense of uncertainty, a nervous longing and hope the “wonder” will be reciprocated. The intensity of emotion is beautiful. It is overwhelming. It overwhelms me still, twenty eight years after I first heard it.
What augments this is the music. Prince, in 1986, with all the influences around him at work, truly understood atmosphere. Listen to There’s Others Here With Us or In All My Dreams – he transforms these songs from curiosities through his production and his use of layering of sounds and effects making the first spookily ethereal and the second a carnival. Atmosphere is pervasive through out this period of Prince’s music – even the playful cliché of Do U Lie sits well because of Prince’s use of mood on this record. It is, in my opinion, massively ironic that he considered the album or the released material weak. Forget the rest of the instrumentation, even the segues in and out of this song smack of an artist in complete control. The flow from the drum pattern into and then the string chord outro seamlessly entwine these songs together.
The laughter, the conviviality of the party is just overdone enough, it sounds harsh, and through this comes the thoughts of the lover, the lyricist, whose words sound a little out of place. The three note bass sequence before the melody starts in is a beautiful detail. Detail is perhaps the key word here. There is an evident measure of care. The intensity referred to above is also manifest in the way Prince was working at the time – again, in my opinion. The detailing in the songs on Parade is one of its cornerstones, what makes it a rightly recognised classic album. The lower register of the flute family supports this discordance between the situation the singer appears to find themselves in – the raucous party – and the desire they have to communicate their love. The rumble of the bass, though so clear on every note, again reinforces this notion. The sharpness of the notes give way to a more fluid and flowing expression as the confidence grows. It is a beautiful arrangement of Prince and Fischer, combining beautifully with the simplicity of the lyric.
One final aspect. The guitar. As the song builds to its climax, the guitar builds in the mix. It takes over the highlighting of the song – toing and froing between it and the repeat of the flute notes. Points of punctuation between and over the words; pin-pricks of delight in the swirl of noise. And at the end, the wee solo. So out of place but so right. It shouldn’t work. It comes from a different song – perhaps a different language – but it translates into a perfect full-stop. A Prince signature.
It is thirty years since this song’s release. Parade as a whole is still as vital a sounding album now as it ever was. I Wonder U is a heartbeat in Prince’s musical career but one, I would contend, of the most significant. I’ve used the word beautiful many times in this piece. I have done so purposefully. This song is a work of beauty and sings of a beautiful subject. It is arguably Prince and the Revolution’s most (beautiful) important song.
When you listen to the alternative versions of this song – the one with Prince’s lead overshadowing Wendy’s or the extended version with the further orchestration – you marvel at the decisions artists make. In 1986, Prince made some perfect decisions.
Oh – and why this song, why now? When I flicked on the internet and saw Prince had been rushed to hospital and initial reports were a little confused – this was the first song that sprang to mind. I wondered about him, I hoped he was well. I’m glad he is.