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Music Criticism One-Song Reviews

One-Song Review: “Mutiny” by Prince, Live on Arsenio

Adventures in short music criticism. One song, one performance. Studio or live, it matters not. Probably on Mondays.

If there’s one thing you can count on from Prince, it’s this: where there are horns, they will be arranged in a tight-ass fashion. This performance of “Mutiny,” a song Prince wrote for The Family back in the 1980s and promptly played the hell out of on his Parade tour, is not about Prince. It’s about the horns, from the stutter-step Big Band opening to that late-70s television theme-song melody/rhythm they pour into around :29. You expect to see Kate Jackson pointing a gun at some unseen perp. Forget the song structures, singing, guitar playing; Prince’s horn arrangements alone cover about fifty years of American music. Yes, I think they’re overlooked.

So is “Mutiny,” but then, Prince never released his own official studio version. As incredible as the Purple Rain-to-Lovesexy run was, you could have put “Mutiny” together with the then-unreleased or B-side-only tracks “Shockadelica,” “Crystal Ball,” “A Love Bizarre,” “Last Heart,” “Sexual Suicide,” “Make Your Mama Happy,” “Crucial,” “Witness 4 The Prosecution,” “17 Days,” and “She’s Always in My Hair” and made another classic record.  

I have no idea what the lyrics in “Mutiny” are about except that this is another “woman, you done me wrong” song. But the song is so joyous, her crime starts a party. Look at the backup singers smile! In some Prince jams, the words are about the jam itself as it’s happening, instructions for shaking one’s rump mixed in with bragging, spiritual optimism, and community. (See “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night.”) In this song, what most of the words mean on paper has almost nothing to do with what they mean when they’re sung. The voices transform the words to suit the occasion, which in this case is a glad riot.

Regardless of how the words work, when Prince is in party mode, all that matters is right now: the groove and the community. Very few American pop musicians can hold an event together by themselves as the center of its attention. Prince is one of them. But in performances like this one, he lets the event take over, playing the role of ringleader and emcee, until the song itself becomes democracy, or as close as you can get to it on a television show.   

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