Prince Unknowingly Says Farewell With the Joyous ‘Big City': 365 Prince Songs In a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
After taking an unprecedentedly long break from releasing new albums at the start of the decade, Prince was in the midst of a particularly hot streak prior to his sudden and shocking death in 2016. The closing track on his final album, the joyous, horn-charged love song "Big City," is filled with so much energy it's just impossible to believe it turned out to be his farewell.
And yet, if there had to be a final Prince song, somehow this one fits the bill perfectly.
In September of 2014, Prince ended a five-year absence from U.S. record bins (in 2010 he offered up the highly underrated 20Ten, but only overseas) by releasing both an excellent solo album entitled Art Official Age and the guitar-heavy Plectrumelectrum with his new band 3rdEyeGirl – on the same day.
Less than a year later, he returned with the unusually modern-pop influenced HITnRun Phase One, then followed that up in just three months' time with the surprise release of HITnRun Phase Two. The latter offered a nice contrast to its more experimental sibling by sticking much more closely to Prince's established strengths and sonic territory.
Several of its standout tracks, including "Black Muse," "Revelation" and "Groovy Potential," had been released as singles or played live in concert years – or, in the case of "Extraloveable," decades – earlier. But rather than sounding like a collection of leftovers, Phase Two turned out to be arguably Prince's most cohesive and consistent full-length collection since 1996's Emancipation.
As detailed in Vibe, the album-closing "Big City" features not one but two different horn sections – the five-piece Hornheads led by Michael Nelson, and the much larger NPG Hornz. "That’s our horns on the intro to 'Big City,'" Nelson explains, "but there’s a whole extra set of horn tracks on there as well. Prince brought in his touring horn section (the NPG Hornz). They have a much looser, funkier sound."
Over this infectiously danceable racket, Prince promises his lover they'll be happy and in love no matter where they are, whether it be a "dirty little hotel room" or "working on a farm" – "I'm in the big city when I'm in your arms."
As he frequently did in the closing moments of his albums, during the breakdown near the end of "Big City" Prince offers an uplifting bit of philosophy, which in retrospect can be read as a take on what his purpose was during his time here on earth: "I just came to tell you – from the darkest desperation to the highest bliss, power to the ones aware – there's nothing bigger than this!"
And then, after adding a final burst of funk guitar and leading his insanely talented lineup of female back-up vocalists through the chorus a few more times, Prince playfully, almost apologetically, says his unknowing farewell: "That's it."
Of course, there will be countless posthumous singles and albums, probably long after all of us are gone. But there's something both bittersweet and poetic about the way Prince said those final two words. This was most certainly not supposed to be goodbye, but it's an oddly appropriate one.
Prince: 40 Years of Photographs, 1977-2016