Repeat After Me: ‘Cream’ is Not a Sex Song: 365 Prince Songs in a Year
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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.
Prince wrote many, many songs about sex. Some were subtle, some – “Head,” “Darling Nikki” – were not. But despite its apparently suggestive title and admittedly oversexed video, “Cream” was not one of them.
Instead, it’s a pep talk that finds our hero using reverse double entendres to convince himself he could rule the music world again.
Prior to the release of 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls (and with the notable exception of 1989’s Hollywood blockbuster-boosted Batman soundtrack), Prince’s single and album sales had been in somewhat of a decline since his mid-’80s “1999” to “Kiss” glory days.
His previous album, 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, was his second straight non-Batman effort to fail to earn a platinum certification, and the accompanying feature film’s dismal commercial failure was the final nail in his movie career.
Apparently eager for a reboot, Prince threw out all his drum machines and synthesizers, and for the first time since the demise of the Revolution gave his backing band, the New Power Generation, co-billing on Diamonds and Pearls.
Although he’d no doubt blanch at calling it a comeback, several of the songs on Diamonds and Pearls are pretty plainly focused on re-claiming or re-establishing his place in the music world’s hierarchy – including “Daddy Pop,” the similarly misleadingly titled “Willing and Able” and most notably, “Cream.”
According to the liner notes of Prince’s 1993 compilation The Hits, “Cream” was “reputedly written while standing in front of a mirror,” and for the most part the lyrics find him psyching himself up like a boxer before a big fight: “You’re so good / Baby there ain’t nobody better / So you should never, ever go by the letter / You’re so cool / Everything you do is success / Make the rules / Then break them all cause you are the best.”
The song itself is fantastic, one of Prince’s slyest and most successful twists on rock and roll ever – anchored by Michael Bland’s powerful but restrained drums, the song maintains a constant simmer, never boiling over. Even when the guitar solo spot seems to cry out for a moment of flashy indulgence, Prince tastefully demurs. The overall effect was akin to T. Rex turned up real loud, but on Marc Bolan‘s mellowest morning ever.
Of course, there were several lines that caused people to think this was yet another sex song from Prince. But in this rare case, “cream” simply meant “cream of the crop,” “you got the horn so why don’t you blow it” refers strictly to calling attention to ones self, and “get on top” referred to reclaiming the top spot on the pop charts.
Which is exactly what he did. “Cream” became Prince’s fifth (and final) No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The title track to Diamonds and Pearls did nearly as well, peaking at No. 3, and the album went on to sell over two million copies.
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