Prince Says ‘Hello’ to Controversy: 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.
Long before Twitter offered celebrities a platform to instantly distribute their every thought to their every fan, Prince responded to a controversy as only he knew how: by writing a song and releasing it surprisingly fast. Sure he could have just gone to the media and done an exclusive interview, but that would have provided a fleeting solution; instead, “Hello” has entertained fans for more than 30 years and is considered one of Prince’s most popular songs.
“Hello” was paired with “Pop Life” in the U.S. (released July 10, 1985) and “Raspberry Beret” in Europe. It was written in response to the backlash Prince faced by skipping out on the recording session for “We Are the World” and donating “4 the Tears in Your Eyes” for the accompanying We Are the World album.
While “Hello” kicks off with a dig at the USA for Africa hubbub, “I tried to tell them that I didn't want to sing / But I'd gladly write a song instead,” the song quickly turns into an attack on the culture of celebrity itself: "They said okay, and everything was cool / 'Til a camera tried to get in my bed."
In the next verse, the story continues, "I was sitting pretty with a beautiful friend / When this man tries to get in the car / No introduction, 'How you been?' / Just 'Up yours, smile, that's right, you're a star!'"
In the liner notes for The Hits and B-Sides, Prince's former touring manager, Alan Leeds, recalls the dustup that inspired "Hello": "Somehow his decision to pass on the 'We Are the World' session became convoluted by an encounter with an overzealous paparazzo and the gossip mongers had a field day."
Engineer Susan Rogers explained in Per Nilsen's book, Dancemusicsexromance that while most of the artists went to A&M Studio to record "We Are the World," Prince and Jill Jones went out to Carlos & Charlie's, a Mexican restaurant. "Prince got in the limo first," Rogers said, "Jill got in second, and then a photographer got into the back of the car with them! Prince and Jill were shocked." Nilsen reports that when Prince's bodyguards pulled the paparazzo out, the photographer banged his head and dropped his camera. One of the bodyguards was arrested for battery, the other charged with strong-arm robbery.
Matt Thorne, author of Prince: The Man and His Music, notes that Prince had another high profile detractor after the incident. Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau worked the controversy into the series; in one strip Prince tells "We Are the World" producer Quincy Jones he will participate only if Quincy cuts out the Michael Jackson parts. To this point, Alan Leeds adds, "'Hello' is one of those rare cases where (Prince) used his studio forum for personal commentary, directly answering all those who second-guessed the effort and sincerity that had gone into '4 the Tears in Your Eyes.'" This is why in the next verse, Prince brings the subject back to USA for Africa by singing, “We're against hungry children / Our record stands tall / But there's just as much hunger here at home / We'll do what we can if y'all try 2 understand / A flower that has water will grow.”
On the extended 12-inch single, “Hello” takes some truly exciting zigs and zags. The Around the World in a Day 12-inch singles and their accompanying b-sides took full advantage of the medium, adding additional lyrics, bridges and musical surprises. The extended “Hello” includes a spoken word section similar to the “Hallway Speech Version” of “Computer Blue” that would officially surface in 2017. In this section of “Hello," Prince gets really deep, really fast, with a verse that's part confessional, part diary entry.
First he addresses the overall conservative take on his Royal Badness persona, “They called me rude often / When I called their hand / They judged me and told me that we're through.” His response to the criticism was blunt, “Because I am not like others / I'm unique in the respect I'm not U.”
Prince's partner that fateful evening, Jill Jones, assists on background vocals and character voices in the song. Prince called upon her to add similar humor to his extended mix of “Kiss."
As the relentlessly funky song comes to a close, Prince unleashes one of his best-ever sermons with spoken words that fly fast as bullets. In a spellbinding minute, Prince lays prophecy to today’s online troll culture, fake news and the overall mess society finds itself in:
U see, words are like shoes, they're just something 2 stand on
I wish U could be in my shoes.
But they're probably so high, U'd fall off and die,
4 U words are definitely not shoes.
They're weapons and tools of destruction
and your time is boring unless U're putting something down.
What would life be if we believed what we read
and a smile is just hiding a frown?
Come now, isn't life a little better with a pair of good shoes?