Prince Is Mesmerized by Two Simple Words on ‘Joy in Repetition': 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.
“Joy in Repetition” is one of the unheralded gems of Prince’s commercially released catalog. Appearing at the end of Side One (if you bought the LP or cassette) on 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, “Joy” features evocative lyrics and a stunning guitar solo.
The song is almost cinematic in its lyrical scope. The final album version fades in from George Clinton’s “We Can Funk,” and the scene is set with chatter that opens the song. (Careful listeners will recognize the dialogue as exactly the same chatter that begins 1988’s “Alphabet St.”) “Joy in Repetition” is set in a nightclub where “pimps and thangs” like to hang out. A group called Soul Psychedelicide (later to become the name of a song in Prince’s storied vault) is playing, and a woman is leading the band. As she sings two words over and over, Prince becomes transfixed by her.
Eventually, Prince drags her from the stage, and takes her out of the club. The same two words keep coming from the singer’s mouth; she offers the same answer when he asks her name, and then when he asks again, the sky opens. Prince concludes the verses with the line: “Holding someone is truly believing there’s joy in repetition.”
Those two words? “Love me.”
Prince repeats the same words several times before moving into the song’s second movement — a balls-out guitar solo that rivals any Prince performed in his career. As Prince continues to shred, an army of multi-tracked Princes form a choir, ecstatically shouting “joy!” as the guitar and Prince’s lead vocal shriek in harmony. When the song finally ends, there’s the feeling of being pulled out of a hypnotic state.
The meaning of the song has been debated for decades among Prince fans. A quick glance through the “Joy in Repetition” thread of prince.org reveals theories ranging from “seeking acceptance in a world full of sin” to plain old sex. Prince never discussed the origin or meaning of the song publicly, so his loyal fans are left to speculate and wonder.
While not released until 1990, “Joy in Repetition” actually dates back to 1986. The song was recorded a day after another guitar-centric Prince classic, “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” was laid to tape in its final version. Originally scheduled to appear in the original 1987 incarnation of the unreleased triple-album set Crystal Ball, it was removed when Warner Bros. asked Prince to pare the album down to two discs – at which point it became Sign O’ the Times. Featuring, and perhaps inspired by, Susannah Melvoin (Prince’s main partner at the time the song was recorded), “Joy in Repetition” was a concert favorite. Prince also chose it to open his 2002 One Nite Alone live album.
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