Prince Deliberately Bucks Trends With ‘Thieves in the Temple': 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.
While Prince may have taken a rare glance backward by directing and starring in Graffiti Bridge, the 1990 sequel to his smash hit film Purple Rain, the accompanying soundtrack’s lead single made it very clear he had no intentions of repeating himself musically.
Released as a single on July 17, 1990, “Thieves in the Temple” found Prince exploring Middle Eastern melodies and trading the icy funk-rock of the Purple Rain soundtrack for a warmer palette featuring heavily layered vocals and a harmonica sample reportedly pulled from the Chambers Brothers’ “I Can’t Stand It.”
The exotic “Thieves in the Temple” stood apart from the new jack swing blend of R&B and hip-hop which was dominating pop radio at the time. Interestingly, Jimmy “Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis, former members of Prince’s protege band the Time, helped give birth to this new style with their work on Janet Jackson’s chart-topping 1986 album Control.
New jack swing was clearly influenced by, and an evolution of, the Minneapolis Sound Prince pioneered during his rise to fame. But unlike peers such as Michael Jackson – who right around that same time recruited new jack swing superstar Teddy Riley to replace Quincy Jones as co-producer for his 1991 album Dangerous – Prince remained determined to follow his own path. And he was rewarded, as the song reached the Top 10 in six countries, peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Lyrically, the song took a break from the positive-minded approach he had been so deliberately following since 1988’s Lovesexy, playing the role of a heartbroken (and very angry) abandoned lover: “You said you loved me! / You said I was your friend! / You were supposed to take care of me! / You lie!”
“I feel good most of the time, and I like to express that by writing from joy,” he told Rolling Stone in 1990. “I still do write from anger sometimes, like in ‘Thieves in the Temple.’ But I don’t like to. It’s not a place to live.”
In the same interview, he dismissed critics who didn’t think his new music was innovative enough. “I hate reading about what some guy sitting at a desk thinks about me. You know, ‘He’s back, and he’s black,’ or ‘He’s back, and he’s bad.’ Whew! Now, on Graffiti Bridge, they’re saying I’m back and more traditional. Well, ‘Thieves in the Temple’ and ‘Tick, Tick, Bang’ don’t sound like nothing I’ve ever done before!”
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