Prince Looks for the Highest Degree of Love in ‘Love 2 the 9’s': 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.
The poet Robert Burns was, in the late 18th century, Scotland's favorite son—a man known as the Ploughman Poet, the Bard of Ayrshire, or, simply the Bard (at least according to the online gallery devoted to his work). He was a writer of songs (you know "Auld Lang Syne," which most of us sing half of each New Year's Eve? That was his "When Doves Cry"), a wooer of women and, sadly, a sickly bloke, who died at 37 from bacterial endocarditis, worsened by an infection he contracted after having a tooth pulled.
Why is any of this important? Because Burns is credited with popularizing the phrase "to the nines," which means "to perfection," or "to the highest degree," or "like, a whole lot, man." This is of Princian significance thanks to the third track on the Love Symbol Album, "Love 2 the 9's."
"Love 2 the 9's" actually sounds like two songs attached to one another with Elmer's glue and duct tape. The first song of the two is a pleasant ditty with some smooth rhythm guitar (courtesy Levi Seacer, Jr.) and tasteful horns—excellent accompaniment for Prince's comely falsetto and the chorus of multi-tracked Princes that harmonize with him. The lyrics are a play on the ages-old sentiment, "If I can't have it all with you, I don't want you at all." It's Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman wanting the dashing prince, and having to settle for Richard Gere; or, as Prince puts it:
"Don't use that magical, mysterious,
Word called love
Unless u love me 2 the 9's
This is the only kind of love
That I've been dreaming of"
And that's cool—it's romantic and very breezy, musically; a fine mid-tempo, flowers-and-butterflies Prince number. That is, until we get to about two and a quarter minutes in; that's when the second song erupts, with deejay-style scratching and unidentifiable noise, and the tippy-tap drumming turns to pounding, and Prince moves from playful to—not vulgar really (this isn't "Sister" or "Head"), but maybe just a little nasty. Not charming nasty, either:
"Looking 4 a lover with a body that says
I wanna c that booty boom
B4 I even let her get close enough 2 smell perfume
I'm looking 4 A.P.H.D.
Ass Piled High and Deep, you c?"
Right. And as if that subtle come-on isn't enough, the short purple one sends his henchman, dancer and nominal rapper Tony M., to give the evening's conquest (portrayed by future Mrs. Prince, Mayte Garcia, in her first appearance on record) a short questionnaire that ends with him asking, "How u gonna make that booty boom?"
Booming booty or no, the way "Love 2 the 9's" jumps from one mood to another is startling and even though Prince eventually tries to marry the sentiment of the first two minutes to the darker funk of the last three and a half, the former makes a stronger case for a relationship than the latter. That segment of the song speaks to "the highest degree" of love much more effectively than the attempted bump-and-grind of the second segment. Bumping and grinding is fun, but "magical, mysterious, intoxicating joy?" That's another matter entirely.