Prince Turns His Guitarist’s Actual Phone Number Into a Hit Single: 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 second half of 1982 proved to be even busier than usual for Prince. While its best remembered for the October release of his pop breakthrough, 1999, it was preceded by two records that dropped in August. First, Vanity 6 offered up the Penthouse Forum of girl groups with their debut, and the Time's second disc, What Time Is It?, arrived only two weeks later. Of course, all three were composed, produced and performed almost in their entirety by Prince himself, who was already becoming known as one of the most prolific musicians of his day.
The Time's record was preceded by “777-9311”, an irresistible slice of funk with a killer bassline and a catchy hook. But perhaps the only person who wasn’t a big fan of the single was Prince’s guitarist, Dez Dickerson. You see, 777-9311 was Dez’s home phone number, and after the song became a hit, he became inundated with calls.
"Prince called me from the studio and told me he was trying to come up with a phone number that rhymed to write a hook around, and he thought of my home number," Dickerson later explained to the Nashville Scene. "He played the groove for me over the phone, and I thought two things — one, this groove is just nasty; and, two, I wonder what's going to happen when this comes out. The minute the record was released, we started getting crank calls at all hours of the day and night: folks asking for [Time singer] Morris [Day], or just saying "Yesss!" We changed our number within 48 hours."
Perhaps in an effort by Prince to deflect some attention from himself, or perhaps to make the Time seem like a more autonomous unit in the studio, Day was originally credited as the writer and co-producer (with the Starr Company, a pseudonym Prince often used in those days) of “777." Written and recorded in spring 1982 (around the same time another classic “phone number” song, Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny,” was a smash), it’s not a lyrically substantive song. But who needs lyrics when you have a groove like that?
Perhaps the most unique thing about “777” is the intricate drum programming. In a 2014 Facebook post, Jesse Johnson of the Time admitted that this intricate beat was a stock program in Prince’s Linn drum machine. “The beat was programmed into the Linn LM1 by (Tower of Power’s) David Garibaldi for Roger Linn.”
While “777” only placed at No. 88 on Billboard ’s Hot 100 singles chart, it became an R&B smash. It rose to No. 2 in late October, blocked from the top spot by Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “Love Come Down”. It’s the second highest charting song of the Time’s career (bested in 1990 by “Jerk Out!”) and at the time, it was the highest charting song from a Prince-related project since “I Wanna Be Your Lover” topped the soul charts in late 1979. The Time promoted the song via energetic appearances on Soul Train and American Bandstand in late ‘82/early ‘83.
“777-9311” is still a favorite on R&B oldies stations, and has lived a long life via sampling, most notably on “What’s Ya Phone #”, a track from 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me . It became a mainstay of Prince’s “sampler sets” that would play before shows he performed towards the end of his career, and Morris Day and the Time still bring the house down with it during their concerts.
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