Prince Wanted the Violent Femmes to Record ‘Wonderful Ass’
It started out the usual way. A band in a studio next door to a hero, trying to snag a piece of songwriting greatness. This time it was the Violent Femmes, who found themselves wall-to-wall with Prince, working on a record with their shared engineer, Susan Rogers. They asked and asked until she gave in. Go see if he has any songs for us, they jokingly begged. Can't blame the guys for trying, right?
Well, in this case, it worked. The band was working on what would become 1991's Why Do Birds Sing? when their engineer caved and agreed to help them live out their fantasy. Rogers soon returned from the setup next door at Larrabee Studios in Los Angeles saying, "Prince has a song for you. He’s sending someone over to his archive, and they’ll get a cassette over to you later this afternoon," according to Violent Femmes founding drummer Victor DeLorenzo on OnMilwaukee, in an interview a year after Prince's death.
True to his word, a cassette arrived later that day, with a song called "You've Got a Beautiful Ass," as DeLorenzo recalls it. "We had the cassette, and we listen to it, and I can remember the chorus: 'You’ve got a wonderful ass; you’ve got a beautiful ass.' Or something to that effect. I think Gordon [Gano, Violent Femmes singer and guitarist] still probably has the cassette."
But the band never recorded it, which DeLorenzo calls "another mistake in a long line of many made by Violent Femmes. ... We did consider it! But at that time, we were thinking, 'Wow, if we record something like this, is it going to be able to really get out there – even if we say it’s a Prince song – because of the subject matter and that?' Even though we’d had songs like 'Girl Trouble' (sic) and 'Add It Up' (sic) and all this other stuff, we still kind of thought, 'Is that the right thing for us right now when we’re trying to get something really on the radio?'" Not to mention the fact that they'd already finished recording their album, and were just working on mixing it in the studio that day.
And though the song didn't seem quite right for their career at that time, DeLorenzo doesn't think the Purple One was messing with him, but rather put some thought into what might work for them.
Prince's own recording of the song was eventually released posthumously as "Wonderful Ass," on the second disc of the 2017 Purple Rain reissue, From the Vault and Previously Unreleased. He had first recorded it in 1982, almost a decade before his near-meeting with the Violent Femmes. In it he sang, "You think that all my friends are my bedmates / True love before sex you just can't relate / My sensibilities you aggravate / [But] you've got a wonderful ass."
Earlier this year, Lisa Coleman, a member of Prince's band, the Revolution, revealed that the song was about Prince's girlfriend Susannah Melvoin, and her twin sister Wendy Melvoin, who was their bandmate as well Coleman's girlfriend. "Wendy and her twin sister, Susannah, are pretty famous for having nice butts," Coleman explains. "And Prince did have one of the world’s cutest butts. Prince was dating Susannah, and I was with Wendy. It was us being goofy about our girlfriends. I sang co-lead with Prince. It was a happy-go-lucky time.”
DeLorenzo recalls Prince's popularity being a result of his heart — or libido — on his sleeve attitude. "I think the reason that Prince was so attractive was that here were the reflections of a dirty mind. Here was how this fellow thinks about sexuality. And this is how he portrays it to an audience at large – no fear and totally in the vanguard as a trailblazer."