Prince Does Away With Subtlety in ‘Violet the Organ Grinder': 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.
In the realm of sexually provocative Prince songs, “Erotic City” has nothing on “Violet the Organ Grinder.” The Diamonds and Pearls-era track was featured on both the “Gett Off” maxi-single and as the b-side to “Thunder” in the U.K.
In the '80s, Prince started experimenting with longer song structures – releasing them in both edited, radio-friendly 7-inch single formats, and extended versions made possible by the 12-inch single format. In many ways, his double album, 1999, played like a collection of 12-inch dance jams. But as the CD-single format flourished in the '90s, bringing with it the ability to cram extra tracks on each disc, Prince began to release countless versions of some songs. In most instances, he handled the remixing duties himself instead of turning control over to other producers, artists and DJs.
While none of the Prince and the New Power Generation remixes from the '90s proved to be as essential as his iconic extended Revolution-era mixes from the '80s, a few of these remixes actually morphed into entirely new songs during the process, which is what happened with "Violet the Organ Grinder."
It borrows much of its musical muscle, along with the “get off” vocal hook, from the single “Gett Off." But “Gett Off” itself can actually be traced back to “Get Off," a Graffiti Bridge-era extra track tacked onto the "New Power Generation" single. And even that track bleeds seamlessly into “Lubricated Lady,” which continues much of the same vibe. According to PrinceVault, the orchestral section of the track by Clare Fischer resurfaced in “Paris 1798430” on Tevin Campbell’s I’m Ready album, as well as 1998's Crystal Ball live version of “Days of Wild”.
Lyrically is where “Violet the Organ Grinder” truly gets on. Much of the verse plays like a standard Prince sexual metaphor, “I am Violet, the organ grinder / And I grind all the live long day / I live for the organ that I am grinding” – and later, “I took all the pictures you gave me and I placed them right under my bed / And I pumped and I pumped until the 'gasm much as jumped.” Mid-song, he sings, “Well I can deal with a sucker if he's in your mouth / But I can't deal with insincere,” pretty much eliminating the song’s chances of being a radio hit. He did, however, film a video for the song to prime the pump for the burgeoning VHS home video market where artists like Prince and Madonna could release videos MTV refused to air.
Elsewhere in the song, Prince makes another reference to the Crystal Ball, which at this point could either mean a party, a sex act or the three-disc album that was eventually pared down to form 1987's Sign O’ the Times: “I was on my way to another room / When an image of you sweetly / Appeared in the mirror, perhaps you recall / You and I were neatly / In the middle of a Crystal Ball.” In his book, Prince The Man and His Music, author Matt Thorne notes the song just might be all three, "'Violet the Organ Grinder' takes Prince's phallocentric erotomania to a ludicrous extreme. Surprisingly, he connects the song back to Crystal Ball, increasing the sense that this oft-mentioned occasion was a Sadean orgy."
Verse after verse, Prince just lets loose with playful lyrics, spicy visuals and a dash of emotional intimacy to go with all the heavy petting, “Like a puppy I licked your devotion / From your neck from your eyes from your ears / When you cry, I became your emotion / And if you ever cry like that again, I'll be here.” Violet is the softer side of purple -- the color for which Prince is most often associated.