Prince Makes the Silly Love Song Cool with ‘Forever in My Life’
Prince's Sign O' the Times necessarily had a big stack of deep tracks. Only four of its 16 tracks were released as singles, leaving "Forever in My Life," a thumping yet poppy ode to fidelity that coulda/shoulda been a big hit — and on some distant, funkier planet than ours, probably was — behind.
It was a necessary move. Double albums, by virtue of their length, tend to have an abundance of deep tracks. Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde had 14 tracks across four sides, and five singles released from it, leaving nine deep tracks of exquisite quality (including the side-long "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," which should count for at least three). Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life had 17 tunes; with four singles released, there were 13 deep tracks, including a number of his best-known songs. There were no singles released from the Beatles' "The White Album" — they did things differently in Beatleland back then — so technically there were 30 deep tracks on that one.
But despite its deep-track status, "Forever in My Life" remains memorable. Sparse in instrumentation, full with background Prince voices singing just ahead of the main Prince voice (a studio accident that worked), the song is sweet, almost sentimental. "I never imagined that love would rain on me," he sings, "And make me wanna settle down." In many ways, it's the kind of "silly love song" that Paul McCartney once ranted about (in his own silly love song, irony of all intentional ironies), but because it's Prince singing it, and because the track's production has Prince written all over it, it is not silly, but incontrovertibly cool. And, knowing Prince, it probably took five minutes to write — three and-a-half to lay the song down, and 90 seconds to bask in how undeniably and indisputably awesome it/he was.
You want to hear and see the best-ever take on "Forever in My Life?" I mean, the hands-down, lighters-up, drop-dead, 24-carat-magnificent take on "Forever in My Life" in the history of all takes on "Forever in My Life?" Find a copy of the Sign O' the Times concert film and cue up the eleventh chapter (or fast forward a little more than three-quarters of the way through, if you're doing the VHS thing) and witness Prince — 1987 Prince, at the height of his considerable powers — lead a band, a crowd and a drum machine through a spare (instrumentally) but fulsome (spiritually) rendition of "Forever in My Life" (with a bit of "It" sprinkled in).
It starts with the crowd, waving their lighters (probably risking second-degree burns to their fingers) and chanting in time with the groove coming off the stage. It transitions to Prince, acoustic guitar at the ready, singing "Forever," largely unaccompanied. The band members have abandoned their instruments, and they filter in behind him. That transitions further into a gospel bit, as Prince tells singer Boni Boyer, "Boni, it's your house," and she takes her mic off the stand and testifies. Hard.
It should end there, or near there — Boyer really rips it up; it's a natural climax — but Prince isn't done. No, he waves Boyer and the other singers in her line (including an exuberant Sheila E., having stepped down from her drum riser) off their mics, approaches his own, and starts tossing out lines from "It," another Sign O' the Times deep track. And then he starts screaming them. And after that, he just starts screaming. Then he drops his mic and stumbles away, as if he's injured himself, or he just can't take his own badness anymore. Eventually he comes back to his mic — either someone has picked it up, or there's a big continuity problem — and leads the crowd in a chant of "all right" until it's time to not chant anymore. And at some point, after you've caught your breath, you'll note that 10 and a half minutes of your life has gone by as you've watched this amazing thing.
That's when you hit the "Previous Track" button (or "Rewind," if you're using the VCR) and watch it all over again. You can do that forever.