Prince’s Sharp, Minimalistic ‘Hot Thing’ Provides Needed Release
Prince was always prone to creating alone, fashioning a remarkable career in the most insular way possible. He couldn't play horns, however, and that meant relying upon key contributors like Eric Leeds for bright blasts of funk. Their influence became palpable, even if they were never credited on the sleeves.
For instance, back in 1981, Prince might have left the sharp, minimalistic "Hot Thing" as it was, placing it squarely in the tradition of Controversy. Instead, as Prince enthused in a 2015 talk with Ebony, Leeds is given an uncommon platform on a track where his boss handles every other instrument. "That's where Eric shines," Prince said.
When he scrapped the Revolution, despite having gotten far along in a proposed collaboration called Dream Factory, Prince returned to this favored solo approach with a vengeance. Holed up all alone in his home studio, he began work on a sprawling project that would eventually coalesce into Sign 'O' the Times. The results often play like a breakup record, as Prince sorts through his feelings over a shattered relationship with Susannah Melvoin on songs like "Forever In My Life," "If I Was Your Girlfriend" and "Strange Relationship."
Still, there remains the need for some sense of release – and tracks like "Hot Thing" provided it. A No. 14 R&B hit in the U.S., the song ultimately finds Leeds running through a series of obvious R&B cliches over Prince's itchy, techno groove, but the saxist does so with such unfettered joy that it just doesn't matter. His role is to provide an earthy, charm-filled counterpoint to Prince's tough programming and razor-sharp synths, and it works perfectly.
"He had always had tremendous players in his band, regardless of what instrument they play," Leeds told the Post-Gazette in 2016, "but if they played guitar or keyboard or bass or drums, he could really pick up the bass or guitar or get behind the keyboard and drums and show them exactly what he wanted by playing it. He couldn't do that with the horns, so the method of communication was a little bit different and it kind of enabled us to take on more of a role in the band."
Along the way, Prince deftly moves from overtly sexual asides ("Hot thing, what's your fantasy? / Do you want to play with me?"), toward deeper, more personal entreaties: "Hot thing, when you smile, when you smile, when you smile / Are your smiles, are your smiles for me?" You hear some worry creeping in, some sense of frailty that links even this sweaty workout to the larger themes at play on Sign 'O' the Times.
By the end, Prince – and any careful listener of "Hot Thing," the sexiest single moment on an album loaded with them has been reduced to a puddle of wordless delirium. Eric Leeds is similarly spent, seeming to have literally run out of ideas.
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