When Prince Went Full-Tilt Disco on ‘Just As Long As We’re Together’
In 1988, the Wonder Stuff’s sixth single raised the question “Who Wants to Be the Disco King?” Ten years prior, the answer was simple: Prince.
It may be odd now to equate a glittering disco ball with the artist who fused funk, R&B, pop and rock though a paisley kaleidoscope, and whose blistering guitar solos stole the show at both the 2007 Super Bowl and the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
But back in 1978, Prince hit the scene with a slight case of Saturday Night Fever on his debut album, For You. When you look at Billboard’s Top 10 Singles of 1978, half of which were owned by Andy Gibb and the Bee Gees, it makes sense. Disco was king and queen. The year was one wet, hot, American Donna Summer; her smashes “Last Dance” and “MacArthur Park” arrived alongside Prince’s second-ever single, “Just As Long As We’re Together.”
Clocking in at nearly six and a half minutes, the album version of “Just As Long As We're Together” was in its natural state as long as the extended dance remixes he would later release for many of his major '80s hits. The track’s roots date back to 1976 when Prince first put the "Jelly Jam” instrumental solo to tape.
According to PrinceVault, he recorded the song several times, twice before the eyes of CBS Records and Warner Brothers executives, to prove he was capable of playing all of the instruments and producing his debut album himself. This was something unheard of for any major label artist debut, let alone one still in his teens.
Prince’s strategy worked, and “Produced, Arranged, Composed and Performed by Prince” became an iconic part of the Prince liner notes experience, soon to be paired with “May U Live 2 See The Dawn.” (For most of us, the latter meant sticking around long enough to hear the B-side to the “Holy River” cassingle in May 1997.)
Lyrically, “Just As Long…” is a straight up love jam, perfect for long distance dedications and prom-posals. In the falsetto that would define much of his early work, Prince sings “There is nothing that will overcome the love we share / Nothing that will break us apart / Girl I gotta always have you in my ear / Gotta always have you in my heart.” Seven years later that love would sour, with Prince complaining, “She’s Always in My Hair.”
For You wound up stalling at No. 163 on the Billboard 200, with 150,000 copies sold in the U.S. en route to an eventual global tally of 2 million in sales (a “soft start” back then is the definition of hit album in 2017).
The single stopped cold at No. 91 on the R&B charts. Thankfully for rock and roll history, 1978 was a magical time when labels still developed artists. 1999, circa 1982, was still three albums away. But this is where the seeds of Prince’s frustration with Warner Brothers were planted. In Per Nilsen’s must-read book, DanceMusicSexRomance, Prince’s early manager Owen Husney says “(Prince) had been told that he was so fantastic so much that he believed he was really going to be successful straightaway. He started to blame Warner Brothers and then he started to blame me.”
Prince and Warner Brothers stayed together through the early '90s and reunited prior to his death.