Prince Makes a Joyful Noise in ‘Play in the Sunshine’
How many songs can you think of that are expressions of pure, unfiltered joy? Not just songs that say they're expressions of joy (think Pharrell Williams' "Happy," or Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" or even Wang Chung's "Everybody Have Fun Tonight"), but tracks that blast forth from any given set of speakers with a sound that says, authoritatively, "This song was created under exceedingly joyful circumstances, and if you are open to it, you, too, will be exceedingly joyful." We're talking Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" and "Master Blaster (Jammin')." Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams." the Smithereens' "A Girl Like You." Gwar's "Death Pod." Okay, maybe not "Death Pod."
Any such list simply must include Prince's "Play in the Sunshine" the second song on Sign 'O' the Times' first LP, Side A. This is a significant placement, as it immediately follows the album's title track, one of the dourest assessments of life on planet Earth that Prince ever released to said planet. "Play in the Sunshine" is the streak of light breaking through the darkest of clouds, in the starkest of situations; it is, in some ways, the anti-"Sign," and that's not a bad thing.
Just try to keep from nodding your head or swaying your shoulders at some point in the first 30 seconds, when the drums pound you and the keyboard plays that happy melody and Prince punctuates the rhythm with hoos and woos. When the mighty one opens his voice, you might initially flinch, thinking a sermon is coming, because the first words he sings are "We wanna play in the sunshine, we wanna be free / Without the help of a margarita or ecstasy." A wee bit of judgment about alcohol and drugs cannot stop the party train that's picking up momentum, particularly when the chorus kicks in:
"We got 2 play in the sunshine, turn all the lights up 2 10
I wanna meet U (meet U) and kiss U (kiss U)
And love U (love U) and miss U (miss U)
Do it all over again, do it all over again
We're gonna play in the sunshine, we're gonna get over
I'm feelin' kind of lucky 2night, I'm gonna find my 4-leaf clover
Before my life is done
Some way (some way), some how (some how) I'm gonna have fun"
Feeling lucking, having fun, doing some romantic lovey-dovey stuff while the drums groove you and the melody moves you? Who wouldn't be up for that?
Admittedly, things get a little weird in the next couple verses, as Price aspires to love all his enemies "'til the gorilla falls off the wall," then closes out the verses with this curious couplet:
"Aah, pop goes the music when the big white rabbit begin 2 talk
And the color green will make your best friend leave ya (Walk)
It'll make them do 'The Walk,' but that's cool (That's cool)
Cuz one day (one day), every day (every day) will be a yellow day, let's play"
Prince caps all this dance-inspiring, ecstatic oddness with some dazzling guitar solos, reminding you then, now and forever just how much joyful expression could be coaxed from that blessed machine. The squealy, vibrato-laden first solo doesn't have many notes in it, but he wrings every bit of ecstasy (not the kind from the first verse—the emotional stuff it was named after) out of what few strings he uses. The second guitar bit—a brief tandem run with the keyboards—is a little Hot Rats-era Frank Zappa, while the final solo is a Princian exercise in pure wah-wah goodness, with Jimi Hendrix himself smiling down upon him.
It's a joyful bit of expression in a song that's all about joy — the pure, uncut stuff. When you need some of that—and who among us doesn't? — you'll know where to go.