Prince Shows Off His Sense of Humor With Vanity 6’s ‘If a Girl Answers’
When Prince put together Vanity 6, he put a unique spin on the girl-group archetype as popularized by acts like the Supremes. Gathering members Denise (Vanity) Matthews, Brenda Bennett and Susan Moonsie, and writing and producing almost all of their debut album, his aim was for the ladies to project an independent, sardonic and bluntly sexual image, where most prior girl groups were demure, coy and often sang about heartbreak or longing.
Released in late summer 1982, Vanity 6 was chock full of interesting tracks, with one of the more unique tunes being “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)." It led off the album’s second side with a killer bassline, a very early foray into rapped, rather than sung, lyrics, and one of the first indications of Prince’s sense of humor.
“If a Girl Answers”, co-written by Prince and Time bassist Terry Lewis, plays as a girlfight on wax. Vanity and Brenda, looking for a ride to a party, decide to call “Jimmy” (apparently a recent date/conquest of Vanity’s). When Vanity expresses reluctance to place the call in the event that another woman picks up, Brenda provides sage advice (and sets up the song title’s conceit) with, “If a girl answers, don’t hang up. Just talk about her!”
Sure enough, the phone is answered by a woman. Upon the mutual realization that they’re both dating Jimmy, they trade verbal barbs. Brenda then jumps into the fray and defends Vanity by challenging the song’s antagonist to a fight and delivering withering insults like, “If I wasn't a lady, I’d take my money and buy you a brand new face / Then I'd take my underwear and stick 'em in your mouth and you'd love it ‘cause you got no taste!” The song concludes with Jimmy being lambasted as a “jive talk man with no money” and the phone being hung up.
Hear Vanity 6 Perform "If A Girl Answers (Don't Hang Up)"
“Jamie Starr," the mysterious figure given production credit on Vanity 6’s project as well as the Time albums, was given credit for playing Jimmy’s girlfriend on “If a Girl Answers”, but, of course, those lines were delivered by Prince. Using a raspy, slightly higher-pitched speaking voice not dissimilar from Morris Day’s, Prince’s appearance on “If a Girl Answers” (in addition to the song itself) represented one of the first public appearances of Prince’s lighter side.
While it can occasionally be hard to balance the idea of Prince cracking a song-length joke against the image of him as a super-serious musician, the man’s sense of humor was legendary. In an interview conducted shortly after Prince’s death, Revolution keyboardist Matt Fink proclaimed that Prince was “an extremely funny person," while that sentiment was shared on social media as part of a tribute by Spike Lee. Of course, in the years following “If a Girl Hangs Up”, Prince’s comedic ability would be given the chance to shine in videos (“Kiss”, “Black Sweat”), on film (particularly “Under the Cherry Moon”) and on records commercially released (“Bob George," in which the humor takes a dark turn) and unreleased (1983’s “Vibrator," which found Prince re-using the Jamie Starr voice to play a store clerk who Vanity encounters when needing batteries for her “body massager.”) Vanity 6’s come-ons seemed to be delivered with a wink and a nudge, but “If a Girl Hangs Up” was definitive and early proof that Prince didn’t always take himself seriously.
Denise Matthews died in February 2016, and Prince's concert in Melbourne, Australia, that night was turned into a bit of tribute to her, saying that they "used to love each other deeply. She loved me for the artist I was, I loved her for the artist she was trying to be. She and I would fight. She was very headstrong 'cause she knew she was the finest woman in the world. She never missed an opportunity to tell you that.”
In addition to playing "The Beautiful Ones," which was partially inspired by their breakup, he also remembered one of their fights, during which he threatened to throw her into a pool. “You can’t throw me in the pool, you’re too little,” she said. So Prince had his bodyguard Chick do it. “I probably shouldn’t be telling this story,“ Prince concluded, “but she’d want us to celebrate her life and not mourn her.”