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We Could Have a Good Time

Welcome to Flashback Friday [1], where a prospective champion and a musical monarch are gonna show us what it’s all about.

New York Mets pitchers and catchers reported to St. Petersburg for the club’s 25th Spring Training on Friday, February 21, 1986. The very next day, “Kiss” became the 18th single recorded by the artist known as Prince to chart on the Billboard Hot 100.

Coincidence? I think not.

It didn’t occur to me then, but the explosion of “Kiss” onto radio and music television predicted the Met season ahead. I don’t know how I missed it, considering that in late February, throughout March, and well into April, I had two things on my mind more than any other: that song and that team.

Seriously, that’s how much I embraced both, even if the 1986 Mets weren’t yet officially “the 1986 Mets”. You knew they’d be something special as soon as they coalesced into a regulation 24-man unit and began playing games that counted. As for “Kiss,” it was championship-caliber to me from the first moment it infiltrated my ears. It stands eternally as my favorite song from the last year the Mets won the World Series and ranks as No. 14 on my personal Top 1,000 Songs of what I like to call “All Time” (1972-1999).

It didn’t take me long to get to know “Kiss”. About a second-and-a-half of strumming. Maybe a half-second grunt too identifiable to be emanating from anybody else’s throat. If you didn’t know you were listening to a Prince song by the third second of “Kiss,” then you either hadn’t been alive lately or had been off on an extraordinarily long road trip. Prince was in the midst of a run of about a half-decade or so that, in a baseball context, best recalls Pujols in the 2000s or Gehrig in the 1930s. There was nobody whose stats in the middle of the 1980s were as pervasive in the game as Prince’s sound was on the radio from roughly 1983 through 1987, maybe longer.

Others had a few more and higher-charting hits to their name during the same golden pop music age, but nobody had so many protégés, so many clients, so many acolytes, so many imitators. The radio was all Prince half the time, even when there wasn’t a Prince record in heaviest rotation.

Though you never had to wait long for one of those. The man pulled off the trick of being prolific and ubiquitous, yet having every new release come off as an absolute event.

“Prince has a new album!”
“Prince has a new single!”
“Prince a new video for the new single from his new album which is the soundtrack for his new movie!”

Prince was everywhere without particularly going out of his way to be anywhere. The world came unto (or un2) Prince and it was a joy fantastic.

As were our 1986 Mets, even when they had 162 games remaining on their schedule. The Mets of the mid-’80s had blossomed into that kind of happening. 1984 was a critical success. 1985 was a pop sensation. By 1986, they were in their “what can they possibly do next to top what they’ve done already?” phase.

Exactly like Prince at exactly the instant “Kiss” broke. He wasn’t two years’ removed from the release of Purple Rain. Not even a year had passed since Around the World in a Day. “America,” his previous single, which came from that last album, spent its final week on the Hot 100 at the end of November. Three months hadn’t gone by and Prince was all new again. There’d be a film called Under the Cherry Moon (which he’d direct and star in). Serving as its de facto soundtrack would be Parade, whose cover featured Prince, pictured from the midriff up, looking not much like he did for the prior album, an appearance different from the one before.

In 2004, speaking to the twists and turns of his career to date, Prince told [2] the Washington Post, “Once you’ve done anything, to do it again ain’t no big deal, you feel me? […] It’s like, OK, what’s the next thing?”

Every creative person who will never lay claim to anything akin to his depth, breadth or output feels Prince there. He had been one of the two or three most enormous stars in the world in 1984 as Purple Rain enveloped the cultural consciousness. He could have issued a veritable sequel to cash in. He could have hibernated and ruminated and made his public wait. Nah, screw that. Prince was here to make music, so he made an album in 1985 that was distinct from his blockbuster from 1984, and he prepared an album for 1986 that encapsulated a whole different vibe from 1985’s.

Yet it was still quite clearly a Prince album filled with Prince songs dripping with the Prince sound. He knew how to move on to the next thing while not losing the essential qualities that defined the preceding things, just as Purple Rain stepped into another realm from 1999 — his 1982 album that blew up in 1983 and couldn’t be mistaken for its predecessors from the late ’70s and earlier ’80s — yet was very much part of the Prince family.

And oh yeah, he was all of 26 years old as 1986 dawned. Plus he generally played every instrument himself on his records.

Jesus.

Parade wasn’t what came before, but as I said, two to three seconds into its first single, there was no mistaking who was at the helm. Prince was always inviting us to a party. This one was at once intimate, cheeky and, if not “Delirious,” sneakily hilarious.

After a stuttering bit of synth-play that establishes a bass-free bass line, Prince outlines the parameters of his party nine seconds in:

You don’t have to be beautiful
To turn me on
I just need your body baby
From dusk till dawn

Prince could’ve moaned those lyrics. Had it appealed to him musically, he would have. Instead, he effected a light, frothy tone, making an extremely Princelike proposition in the poppiest way possible.

You don’t need experience
To turn me out
You just leave it all up to me
I’m gonna show you what it’s all about

If you’re not paying attention, you’d think Prince wants to take the object of his intentions to the sock hop. No, he has a heavier night in mind. But what makes his approach refreshing is his declaration to love you just the way you are.

You don’t have to be rich
To be my girl
You don’t have to be cool
To rule my world
Ain’t no particular sign I’m more compatible with
I just want your extra time and your
Kiss

He probably wants more than a peck on the cheek, but this evening, he is by no means living in a material world and thus is not clamoring for a material girl who needs to put on airs. Just be yourself, baby.

Popular music’s reigning lothario couldn’t be much more feminist.

Not that Prince doesn’t adhere to a strict personal code of conduct and request that you abide by it as well.

You got to not talk dirty, baby
If you wanna impress me
You can’t be too flirty, mama
I know how to undress me

Our host suggests some activities for our gathering.

I want to be your fantasy
Maybe you could be mine

Then his fetish for courtesy is displayed…courteously.

You could leave it all up to me
We could have a good time

We’ve only been at Prince’s party for 103 seconds, yet he has thoughtfully and cleverly laid out an irresistible agenda, set it to an irresistible beat and layered it with an irresistible message.

Who could resist a “Kiss” like that?

I couldn’t (though I don’t think it’s me, his quasi-namesake, he was trying to woo). The nation’s radio programmers and record-buyers were plenty charmed by his entreaty. From its debut at No. 52, “Kiss,” technically by Prince and the Revolution, climbed the charts steadily. It was inside the Top 40 with a bullet the week ending March 8, which was the very same day the Mets commenced their exhibition slate at Al Lang Stadium versus their co-tenants, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets were anxious to kiss off the Cardinals altogether following the resolution of the 1985 season, a pulsating campaign during which the Mets won 98 games yet it wasn’t quite enough for a divisional crown.

In 1986, the Mets wanted to be unstoppable. Unstoppable like Prince. Unstoppable like “Kiss,” which continued to soar on Billboard while Davey Johnson sorted out his personnel: 28 to 15 to 10 to 5 to 3 on the eve of their season opener in Pittsburgh. Prince was equally indefatigable within the space of what was now his ninth Top 10 smash.

After a marvelously flighty guitar break, Prince returns at 2:45 to reiterate his preferences for the remainder of the affair.

Women not girls rule my world
I said they rule my world
Act your age, mama
Not your shoe size
Maybe we could do the twirl

Granted, “act your age, not your shoe size” was likely lifted from a sixth-grade playground dialogue, but right in the middle of a Prince come-on, the protagonist is cracking a joke. For someone who barely smiled in his major motion picture debut, the effect is revelatory. Maybe Prince is of our world after all.

You don’t have to watch Dynasty
To have an attitude

Whoa! Hold up! Prince knows from Dynasty? Not only does he invoke one of the Greed Decade’s iconic television programs — No. 7 for the 1985-86 season, according to A.C. Nielsen — but he does so to stinging effect. I didn’t watch Dynasty, but I knew what it represented. Everybody in the mid-1980s did. I had no idea Prince was at least a little like everybody while he was completely immersed in being Prince. It was as if he was letting us know he was more accessible than we would have otherwise imagined.

Another revelation. Another great line. Y’know what? Prince is pretty goddamn funny and more subtle about it than I would’ve guessed.

You just leave it all up to me
My love will be your food

We should all be so lucky to subsist on a figurative diet of Prince Rogers Nelson’s affections. Musically and lyrically, I kept going back to the buffet for another helping. He didn’t care about status. He didn’t care about astrology. He didn’t want a Joan Collins wanna-be. He just wanted my extra time. He got all 3:46 of it every time “Kiss” announced its presence with authority on whatever station was brilliant enough to play it as winter turned to spring, as Spring Training turned to baseball for keeps.

Which doesn’t even bring into account the video. The video! [3] The video is one of the most extraordinary clips ever made. I’m sure it was filmed in some exotic Far East locale, never mind that it’s most likely a soundstage in Minnesota. Prince is prancing about with purpose. Wendy of the Revolution remains glued to a stool, bringing the licks and fending off the gaze. There’s a mystery lady who you know is going to wind up ruling Prince’s world, regardless of sign. The video for “Kiss” is the musical version of what was said about Darryl Strawberry’s every at-bat, that you would make sure you were watching every one of them because you didn’t want to miss something you’d never forget.

Except Darryl sometimes struck out or flied to right. Prince always had a hit, always gave you a good time, always got the girl…I mean woman.

On April 19, 1986, “Kiss” became the No. 1 song in the land for the first of two consecutive weeks. On April 23, the New York Mets became the sole occupants of first place in their division for the balance of 1986.

Prince’s job was done here.

Aside from bursting out of every speaker in the known universe while the season was in its gestation phase and subsequent nascence, there’s another reason I believe “Kiss” predicted what the 1986 Mets were about to turn into. During March, I visited Florida, staying with a college friend who was engaged to a girl who revealed, during one of MTV’s airings of “Kiss,” that she didn’t care for Prince.

Well, I countered as casually as I could, Prince writes; sings; plays all those instruments; dances; produces; acts; and just created this mesmerizing video we are enjoying for the umpteenth time this week. Other than that, I Princesplained, he’s not really that good.

She dropped the subject. About a year later, my college friend broke off the engagement, decided to spend the ensuing summer in New York and wound up introducing me to the woman who became my wife. I don’t know that there’s a direct connection from one Prince to another, but there ya go.

But that’s not my point. My point is Prince could do it all and do all of it better than anybody else on the scene. That’s what the Mets did in their genre in those days. No team appreciably outperformed the Mets in any facet of the game. No team performed so many facets of the game together nearly as well. And no team that good ever drew you in like the Mets of that era. Perhaps you could make a case for one of the non-Joan Collins dynasty franchises having been more accomplished, but nobody ever had the kind of…I wanna say “attitude” about it the Mets had it, just to be cute, but, really, the word I seek is aura.

Those Mets were an aura unto themselves.

The night Gary Carter died, SNY showed (and unfortunately hasn’t since repeated) the game in which he made his Met debut. That was Opening Day 1985, the season before the season, if you will. They weren’t the 1986 Mets, but most of the pieces were in place. And as I watched this collection of Mets ply their craft from the vantage point of February 2012, I was legitimately astonished. This team had Carter and Gooden and Strawberry and Hernandez and Wilson and Backman and Orosco and Johnson and Foster and was about to introduce McDowell and was a month away from bringing up Dykstra. The vintage broadcast aired in standard definition, but the Mets of that era were hi-def all the way. And we got to watch them every night as if you could be so lucky to have that as your team for a couple of years — as if the world just routinely handed you a ticket to such wonders and instructed you to do no more with it than enjoy.

It was like that listening to and watching Prince. I’m saying it now because he died yesterday at fifty-bleeping-seven years old [4], but it’s something I knew if didn’t always fully appreciate while his career was in progress. I probably took it for granted when his music was everywhere. There were always new Prince records and new records Prince had a hand in guiding and they were on constantly and, after a while, you didn’t consider this an unusual state of affairs. Parade gave way to Sign O’ The Times, which gave way to Lovesexy, and the hits…as well as a stream of perfectly worthy non-hits…just kept coming. Prince, emblematic of his time yet transcendently timeless, continued to make music. He stayed famous mostly for music he had made a long time before, but I don’t think we ever forgot who he was, even as our attention inevitably drifted to other sources of fascination.

You receive a sad, shocking alert about the passing of a public figure you admired and you are, understandably, shocked and saddened. The purple lining? Maybe you find yourself flashing back to that moment that made this moment matter, that moment when all you wanted to do was listen to Prince’s great new song and watch the Mets start their next great season.