It’s been one year since Prince passed away and fans have taken to the internet today to post remembrances. In the spirit of that, we’re re-running a few articles that call attention to Prince, his life, his music, and his uniqueness.
By 1983, Prince had released five albums. The first four — For You, Prince, Dirty Mind, Controversy — all performed well. (Prince and Controversy were both certified platinum; “I Wanna Be Your Lover” off Prince hit number 11 on Billboard’s charts.) But it was 1999 that put Prince in front of a wider audience with massive radio airplay.
And it was 1999 that spawned Prince’s first music videos with a real chance of being seen. What had been primarily promotional clips – something even The Beatles were doing in the late 1960s – were now called music videos and were catching fire thanks to MTV (or, for a large amount of people who didn’t have MTV, there was Friday Night Videos on NBC and Night Tracks on what was then called WTBS). Problem was, MTV, now notoriously, wasn’t playing music videos from African-American artists.
This changed with Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Prince’s “Little Red Corvette.” Prince had made a video for the song “1999,” but it received sporadic airplay, at least at first. (Then a lot later.) “Little Red Corvette,” a single that would peak at number 6 on the Billboard charts, was the video that introduced the viewing public to Prince.
(Note: In the amount of time I’ve been working on this piece, I’ve seen a few online versions of this video come and then be taken down. You can still find it, but I don’t want to link to it because that’s a surefire way it will be taken down.)
In I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, Lisa Coleman of The Revolution remembers, “We were on tour when ‘Little Red Corvette’ started doing well on radio, so we squeezed in a video. A director flew in, we set up our gear at the venue in Jacksonville, and Prince threw together some choreography.”
Prince and The Revolution played Jacksonville on February 19, 1983. The director Coleman refers to is Bryan Greenberg.
Greenberg, almost strangely at that time, already had a lot of experience shooting music videos. Michael Nesmith (yes, the Michael Nesmith from The Monkees), had started a show for Nickelodeon called PopClips that ran weekly in 1979. PopClips was the granddaddy of all music video shows and introduced the idea of VJs. (It was initially supposed to have comedians in-between the videos, but that idea was quickly scrapped.) Eventually, as Nesmith became less involved, Greenberg became one of the people running the show.
Even by 1983, there weren’t a lot of people who knew how to make music videos. So, as Greenberg explains today, it really wasn’t that strange to find out on short notice that he’d be flying from Los Angeles to Florida to film a music video for Prince.
“Warner Bros. found us, they called us up, and next thing you know, [producer] Beth [Broday] and I are sitting in front of [Prince’s manager at the time] Steve Fargnoli, talking about doing a video for Prince.”
The deal was, they’d fly to Lakewood, Florida, where Prince was rehearing, and film a video for “Little Red Corvette” and Vanity 6’s “Drive Me Wild.” Greenberg recalls the budget was minuscule, under $20,000, “and their only stipulation before agreeing to shoot the video was that they wanted half the budget paid immediately… in cash.”
The original plan for the “Little Red Corvette” video was quite different than what was eventually produced. There was always supposed to be the stage work we see, but also another part filmed with Prince and Vanity driving around in a red Corvette. When Vanity died in February, Prince performed “Little Red Corvette” and dedicated it to her – and, as it turned out, she was almost the co-star of the video.
Greenberg remembers, “Originally we were going to shoot the next day. It was actually a night shoot. It was him and Vanity rolling around in a red Corvette that was going to be towed around this little lake. It was really beautiful, a really pretty area we were filming around where we were shooting. But, at the time, Prince hadn’t done anything outside of being onstage. And he’s very shy. He really keeps to himself. So I always knew in the back of my head that I just don’t think he’s going to do this. He wouldn’t have control. He wouldn’t be able to control the situation.”
After a day of shooting the stage work, both Greenberg and Prince mutually agreed to nix the whole Corvette part. “At the end of the day,” Greenberg recalls, “Prince looked at me and I looked at him and it was like, ‘You know, we’ve got the video. We don’t need to do any more. This will work.’ And we both kind of decided we had the video. I literally took the crew out to Epcot Center the next day instead of shooting.”