'Purple Women' is a limited tribute series honoring the women who made music and history with Prince during his lifetime. To follow this series and check out the who's who of women on the roster, be sure to visit the introductory page for further information.
When Prince's music moves at a slower cadence it can go in several directions: babymakers, jazzy cool downs, power ballads, baroque waltzes, sedative spoken narratives --- the range is extensive. But true to Prince's artistic oeuvre, they weren't your typical forays into those recognizable markers. He put lots of distances between him and the bombastic, showy tunes that are often prominent in pop balladry.
Of the classic cases, "Sometimes It Snows In April" comes to immediate mind at how Prince's melancholia can stir deep-seeded emotion in the art pop frame, and considering current events, it eerily sounds as if Prince wrote his own eulogy. "Purple Rain" is the power ballad to end all power ballads, and about the most fragile and heartbreaking apology letter set to a guitar that doesn't gently weeps, but instead howls. Then there is "Adore" a slightly overdrawn lover's declaration that is an anomaly these days as not many men sing about women like that anymore.
On another spectrum of Prince's ballads is "Love...Thy Will Be Done" and to be fair, the song isn't a 'full-tilt Prince' song as credit needs to go to its main performer, Martika.
Martika is a name that doesn't get mentioned much these days, but in terms of the younger pop diva set of the late 1980s, she had edge that Tiffany and Debbie Gibson couldn't even dream of buying at the shopping mall. Chewed the sugary bubblegum, Martika didn't, as she successfully pushed those Kids Incorporated days behind her when she dropped her 1989 self-titled debut. After having huge success with "Toy Soldiers", her pensive pop single concerning drug addiction and domestic turmoil (like I said, the girl was deep...), Martika threw a artistic curveball when she asked Prince to collaborate with her on her sophomore release. Prince ended up writing and producing four songs for 1991's Martika's Kitchen, of the four, "Love...Thy Will Be Done" became the most prolific.
A top 10 hit it was, but it was successful on the grounds that Martika made the seamless transition into a maturing pop mindset. Of course Prince's backing helped a bunch, but Martika always had her turn signal geared for a more cognitive lane, if you listen to her debut, it was obvious, in her day, she was a Jazmine Sullivan competing in a sea of Rihannas. "Love...Thy Will Be Done" steered her into FM Land, and its not a bad spot to be, but for the spunky, artistically eclectic image Martika was pushing with Martika's Kitchen, "Love..." wasn't meant to play softly in the background of your Grandma's Bingo Night. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
"Love...Thy Will Be Done" functions in a similar vein as Prince's "The Beautiful Ones". Of course they are dissimilar as day and night, but as transitional ballads for their performers they had some commonality. They are both love ballads that are sparse and meditative, but both melt warm in gospel-tinged intensity by way of its vocal structure, but "Love..." takes less time to sing what's off the top of the heart than "Beautiful", and is a little less ornamented, less dark, as it never truly climaxes, just stays on an even passion-fueled flow. Even in its sparseness, "Love..." cloud rolls on an unwavering drum and bass backing, and it chants and whispers like a prayer, and it comes as no surprise that the song was originally designed that way.
As pop singer Martika tells it, she had written a few lines of a prayer in her lyric notebook, and it was this notebook that ended up in Prince's possession after she visited with him at Paisley Park.
I showed him some of my stuff and he said 'would you mind if I borrow your book for a few hours'. I said 'cool, no problems'. He asked if he could photocopy a few things that he liked and I had no problem with that. I had no idea what the process for collaborating on music with him would be because it is always different with everybody. For him, he said 'I have photocopied a few things. Why don’t you just let me live with this for a bit and we’ll go from there'. So I flew home to L.A.
About a week later, Martika received a fax with the reworked lyrics, and on the following day a cassette tape arrived in the mail with the backing music. From there Martika fleshed out the remainder of the song with her production team, and the rest is well, music history.
"Love..." would become a signature song for Martika, locking arms with "Toy Soldiers", and Prince would also incorporate the song into his live sets from time to time. The song was also slated to appear on the soundtrack for Baz Lurhmann's 2013 production of The Great Gatsby, with Prince overseeing the entire project, but unfortunately wires were crossed and the idea scratched (Jay Z ended up taking over production in the end...but I don't think either Prince nor Jay Z could've saved that mess of a movie). Jessie Ware recently breathed some life into it with her humble version, and even she knew better than to go too far left-field with it, because truly the song is perfect as is and in no need of further experiment.
I usually don't like saying things are 'perfect', it's a word that was banned in my household as my mother disliked it (cause "nothing is 'perfect'" as she often says, and well, she's right...), but I can't think of a more complete love song. Okay, maybe I can if you gave me a few hours, but right now, "Love..." is just so damn complete that it makes me long for the days when ballads were events too, not something you skip over to get to the danceable stuff. I love how "Love..." is not extravagant, erotic or even structurally intricate, it is what it is, and it's beautiful.
"Love..." was in good company on Martika's Kitchen. I can think of many underrated albums, but Martika's Kitchen is right up there with the most underrated of them all. To use cooking cliches, it sizzles, steams, and is deep-fried in comfort pop-funk goodness. You leave the table full when you listen to the whole thing, and I always go back for seconds, thirds cause you can burn all the calories off by dancing around to most of it! Seriously, its one of the most fun pop records you can find.
Not only is it fulfilling on a sonic level, it's socially topical in its lyricals so you don't feel like you gorged on fluff. Present are songs about struggling young motherhood ("Broken Heart") and fighting for love and sexual pride amid bigotry ("Pride & Prejudice"). The legendary Celia Cruz comes on board for "Mi Tierra", an impassioned Spanglish song that embodies bold brass and slews of Spanish guitars as it discusses the pains of Cuban-American immigrants inability to visit their homeland. Like I said, Martika was a helluva more aware than her pop peers, making the personal political.
Still the album's main highlights are those Prince features. "Spirit" thumps around joyously in House elements, and softball New Jack rears on its funky title track and the should-of-been-a-single, "Don't Say You Love Me", where if you listen close Prince can be heard in the background. The Eastern influence of "A Magical Place" taps into the psychedelic pop-rock of the Around The World In A Day era, and to this day, I'm amazed how it wasn't a product of the Paisley Park, but since Prince liked to slink into the background and go incognito on recordings he saw fit, I'm going to throw that song into the bundle.
But of all its highlights, the crown jewel on Martika's Kitchen remains "Love...Thy Will Be Done". Prince gave the song its shade and its color, but Martika never lets herself be overshadowed on it --- it's her song, through and through, and a pleasing part of the "purple" feast.