Prince’s ‘Diamonds and Pearls': A Guide to Every Track
Prince needed Diamonds and Pearls, his 13th studio album, to be a hit. His 1990 film, Graffiti Bridge, was a colossal flop that ended his movie career. Its soundtrack album of the same name did spawn some modest hits, but Prince was used to superstardom, and he would settle for nothing less.
Diamonds and Pearls can be seen as a career reboot. For the first time since the demise of the Revolution, Prince gave his backing band co-credit, billing the album to Prince and the New Power Generation. The group’s lineup would change between 1991 and 2013, but the original members were Rosie Gaines on vocals and keyboards, Tommy Barbarella on keyboards, Levi Seacer Jr. on guitar, Sonny T. on bass, Michael B. on drums, Kirk Johnson on percussion and vocals and Tony M. on raps. Johnson and Tony M. were joined by Damon Dickson as dancers on stage.
The group’s hard work paid off. Diamonds and Pearls gave Prince some of the biggest hit singles of his career, and sold over 2 million copies, becoming his first non-movie album since 1985 to go multi-platinum.
Read on for a track-by-track album guide, and links to detailed stories about each song, all taken from Diffuser’s 365 Prince Songs in a Year series.
Diamonds and Pearls was the album that introduced the New Power Generation to the world, but according to PrinceVault, the entirety of this opening track was performed by Prince alone. “Thunder” starts with an ornate vocal arrangement leading into a heavy drumbeat, which is eventually joined by a harsh keyboard and sitar combination. It never became a staple of Prince’s live shows, but he did create an extended version for the Joffrey Ballet’s production Billboardsi, a ballet based entirely on Prince’s music.
After the one-man-band effort “Thunder,” Prince finally gave the NPG a proper showcase on “Daddy Pop.” Rosie Gaines joins Prince on backing vocals, and rapper Tony M. delivers his first (of many) verses. Lyrically, the song is a rebuttal to critics who had given some of Prince’s recent work a hard time. With a new band in tow, “Daddy” is ready to show them what he’s made of.
“Diamonds and Pearls”
One of his standout ballads, both artistically and commercially, “Diamonds and Pearls” reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it got there without pandering to current trends. The song’s simple lyrics betray the mesmerizing underlying production, with tiny details that earn the track its place amongst Prince’s signature hits.
Based on its title and some of its lyrical content, you’d be forgiven for thinking “Cream” was a song about sex. In reality, though, “Cream” is Prince delivering himself a pep talk. After a few years of being knocked down, he’s telling himself he can rise to the top and become the cream of the crop. It worked. “Cream” was one of Prince’s biggest ever chart successes, and his fifth (and final) Billboard No. 1.
Read more: Repeat After Me: ‘Cream’ is Not a Sex Song
Early in his career, Prince’s guitar virtuosity inspired comparisons to Jimi Hendrix. But really, his playing often had more in common with another guitar hero: jazz great George Benson. The breezy, carefree track “Strollin’” can be heard as a musical tribute to Benson, who became Prince’s close friend, and eventually an important guide on his religious journey.
“Willing and Able”
Another laid-back number, “Willing and Able” showcases the entire New Power Generation and features backing vocals from gospel group the Steeles. The song is said to have originated from a 1990 jam session, and its organic origins are reflected in its warm sound. It really couldn’t have been further from the drum-machine dominated musical landscape of the time.
For Prince’s first album to feature a full-time rapper, Diamonds and Pearls didn’t have a lot of hip-hop-styled production. “Gett Off” is the exception. The full band affair features a drumbeat that sounds like a sampled loop, and a funky flute riff from former Revolution and Madhouse member Eric Leeds. “Gett Off” is actually composed of a number of different parts from little-known previous songs, and it allowed Prince to pay tribute to another of his inspirations, James Brown, by referencing his 1969 hit "Mother Popcorn."
“Walk Don’t Walk”
It’s well-known that the Revolution’s multi-racial, mixed gender lineup, was modeled on Sly and the Family Stone. Sly and co. didn’t cease to be an influence when the Revolution disbanded; “Walk Don’t Walk” has a strong dose of idiosyncrasy, with car horns and a bright riff from the Purpleaxxe, a sampler Prince invented and patented for this album, but the vocal partnership between Prince, Rosie Gaines and additional singer Elisa Fiorillo is pure Family Stone.
Many fans consider “Jughead” the worst track on Diamonds and Pearls. Some even deride it as the worst of Prince’s entire career. To give it some credit, though, “Jughead” is a celebration of the New Power Generation as a unit, with Tony M. and Rosie Gaines taking the lead, and Prince making what amounts to a cameo appearance, at least when it comes to vocals.
“Money Don’t Matter 2 Night”
By far the most political song on the album, “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” is an anthem against greed. Prince uses one of his most infectious melodies and enchanting productions to decry the unfairness of capitalism, and question the validity of fighting the Gulf War in order to control oil which will eventually destroy the planet anyway. All of this, and it never really comes across as too preachy.
The funky workout “Push” is notable for featuring string arrangements from Clare Fisher, Prince’s frequent collaborator from the mid-'80s. In a rapped segment towards the end, Prince lists a number of tracks that appear on the album, including “Horny Pony,” which was actually removed at the last minute in favor of "Gett Off."
The sultry “Insatiable” is one of Prince’s most seductive ballads. With twinkling keyboards and a slow-paced 3/4 rhythm, the song sees Prince take his sensual falsetto and lyrical come-ons to new heights. Though never a big mainstream hit, “Insatiable” was huge on urban radio, and reached No. 3 on the R&B chart. Appropriately, based on the song’s lyrics, the song’s video is something to behold…
“Live 4 Love”
Rounding off the album, “Live 4 Love” showcases the capabilities of the Purpleaxxe, Sonny T. and Michael B., but Prince’s guitar histrionics keep the attention on the group’s leader. By no means one of the album’s best tracks, and perhaps not a particularly strong closer, “Live 4 Love” is thought to be the first song to include a rap from Tony M. It’s fitting, then, for Diamonds and Pearls to end with a peek into how it all started.