Prince’s Journey from ‘The Black Album’ to ‘Lovesexy’ (Part 2 of 2)

Chris Lacy
6 min readMay 8, 2023

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Photo Credit: Steve Parke

It’s September 9, 1988. We’re in Dortmund, Germany.

Prince and his band finished performing at the Westfalenhalle Stadium. A Dutch fan stands outside the venue, sharing his thoughts about the show…

“The thing is, I don’t believe in God. But when Prince asks you to sing ‘Love is God, God is love’—you do that. You don’t question him. That’s the power he had over us. It was like a collective togetherness for all 11,000 of us.” — Rob Bemelen

You might be saying to yourself: How the heck did this happen? Let’s rewind…

ACT I: “DON’T BUY ‘THE BLACK ALBUM.’ I’M SORRY!”

Canceling The Black Album is a divine wake-up call for Prince. Deep conversations with Ingrid Chavez reveal how scary it is not knowing who you are. If Spooky Electric (read: Satan) can get Prince to question his identity and only trust his feelings, he could get him to question anything.

Rooting his identity in Lovesexy (read: Jesus Christ) doesn’t mean he won’t struggle; it means he will have power in his struggle. It takes faith to believe that, but it also produces joy.

And that belief inspires an influx of new music so pronounced that Warner Bros. agrees to shelve The Black Album and offer Prince a clean slate.

ACT II: PITCHING ‘LOVESEXY’

It’s early March 1988, and Warner Bros. is ready to promote Lovesexy, but Prince’s sales pitch is, well, fascinating:

  • Instead of using a plain cover like The Black Album, he hires Jean-Baptiste Mondino to photograph him nude. (Many department stores wrap the cover in—you guessed it—black in fear of public backlash.)
  • Instead of letting fans skip to their favorite songs, he wants them to press play and enjoy the ride. (Warner Bros. must format the entire project as a 45-minute track.)
  • Instead of using MTV like most artists in the 1980s, he wants to build his mystique without music videos. (A few days later, Prince calls his tour manager, Alan Leeds, to film “Alphabet St.” that day—no excuses.)
  • Instead of performing in America for the first time since 1986, he wants to tour Europe first because they dig his music more. (Prince’s team scrambles to fix the schedule and spends almost 10 weeks overseas before returning to the United States.)

Despite their legitimate concerns, Warner Bros. agrees to Prince’s terms because he seems engaged and focused like never before…

“One of my fondest memories of Prince in the studio was during the making of ‘Lovesexy’… By five or six, I’d get a call, and he’d say, ‘You wanna hear something?’ He would play the music unbearably loud. Conversation was impossible, as was ignoring the music because you felt it in every bone of your body.” — Alan Leeds

ACT III: SURPRISE AND SATISFACTION

Art Direction: Jean-Baptiste Mondino and Laura LiPuma-Nash

EVERY BODY HAS A STORY

Is Lovesexy’s cover trying to be provocative? Or is it a genuine display of an inward change? The answer is yes!

The now-iconic portrait of a naked Prince resting on a bed of flowers commands your attention. That’s what great album covers do. Every detail is pristine, from his windswept hair to his radiant skin and mystical aura. But the small story inside the big picture goes deeper…

“I spent a week in his company at the time of ‘Lovesexy.’ We were in the studio in Minneapolis, and he said we were leaving the next day for Los Angeles and suggested I do the album cover… As the night went on, I began to get anxious. The studio was booked. Later, he told me we’d talk over breakfast. Obviously, I didn’t sleep a wink. So, I went to the essence of a choir boy: the Sistine Chapel. Prince’s discourse is pretty apocalyptic — ‘Sign O’ the Times,’ ‘1999,’ — and yet, at the same time, kind of tantric. That way he talks about spirituality and sexuality. I did a little drawing during the night, starting from the idea of a nude. In the morning, he said, ‘It’s perfect.’” — Jean-Baptiste Mondino

Sex is a fundamental part of being human and God’s beautiful design when He created everything. Yet, sex in our world looks nothing like what He intended. Sexual brokenness surrounds and affects us all. We can either let our brokenness influence or reveal our confidence in Him. For Prince, sex that recognizes God’s existence is a beautiful and intimate act of worship…

“All that album cover was, was a picture. If you looked at that picture and some ill come out of your mouth, then that’s what you are. It’s looking right back at you in the mirror.” — Prince

Video Source: The Official Prince YouTube Channel

“THIS IS NOT MUSIC; THIS IS A TRIP!”

The Black Album is the sound of Prince throwing himself against the padded walls of his psyche. Lovesexy is Prince’s soul bursting out of a straitjacket, running wild with extended sleeves and flying buckles!

We hear him declare that nobody gets weaker the more they say “Yes!” to Jesus (Eye No). We hear him succumb to temptation and have fun with the English language (Alphabet St.). We hear him experience intense but temporary bliss (Glam Slam).

We hear his numb soul cry for help, and Jesus responds (Anna Stesia). We hear him realize that if he follows Christ, this world will be the only Hell he will ever know (Dance On). We hear him fall in love, not with a girl or boy, but with the heavens above (Lovesexy).

We hear him learn to love the right way (When 2 R in Love). We hear him understand there’s no such thing as war between the humble and the humble (I Wish U Heaven). We hear him fighting to starve his distractions and feed his faith (Positivity).

As Warner Bros. predicted, Lovesexy becomes Prince’s least successful record since For You. But he isn’t looking to Billboard charts or sales for validation. Prince believes great art isn’t always the most popular, and the most popular art isn’t always the artist’s best work…

“[‘Lovesexy’ was] a mind trip, like a psychedelic movie. Either you went with it and had a mind-blowing experience, or you didn’t.” — Prince

Photo Credit: Frank Griffin

“HOLD ON 2 UR SOUL Y’ALL!”

One word leaps to mind about the Lovesexy Tour: alive. The cameras, the dazzling lights, the colorful costumes/props. The band and its polka-dotted bandleader, the crowd in attendance, us… Everything feels alive!

But it’s no surprise the baddest band in the world can rock the house. The surprise is how this concert experience reveals more about our spiritual life than we care to admit.

Act One has Prince chasing one pleasure after another: sex, partying, money, power, respect—all the things. But his breathless search for happiness gives his life no meaning; he feels like a fool, and his soul is numb. So, what does Prince do? He looks up to the sky for help and comes to his senses.

Act Two has Prince realizing that his neediness isn’t the problem; it’s his source of satisfaction. It’ll always be tempting to chase Spooky Electric and “all that he crawls 4.” But only Lovesexy can fill the God-shaped hole in his heart. (“Hold on 2 Ur soul y’all!” he reminds the crowd before gliding away in his 1967 Ford Thunderbird.)

You can question Prince’s business savvy, nitpick his contradictions, or reject his beliefs. But at the center of the Lovesexy Tour is a prodigal soul searching for something greater than himself. He’s an imperfect man using his God-given talent to bring us all closer together…

“I think music not only should it be entertaining, but it should try to uplift you in some form or fashion. I mean, I think that’s the purpose of music. It’s to make light of an otherwise dire situation, you know? You take music out of the world; it’s going to be pretty dark.” — Prince

FINAL THOUGHTS

Prince’s journey from The Black Album to Lovesexy is about turning brokenness into beauty. Jesus can use brokenness to light your path or someone else’s. And that universal truth is how great art connects with the faithful and faithless…

“I remember telling my parents, ‘Please set the VCR at nine. The show starts at nine!’ So, I went to Dortmund, by bus, by coach, and when I got back, it was the middle of the night, around 2:00 am, but I couldn’t sleep. So, I went to the living room, put on the TV, my headphones, and I watched the entire show again.” — Rob Bemelen

CLICK HERE FOR PART ONE!

Video Source: The Prince Encyclopedia

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Chris Lacy

I aim to write stories that move you today and stay with you forever.