“The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker” by Prince (1987)

“The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker” would have been a better movie than Graffiti Bridge.

Taken from the Purple Yoda’s magnum opus, 1987’s Sign o’ The Times, “Dorothy” is a woozy, lo-fi pop/funk jam that sounds like it was recorded underwater (thanks at least partially to an electrical glitch in the studio equipment that produced an effect Prince liked). The lyrics are somewhat abstract (no surprise, it’s a Prince song from the ‘80s), but despite the obtuse turns of phrase, the song tells a story that’s surprisingly linear.

Prince walks into a restaurant, starts talking to his favorite waitress. He’s exhausted, having gone through a patch of fighting with former lovers. Dorothy’s witty and sarcastic and comes on to him. Wit aside, Prince still gets off the best lines (“cool…but I’m leaving my pants on/’cause I’m kinda going with someone,” and “my pants were wet/they came off/but she didn’t see the movie ‘cause she hadn’t read the book first.”) Dorothy’s attention makes Prince able to go back into the “violent room” with his fighting former (current?) lovers and all is right in the world again.

There’s something about “Dorothy” that’s way more vivid than Prince’s other great story-songs (“Raspberry Beret”, for one.) I can’t describe it with any more detail than to say it sounds druggy in a way that I think I’d only be able to truly relate to under the influence of hallucinogens. Then again, I ain’t Prince.

I believe “Dorothy” is the first (only?) song in which Prince directly references Joni Mitchell. I was 10 when Sign o’ The Times came out, and it was the first I ever heard of her. If you were a weird black kid in the ‘80s, Prince was your portal into Joni (and if you were a weird black kid in the ‘90s, then it was Janet & Q-Tip.) The way Prince coos “oh-oh!” before he quotes Joni’s “Help Me” is one of the most warmly ecstatic moments I’ve ever heard in a song.

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