OK, I admit it. My introduction to “Soft and Wet” was MC Hammer’s version from the Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em album. Holy shit, it’s bad. I mean, even when I loved Hammer back in the early-90’s I knew I wasn’t listening to a great rapper or lyricist, but hearing this song for the first time in 25 years tonight something dawned on me: MC Hammer wasn’t a rapper. He was just a really tone deaf singer. He had no flow on this track. He’s just speaking lyrics that should be sung. I encourage you to click on the link and listen to Hammer’s version if you want to be entertained by lyrics like, “Wet is the feeling that says, ‘Let The Hammer in.'” With lines like that I’m sure ladies were lining up to let The Hammer in.
While I’m on the topic, it wasn’t until recently when SiriusXM played “artists influenced by Prince” on the Prince Channel that I remembered how hard MC Hammer also bit “When Doves Cry” on his song “Pray.” That’s two songs Hammer completely robbed from Prince to help create an album that sold over 10 million copies. Am I missing anything? “U Can’t Touch This” was obviously Rick James. “Dancing Machine” was a Jackson 5 ripoff. “Have You Seen Her?” was a Chi-Lites ripoff. I don’t remember the other songs from that album. Let me know if I forgot any Prince songs.
All of this music came from a guy about whom Prince once said, “Do you know what it feels like to spend your whole life learning a craft and look at this and see Hammer and Vanilla Ice – who cannot sing and cannot play an instrument – and I can’t get in to the top 20?” The “this” Prince was referring to was the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Prince must’ve hated the hell out of that shit.
I assume his soul must’ve died a tiny bit every time someone like me heard his version of “Soft and Wet” for the first time and my initial reaction was, “Wait, isn’t this an MC Hammer song?” I’m sorry, Prince. In my defense, I was two years old when Prince’s version of “Soft and Wet” was released but 14 when MC Hammer’s was. I didn’t hear Prince’s version until at least 20 years after its release.
The truth about “Soft and Wet” is that it was the song that introduced the world to Prince. It was the first single off of Prince’s first album, For You, in 1978. Prince actually originally recorded it in the summer of 1976 when he was 18 years old. As with everything else at that time, he played all of the instruments and sang all of the vocals. It’s a funky piece of pop/disco that might sound dated in 2020 but I imagine would still draw a crowd on a dance floor. I can only guess how the world reacted to this song in 1978 with its suggestive lyrics and vocals that absolutely sound like a woman. I listen to “Soft and Wet” and suddenly it’s not remotely surprising that a bunch of ignorant rednecks pelted Prince and his band with food and garbage when they opened for the Rolling Stones at a 1981 concert at L.A. Memorial Coliseum. I’m not saying they were right to do so – they were 100% wrong – but I know enough ignorant rednecks to know that they wouldn’t respond well to Prince’s presentation of “Soft and Wet” in 2020, much less 1981. Actually, given the current state of the world, they might have had a more positive reaction in 1981 than they would now. Regardless of the year or political climate, Mick Jagger gave his American audience way too much credit if he thought they’d tolerate Prince in a trenchcoat and bikini briefs.
“Soft and Wet” peaked at #92 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in November of 1978, marking Prince’s first of many appearances on that chart. The song also made it to #12 on the Hot Soul Singles chart, begging the question: How many names has Billboard had over the years for charts that segregated music by race?
“Soft and Wet” is a landmark in that it’s the first single by a legend whose career has lasted over 40 years, even after his death. I don’t believe that it’s one of Prince’s best songs, but it was a great first single and indication of what was yet to come from a precocious artist and multi-instrumentalist.