Disclaimer: Be careful when Googling this song.
I have to start with this story, because it blows my mind and makes me laugh out loud. In 1981, Prince started assembling a girl group. One of the members was to be Prince’s then-girlfriend, Susan Moonsie. There seemed to be a revolving door of other possiblities until Prince met a young model named Denise Matthews. The third and final member of the group was added when Prince heard his lighting designer Roy Bennett’s wife Brenda singing while doing hair and makeup for the band. Prince’s name for Susan, Denise, and Brenda’s band: The Hookers. As if that’s not already fantastic enough, Prince believed that Denise should adopt Vagina as her stage name. I just love the idea of Prince being like, “We’re gonna call them The Hookers, and the leader will be called Vagina,” and everyone else kind of being horrified, but too afraid to tell Prince it was a bad idea.
Ultimately, Denise Matthews would not agree to being referred to as Vagina, and she instead became famous as Vanity. Common sense prevailed and The Hookers became Vanity 6. Not sure where the 6 came from, but I have an idea I’m not going to share. It was certainly the safer move, but I always think it would’ve been awesome if someone would’ve been called Vagina in 1982 just to see what would’ve happened.
Random thought: In the interest of fairness I think Prince should’ve changed The Time’s name to The Pimps (or The Gigolos?) and asked lead singer Morris Day to go by the stage name Penis and see how that went over. I’m guessing not well.
None of this has anything to do with today’s song, “Vagina.” It is from the same era, though. “Vagina” was recorded in 1981 and has shockingly forward thinking lyrics for that time. He’s singing about being with a woman he met “in a gay bar kissing another girl.” The refrain repeated throughout the song is “half boy, half girl, best of both worlds.” Those lyrics would lead one to believe he’s singing about a hermaphrodite, but based on the context of the song and what he sings in the verses, he seems to be describing a bisexual woman. Regardless, this was some shocking content in 1981, especially coming from a man whose sexuality was constantly questioned.
Forget about the shock value, though. “Vagina” rocks. It’s more guitar heavy than most of Prince’s early stuff. There isn’t any percussion on the track, but strangely you can get through the song without really even noticing it. The guitar is really the percussion on the song as there are times Prince hits the chords so hard it feels like a hand clap or a drum. If I’m getting picky I wish Prince would’ve brought the song down an octave and sang in full voice instead of falsetto. I think it would’ve added to the track if he saved the falsetto for some exclamation later in the song.
Still, forget about the shock value and you’ve still got a solid song. Unfortuntely, “Vagina” didn’t see its way out of the vault until November 2019 – 38 years after it was recorded and 3.5 years after Prince’s death – when the Super Deluxe Edition of 1999 was released and included 12 unreleased songs. “Vagina” could’ve been a groundbreaking track and could’ve even brought some positive attention to bisexuality decades before the LGBTQ movement took off. It’s a dope track. I just wish we had heard it sooner.