Prince has better songs. He had more impressive vocal performances. You don’t hear a single electric guitar – arguably the instrument he’s best known for – on this song. I’m here to argue that there are few better examples of Prince’s otherworldly creativity than 1982’s “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute).” This is a song that only Prince could conceive.
“Something in the Water” is the seventh track on Prince’s breakthrough 1982 double-LP 1999. Songs like the title track and “Little Red Corvette” put 1999 on the map, but it’s the album cuts that make it arguably Prince’s finest work. The raw funk of “D.M.S.R.” The precision of “Automatic.” The nastiness of “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” “International Lover.” “Delirious.” “Lady Cab Driver.” I could go on. 1999 is a masterpiece. In the middle of that album sits “Something in the Water,” a high water mark of songwriting creativity. All instruments and vocals on the song are Prince, of course. For starters, how many songs can you name where the predominant instrument is hi-hat? From the moment the song begins a series of driving eighth notes on the hi hat and kick drum on the 1 and 3 burst in and persist for most of the song. An electronic snare drum hits on the 2 with heavy reverb, leaving a gap on the 4 that makes the beat feel uneven. The rest of the music on track is atmospheric synth chords and new age keyboard runs that seem to burst in and out spontaneously. Prince isn’t doing anything complicated with the time signature on this song, but with the drum emphasis on the two and the almost random keyboard outbursts “Something In The Water” is still unpredictable.
Then there’s the vocal performance and brilliant songwriting. The premise of the song is that Prince is trying to figure out why most people seem to like him or find him cute, so why does every woman he falls for end up treating him so bad? It doesn’t compute. For the first two verses and choruses Prince’s vocal performance is subdued as he ponders his predicament. By the end of the third verse he can’t take the torture anymore and unleashes his pent up frustration, screaming that he’ll buy her clothing and fancy cars if she’d just talk to him. After he calms back down he calmly asks, “Bitch, you think you’re special? So do I. Why in God’s name do you wanna make me cry?” It’s four minutes of Prince at his genre-defying finest. Nobody else could make music like this. It’s like Prince was the musical MacGyver. Give him a keyboard and a hi-hat and he’ll build you something amazing.
In 2019 the 1999 Super Deluxe Edition was released and the original recording of “Something In The Water” was included with the vault tracks. It’s a revealing look at the early roots of the song. This version is heavy on more traditional sounds with an acoustic piano, electric bass, and more organic drum sound. While it’s also brilliant, it’s a bit too conventional for my liking. I’ve heard many critics say they prefer the original, but I definitely lean toward the stripped down electronic version Prince ultimately chose for the album.
If you’re someone who digs a brilliant musician going out on a creative limb, I promise you’ll love “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute).” I know it’s a favorite of Prince heads, but more people outside of that group should be aware of this song. All of this from a guy who was 23 years old when it was recorded. An early indication that Prince was not going to be an ordinary pop musician. I suggest you familiarize yourself with it if you haven’t already.