Let’s rinse off the dirty, teenage sex vibe of yesterday’s quasi-creepy “Curious Child” by listening to Prince anger bang a cab driver! That’s right. Prince is just straight up fucking people on today’s track. More on that in a minute. Let’s back up.
“Lady Cab Driver” was written by Prince in 1982 and was the ninth track on his breakthrough album 1999. Prince is credited with all vocals and instruments except for “additional vocals” from Jill Jones. I could be wrong here, but I believe the vocals provided by Ms. Jones are the sounds of pleasure coming from the lady cab driver. Jones was always game for whatever freakery Prince was trying to accomplish early in his career. She frequently sang backup, but could also be a sexy lingerie-clad keyboard player or simulate(?) sex with Prince when necessary. She also played a waitress in Purple Rain.
The older I get the more I appreciate the entire 1999 album. Everyone knows and loves the classics – “1999” and “Little Red Corvette.” Prince heads know the other singles from the album – “Delirious,” “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” and “Automatic.” They’re all amazing. It’s the deeper cuts from 1999 that make it arguably Prince’s greatest album. “D.M.S.R.” is a funk party anthem. “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)” is one of the finest early examples of Prince’s unparalleled creativity. “International Lover” is a classic sexy Prince ballad. If you had to pick one song from 1999 that encapsulates all of those qualities – funky, creative, sexy – you might pick “Lady Cab Driver.”
For starters, I challenge anyone to find an album with better drum programming than 1999. Damn near every song on the album has tight beats that sound simple on the surface, but always add a twist if you listen deeper. “Lady Cab Driver” also features Prince’s true secret weapon: his bass. Prince’s bass lines make everything funkier. I never hear his name mentioned when people discuss great bassists, but he should be there. He’s like LeBron James. LeBron can score and pass with the best of all-time and everyone knows it, but it’s easy to forget that he’s a great defender and he’ll make an insane chase down block occasionally as a reminder. That’s Prince playing bass. We all know he’s a guitar and piano/keyboard/synth virtuoso, but by the way, he can lay down a funky ass bass line as well as anyone. Mix in a healthy does of rhythm guitar and synth and you get another funky Prince classic.
Yet another Prince staple we get to enjoy on “Lady Cab Driver” is an extended run time. This track is over eight minutes long. Prince just lays down a groove and lets it simmer here. I hear some complain that these songs are too long. They get boring. I couldn’t agree less. When you get a groove like “Lady Cab Driver” I say just let that shit play all day. If you pay attention Prince is always throwing a few curveballs to keep it interesting. There’s always a unique guitar riff or drum fill to keep you guessing and they usually don’t come until several minutes in to the song. “Lady Cab Driver” features a scorching electric guitar solo that doesn’t even start until just before the 6:00 mark. If you still can’t get on board with the long run time, there is a 7″ edit that cuts it down to five minutes, but I come away from that version feeling dissatisfied every time. I don’t want an appetizer. I want the full meal.
Despite all of the funk Prince bestows upon us, “Lady Cab Driver” is probably most remembered for a relatively graphic sex simulation that takes place about three minutes in to the song. The verses and chorus feature Prince in some kind of existential crisis. He’s telling the lady cab driver that “trouble winds are blowing’ hard and I don’t know if I can last.” After he tells her to “drive this demon out of me” he asks her to take him to her mansion, which is kind of odd. I don’t know too many cab drivers with mansions. Then again, I don’t know too many cab drivers, period. Maybe they’re well paid? They finally get to whatever the destination is…her mansion? I actually always assumed the graphic sex scene took place in the back of said cab, but if you listen closely you can hear a bed squeaking. I guess the location is unimportant. Prince takes out his frustration and demons on lady cab driver with every thrust. He’s shouting things like, “This is for politicians who are bored and believe in war.” “This is for discrimination and egotists who think supreme.” My personal favorite, “This is for why I wasn’t born like my brother, handsome and tall.” Prince finishes with, “This galaxy’s better than not having a place to go, and now I know.” He’s exhausted but satisfied after his bizarre, cathartic lady cab driver mansion sex fantasy.
After eight minutes “Lady Cab Driver” transitions directly in to another 1999 classic, “All The Critics Love You In New York,” but we’ll save that for another day. “Lady Cab Driver” is one of Prince’s funk classic and a perfect example of his album cuts being as good or better than his hits.
One last thing: In 2019 when the Prince Estate released the 1999 Super Deluxe Version they snuck a treat in at the very end of the vault material. It’s a 7:00 “tour demo” of some of Prince’s finest work up to that point: “Lady Cab Driver,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “Head,” and “Little Red Corvette.” The song opens with a minute of “Lady Cab Driver” instrumental that transitions straight in to a funky-as-hell update of “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” The band is so tight, particularly when they sing, “Give me some head on the 2,” and they break in to a way-too-brief “Head” instrumental. A fantastic peek in to Prince’s live music in 1983 and an opportunity to hear a bit of “Lady Cab Driver” the way it sounded on tour. Check it out here.