The history of Rock and Roll is peppered with outbursts of sexuality and desire. Elvis Presley gyrating his hips back and forth, barely able to control himself. Thousands and thousands of young fans, mostly girls, screaming uncontrollably as The Beatles played their very loudest through tiny amps. Madonna, dressed as a bride, rolling and prancing seductively along the lip of the stage.
We thought we had seen it all, and then in 1986, Prince released “Kiss” on his album Parade. Sex in rock and roll was nothing new, but we had never heard a song quite like this.
Eschewing the lush soundscape one might expect for a song of this nature, “Kiss” is a stripped down, bare bones acoustic and spindly electric guitar assault. The first sound we hear from Prince after a brief guitar intro is a low guttural moan, and just about the only vocal sound in the song that is not in falsetto. There is no bass, and only minimal electric percussion.
“You don’t have to be beautiful to turn me on
I just need your body baby, from dusk till dawn.”
His voice is so consistently high that, although we know a man is singing, the song could just as well be sung by a woman.
“You don’t have to be rich to be my girl
You don’t have to cool to rule my world
Ain’t no particular sign I’m more compatible with
I just want your extra time and your…kiss.”
The pause right before we hear the word “Kiss” is filled by a rhythm guitar bridge, and then by Prince making kissy face sounds. The perfect percussive.
The lyrics of “Kiss” are pretty straightforward, and there is no real new ground covered here. What makes “Kiss” special, what makes “Kiss” a perfect song, is that even after more than 30 years there is still nothing else that sounds quite like it.
It is not until towards the end of the song that Prince digs deep as he goes into the final verse. A simple “Yeah, you don’t…” and then back into the falsetto as he screams with passion, grit and determination “have to be rich, to be my girl!”
“Kiss” is sparse and lean, yet it is sonically expansive, diverse and crazy interesting. It is a soul song with no bass (who’d ever heard of such a thing???). It is a song sung by a man, trying to attract a woman, singing in complete falsetto. There is nothing about “Kiss” that should work, and yet everything does. “Kiss” is one perfect song.
Written and Performed by Prince
Released February 5, 1986