Deep Dive: Prince, THE BALLAD OF DOROTHY PARKER
It was March 1987 when Prince delivered the album many believe to be the iconic artist's magnum opus: Sign o' the Times. The eclectic double-record set found Prince throwing open the door to some of his deepest influences, riding the creative high of a new beginning.
It's the last song on the very first of the four sides that has become a fan favorite and cult classic over the years: "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker." While it was originally intended to be the fifth single from the album (including an extended 12-inch version), the plans were eventually scrapped. Still, some Prince fans will forever love the quirky, Joni Mitchell-inspired "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" as much if not more than many of his biggest hits. A deep but quick dive into the legendary Prince track. Five fun facts!
1. "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" was the sound of Prince chomping at the bit to start recording
Prince and his longtime engineer, Susan Rogers, were busy installing a recording studio in the artist's Los Angeles home during the time Paisley Park was still under construction back in Minnesota. While the main recording console was being plugged in, Prince finally snapped: "(Console designer Frank De Medio) was hooking it all up and Prince couldn't take it anymore," she revealed to Red Bull Academy in 2017. "He was just dying to record, and he told me to send Frank home. He says, 'Just send him home. I just got to work.' We put Frank on a plane and we sent him home, and Prince came downstairs and said the magic words: 'Fresh tape.' I put up fresh tape, and we started recording the song."
2. "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" sounds weird for a reason
In Prince's rush to start recording, the artist and his trusty engineer failed to realize something very important. "As soon as I heard it, I realized, 'Oh my God, there is no high end,'" Rogers explained. "It sounded like there were low-pass filters on everything. First, I was thinking it was just one track. It wasn't. It was the whole console. I'm thinking, 'Oh, please stop, so I can get out the voltmeter and see what's going on with this console.' But he wouldn't stop, and he just kept going, and going, and going. It was like a baby eating baby food. It's like, when's it going to stop? He just kept going, and going, and going. We finished the song, and then we mixed it. He didn't stop, which was typical of him. I kept thinking, 'Isn't he noticing that there's something weird with this?' We finally mixed the song. It was like a day later, and then he gets up and he's all happy, because he got the song then. He goes, 'That was great. Good.' And then he goes, 'This console's nice. It's kind of dull, isn't it?'" The issue? Half of the board's power supply hadn't been connected.
3. There is an extended version of "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker"
"Because so many of his tracks were dance tracks, he would want a long version of things, so the original track of this, it's probably really long," Rogers revealed. "It might be eight or nine minutes long. It could even be longer. When you're sequencing a record and you know where the song is going to go in the sequence, sometimes you're going to want it to fade out so you can cross-fade it into the next song, or sometimes you just want a little breather in the sequence."
4. Prince claimed he had no idea who Dorothy Parker was when he wrote the song
"When I first heard it. I thought, wow, of all people to even know who Dorothy Parker was," saxophonist Eric Leeds told Mojo. "I kinda thought maybe [girlfriend, backing singer] Susanna or [Revolution guitarist] Wendy Melvoin had told him about her. But it turned out he didn't have any clue; he just picked the name because of how it sounded, and only after the fact did they tell him to she was."
5. "The Ballad to Dorothy Parker" contains a sly Joni Mitchell reference
It's no secret that Prince was a major fan of Joni Mitchell. In "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker," he slipped a clever call-out to 1974 Court and Spark track, "Help Me," into the lyrics: "And it was Joni singing: 'Help me, I think I'm falling.'"
--Scott T. Sterling