The year was 1981. Prince and his band were on the road in the American South, and landed in a hotel with free HBO one night. A movie shown on the premium cable network would change the artist's career trajectory forever.
“It was Orson Welles narrating a show called The Man Who Saw Tomorrow,” drummer Bobby Z told the Star-Tribune in 2019. “It was about Nostradamus. Orson Welles said 1999 was when the world was going to end.”
The next day at soundcheck, Bobby Z and the band arrived to find Prince already there, armed with a brand new song: "1999."
“Once he started on something, it would just go and go, and it was like changing tires on a moving vehicle,” laughed guitarist Dez Dickerson about working with the music icon.
Another major influence on Prince: the experience of opening for the Rolling Stones in Los Angeles, and being booed and pelted with garbage by the restless crowd.
“In hindsight, it was a rite of passage,” Bobby Z explained, adding that Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman of the Stones made a point of telling Prince that they'd suffered the same treatment early in their own careers. “Everybody has to have kind of a moment, but this was particularly vicious.”
For Prince, returning and plowing through that second night opening for the Stones was exactly the motivation the artist needed.
“The Stones show sharpened his resolve to so undeniably carve out his own niche,” according to Dickerson.
The 1999 album arrived on October 27, 1982--just a little over a year after the Stones incident. The LP was preceded by the title track on September 24, 1982, serving as the lead single. The tune quickly gathered traction on MTV and radio, en route to a modest peak of #44 on the Hot 100. Prince's growing popularity would see the single re-released in 1983, this time climbing all the way to #12.
The album's second single, "Little Red Corvette," proved to be Prince's breakout hit. The track blew up on radio, crashing the top 10 to peak at #6 on the Hot 100 for the week of May 21, 1983. The #1 song in America that week: David Bowie's "Let's Dance."
The third single from 1999, "Delirious," followed "Little Red Corvette" up the Hot 100 and into the top 10, reaching #8 over the week of October 22, 1983. The top tune in the nation that week: Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart."
The last single from the record, "Let's Pretend We're Married," was only able to achieve a peak position of #52 on the Hot 100 chart.
The steamy "Automatic" was only released as a single in Australia, and came with one of the most memorable visuals from the campaign.
1999 proved to be exactly the album Prince set out to make: one that would break down barriers, and turn those same jeering hecklers at the Stones shows into cheering fans. It was his first full-length to enter the top 10 of the Billboard 200, peaking at #9. 1999 reached an even higher position on the Billboard 200 after Prince's tragic death in 2016, peaking at #7 over the week of May 14, 2016.