While I’m spending part of my Saturday morning bathing in the euphoria from and thinking up a post documenting my poetry performance Friday night (an awesome evening all around), I want to make a quick addition to “Allison’s Jukebox.” Have a listen to “Diamonds and Pearls,” the 1991 hit by Prince and The New Power Generation.
I’ll get to why I’m highlighting “Diamonds and Pearls” on this particular Madison morning in a moment, but let’s delve into the song first. When I wrote a remembrance of Prince after his death last year, I mentioned how this is “my all-time, drop-everything-and-listen favorite Prince song.” The primary reason for that is the instrumentals. There is indeed a bit of a rock edge from the drums and guitar (the latter giving playful moments throughout the song). But what draws… nay, pulls my ears towards “Diamonds and Pearls” are the “plink, plink” of the keyboards; they’re heard in spots throughout the song, but are more noticed in the refrain as well in its pairing with the bass before each verse kicks in. Those keyboards bring a sense of cheer and true magic to the song.
What also brings magic to “Diamonds and Pearls” are the vocalizations by Prince and Rosie Gaines. In both the backing vocals and her spotlight in the bridge (“D to the I to the A to the M…”), Gaines gives equal parts beauty and passion. They serve not as a counterpoint but as an accent to Prince’s subtle yet upbeat main vocals. Together, they sing lyrics that express not lust and sexual imagery but themes of devotion and support, the overcoming of differences, and the importance of positive self-worth and unconditional love. As a whole, “Diamonds and Pearls” is a real pick-me-up of positive feelings.
But, oh… those keyboards. And with that, I bring up the reason I chose to highlight “Diamonds and Pearls” on this particular morning. The song was released as a single very late in 1991. As my fellow Wisconsinites can certainly attest, the very end of the calendar year is when we must brace ourselves for the ensuing winter. And we try to brace ourselves as early as possible before the first sign of snowfall. So it was one Saturday morning in November (or was it early December?) of 1991, when “Diamonds and Pearls” was playing on the radio, I looked outside my apartment window… and saw the very first snowfall of the season. We’re talking big, wet flakes of snow sticking to the ground.
And on this very Saturday morning in November 2017, as I made my way to the kitchen for breakfast, I looked outside my window and see… EEEK!
Yes, it was indeed the very first snowfall of winter in the Madison area. Okay, the snowflakes weren’t as big as I had expected. And they were of the wet variety, meaning the snow would melt as the day would progress and the temperatures would moderate. But at that moment, there was enough snow to stick to the ground — just enough snow remind Madison of the fact that winter is on its way. And just enough snow for my mind to hit “PLAY” on “Diamonds and Pearls” and add it to “Allison’s Jukebox.”
I know what you’re thinking: It’s easy for any song to be equated to a certain calendar date or a certain occurrence. Like, say, the song that’s playing when a couple share their first dance together. Or, say, how Pittsburghers equate, with reason, “We Are Family” to the 1979 Pirates. In my mind, the reason “Diamonds and Pearls” has a Crazy Glue-like bond to the first snowfall of winter is the feeling the song’s keyboards evoke. That “plink, plink, plink” makes me think of a joyous, playful holiday instrumental. You know, the kind of music you’d hear the Muzak playing at the department store, or what your mind’s ear would pick up while you watch or listen to that big department store holiday sale commercial. Yeah, exactly like that.
But should “Diamonds and Pearls” serve as an enticement to buy copious amounts of presents this season? Of course not, for its message of love and respect should not be bypassed. One of the more lovely constructed entries in Prince’s song catalog is a perfect reminder that love and respect are two important parts of the festive season. And this is especially the case in my own mind. Forget “White Christmas” or “Silver Bells” or (especially) “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” “Diamonds and Pearls” will forever be my holiday jam.