1988 Countdown #67: Prince, “Alphabet St.”

(The countdown’s back! If it’s new to you, you can catch up here.)


We open on Prince in a powder-blue polka-dot shirt, lying on the ground. “Owwww!” he comments.

The background has lots of floating and rotating letters of, well, the alphabet. The blue-screen effects probably were moderately expensive in 1988, but the overall look of the video is cheap, as if it was knocked out in a weekend in the Paisley Park basement. It seems to have been recorded on video rather than film–either way, it looks a lot chintzier now than it did two decades ago. Also, Prince’s hair is a big wavy processed mop, which isn’t a good look for him.

But these issues aside, this video’s a hoot. (And the song, of course, is a stone-cold classic.) The camera pulls back to reveal Prince on his back, vibrating like he’s a piece of bacon in a skillet that has Magic Fingers. He’s wearing high-waisted black pants that have “Prince” written on the right leg. Didn’t his mother teach him to write his name on the tag inside his pants instead of outside?

Prince jumps up just long enough to do a split and a freeze-frame, showing us just how few shirt buttons he has deemed it necessary to employ for this video. A second Prince comes on the right side of the screen, like Rod Serling commenting on the action. The first Prince falls away like a cardboard cutout toppling over. Potemkin Prince!


Prince #2 sings into a Lucite cane he’s carrying, while in the background, we see a closeup on Prince #3, playing a funky guitar riff. Letters keep floating like snow in a shake-em-up. “Yes she will,” Prince intones into the camera, his gravity somewhat undermined by the way somebody in post-production has digitally enhanced him with giant blue eyebrows and orange facepaint.

“If I wanted to read, I’d go to school,” Butt-head used to say when watching a video with too many words on the screen. This one would make him nuts, because the screen is littered with oversize words: sometimes lyrical excerpts, sometimes messages in alphabetical order. B is for “Beautiful.” D is for “Dance 4 the light.” F and G are for “Funk Guitar.”


Prince keeps dancing, keeps playing guitar, and then pulls open his shirt to reveal his nipples, hairy chest, and crucifix. To underscore the seriousness of seeing the Princely nipples, the background switches from white to black. I learn that a lyric I could never make out, describing Prince’s daddy’s Thunderbird, is actually “white rad ride.”

More dancing–impressive stuff, showing off Prince’s favorite moves with the microphone stand, where he kicks it around, spins, and grabs it as it falls. There’s now a car in the video: a door opens and some legs in stockings and high heels emerge, which I think are the only body parts in this video not belonging to Prince.


Weirdest shot in the whole thing: closeup on Prince’s left eye. He’s got his fingers splayed out in front of the eye, and slowly moves his hand down, revealing the eye. (We’re close enough that we can see he needs a manicure: some of the nails are grody and the cuticles aren’t looking their best.) What your brain can’t really process without freeze-framing is that in addition to Prince’s vertical fingers, there is a disembodied horizontal chunk of (double-fingernailed) finger also floating down at the same time. The shot lasts two seconds, tops, and doesn’t seem to connect to anything else in the video: it’s just a very odd throwaway moment.

We see the bestockinged legs walking, followed by Prince crawling after them, giving his best paralyzed-by-lust look. After decades of self-importance, it’s easy to forget what a great sense of humor he had. More excellent dancing follows–this is really a performance video gussied up with special effects on loan from Sesame Street. The alphabetical message in the background this time is “H is 4 punks.” What “H” stands for remains undefined. Heaven? Hell? Heck? Heroin? Husker Du? (Oh, will that Minnesota rivalry ever end?)

Prince drives a white car, presumably a Thunderbird, down a prismatic digital road that reads “LOVE LOVE LOVE.”


Quick cut: we see Prince writhing against a yellow background with a giant red heart superimposed over him. His costar is a lower-case I. Then we get a shot of a pointing index finger, in the same style as the “Need You Tonight” video. Apparently “I” stands for INXS–who knew Prince was a fan?

While the guitar solo wails (I think this song has my favorite guitar work of anything on the countdown so far) and the lyrics come to the “if you don’t mind, I would like to… watch” section, we get a closeup on Prince driving. There’s an artificial red flower lying on top of the dashboard. More cuts: more dancing, more sly looks from Prince, a closeup on the stockings (revealing that they too are festooned with letters), and then an amusing shot of Prince standing on top of the car as it zooms through this digital dictionary-land, playing his guitar. (The legs of the stocking girl protrude from the open door–that can’t be good for the soles of her shoe.)


More guitar, and then a shot of Prince leaning against the car in a new outfit, with a buttoned-up vest, and a silver cut-out heart just above his right cuff. That’s right–he’s literally wearing his heart on his sleeve! For our second lesson in Symbolism 101, a giant yellow dot moves across the screen, but it can’t quite blot out Prince: apparently even the sun doesn’t shine as brightly as him.

“Alphabet St.” hit #8 on the pop charts. I’m afraid I don’t have a link to the video; Prince’s organization is very diligent about policing the net.

posted 16 September 2009 in 1988 and tagged . 7 comments

7 Comments on 1988 Countdown #67: Prince, “Alphabet St.”

  1. Chris M. Says:

    A great single from the last of his great albums, before Batman kicked off the ’90s — Prince’s lost decade — early.

  2. Chris M. Says:

    Also, we talked about this a couple of weeks ago, but just to get this down for posterity — from Wikipedia:

    “In the video, there are two hidden messages. For the first one after the end of the first verse (‘She’ll want me from my head to my feet’), there is a split second image with the hidden message ‘Don’t buy The Black Album, I’m sorry.’ The second one is after Prince drives the Thunderbird; the message says ‘H is 4 Punks.'”

    Lovesexy was indeed the quickly-recorded replacement for The Black Album, which had been slated for release at Christmas ’87 (remarkably quickly after the two-disc Sign ‘O’ the Times) but then got pulled by Prince himself.

  3. Gavin Says:

    “H is 4 Punks” really isn’t a hidden message–it lingers onscreen for a few seconds (the “is 4 Punks” part spins around, calling even more attention to it).

    I did spot a couple of other hidden messages, but they were so bland that I didn’t even bother mentioning them. Now I’ll go back and check for the Black Album message.

    I agree that Lovesexy is the last of the classic Prince discs (and doesn’t have the reputation it deserves, possibly because of his perverse decision to make it one big track on CD, which made it annoying to listen to as the years went by. I split up the tracks last year with Audacity software, and it was great to listen to “Dance On” whenever I wanted). I haven’t listened to Diamonds and Pearls or the symbol album in a long time, though.

  4. Gavin Says:

    Okay, I have now seen the ‘Don’t buy the Black Album’ message. It’s very quick and blurry, but it comes 26 seconds into the video here (that’s a link to a YouTube version of the video that has non-Prince music superimposed on it for some reason).

    1:44 in, there’s an eyeblink flash of “GOD I LOVE U.”

    Something I didn’t realize until just now: without the Cat rap and other longeurs, the single edit of “Alphabet St.” is just 2:25!

  5. azul120 Says:

    Great to see you covering the Top 100 again Gavin. It was only last month that I spotted your site, as well as this article. MTV’s countdowns have been one of my ongoing trivial interests. I have (access to) every list but 1986, 1987, and a few spots of 1991.

    There were some interesting things so far in the countdown I spotted so far. Icehouse’s “Electric Blue” (#82), according to a YouTube clip that cobbles together the VJ + interview clips from when both Crazy and Electric Blue were on the Top 20 countdown, the latter actually went all the way to #4… but apparently didn’t have a very long stay. Here’s a link (gotta love Carolyne’s big perm ;)):


    During the recap from when they were at #4, I could hear INXS’ “Devil Inside” as the background music, so it’s clearly from when that video was still up there.

    Also under successful Top 20 videos that didn’t rate too high was “Shattered Dreams” by Johnny Hates Jazz, which according to one of the “this weekend in…” commercial break preludes, was a #1 video on the weekly countdown. Basically speaking, there were a lot of heavily rotated and/or high-charting videos that got stiffed on the chart, not to mention some videos that ranked shockingly high in spite of circumstances. (Believe it or not, the now infamous Sabotage by “Beastie Boys” was only moderately successful during the summer of ’94, struggling to #10.)

  6. Gavin Says:

    Welcome, “azul120”! Did the MTV countdown shuttle new acts into the #1 slot every week (the way it works in country radio, as we discussed previously), or did acts ever sit on top of the countdown for a month or two?

  7. azul120 Says:

    It all depended on the popularity of the video, and the competing videos vying for the top. (Though beginning in 1992/93, there were a lot more perennial #1 videos, i. e videos that stayed at the top for over 2 weeks. Not to mention that videos spent longer periods of time on the chart.)

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