Meaning of “1999” by Prince

Prince’s “1999” song is mocking, if you will, the concept of Armageddon. It was released during a time, the early 1980s, which has held a decades’-long record of being, according to scientists, the closest the world has ever come to nuclear war. So the song is not literally based on the year 1999, as in the advent of the new millennium, which was still almost two decades away. Rather this timeframe serves as a metaphor for three different ideas. One is being symbolic of the aforementioned seemingly-imminent nuclear Armageddon. Another points to a more religious understanding of the date, as in representing of the end of the world, since in this song Prince alludes to a general feeling of pessimism people were feeling about what the near future would bring. But “1999” is primarily centered on his recognizing that this year would logically be one of the biggest party dates in history, since once again it is ushering in a new millennium.

So that is what the artist means when he states his intent to “party like it’s 1999”. He is going to let it all hang out and have the time of his life. And again, this is in direct defiance of the depressing ideas that the world is coming to an end. Indeed Prince acknowledges that “we could all die any day”. Thus even taking tomorrow for granted is kind of a moot point. 

So in all, “1999” is actually a celebration of life, with Prince and his co-stars admonishing the listener to enjoy the present as opposed to looking forward to an entropic tomorrow.

Lyrics of "1999"

Billboard Success of “1999”

“1999” managed to make it onto the Billboard Hot 100 during three different decades. It did so twice in the 1980s. Its initial release was on 24 September 1982 by Warner Bros. Records, serving as the title track of and lead single from Prince’s fifth album. The original release peaked at number 44 on the Hot 100, in addition to hitting number one on their Dance Club Songs chart. The song was then re-released during July of 1983, faring better on the Hot 100, this time peaking at number 12.

The song then managed to make an appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 again during, you guessed it, 1999. This time around “1999” peaked at number 40, making it the first track in Billboard history named after a year to actually chart in the year it was named after.

 Nearing the end of his contract with Warner Bros. Record in the mid 1990s, Prince was upset that the label owned his master recordings.  So he re-recorded “1999” during 1998. That version flopped, only peaking at number 150 amongst Billboard’s charts. So the version which hit number 40 in 1999 was actually the original, Warner Bros. recording.

Finally Prince’s premature death in 2016 caused the song to experience a resurgence, once again appearing on the Hot 100, this time peaking at number 27.

Global Success

“1999” also charted internationally throughout the decades. During its 1983 release it hit the number 25 spot in Britain (the UK Singles Chart). Furthermore, it managed to break the top 10 in Australia, Belgium, Canada and New Zealand.

It was then re-released in the United Kingdom in 1985, this time getting as high as number 2 in the United Kingdom. Many believe its 1985 success in the UK was partially due to being a double-A side with another Prince hit, “Little Red Corvette”. 

Then the year 1999 saw the song chart in the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • The Netherlands
  • Germany
  •  Ireland
  • UK
  • United States

Finally when Prince passed away in 2016, it also appeared on the music charts in a number of regions, including Germany, France, and the UK.

Having such an impressive longevity has contributed to “1999” being certified quadruple-platinum by the RIAA.

“1999” is among the world’s greatest songs

Rolling Stone places this classic at number 215 on its 2011 list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

More Fun Facts about “1999”

  • Prince shares lead vocals on this song with two members of his band The Revolution, Lisa Coleman and Dez Dickerson, whom he worked with from 1979-1986.
  • The music video to “1999”, which features members of The Revolution, was directed by Bruce Gowers.
  • “1999” influenced the sound of Phil Collins’ 1985 hit song “Sussudio”, with Collins being a big fan of Prince’s works during its composition.
  • Prince retired this song for a while, with his original intent being to never play it again after the actual year 1999. However, he played a snippet of the song during his halftime show of Super Bowl XLI in 2007. Afterwards he once again began using it during his live performances. 

Did Prince write this song?

Yes. Prince both wrote and produced “1999”.

Are there any covers of “1999”?

Yes, there are. Some famous artists who are known to have covered this song include Billy Joel, Limp Bizkit and Meat Loaf.

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