Washington vs. Du Bois. King vs. Malcolm. Ali vs. Frazier.
Vanity vs. Apollonia.
In the annals of history, there have always been great debates. Since school is out and I am freezing, I decided to dig into the great Vanity/ Apollonia debate of the mid-1980s.
First a little background. I started thinking about this a few days ago when I came across a CD copy of Sheila E.’s self-titled 3rd release. I had a cassette of the release and I found a vinyl copy in Harvard Square a couple of months ago. But the CD has been out of print and had risen up to the top of my wish list – along with, The Harp, by Augusta Savage. (If anyone has one, hook a brother up). It is a great album, probably Sheila’s most complete album and features, Hold Me, Love on a Blue Train and the classic, Koo Koo, my favorite Sheila E. song. Check out the Koo Koo video featuring the incredible Cat. So the album got me thinking about women who have been affiliated with Prince. As far as full talent is concerned, Sheila is rivaled only by the great Wendy & Lisa, the musical and spiritual backbones of The Revolution. Could you imagine what a band made up of just Prince, Sheila and Wendy & Lisa could produce?
But when you think of Prince women, the first thoughts always go to Vanity and/or Apollonia – the interchangeable sexpots.
Vanity was the first. She came in 1982, when Prince got the idea to form an all-girls band called The Hookers. Simply known as Denise Matthews at the time, Prince wanted to call her Vagina, but she balked and Vanity and Vanity 6 was born. Their first, and only album was kind of hot, with songs like the funky, “If a Girl Answers, Don’t Hang Up,” and the classic, “Nasty Girl.” Here is the video and here is the audio. (I couldn’t find them both together.) Vanity and Prince became somewhat of an item that was based more on perception than artistic merit. Prince wrote and produced all of Vanity 6’s songs, and The Time played behind them in concert. But when Prince decided to do the movie Purple Rain, Vanity jetted, because she wanted more money.
So in steps Apollonia. Patricia Kotero was a model who won a nationwide audition to replace Vanity. She became Apollonia and the group, Apollonia 6. Their first and only album came out to coincide with the movie and featured, “Sex Shooter,” and “A Million Miles.” Because of the movie tie-in, Apollonia’s album actually, outsold Vanity’s.
But musically, Vanity 6 was better than Apollonia 6. While Apollonia’s album seems rushed, the Vanity album was a complete package and drenching with drenching sexuality. “Nasty Girl,” was a song that could be played on the radio, but what about “Wet Dream,” “Bite the Beat,” and the beautiful, “3X2=6.” In all, there were 8 solid songs on the album.
Apollonia’s album had 7 songs. But what is probably more significant is what is not on the album. Somewhere midway through the project, Prince lost interest in the album and removed several songs that had been intended for, or originally recorded by Vanity. Those songs, which probably would have remained had Vanity stayed, were farmed out to others and became major hits – like Manic Monday (Bangles) and Glamorous Life, Next Time Wipe The Lipstick Off Your Collar and Oliver’s House (Sheila E.). Prince used another song, “17 Days (The Rain Will Come Down, Then U Will Have 2 Choose. If U Believe, Look 2 The Dawn And U Shall Never Lose),” as the B-side to his, “When Doves Cry.” And yet another song, “Take Me With U,” a duet with Prince and Apollonia, was used on the Purple Rain soundtrack. So all that was left for the Apollonia 6 album was “Sex Shooter,” another song that was originally recorded by Vanity.
The singing on both albums is not great, but voice wise, a prefer Vanity. Her voice was throatier and sexier. Conversely, at times, Apollonia sounds bored. I feel that Vanity believes it more. Side by side, in their prime, Apollonia might have looked slightly better than Vanity, but Vanity might be one of the most desired women in modern pop history. She could be nasty, raunchy, seductive and playful at the same time. Apollonia is that girl you grew up with who was regular until she became a senior and made a conscience effort to become one of the popular, hot girls. Sure she was popular and hot, but there was still something missing.
Vanity was that girl that was always a year or two ahead of you. Mysterious, a little bad and not attainable. And you liked it.
Long live Vanity.
Epilogue: I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Susan Moonsie and Brenda Bennett, who were in both groups. They are way underrated and long forgotten. But they had a couple of nice tunes on both albums – “Bite the Beat” and “Some Kind of Lover,” by Brenda. And “Ooo She She Wa Wa,” “Make Up,” and “Drive Me Wild,” by Susan. Interestingly, all of Susan’s songs were done in strange, on note monotone. But they were so innocently hot. In retrospect, Susan could lay claim to being as hot as Vanity and Apollonia. Check out “Drive Me Wild,” for yourself and be the judge.
(add your comments to the debate.)
You be the Judge