1999 is Prince's fifth album, released October 27, 1982. It was his first top ten album on the Billboard 200 charts in the US (peaking at number 9) and became the fifth best-selling album of 1983. 1999 was Prince's breakthrough album, but his next album, Purple Rain, would become his most successful.
In 2003, the TV network VH1 placed 1999 forty-ninth in its list of the greatest albums of all time. According to the Rolling Stone Album Guide, "1999 may be Prince's most influential album: Its synth-and-drum machine-heavy arrangements codified the 'Minneapolis sound' that loomed over mid-'80s R&B and pop, not to mention the next two decades' worth of electro, house, and techno." The album was also part of Slant Magazine's list "The 50 Most Essential Pop Albums, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.
The album's opening title track, "1999," was also its first single, initially peaking at 44 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was later re-released, hitting number 12 on the Billboard charts once interest in the album had caught fire with the release of 1999's second single, "Little Red Corvette," which peaked at Number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, and heralded Prince's rise to superstardom. The music video for the song was significant in itself as one of the first videos by a black artist to receive "heavy rotation" airplay on the newly launched music video channel, MTV. The two tracks were later combined as a double A-side single in the UK, peaking at number 2. A third single, "Delirious," still managed Top Ten status in the US, but a fourth, "Let's Pretend We're Married," got no further than number 52.
While "Little Red Corvette" helped Prince cross over to the wider (white) rock audience, the rest of the album retains the elements of previous albums and is dominated by funk and synthesizer dance tracks. The album is, however, notable amongst Prince's catalogue for its wide variety of imagery and themes besides the sexual themes that had already become something of a trademark on previous albums. "Automatic," extending to almost ten minutes, starts side three of the album with a cocktail of synthesizers and bawdy bondage-inspired lyrical imagery which, transplanted to the music video for the track (with a scene that depicted Prince being tied up and whipped by band-members Lisa Coleman and Jill Jones), was, in 1983, considered too hot for MTV. "Free" is a delicate piano ballad expressing patriotism, while "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)," an ode to a harsh lover, is the centerpiece of a preoccupation with Computer Age themes that would continue into future albums. This "computer" theme is also reflected in the album's instrumentation, with Prince fully embracing the gadgetry and sounds of emergent electro-funk and '80's sequencing technology on tracks like "Let's Pretend We're Married" and "All the Critics Love U in New York," songs that widen his use of synthesizers and effects and prominently feature his noted uses of the Linn drum machine. Prince himself admitted at the time the movie Blade Runner was an influence on the album's synth sound and look in the music videos for the album.
The album's critical and commercial success secured Prince a place in the public psyche, and marked the beginning of two years of intense activity which, via massively successful tours, hit singles and a Hollywood movie, would make Prince arguably the biggest musical star on the planet next to Michael Jackson.
The album's cover features elements from the front cover of Prince's previous album, Controversy; namely the eyes and the "Rude Boy" pin in the "1999," the jacket studs in the "R" and the smile in the "P." The "I" in Prince, in addition to being an obvious phallic symbol, also contains the words "and the Revolution" written backwards, both acknowledging his backing band and foreshadowing the next four years of his career.
On cassette tape, "Free" was placed after "D.M.S.R." to end the first side, balancing out the lengths of both sides of the cassette.