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How a documentary about Nostradamus inspired one of Prince’s biggest hits

Legendary musican Prince had no shortage of hits during his career, but one of his biggest was the early ’80s party song ‘1999’, off the album of the same name. While it’s definitely a groove, the reason for the partying as explained in the lyrics is strangely dark: Prince writes of having a dream of people running from destruction, and that judgement day is imminent – and so, if we’re all about to die, let’s at least party before we do:

Everybody’s got a bomb
We could all die any day,
But before I’ll let that happen
I’ll dance my life away.

They say, 2000-0-0, party over
Oops, out of time
So tonight we gonna party like it’s 1999

The ’80s was obviously a time where the apocalypse was firmly in mind, with the U.S. and Russia engaged in a ‘mutually assured destruction’ (MAD) stand-off, but was there a more specific inspiration for the song, in particular the 1999 date? In a discussion with ‘The Current’, Bobby Z – Prince’s friend and drummer for almost the first decade of his career – revealed that Prince’s megahit was born from an HBO documentary about the 16th century seer Nostradamus’s prediction of the end of the world, that the band watched at a hotel while on the road during an early tour:

A very interesting story about ‘1999’ the song: we were traveling at the tail end of of the Dirty Mind album and, there was a hotel sign, and it said ‘Free HBO’. That was a big deal! So everybody got to their room and turned on HBO, and there was a HBO documentary about Nostradamus and the prediction of the end of the world [in] 1999…1999…and we’re all blown away by this thing – you could feel it in the hotel rooms, they were just glued to the TV.

So of course, like normal people do, the next day the water cooler talk is “did you see…” But for Prince, he had written this song. So there explains the difference between mere mortals and Prince: we’re all going “wow”, and then he just embodied the whole thing with ‘1999’ the next day.

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