Prince and the New Power Generation
Diamonds and Pearls
(Warner Bros.; US: 1 Oct 1991; UK: 1 Oct 1991)
“Walk Don’t Walk” kicks off a more frivolous section of Diamonds and Pearls. The album already has an air of frivolity to it, yet in a meaningful way; its lightness goes hand-in-hand with its confidence, freshness, and style. “Walk Don’t Walk” is sort of anti-frivolity in the sense that it’s trying to impart some words of wisdom to us listeners, to encourage us to follow our own path, to not be afraid of being bold enough to talk to strangers, to enter their space and at the same time walk our own way.
At least that seems to be the message. Prince and Rosie Gaines engage in a back-and-forth exchange of instructions; most of them turn out to be directions coming from society, messages we should ignore. “They” want you to walk with everyone else, to walk without confidence, (to “walk like you could use a ride”), to shut up until spoken to, to play the fool.
Their goofy interplay, punctuated in the background by horn noises, builds towards something almost gospel-like (“almost gospel-like” being a theme for much of the album), and the moral “The sun will shine upon you one day / If you’re always walkin’ your way”. To say that Prince has written about nonconformity in more creative or interesting ways before would be a severe understatement.
Or even in more nonconformist ways…The song is inherently repetitive, filled with at least 30 utterances of the word “walk” (or a variation) and a decent handful of “talk”. We feel like we’re stuck within the boundaries of a word prison of some kind. Is that on purpose, to reveal the ways pop songs themselves reinforce conformity? Hmm…not sure I can go that far.
With the song that follows it (“Jughead”), “Walk Don’t Walk” is also one of the most dated-feeling songs on the album. Or maybe that’s just because of the word “psyche” – as in, “don’t walk wherever they tell you to (psyche)”. That “psyche” combined with the “don’t” actually makes the line awfully confusing, which is representative of the song as a whole. It’s a bit of a maze of statements and anti-statements.
By the end of the song, though, we realize it’s been relatively short and sweet, a lightly cheesy space-filler to move us along.