It’s the way Diamonds and Pearls works; a couple lightweight space-fillers sit in between two stone-cold classics: “Gett Off” and this ballad, one of Prince’s message songs, so to speak. The fifth single released from the album (it hit just #23 on the charts), it’s also one of the songs on Diamonds and Pearls that doesn’t feature all of the New Power Generation band members. It consists of Levi Seacer, Jr on bass, Michael Bland on drums, and Prince on everything else, including backing vocals.
It’s a smooth soul ballad, a would-be quiet storm hit, except Prince’s mind is on the world’s problems. You expect that “money don’t matter tonight” will carry the undertone that what’s more important than money is love (i.e. “money don’t matter in the bedroom”), but he never goes there, even if the setting and his singing might help us make that connection in our own minds.
His lead vocals have a slightly removed aesthetic quality to them, which gives the effect of Prince as an omniscient narrator, singing to us through a radio or the clouds. He starts off telling a story of a gambling addict who doesn’t have enough money “2 treat his lady right”. A second verse does the same with investments; the world of finance is filled with greedy “snakes in every color, every nationality and size”.
In the last verse, he steps back and widens his view—the United States is the gambling addict, and what we’re using to bet are our the lives of our children. The song was written and recorded during the Gulf War/Operation Desert Storm, and this verse is a reminder that sometimes Prince peers out of his purple mansion on the hill at what is going on in the world. Is oil worth children dying?, he asks. Because he’s Prince, he also extrapolates it into a life lesson: “If long life is what we all live 4 / Then long life will come 2 pass”.
The chorus’ message that money doesn’t matter might seem in competition with the life of luxury depicted on the rest of Diamonds and Pearls, until you remember that luxury is a style here, a state of mind.