Gangster Glam and Voyeurism: Prince & the New Power Generation - "Strollin'"
One of the lyrics that says the most about Prince’s approach to music in 1991 is “If we don’t know how / We’ll fake it / Oh yeah”.
“Strollin’” is one of the fluffiest songs on Diamonds and Pearls, and, with “Jughead”, one of the songs most likely to be denigrated or brushed aside, even by people who generally like the album. At the same time the song quietly represents the album’s overall mood and style – its modernized antiquity, its relaxed swagger, its elaborate playfulness.
It’s essentially a lightly (very lightly) jazz rewrite of Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’ -- another song about chilling out with your baby that musically tries to emulate the same tone, through pace and falsetto.
“Strollin’” is goofier than “Cruisin’”, with more eccentric behavior described, typical of Prince. A couple is taking a day off work to enjoy life -- which means rollerskating around the lake, reading dirty magazines on the sly, eating ice cream, and giving a car to a street musician with a blue guitar.
The main words besides the title are “oh yeah”. The song is a trifle, but also one offering positivity as the answer. In face of hate, let’s “make a joyful sound” -- whether that sound comes from music, pleasure sounds, the giggles of a couple awkwardly trying to rollerskate, or their snickers as they read dirty magazines at the ice cream parlor.
The song’s two best lines are the ones that say the most about Diamonds and Pearls and Prince’s approach to music in 1991. One is “If we don’t know how / We’ll fake it / Oh yeah”, which speaks to Prince & the New Power Generation’s approach to hip-hop, to jazz, to living a life of luxury, to showbiz. Fake it 'til you make it is the attitude of the album.
The other line is the goofy “Rocking / Rolling / Oh yeah”. This may be a rock 'n' roll album for Prince, but it presents a different notion of rock. He has a band behind him, yes. There is a focus on electric guitar, on ego, on sex. But the guitar is elusive and indirect and the music is soft and pretty. If it’s one of Prince’s rock albums, it’s one that purposely plays against expectations of rock. It does the same with other genres (R&B, hip-hop, funk, jazz, etc.) while still foregrounding the ego and style that are at the center of the personas of each genre's stars. Prince is giving his own Prince-ian sense of cool to some relatively common tropes and forms.