Prince's untimely death deals yet another blow to music. His creativity and ability to blend various genres is unsurpassed. As several friends and colleagues have reported, Prince was constantly writing and recording, amassing a treasure trove of unreleased tracks that will hopefully see the light of day. Until then, we must savor his albums and numerous singles. Amazingly, Prince would often reward fans with stellar B-sides that should have been hits, including "17 Days," the flip side to the 1984 "When Doves Cry" single. Featuring a hypnotic groove with looping electronic drums, the track exudes pure, simple funk.
The origins of "17 Days" are murky, but the song apparently began as a song for Vanity 6 (best known for their Prince-produced hit "Nasty Girl"). When lead singer Vanity departed the group in 1983, he decided to record the song himself. Interestingly, one of the track's backing vocalists is former Vanity 6 member Brenda Bennett. Why he did not include the track on Purple Rain is a mystery, but he chose to release it as a B-side in 1984.
As the synthesizers swirl and the electronic drums pulsate, Prince laments the end of a love affair. He paints a vivid picture of loneliness, softly singing "I sit in my lonely room" with "two cigarettes and this broken heart of mine." In the chorus, he clearly decides to surrender to the heartache, chanting "let the rain come down, down." Finally the title comes into play, declaring that his lover has been gone 17 days and nights. As is typical for Prince, he inserts a curious line that defies expectations. He declares that "I want to call you everyday / And beg you to be hear me." Yet "I know your head is underwater / I doubt you could hear me," he adds. Does he mean that she is overwhelmed with her newfound love? Is she oblivious to his pain, and he is decrying her indifference? The singer lets fans decide for themselves.
The "underwater" reference segues perfectly into the chorus, again commanding that "the rain come down." He returns to the opening lines, but with a twist; in the first version, he states that "the main drag is knowing that / You probably weren't alone" when she did not answer her phone. This time, he wonders if his lover is also drowning in sorrow. "If you're the one who's always lonely / Then I'm the one who's always alone." Will the couple reunite? Can they both emerge from underwater to find happiness again? As the "let the rain come down" chanting returns, it remains unclear.
Unlike other Prince tracks, "17 Days" simmers, attracting listeners with its steady rhythm and bass lines. He assumes a low-key role here, his vocals expressing heartbreak without over-emoting. The song's inherent moodiness could have provided the perfect soundtrack for the Kid and Apollonia's onscreen romance. Only an artist like Prince could have "leftovers" of such high quality.
Celebrate his life and legacy by digging out your Prince albums, but do not neglect hidden gems like "17 Days." They illustrate his immense talent and unique ability to transcend easy categories. Prince created his own genre, one that will heavily influence artists for years to come.