Prince's '1999' era: A timeline


A montage of images associated with the years 1981-3.
Clockwise from upper left: Ronald Reagan on the phone (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images), a Space Shuttle takes off (Hulton Archive/Getty Images), a detail of Prince's '1999' album cover (Warner Bros.), a detail of John Cougar's 'American Fool' album cover (Riva), a detail of Prince's 'Controversy' album cover (Warner Bros.), the cast of 'M*A*S*H' (CBS), David Bowie in 1983 (RALPH GATTI/AFP via Getty Images). (see caption)

What we might consider Prince's 1999 era stretched from fall 1981 to the end of 1983. In association with The Story of 1999 audio documentary, here's a chronological guide to what was going on in Prince's career — and in music and society more broadly — during those years.


October 9 and 11: Prince opens for the Rolling Stones in Los Angeles. Disappointed, hurt, and angered by the crowd's hostile response, he vows never to play an opening slot for anyone else ever again. By widespread agreement among his colleagues, this incident helped motivate him to break new ground with the album that became 1999.

October 14: Controversy, Prince's fourth studio album, is released. (All release dates here are for U.S. market; international release dates varied.)

October 27: British Phonographic Industry debuts new ad campaign with the slogan, "Home taping is killing music."

October 28: The band Metallica form in Los Angeles.

November 20: Prince's Controversy Tour opens in Pittsburgh.

December 28: The world's first test-tube baby is born.


January: Prince introduces his new bodyguard, "Big Chick" Huntsberry, to his band. Big Chick would become a highly recognizable companion, and a valued associate. Big Chick died in 1990; at the time of Prince's death in 2016, he had a framed photo of himself with Big Chick, standing outside the Chanhassen house where 1999 was recorded, in his personal dressing room at Paisley Park.

January 20: Ozzy Osbourne bites the head off a live bat during a concert in Des Moines, Iowa.

March 14: Prince's Controversy Tour ends in Cincinnati.

March 26: U.S. Vietnam Veterans Memorial breaks ground in Washington, D.C.

Early 1982: 1999 recording sessions begin.

May 20: "Little Red Corvette" is recorded.

June 12: Bruce Springsteen, Linda Ronstadt, and Jackson Browne are among music stars who play massive Central Park rally against nuclear weapons.

August 7: "1999" is recorded.

August 1982: 1999 recording sessions end.

August 11: Vanity 6 eponymous album is released.

September 7: Cats opens on Broadway.

September 24: "1999" released as a single. At the time of its release, the Steve Miller Band's "Abracadabra" tops the Billboard Hot 100, followed by John Cougar's "Jack & Diane" and Chicago's "Hard to Say I'm Sorry."

August 25: The Time's What Time Is It? album released.

September 26: Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Prince's '1999,' a two-record set, is due in the stores in late October, but Minneapolis' regal rock star slipped into First Avenue Sept. 16 to try out a few tracks on the youthful dancers. Prince even ventured out onto the dance floor to strut a few steps himself."

October 27: 1999 is released. At the time of the album's release, John Cougar's American Fool tops the Billboard 200, followed by Fleetwood Mac's Mirage and Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska.

October 31: Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Bravo to WLOL-FM for being the only local commercial station to play Prince's new single, '1999,' and without hesitation. (Too bad an REO Speedwagon tune had to follow it the other night.)"

Early November: Videos for "1999," "Automatic," and "Let's Pretend We're Married" are shot at the Armory in Minneapolis during rehearsals for the 1999 Tour.

November 11: 1999 Tour opens in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

November 21: New York Times: "Such developments as the Linn drum computer (a computerized electronic 'drum kit'), sophisticated polyphonic synthesizers, sequencers and other sophisticated rhythm-generating devices, and the application of synthesizer technology to the amplification of guitars and even voices have opened up what amounts to a whole new world of sonic possibilities. And as has frequently been the case in the development of American popular music in the 20th century, the black and white artists, producers and technicians who make black-oriented popular music have been among the first to utilize the new technology."

November 21: Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Prince's regal touch continues on Billboard's black or soul charts. Last week, three singles he produced ranked in the Top 10: his own '1999,' the Time's '777-9311' and Vanity 6's 'Nasty Girl,' which was No. 1 on the Dance/Disco chart last week. By the way, the Time received a favorable notice in the feisty Village Voice for its recent performance in New York, while opening act Vanity 6 got the thumbs-down treatment. Prince's album, '1999,' earned praise in the same issue of the Voice. Meanwhile, Prince was unable to score tickets to see the hot musical 'Cats' on Broadway when he was in the Big Apple with the Time and Vanity 6. Could he be thinking of switching from a trenchcoat to whiskers for his next tour?"

November 30: Michael Jackson releases Thriller.

December 26: New York Times: "For black pop, 1982 was a year of feverish creativity. [...] Prince, the one-man band, made a double album, '1999' (Warner Bros.), that was one of a number of black records utilizing elements of white rock and synthesizer pop."


January 2: Annie ends its initial Broadway run after 2,377 performances.

January: "Little Red Corvette" video is filmed at the Civic Center in Lakeland, Florida.

February 2: Thousands of screaming fans mob New York's Kennedy Airport to catch a glimpse of Menudo.

February 9: "Little Red Corvette" released as single.

February 28: Final episode of M*A*S*H airs, setting a new television viewership record.

March: Single-disc edition, and cassette edition, of 1999 are released.

March 2: First compact discs go on sale in the U.S. They cost about $18 each, equivalent to $46 today. Players ran $900, equal to about $2,300 today.

March 17: Prince brings his 1999 Tour home, earning a rave review from Jon Bream in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "The national critical hype and hometown boosterism of the past couple of years have become a prediction realized. Prince Rogers Nelson, 22, of Minneapolis, is the little Prince who will be the King of Rock 'n' Roll. He served notice again Tuesday at Met Center that he is the most exciting stage figure in rock. He's more outrageous and spontaneous than Mick Jagger, less controlled and less dramatic than Bruce Springsteen and sexier than David Bowie, Marvin Gaye, Van Halen's David Lee Roth, Michael Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Pat Benatar or whoever is today's favorite pinup. Witnessing Prince Tuesday was like seeing Mick Jagger in 1969, Little Richard in '58 and James Brown in '66."

The review ran on the front page of the Star Tribune's Variety section. Readers who kept turning pages would have learned that Dallas was topping TV ratings, that four Minneapolis-St. Paul locations of the Showbiz Pizza Place were all set up with new Q*Bert machines, and that actor Ed Asner had received a death threat after criticizing President Reagan's Central American policies.

March 24: Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis miss a Time concert and are subsequently fired from the band.

March 25: Michael Jackson performs the moonwalk on Motown 25 special.

April 10: 1999 Tour ends in Chicago.

April 14: David Bowie releases Let's Dance, marking his commercial peak as a recording artist.

May: 1999 is certified platinum.

June 18: Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space.

August 3: Prince and the Revolution perform Minnesota Dance Theatre benefit concert at First Avenue, recording the live tracks that will become the basis of the album versions of "Purple Rain," "I Would Die 4 U," and "Baby I'm a Star."

August 16: Paul Simon and Carrie Fisher wed.

August 17: "Delirious" released as a single.

September 17: Vanessa Williams crowned Miss America, the first African-American woman to wear that crown.

September 18: KISS members are publicly "unmasked" for the first time, appearing on MTV without makeup.

November 2: President Reagan signs bill declaring Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a permanent national holiday.

November 16: "Let's Pretend We're Married" released as the last single from 1999.

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