Steps for musical success and worldwide domination, according to Prince.
Step 1: Learn to play guitar, bass, piano, keyboards, and drums, among other instruments. Have an amazing singing voice with tremendous range.
Step 2: Get signed to a major label while still a teenager and insist on maintaining the creative freedom to write and produce all of your own music.
Step 3: Wear whatever the fuck you want, even if that means bikini underwear underneath a trench coat. Sing whatever the fuck you want, even if that means writing songs about blowjobs and incest. Do this for about 3-4 years.
Step 4: Write, perform and produce a perfect pop song about a woman who sleeps around, call it “Little Red Corvette,” and include it on an ultra-ambitious double album filled with other perfect pop songs.
Step 5: Demand that your managers find a movie for you to star in, or else they will be fired. Strongly suggest that it is a fictional film loosely based on your life.
Step 6: Write, perform and produce another perfect pop song, “When Doves Cry,” and include it on the soundtrack to the movie you insisted on and fill it with more perfect pop songs.
Step 7: Saturate MTV, film, radio, and any other pop culture medium you can think of en route to the world domination you originally sought out.
Sounds easy, right? Well, of course, it doesn’t, but Prince somehow managed to follow this very unusual path to superstardom and massive pop-culture saturation. The result of his movie/soundtrack 1-2 punch, “Purple Rain,” is the most well-known set of songs that Prince ever recorded. It created millions of new fans for Prince, made instant celebrities out of his band, The Revolution, and forever linked the man with purple. I will be sharing my memories of this Prince era later, so I wanted to focus on the music. Yes, Purple Rain is a soundtrack to a film, but for me, it was always about the music first and foremost.
1999 was a Robo-funk masterpiece filled with lots of keyboard hooks mixed with guitar and drum machine sounds. The follow-up, Purple Rain, recorded in 1983, was intended to be a pop-rock album. One that would cross over to a pop-rock audience in a way that 1999 never could. While he wasn’t promoting the still successful 1999 album and its singles, he spent the summer of 1983 recording the soundtrack to the film that was being written and ultimately filmed later that same year. Prince would release no new music in 1983 beyond B-sides for singles released from the 1999 album. Amazingly, this would be the last time Prince would not release an album of new music in a calendar until 1993, 10 years later.
“Look for the purple banana ’til they put us in the truck, let’s go.”
“Let’s Go Crazy” is the album’s lead-off track and the song that opens the film. It’s a raucous meditation on religion (“de-elevator,” aka the devil) with energetic guitar blasts and epically weird chorus (“look for the purple banana”). It’s also a perfect album opener, a massive hit, and includes one of the best guitar freak-outs in music history at the song’s end. The elevators to hell and God metaphors were utterly lost on me as a kid, which has always been one of Prince’s brilliant songwriting gifts.
“Drive me crazy, drive me all night. Just don’t break up the connection.”
“Take Me With U” is Prince’s duet with his Purple Rain co-star Apollonia (along with some uncredited Lisa Coleman vocal augmentation). It’s a breezy yet relatively slight number where the two (or three) sing in unison throughout most of the song. “Take Me With U” will always be remembered as the music played over the scene where Prince drives Apollonia to the country on his motorcycle, leading up to the infamous “purification in the waters of Lake Minnetonka” scene.
“The beautiful ones always smash the picture. Always every time.”
“The Beautiful Ones” is best known for having one of Prince’s most gut-wrenching vocal performances of all time. His desperation and frustration come through loud and clear through his primal screams during the song’s climax. Part ballad, part epic rock song, “The Beautiful Ones” remains one of the most memorable songs on the album.
“Where is my love life? Where can it be? There must be something wrong with the machinery.”
“Computer Blue” is one of the most musically ambitious songs on Purple Rain. Its thumping drums, screeching guitars, ascending and descending keyboard riffs, and Prince’s pissed-off wails towards the song’s end make this particular non-single one that many fans continue to go back to. Of course, no mention of “Computer Blue” would be complete without asking, 34 years later, what the hell Wendy and Lisa were doing with that water?
“Hello, how are you? Fine, fine, ’cause I know that the Lord is coming soon. Coming, coming soon.”
For my money, “Darling Nikki” may be my favorite non-single from Purple Rain. It’s so much more than just a controversial masturbation lyric and PMRC footnote. It’s a funky, kinky, sexy, yet chill-inducing song that frames one of the most electric stage performances from the film. To top it all off, “Darling Nikki” takes an unexpected turn at the end with the inclusion of rain shower and wind sounds and head-scratching but super cool-sounding backmasking lyrics about God (not Satan as parents feared).
“Dig if you will the picture. Of you and I engaged in a kiss.”
Side 2 kicks off with my favorite Prince song of all time, “When Doves Cry.” No bass? An odd, inscrutable chorus? No problem! “When Doves Cry” was the biggest hit of 1984 and was Prince’s very first #1 song despite the non-traditional pop music songwriting used throughout. Then you have the music video, where Prince crawled out of a bathtub nude before showing a multitude of clips from the forthcoming movie, then ending with footage of the band playing, singing, and dancing in unison with mirroring effects. There was absolutely nothing about the music, the lyrics, or the video for “When Doves Cry” that was “ho-hum.” Even in modern times, the song does not sound dated in the slightest.
“I’m not a woman; I’m not a man. I am something that you’ll never understand.”
“I Would Die 4 U” wins the award for the most danceable song off Purple Rain if there was such an award. It’s up-tempo, fun, and nearly impossible to sit still while it plays, and for that matter, why would you want to anyway? It’s instantly recognizable from the opening chords as pure pop perfection. I could never master the hand gestures used in the movie during the First Avenue performance, and apparently, neither could Apollonia.
“Like what the fuck do they know? All their taste is in their mouth. Really, what the fuck do they know?”
“Baby I’m a Star” represents the joyous moment from the film where it all comes together for Prince/The Kid. He gets the girl, the acclaim, the respect from his peers and bandmates. The Kid, just like Prince, wills his stardom into existence with this declaration. “Baby I’m a Star” also includes another backmasking section….who puts two backward messages on an 80s pop album? Prince.
“Honey, I know, I know, I know times are changing. It’s time we all reach out for something new. That means you too.”
Prince’s most famous song was never actually a #1 hit (damn you, Wham!), but in hindsight, no one cares. “Purple Rain” is THE signature song off his signature album. This song is a time capsule track from the 80s if there ever was one. “Purple Rain’s” extended coda always felt like a dream to me as a child due to its floating piano, strings, keys, and Prince’s cooing us to sleep. The cheering crowd heard during this portion of the song is a great touch, but the opening guitar chords make “Purple Rain” so great and memorable.
Memory Bank Withdrawal
It’s hard to express unique feelings or thoughts about an album that’s been discussed, dissected, and canonized to death already. Purple Rain’s significance as a work of art is one thing, but its significance to me goes beyond popularity.
Purple Rain came out at a time in my life filled with change. My family moved to a new town in the summer of ’84 as I was entering the 4th grade. “When Doves Cry” was on the radio pretty regularly, and I recall hearing it on many drives back and forth from our old and new homes. It became my “moving” soundtrack.
My older sister and I loved the soundtrack when it was released that summer, and we spent many nights in our new home listening to the cassette, which she bought, memorizing the songs. I shared this same level of interest in Purple Rain and Prince with the new friends I was making in the neighborhood. The sometimes racy or suggestive lyrics made for juvenile fun.
All the circumstances of my life at the time and all the vivid memories I have of listening to this album, watching the music videos on MTV, and eventually seeing the film without my parent’s knowledge thanks to a friend’s HBO subscription, add up to something bigger than just an album of music for me.
Purple Rain is now part of who I am. It’s an incredible work of art from a musical genius, but most importantly for me, it’s comfort food. It instantly can generate fond memories from my childhood with every listen. In 1984, Prince was my musical guide towards adolescence, and I was lucky I found him.
My order of preference of Purple Rain tracks from most favorite to least favorite with my personal ratings next to them. As you can see, I consider it a perfect album. Not a weak track in the bunch.
- When Doves Cry 5/5
- Let’s Go Crazy 5/5
- The Beautiful Ones 5/5
- Darling Nikki 5/5
- Purple Rain 5/5
- I Would Die 4 U 5/5
- Computer Blue 5/5
- Baby I’m a Star 5/5
- Take Me With U 5/5
Overall Score: 5/5
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