Purple Rain was a lightning in a bottle moment for Prince. #1 song. #1 album. #1 movie. All at the same time. Prince was also lightning in a bottle talent, so it would be him if anyone could do it. Unfortunately, neither the film, Under the Cherry Moon nor the film’s soundtrack, Parade, would reach #1 status when they were released in 1986. The movie may not go down as one of the best examples of a musician turned actor/director (Prince fired the film’s original director and took over the reins himself). Still, the soundtrack has endured as one of the strongest artistic statements of Prince’s career.
Parade would be Prince’s 8th (!) album in nine years, so it should come as no surprise that a portion of this record was written and recorded before his last album, 1985’s Around the World In A Day, was even released. By this time, The Revolution had swollen in size to include an additional guitarist, Miko Weaver (identified as “Mico” on the album’s credits), horn players Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss, as well as carry-overs from the ATWIAD sessions, Jonathan and Susannah Melvoin. Not to mention the addition of a second drummer, Shelia E., on percussion. Recordings for Parade primarily took place in the Spring and Summer of 1985 before the film even began shooting. That didn’t stop Prince from forming an idea in his mind around the film’s theme and aesthetic, thus identifying ways that the music would fit into this vision.
Under the Cherry Moon was filmed on the French Riviera in the Fall of 1985, utilizing a black and white, classic film look. Primarily written as a romantic comedy, the movie also integrates dramatic sequences in an attempt to be all things to everyone and deliver an emotional payoff at the film’s conclusion. Except for some memorable scenes (e.g., wrecka stow, the “Girls & Boys” musical number), the film falls flat in both the romantic and drama departments but excels as a buddy comedy. Fortunately, the soundtrack was far from flat when it was released on March 31st, 1986. To create a soundtrack that would fit the film’s artistic style, Prince enlisted composer Clare Fischer to add lush orchestrations to many of the album’s tracks, giving it a classical European feel. The two men never met in person, Prince preferring to send Clare recordings for him to work on remotely, but the musical relationship was certainly fruitful on Parade and would last for decades until Clare’s passing in 2012. While Prince’s psychedelic phase elements are still evident here, it’s the added orchestration, sax/horns that set the album apart from the records that Prince made before and immediately after.
“Everyone come behold Christopher Tracy’s parade.”
Parade kicks off with a four-song suite primarily tracked by Prince all in one session back in the Spring of ’85. “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” (originally titled “Wendy’s Parade” until the lyrics were changed to fit the needs of the film) serves as the intro to the album. It introduces the movie’s protagonist, played by Prince. It has a solid “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” feel to it in terms of presenting a fictional character who will be brought up again throughout the album along with the celebratory manner of the track. Clare Fischer’s orchestration is front and center, along with the horns mentioned above. Prince’s father, John L. Nelson, receives co-writing credit for this track and Under the Cherry Moon. The song is vibrant and colorful but eventually slows to a crawl before neatly blending into the next track.
“New Position” is the next song in the suite and happens to be my favorite of the four. It’s relatively short but stands out due to funky steel drums layered over the core drum track. Initially written way back in 1982, this updated version is precisely what you think it’s about, sex! Prince implores his lover to try something new, a “new position” since they’ve “been together, honey, for too long.” The way Prince sing/screams “hon-eeeey” certainly is memorable, while the entire song ends up becoming a dance-able sing-a-long jam that relishes its straightforwardness in both music and lyrical content.
Prince slows things down for the final two songs in the suite, “I Wonder U” and “Under the Cherry Moon.” “I Wonder U” acts as more of an interlude than a full-fledged song. Prince ultimately removed his entire vocal performance on this track, leaving only Wendy’s backing vocals, essentially creating a Prince song that doesn’t include any Prince vocals anywhere on it. A version of “I Wonder U” with Prince’s vocals added back in would make for a sweet bonus track on a future “Parade” deluxe edition….hint…hint. A nice little funk guitar lick ends the track before segueing into “Under the Cherry Moon,” an even slower ballad that serves as the title track to the movie (but not the album, strangely enough). Created in a classical style to match the era of the film, the song foreshadows (spoiler alert) Christopher Tracy’s demise with the chorus “I’ll die in your arms, under the cherry moon.” It’s a good song, but maybe a little off-putting for fans of Prince’s more pop/rock/funk compositions. I can’t blame the man for trying something new, and for the most part, it still works.
“She had the cutest ass he’d ever seen. He did too, they were meant to be.”
After the suite concludes, Prince and the band jump into “Girls & Boys,” undoubtedly a highlight from side one. For this track, Prince utilizes strange keyboard sounds (almost duck-like), a combination of live and programmed drums, Eric Leeds on the horns, Susannah, Wendy and Lisa on background vocals, and French spoken word interlude/rap to create a unique and memorable track. “Girls & Boys” wasn’t released as a single in the US. Still, it was a single in the UK, with a music video featuring scenes of Prince singing the song from the film integrated with clips of the band singing and dancing while dressed up & stylized in clothing and hairstyles to fit the era (the 40s-50s, maybe). It’s unclear what era this movie exists in as modern conveniences are shown in the movie, but other parts appear stuck in the past. Jerome Benton, of The Time and The Family, plays Christopher Tracy’s friend Tricky cackles uncontrollably at the end of the video. In contrast, Prince and the members of The Revolution walk away. It is a bizarre ending but cracks me up nonetheless due to its sheer absurdness.
“No one plays the clarinet the way you play my heart. I come a thousand different ways before I even start.”
If you thought “Girls & Boys” was busy sounding, wait until you get a load of “Life Can Be So Nice,” a play on words for the movie’s filming location, Nice, France. It’s an amazingly relentless and quirky pop song with so much going on it’s hard to keep up. The hard-as-nails drum track, along with a repeating synthesized flute sound, immediately catches your attention. Sheila E. adds cowbell for further confusing effect. As the song progresses, the music gets more haphazard, and the background vocals no longer line up with Prince’s lead vocals. The result is a bit sloppy, but it’s one of those situations where the cluttered and chaotic sound makes it more remarkable than it has any right to be. Once all of the sounds and vocals swirl around your ears to a maddening level, the track abruptly ends, mimicking how Prince as Christopher Tracy quickly turns off the song as he’s listening while waiting for his love interest, Mary, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, to arrive. A goofy, lighthearted scene to match a goofy, lighthearted song.
We already had a Prince first with “I Wonder U’s” lead vocals handled by someone other than Prince, which had never been done. Side 1 ends with yet another first, the first-ever instrumental to find its way onto a Prince album. “Venus De Milo” closes side one in classical music fashion with a gorgeous yet straightforward piano melody accompanied by more Clare Fischer orchestration. Sublime beauty.
“It’s only mountains and the sea. There’s nothing greater, than you and me.”
All three US singles released from Parade can be found on side 2, led off by the song that plays over the movie’s closing credits, “Mountains.” One of the two songs from Parade that are credited explicitly to Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman as co-writers (“Sometimes It Snows In April” is the other), “Mountains” is the rare full-band effort from this album. Despite being one of the best, if not THE best song on the album, depending on who you ask, “Mountains” was not a runaway smash. It hit #23 on the US charts, which is respectable, but that says more about the public’s confusion and disinterest in Under the Cherry Moon as a project than the quality of the music. The song is obscenely catchy with its horns, drums, guitar riff, and an earworm chorus. I can never keep myself from yelling out “guitars and drums on the one” at the same time Prince does, nor can I stop from yelling “Bobby on the drums!” at the same time as Lisa (I think….or Wendy…not sure). This song is just so much fun that I waver back and forth as to whether this or another very notable song from the album are my favorites.
Sandwiched between “Mountains” and “Kiss” is the lark of a track, “Do U Lie?”. This song, far from one of my favorites on the album, serves its purpose as a mainly French-sounding song for a movie in France. Hey, remember this movie takes place in France? No? Well, listen to “Do U Lie?” and you’ll quickly be reminded. The song has its charms but knowing what comes after it almost….almost makes you want to skip it to get to (insert smooching sounds here) “Kiss.”
“Kiss,” aka “The Return of the Falsetto,” is a stripped-down (Look Ma! No bass…again!) song about needing nothing more in life than the love and kisses of a good woman. Prince’s first #1 since “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Kiss” is one of those timeless songs that works despite all the reasons it shouldn’t. The music is very simple, just a basic bluesy guitar riff that Prince originally wrote for the band Mazarati, who are credited as background vocalists on the final track as well as co-producer credit for Mazarati’s original producer, David Z. Once Prince took the song back for himself, he added the famous guitar break in the middle of the song which is kicked off by the nod to the first track on the album, “little Wendy’s parade” as well as adding his own drums.
Prince sings each memorable verse telling the object of his affection what she doesn’t have to be like to win his affections. All he wants is your extra time and your kiss. Simple enough, right? My favorite lines as a kid were his shout-out to the prime-time soap opera, Dynasty (“you don’t have to watch Dynasty, to have an attitude”) primarily because we watched the show as a family. Still, I also enjoyed his request for his girl to “Act your age, mama, not your shoe size. Maybe we can do the twirl.” It was simply fun, seemingly throw-away lyrics but endeared me to the song for not being overly serious. To top it off, the music video was always one of my all-time favorite Prince videos. Like the song, the video is equally sparse, featuring Prince dancing around a room in tight blank pants, heels, a black jacket with a tight crop top t-shirt underneath, both of which he discards early on. His dance partner is a mysteriously beautiful woman who wears a scarf over her head most of the time. Revolution guitarist Wendy Melvoin is also sitting on a stool playing it straight (no pun intended) while Prince dances around her singing in her face. The laugh/cringe look on Wendy’s face when Prince sings right into her ear, “you gotta not talk dirty, babe,” is priceless. Once again, it’s these little touches that continue to prove that “Kiss” is a song that should NOT be taken seriously. Finally, who can forget the way Prince screams “ain’t no particular sign I’m more compatible with” in a nearly incomprehensible voice at the song’s conclusion? It will always be one of those “hair stands up on the back of the neck” moments off one of the best songs Prince ever wrote and recorded.
After the extreme high of “Kiss,” the next song on the album is bound to be a bit of a letdown. “Anotherloverholenyohead” is actually an excellent track and was the third US single released for the album, but it can’t quite reach the highs of the song that preceded it. The song’s title is a mash-up of the chorus, “you need another lover like you need a hole in your head.” Essentially, Prince wants his girl to stop playin’ around and choose him already so they can settle down together. The song has a funky, infectious groove, and like on “Mountains,” the entire band is back together for this track. The music video is notable for being a live, and some would say superior, take on this track recorded on Prince’s 28th birthday on June 7th, 1986, in Detroit, MI.
This whole up and down journey through Parade’s highs (“New Position,” “Girls & Boys,” “Mountains,” “Kiss”) and lows (“I Wonder U,” “Venus De Milo,” “Do U Lie?”) culminate in one of the most beautifully sad songs Prince ever recorded. I believe that “Sometimes It Snows In April” is meant to be sung from the perspective of watching someone you love pass away right in front of you, in the context of Under the Cherry Moon, that would be Christopher Tracy’s death in the arms of Mary. However, after Prince’s passing, the lyrics of sadness and regret take on a completely different meaning and tone. In one of those “I can’t believe its true” coincidences, “Sometimes It Snows…” was written on April 21st, 1985, exactly 31 years before Prince’s death on April 21st, 2016. Now it’s impossible to not listen to this song and subconsciously replace Christopher Tracy’s name for Prince and think not of the movie death scene. Still, whatever loneliness and regret Prince himself may have been feeling in his final, painful days at Paisley Park.
Musically, the song takes a “simpler is better” approach by incorporating a very subtle acoustic guitar melody and piano. Wendy and Lisa, co-writers of the music, provide an excellent backup vocal effect but the star, as it should be, is Prince’s vocal performance. It’s subdued by design, but Prince proves he can do tender and melancholy as well as angry and loud. Sure, some may dismiss the song as being a bit mawkish, but I don’t see it that way at all. “Sometimes It Snows In April” comes off as anything but mawkish now. When listening to this song, the feelings one has are genuine and not artificially created to service a film plot.
“All good things, they say, never last. And love, it isn’t love until its past.”
Memory Bank Withdrawal
Prince changed his sound yet again for Parade, and while the classical and European influences worked for some, it may have turned off others. The lush orchestrations, Latin flavored drums, and horn embellished funk had more in common to Joni Mitchell fronting the James Brown band than it did a pop/rock playboy wunderkind. For me, Parade is one of those albums where the sum is greater than its parts. The four-track opening suite, taken out of context, may not sound all that impressive or necessary, but it works perfectly as the lead-up for the album/movie combo. Instrumentals such as “Venus De Milo” as a stand-alone track? Meh. But the closer of side one and break between the raucous “Life Can Be So Nice” and the joyous “Mountains?” Perfect.
Unfortunately, for fans of The Revolution, this would be the last album Prince would create with them. A planned Prince/Wendy/Lisa collaboration, tentatively titled Dream Factory, would be scrapped once he fired them from The Revolution. This was mere months after the three of them were featured on the cover of Rolling Stone together, looking like one big, happy musical family. Prince also said goodbye to his muse and girlfriend/fiancé, Susannah, so Parade, in many ways, feels like the end of a chapter in Prince’s career. The film was a box office failure, but thankfully the soundtrack contained song after song of interesting musical ideas where Prince pushed his creativity and willingness to collaborate to new heights.
When it was released, I had simply thought of Parade as the album with “Kiss” on it. I never owned or heard the entire album growing up in the 80s as Around the World In A Day had somewhat jaded my pre-teen musical sensibilities. I had no loyalty to musicians back then like I do now. If an artist didn’t put out something I thought was brilliant or filled with hits on MTV, I wasn’t that interested. I recorded “Kiss” off the radio, and that was good enough for me. It would be the mid-90s before I finally heard Parade all the way through for the first time, and I was mesmerized. This was actually really good! Why did I wait ten years to listen to it? Oh well, better late than never. Parade sits atop an already very busy Mt. Rushmore of outstanding Prince records from the 80s. It’s from his black and white, French, and classical music-influenced period, which would last about one album cycle for Prince. We would not get another album like this, but one nearly perfect album from this very brief era is all we need.
My order of preference of Parade tracks from most favorite to least favorite with my personal ratings next to them.
- Mountains 5/5
- Kiss 5/5
- Sometimes It Snows In April 5/5
- New Position 5/5
- Life Can Be So Nice 5/5
- Anotherloverholenyohead 4.5/5
- Girls & Boys 4.5/5
- Christopher Tracy’s Parade 4/5
- Under the Cherry Moon 4/5
- I Wonder U 3.5/5
- Venus De Milo 3.5/5
- Do U Lie? 3.5/5
Overall Score: 4.4/5
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