Purple Rain – Prince
Purple Rain will be forever known as Prince’s Opus and his most commercial and famous piece of work. Artistically there is more to come but in terms of his status on the rock world, Purple Rain puts him up there with the legends of Rock.
So what makes Purple Rain (PR) so special? PR is the culmination of build up in momentum in Prince’s popularity, and although the commercial success of 1999 increased Prince’s exposure to the masses he still not quite a superstar, and still had that “mystery”, only the cool kids knew who he was. The next thing that made PR so special was the rock and roll movie and subsequent publicity that went with it. This could all have been an expensive failure, but Warner Brothers had so much confidence in Prince’s ability to pull it off and he did. The movie was fantastic for it’s time, if you were a young teen at the cinema watching Prince being (well Prince…) you felt like you were watching a piece of magic and you didn’t want it to end. There are several memorable scenes in the movie, but the ones that stand out are the live performances, particularly the title track and the magnificent “The Beautiful Ones”. The scenes with Vanity are so kooky that they really work, and then there’s the charismatic Morris Day and his role as the comic villain.
The Album is filled with all round classics. The beginning of the album is “Lets go crazy”, single number 2 and one of Prince’s craziest and most “fun” songs ever made. The beginning of Lets go crazy, Prince begins with a sermon, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life and that’s a mighty long time!” and the rock riff then starts – its an instant piece of 80’s rock magic with Prince’s Linn Drum machine rocking it through. The ending is almost as brilliant as the beginning, ending in a wailing guitar scream so sexy that I still get goose bumps listening to it. Perfect in every way!
After the guitar orgy of Lets go crazy, the next song, Take me with U is a piece of fluff in comparison, a duet with Vanity, the song is actually really catchy and fits well in the movie – althuogh its not my favourite. Listen to his new song “Rock N Roll Love Affair” and you hear a distinct similarity to this song with the big sounding keyboard riff and banging drums. The video clip Prince rides his Harley through the country side and this song conjures up images of a trip through nature – very nice, very breezy.
Third up is “The Beautiful Ones”, to this point the best Ballad Prince has produced, some would argue its his greatest ever ballad, (but I like Adore and Insatiable more…..). However, this is different, its a ROCK ballad, with all the hallmarks of youthful lust and exhuberance, that begins with a soft piano and Prince’s soft falsetto, mid tempo drums, and a nice catchy verse. The chorus is also very catchy, and although never released, this could have been a smash single if they decided to bring it out, the song continues to build pace and as the guitars are introduced Prince screams in ecstacy and keeps going until the song ends in a type of “orgasmic” ending – I defy anyone to listen to The Beautiful ones and not shed a tear as it’s such a deeply moving song, yet the lyrics are purely about desperation and need, sexual need. It drives so hard and is so loud that youll never forget this song. It also makes for a turning point in the movie. Classic!
“Computer Blue” is the 4th song on the album, and a strange type of song. On the face of it, it starts off as a rock funk song with a pop type of vocal, and then changes and becomes a mid tempo instrumental, with the guitar taking the lead, all along the drum machine carrying the song through. But, like the Beautiful Ones before it, Computer Blue takes a few twists and turns and gets heavier and faster as it progresses, ending up in another orgasmic scream at the end joining onto the perverse “Darling Nikki”. Computer Blue remains one of my all time favourite Prince songs, its hard to describe why – I think it doesnt really fit into any specific category of song, and it doesnt really sound “finished”, yet it offers so much and its darn funky! The guitar solo in it is beautiful and ends up grungy and funky, also as a song its a good bridge between Beautiful Ones and Darling Nikki. Finally, despite being dragged through by a 80’s drum machine with little variation, and a topic matter that’s very “80’s” in Computer technology, it still sounds fresh, to me it hasnt really aged badly. Always the sign of great classic music.
Darling Nikki, picks up at the end of Computer Blue and is the albums most perverted songs, almost harking back to the “Dirty Mind” era in it’s subject matter. But theres no grey area here, this is a purely sexual song about a prostiture, masturbation and other dirty things – it probably gave some insight into Prince’s mindset at the time as a young man too, and cemented his place in music history as a perverse but highly genius talent. As a song, Darling Nikki is minimalist and tribal, loud banging drums, almost a fairy tale type of tune and Prince’s howling, craving and wailing throughout the song. The end of the song, sounds like “rain” (Purple Rain?) and Prince singing multitracked and backwards blessing the lord. Like so many other Prince songs, he puts in the tribute to God after a dirty sex song almost as an apology or guilt trip, and recording it backwards so it’s not so obvious.
Side Two begins with the highest selling and most famous of Prince’s single released – “When Doves Cry”. Although the lyrics are hard to truly understand and sound semi-autobiographical, I spent may years trying to work out what the lyrics mean, but lately I have mostly given up, realising that they are written to sound deep and meaningful, but really are not. Prince was the master of cool around Purple Rain and anything he said was cool, regardless of what is meant (or didnt mean). I think the real strength of When Does Cry is its stunning musical sound – a real revelation for it’s time in the 80’s. A pounding beat and a driving voice, and no other instruments – in terms of music a real revolution, no bass guitar either! The deep driving vocals mean that a bass guitar sound was not needed, and on the higher end of the sound spectrum a typical Prince synth sound also adding flavour to the sound. Also, those lyrics are insanely catchy, deep, and purposeful (even if they dont mean much) and set a tone for the movie as well. As a smash hit single, the song was probably one of the key reasons why Purple Rain was so successful – and I would say When Does Cry was probably the song that elevated Prince into superstardom overnight. Forever a classic – listen to it loud and it still gives you goosbumps today. The album version is very long, and contains an extended version with what sounds like classical organ sound (sped up), although its an impressive organ solo, it kind of takes something away from the moody sound of the song in the first place. When Does Cry ends and “I would die for you” starts, and this song is very diffrernt in many ways, this song has better lyrics, and is very religiuos, however it has a really interesting sound and the long version of this song is actually quite interesting (if overlong as well!). The album version is short and cute, and is a really good segue to the next song which is “Baby Im a Star”, in my opinion one of Prince’s weakest ever songs, but at the time it was a filler album track that suited the movie’s needs, basically being the happy ending of the movie – if you watch the movie, the song is great and you feel like dancing along – but as an album track its pants. and it’s long. and it’s live. everything that really I wouldnt want from a Prince song. For me the brilliance of Prince is in his handling of sounds, song writing, arrangement and execution of brilliantly crafted songs, I would imagine Prince writing “Baby Im a star” in 5 minutes on the back of a fag packet. Average.
the final and one of the greatest Prince tunes is the title track. “Purple Rain” is extroardinary in that it still sounds fresh today after all these years, also that it sounds like a country song, but played by a funk maestro and so many people around the world still love it. The guitar solo at the back end of the song is hauntingly beatuiful and one the best ever solos made on record. The ending is perfect, almost operaticand cinematic at the same time – its the song where Prince win’s over the fans in the movie and in real life this song won him lots of plaudits, its the song most non-Prince fans know and its an epic and high qualtiy experience to listen to, the lyrics even make sense as Prince uses the “purple” as a metaphor and sings about lonliness and longing for love. Its no sexual teenage boys lark, this is grown up Prince and things are going to be different from now on…
Purple Rain as an album can only be considered a classic with few weak points. It redefined music in it’s time and sold buckets full of copies. It made Prince a global star and brought his music and his style to millions. It was the face of the “minneapolis” revolution and he created and promoted the minneapolis funk sound to the world. Once a music backwater, now anything that was from minneapolis was hot, anything and anyone. Prince had made it and it would be interesting to see what reaction this would have to his music after 1984 – the year of Prince.