DUST IT OFF: Prince & The Revolution’s “Purple Rain”…30 years later

(NOTE: While other writers posted articles yesterday about the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain, the actual release date is June 26, 1984, a Tuedsay, catering to the United States. While Wikipedia likes to shine the spotlight on the UK release date first, Prince did not have the kind of credibility yet for him to have one of his albums released in England first. Wikipedia lists the release date as June 25, 1984, which is incorrect, not only because that day was a Monday. The UK release date is said to be July 13th, but that would be a Friday. UK albums were released on Monday, thus the UK release date is most likely July 16, 1984, which would be much closer to the release of the film, July 27, 1984.

Now, we begin.)

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By the time Purple Rain (Warner Bros.) was released on June 26, 1984, I was a Prince fan for close to five years, with “I Wanna Be Your Lover” being my introduction to the man. Unfortunately, due to him being Prince, I didn’t hear any other of his hits until he started to gain massive MTV rotation in 1982 with the videos for “1999” and “Little Red Corvette”. MTV’s issue back then was that they didn’t normally play black artists unless that person was the bassist for another artist: Haircut 100, Big Country, Pete Townshend, The Waitresses, and Culture Club, along with various British ska groups. Michael Jackson changed that with “Billie Jean” in late 1982, but then came Prince. It was “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” that helped get Prince on the pop of the charts, and it can be argued it was because his music may not have sounded “black” to some audiences. He was still considered new wave by some artists, but these two songs made people know that he was an artist not to be messed with. As “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” had more MTV airplay, he was already hard at work on a new album, along with his first motion picture. It seemed peculiar: why would there be a movie about Prince? Regardless of why, some were wondering what was going to happen and if it was going to be a success at all. Does Prince have any level of celebrity? Longtime fans knew that he was very much a star, but he needed to get that across to wider/whiter audiences. The release of “When Doves Cry” in May 1984 showed that something was up, a song completely played and vocalized by Prince himself, with the bass removed from the final mix. The song stood out for many reasons, and this was a sign of what was to come.

I really didn’t become a deep Prince fan until Purple Rain, even though I had been familiar some of his other songs. I did not have access to souk/R&B radio stations that played his music on a regular basis, I had lived in Honolulu and it was only pop and rock. I know I heard “I Wanna Be Your Lover” on pop radio but as far as “Uptown”, “Dirty Mind”, “Controversy” or “Sexuality”, I did not hear them until I moved to the Pacific Northwest on June 14, 1984. It was then I discovered a cable network called Black Entertainment Television (BET) and considering my music interests, it was a dream come true. I also started watching a show on USA Network called Night Flight, which did not hesitate to show Prince videos. Essentially, Purple Rain opened the door wide to Prince, and I had to backtrack and pick up all of his albums. My auntie had his second, self-titled album, as she was a fan first, so eventually I would borrow that album but until I started exploring, I had to examine what this Purple Rain was about.

  • “Let’s Go Crazy” began as if we were at church, with Prince starting up a service for what his Revolution would be. Even though the song sounded very new wave, arguably code for “very white”, there was something else in the song that made me believe there was something more to him. I already had a sense with “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” but the guitar solo got me open. I had never heard anything like that, and I was already a fan of Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana. It sounded like a mixture of both guys, so at least I tuned into the right frequency. When I saw the movie, I loved and preferred the extended version of “Let’s Go Crazy” that opened the film, which I discovered when I bought the 12″ single. The 12″ mix is great, for there was an ode to “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” build right in. He seemed to be someone who was willing to play games with his music, little did I know how much.
  • “Take Me With U” always seemed like the worst song on the album, and partially because it featured Apollonia Kotero. As Prince started releasing more music throughout the 80’s and 90’s, he was more than wanting to share his musical influences, and I can distinctly hear Joni Mitchell throughout this song, but Kotero’s voice didn’t fit for me. I prefer the song without Kotero, but what stands out for me was the string arrangement. Maybe it also didn’t fit because the song was not originally recorded as part of the film, it was one of the last songs to be put together in March 1984 before Prince approved of a final master and mix. Out of the five singles released in the U.S. for Purple Rain, it was the fifth and last single and did the worst, going as high as #25 on the Billboard Top 100 Singles Chart and yet doing well in the UK, making it to #7. I remember it getting some airplay but by that time, Purple Rain had been released on VHS and he was preparing his follow-up album.
  • “The Beautiful Ones” is the ballad side of Prince that many people love and enjoy, and he gets into a wicked scream which was sure to have made some new fans panic, perhaps to say “how come this man sounds so wild?” On 1999, he was telling his lady “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” but here, he stated “If I told u baby/That I was in love with u/Oh baby, baby, baby/If we got married/Would that be cool?” He was not strong enough to say “I’m gonna have fun every motherfuckin’ night” in the song, but his juices were slowly being revved up. In “The Beautiful Ones”, he wanted to show his beautiful side, a sensual side.
  • “Computer Blue” was the first time we heard the voices of Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman that were not sung, and for me at first, the song seemed cool at first but I used to hear it as being one half of “Darling Nikki”. When I got into trading Prince bootlegs on cassette in the late 1980’s, I was able to find a longer version of “Computer Blue” and I liked that. I had hoped he would release that version in better quality. The song basically told the listener that he will forever be sad until he finds someone who will not make him so blue. It’s also significant because of the song title, very few people in the mainstream were singing songs pertaining to computers, it was heard a lot throughout the music but not part of the pop music lyrics.
  • “Darling Nikki” will forever be the song many of us heard, smiled, looked around to see if anyone else was in the same room, and turned down a bit so someone else wouldn’t hear the line “I met her in a hotel lobby, masturbating with a magazine.” We quickly learned that this Nikki woman was someone dirty and raw, and she also loved to grind. At age 13, I certainly was not grinding to anything yet, so it was a bit like finding dad’s Penthouse or Penthouse Letters and being wide-eyed. Now, we were wide eared. It wasn’t the dirtiest thing I had heard on record, I was already a fan of records by Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx but this just seemed so bold and in-your-face. The song builds up to the point where the Linn drums seemed to be louder than everything else, and then a synthesized orchestra mixed with Prince’s guitar was just turning things beyond the point of no return. Then the song ends… or did it? The choir of Prince is heard singing, but we quickly learn that it’s backwards. I had the cassette, so I couldn’t put it on the record player and turn it the other way. I also knew a technique of opening a cassette shell and flipping the tape reel backwards so when the shell was tightened again, you could hear a lo-fi version of the audio, but backwards. I’d have to discover what the full message said when it was printed in Rolling Stone. The energy of the song was felt even more when I watched the movie, and it became one of my favorites.
  • “When Doves Cry” had already been familiar to me for a month, I bought the 45 when I heard it on the radio in Honolulu, a few weeks before my family and I were to move to Washington State, so I loved it. I hadn’t been aware that every instrument and vocal was Prince himself, I already knew he did this on his earlier albums but to hear it with a different perspective with each playing, his records become listening lessons. I didn’t know the true meaning of the song at first, but I related a bit to part of the chorus which said “maybe you’re just like my father, too bold/maybe you’re just like my mother, she’s never satisfied”. I related because before my dad died, I wondered if he considered himself bold or if others did, and while I would never ask my mom if she was satisfied in anything, it’s something I wondered about as a teen and trying to understand their relationship. I was trying to piece the lyrics together and see if I could relate. It would be years until parts of my own life could be heard in the song.
  • “I Would Die 4 U” was a blast from start to finish, although the song was under three minutes, it was meant to be an example of a great pop record. Even when it was released as Purple Rain‘s fourth U.S. single, it would cut the ending cold but allow that to echo until it eventually faded. The song always felt like the perfect half for “Baby I’m A Star”, and while the 12″ version of “I Would Die 4 U” was a much lengthier (10:15) live performance, it always seemed to be its own song in this form, yet the 2:49 cut always seems incomplete without “Baby I’m A Star”. I always preferred “Baby I’m A Star” over “I Would Die 4 U”, as the song seemed more powerful and fancy free, as if Prince was now telling everyone “I’m a rocker, I’m a star, get used to it”. He was celebrating stardom in a slightly humorous fashion, and we wanted to eat it up. The movie ends with the two songs, and when we saw Prince doing a bit of the laser ejaculate, we couldn’t help but want to believe in this freak from Minneapolis.
  • The album ends with what would become the epic song, the powerful title track. It was another ballad, but this felt like something else entirely, not just “a ballad”. Looking back, one could say that this was Prince’s attempt that trying to make something as powerful as The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” or Derek & The Dominos’ “Layla”, not trying to copy what they did, but to make something that would become as moving and overwhelming as those songs. The song moves on at a very nice pace, and while it seems like it has much more lyrics than it does because of its eight minute and forty-five second length, it only has three verses and the chorus repeated three times. His bluesy guitar solo takes the listener away in the second half of the song, along with the passionate non-verbal lyrics that help take the song to what sounds like its ultimate end. Prince isn’t ready to give it up just yet, he has a few more chords left to go, perhaps a bit more tears from this “rain” before he says goodbye. He reaches those high notes and it might feel like something you’d expect to hear on John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme album, and then it… doesn’t end. The song ends with an orchestral coda while you hear a repetitive piano melody, looped as if no other chords can move into or out of it, you’re locked in for good. This goes on like a dirge or meditation and I remember being in a 7-Eleven parking lot hearing the coda for the very first time. I wasn’t sure how to react or feel, I just knew that it was special and nothing like I had ever heard. Eventually we hear all of the instruments reach a comment note before an audience applauds, and the album ends.

  • As I started to become a bigger Prince fan and collector, I would also make my own custom cassettes for Purple Rain, where I would include the long version of “Let’s Go Crazy”, along with non-LP B-sides “17 Days”, “Erotic City”, “God”, and “Another Lonely Christmas”. Making a custom version of Purple Rain would mean to expand the experience much longer than the original 44 minute album length.

    Purple Rain still holds up as an album with a lot of strengths, songs that still hold up very well thirty years after the fact. Prince didn’t only release the album with The Revolution, for he also had a hand in Sheila E’s debut album The Glamorous Life and the debut by Apollonia 6, released at the end of the year a few weeks after Purple Rain was released on VHS. The Time also recorded and released their third album ice Cream Castle on July 3, 1984, so when Purple Rain hit theaters a few weeks later, music fans had a lot of music to consume and explore. Longtime Time fans would feel that this album felt more like The Time they heard at live performances, and it had been said by many that they would outdo anything Prince could do in a live setting, which is exactly what part of the movie was about.

    Then again, what exactly was the movie about? Could fans appreciate the movie away from the music, can the soundtrack be loved without knowing how it was interpreted visually, or did they both have to be a union between one another? Musically, Purple Rain stands up on its own and will forever be known as the album that finally made Prince one of the biggest artists of not just the 1980’s, but all time. Without Purple Rain, we would not have great albums like Around The World In A Day, Parade, Sign ‘O’ The Times, Lovesexy, the first Madhouse album, and everything else he has released (and not released) in the last thirty years. Some fans who were turned on to Prince with the movie may have found him hard to endure with each subsequent release, and it’s safe to say the huge audiences that went to his shows in 1984 and 1985 didn’t bother holding true to him through his many life and career changes. I’d like to think that without those fans who chose to care and believe in his creativity before and after Purple Rain, he wouldn’t continue to do what he does today.

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  • BOOK REVIEW: “Prince: Chaos, Disorder, and Revolution” by James Draper

    Photobucket As a fan of the music of Prince Rogers Nelson for 32 years (“I Wanna Be Your Lover” was my formal introduction), I’ve read a number of books that have covered his complex and unique world, but not in a way that covers all bases. Author James Draper makes an attempt at just that and succeeds beautifully in his new book called Prince: Chaos, Disorder, and Revolution.

    The book goes very deep into creating a close-to-accurate picture of who Prince is as a man and musician, from reaching into some of the troubles he dealt with as a child to bringing in the influences of his hometown of Minneapolis to help create a metropolitan, if not Neapolitan, outlook that helped him step out of his comfort zone (at least physically) and into the hands of an industry initially unsure of what to make of him. At the height of disco in the mid to late 70’s, the music and its creators were a well-oiled machine, everything incredibly organized from start to finish so that it would come off as flawless. When you watched bands like Parliament/Funkadelic, Earth Wind & Fire, or Brass Construction, it felt like you were watching families from lands unknown, and you wanted to join that family (or in the case of Parliament/Funkadelic, a three ring circus). While the book does touch on the fact that he was in bands during high school, his craft was primarily based on the fact that he did everything himself, from the singing, songwriting, and musicianship, to occasional album themes and perception of the music through the front cover photo. There was a time when true solo albums, such as Paul McCartney’s 1970 debut McCartney, was the exception. Most albums where there was one musician were either intimate acoustic pieces or freakish electronic and stereophonic bongo adventures. Draper touches on the fact that Prince was definitely a risk for any label, but when Warner Bros. looked at him, heard his music and saw potential, they would sign him. That would mark the beginning of his “strange” relationship between Prince’s music and personas, the public, and an industry that would end up changing as much as Prince changed outfits.

    His music has been divided by a number of different eras, and Draper documents them very thoroughly. It’s great to read about some of the struggles he went through to make his first albums. Warner Bros. were still a bit iffy on whether or not their new artist could pull off making an album on his own, so his debut album (For You) was assigned an executive producer (a title which basically means “supervisor”). Warner Bros. did not have to worry, and while that album did not make an immediate impact, Draper states that those who listened were wondering how it was made and were convinced he had a lot of musicians in the studio with him. That would continue with this eponymous second album, which was structured a bit better and would help get him higher on the charts with songs like “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad,”, and “I Feel For You”, turned into a hit five years later by soul vocalist Chaka Khan. The questioning of Prince’s talents by the industry would eventually fall to the public, especially as they would begin to see him strutting on stage with nothing on but bikini briefs and a trench coat, singing in a sweet high falsetto. Had his career crashed, he might have been ranked as a freaky Village People reject, but there was a huge difference: as raw, sexual, and uncontrolled Prince might have seen by outsiders, he was someone who was not only talented, but in complete control of what he wanted to do, almost to the point of obsession, as expressed by the many musicians and music associates who have worked with him over the years. It goes through his formation as an artist who never forgot his first audiences, but found a reason to explore as his fanbase grew wider/whiter. Was he soul, was he funk, was he new wave, is he “black punk”? No one new, and even though many have asked many questions about him, it only meant people were discussing him, which allowed him to cater to his muse.

    Chaos, Disorder, and Revolution also explains the impact of a fledging cable network called MTV, and while history has documented Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” as being the first video by a black artist to be on the network, it is Prince’s “1999” that beat him by a month (although deep trivia buffs will also cite Musical Youth’s “Pass The Dutchie” as a possible contender.) If Prince’s following had only been limited to audiences in large cities, MTV made it possible to hear him everywhere from Midlothian, Virginia to Waianae, Hawai’i. Two years later, Purple Rain came to be and finally made him a worldwide rock star. For a lot of casual fans who were introduced to him and his music with the 1984 album and movie, he reached success but seemed to crumble, but that would mean missing out on 27 years of an incredible discography that has a lot of ups and downs, some of which followed some of the personal, social and spiritual battles the artist went through in that time.

    What I’ve always wanted to know about was the period post-Purple Rain, when he recorded some of the best work in his career, including 1985’s Around The World In A Day, 1986’s Parade, 1987’s Sign “O” The Times, and 1988’s The Black Album and Lovesexy. When he received the attention of the media, he became everything from the new Jimi Hendrix (when in truth he owed more to Carlos Santana) to the new Beatles, and while he could’ve repeated his own guaranteed formulas for success, he simply wanted to create. Draper looks at how his popularity and struggles with the industry would also create tension within the musicians who helped him in the studio and on stage, and how chasing his musical muses also meant putting his emotions on a pedestal for explanation and scrutiny,

    What is also of note in this book is how Draper describes the expectations Warner Bros. had on Prince, and how he eventually became fed up to the point where he simply ignore the demands and played for (and with) himself, for better or worse. This lead to him “killing himself”, changing his name to a symbol, marking his face with the word “Slave”, and how he showed the world how to fight for your right to be creative. At the same time, he was one of the first artists to initially embrace the internet as a means of music distribution, and finding ways to use it as a means of promotion as a way to make money directly as opposed to working within an industry he feels was not working for him or anyone. It is during the discussion of his career in the late 90’s that the book starts to take a more critical approach, for it was a time when Prince fans were put to the test with a wide range of projects that some felt were incredible lows. It didn’t matter that a lot of times it was Prince creating music for Prince and only Prince, but Draper gets very harsh in his criticisms but never moves away from trying to describe the intent in these projects. It’s a nice objective approach, one that is critical of the bad but tries to find a way to find the good in it.

    Outside of the music, the book touches on Prince’s spiritual path and how that has always played a major role in his music and life, even when it has been a bit of a struggle without him being direct about it. Then again, it was Prince who did sing the lyric “everybody’s looking for the ladder”, and his career has always been about him taking himself higher, or at least going anywhere but where he had been before. The music discussion here is equally balanced with his personal life but without it turning into a tabloid piece. What will also be of interest is the talk of Prince as a businessman, doing well in some aspects but at times showing that he needed a bit of business and financial guidance that could have put him out of the business for good. Prince has always been at his best when he’s self-contained, but the reason the public feels that is because he allowed the public to hear and see him, the essential interactivity of an artist. But he is also at his best with the right collaborators and associates, and he has worked with the best for over 30 years. He has always played with the sly and romantic with spirituality, and how you can be serious but still retain a sense of humor.

    The one thing this book is not is exploitative. Draper researched the topic extremely well, taking in quotes from various interviews and sources and compiling it in a way that will make the book appealing to new fans who have been curious about Prince but uncertain on where or how to start. You can start with Prince, Chaos, Disorder, and Revolution and go from there. The title of the book describes his music and life perfectly: the internal and social mess his career would become, and yet the innovations in his music that continue to be measured and treasured. His name is Prince, and he remains funky, but this book will make new fans and old timers want to explore, and (re)discover someone who is one of the most gifted singers, songwriters, and musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries, someone of whose caliber may never be experienced again.

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    VIDEO: Wendy & Lisa answer questions from members @ Prince.org

    Prince.org is a great community website for fans of Prince Rogers Nelson and the many people he has worked and collaborated over the years. From time to time they have guests coming in to answer questions. Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, known for their years with Prince and being a part of The Revolution, along with their career as a duo and session musicians, decided to answer select questions from Prince.org members, and these are the results.