Friday, January 19, 2018

Prince 6: Purple Rain

Of all the musicians to venture into films in that era, or in their careers, Prince seemed highly unlikely. Purple Rain was badly acted even then, but the performance sequences were convincing and enticing, and with the marketing tied into the accompanying album, Prince and the Revolution were suddenly very big deals. (Now we know better, but back then the Revolution were a real band, and they cooked.) Along with Born In The U.S.A.—and “Magic” by the CarsPurple Rain defined the summer of ‘84. A case could be made for The Boss, but only Prince got airplay on all the radio stations, whether Top 40, classic rock, or “urban contemporary”. Most of the songs became hit singles, and part of the common fabric. Quite simply, everybody in America dug him, from the city to suburbia.
And it still holds up today. Three decades on it’s easy enough to make fun of the lyrics to “When Doves Cry”, and even in the title track, but we defy anyone to resist “Let’s Go Crazy”. That crazy “dearly beloved” intro gives way to a track that rocks, mimed so precisely to open the movie. “Take Me With U” introduces the questionable vocal abilities of Apollonia, as well as his fascination with finger cymbals. Following mostly in order, “The Beautiful Ones” was recorded by Prince alone, and quite vivid given its placement in the film. The “Wendy? Yes Lisa” dialogue at the top of “Computer Blue” is what most people remember of the song, which always seemed incomplete, especially when one read the extra lyrics on the inner sleeve. Here again it becomes a setup for “Darling Nikki”, the infamous tune that introduced the world to Tipper Gore, and those of us with record players ruined our needles trying to decipher the backwards message at the end.
“When Doves Cry” was the striking preview to both the film and the album, with a video that acted as a trailer and featured the band, who don’t play on the song, and we’d still love to hear the removed bass line. The rest of the album slightly rejigs the live sequence that closes the movie, albeit with some overdubs. “I Would Die 4 U” sizzles, and “Baby I’m A Star” is bold (and also includes more backwards messages), but the title track absolutely had to end the album. It’s stellar in its simplicity, culminating in that fantastic solo that still rings even after the strange strings take over the end. And we can still hear the audience cheering. (Better yet, seek out the footage of the first-ever performance of the song that became the basis of the album track, with most of the brilliance already there.)
While forever tied to the movie, Purple Rain is not a soundtrack album per se, since you’d have to get the Time’s album for “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” (plus, arguably, Apollonia 6’s opus for “Sex Shooter”). Even though Prince was the writer and performer of those tracks, none were included when an expanded edition of the album finally appeared, but it did include a disc of vault items, including the full 12-minute “Computer Blue”, “Father’s Song” (a full recording of the piano piece quoted as the guitar solo in “Computer Blue”), and some other music from the era, although some of what was included dated from after the movie and album were released. An even more expanded set included a full disc of single edits, extended mixes and B-sides, including “Erotic City”, “17 Days”, “Another Lonely Christmas” and “God” (both in its original instrumental “Love Theme From Purple Rain” form and the re-recorded B-side with vocals), as well as a DVD transfer of 1985’s Prince And The Revolution: Live VHS. This eventually got its own release on CD, in a package that included the video on Blu-ray. As nice as it is to hear, some of the longer interludes are best appreciated with the visuals. And yeah, the band was hot.

Prince and the Revolution Purple Rain (1984)—4
2017 Deluxe Edition: same as 1984, plus 11 extra tracks (Deluxe Expanded Edition adds another 15 tracks, plus DVD)
Prince And The Revolution Live (2022)—3

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