Purple Rain is probably the big reason why most people are still discussing Prince. That was one of his major motivations for making the film and it’s soundtrack-to bring a broader audience into his sound. Interestingly enough,there is nothing in this album that Prince hadn’t been building to in some way since 1980’s Dirty Mind. Even Revolution members Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin felt there was less of Prince’s trademark funk sound on this 1984 soundtrack. What this album did do was give the American public that impression that Prince was a full on rock star who served up an order of funk on the side.
That being said, Purple Rain comes out of his peak musical period. One in which he was brimming with instrumental and melodic ideas. The key element of this album was drama. It’s accompanying film was a dramatic,semi autobiographical musical. There are plenty of Bic lighter raising moments on this album for sure. There are also some uptempo songs that still get people dancing even today. Growing up,I only knew one song from it well. But upon first hearing it 20 years ago,it felt like music I’d grown up on. That’s how dramatic it actually was-the sonic familiarity to engender false memories of it.
Many of Prince’s albums over the years deserve a rundown of it’s overall affect. As well as one that breaks it down song by song. Reviewing these albums on Amazon.com usually does the trick on that level for me. Today I’m going to do something a little different in analyzing Prince’s major breakthrough album. Purple Rain had nine songs on it. This article is going to give you that description of each song as it appears on the album. This is especially important as these relate to the plot of the film and the concert footage to be found within. So here we go with Andre’s rundown of the songs from Purple Rain.
“Let’s Go Crazy”
They key to this hard guitar rocker is fast paced,gospel joy. He even uses the synthesizer like a church organ in the intro-declaring that “we are here today to get through this thing called life”. Prince delivers several major guitar solos in the songs-including a slow dragging,feedback laden Jimi Hendrix-like grind at the end of the song. The 12″ inch take of this song is also worth checking out-with it’s stomping,chromatic walk of a piano bridge as heard in the film when Morris Day is first introduced.
“Take Me With U”
The big beat of the drums and orchestral synthesizer of this song leads you into thinking the song will be one thing-just before Prince segues into an acoustic guitar derived psychedelic pop/rock mid tempo number with Apollonia as his duet partner. It’s actually a very close relative instrumentally to other Prince songs such as “Manic Monday” and “Raspberry Beret’. It’s unexpected stylistic shifts match how it’s place in the movie shifts from Prince admiring a custom guitar in a shop window to driving with Apollonia through rural Minnesota on his motorcycle.
“The Beautiful Ones”
Basically this song is a very theatrical synthesized version of a European classical derived ballad. Prince sings and screams this song in a shaky falsetto. It’s one of the concert scenes of the film-one where the looks exchanged between himself and his leading lady Apollonia Kotero really help visualize all the electrified instrumental color of this song.
This is actually one of my favorite songs on this album. It’s generally a very robotic synth rock number-very similar in style to the chilly electronic approach of his previous album 1999. On the bridge,the melody shifts as Prince plays a rather more jazzy melodic theme known as “Fathers Song”-actually composed by his real life father John Nelson. That juxtaposition of new wave/synth pop and electronic jazz bring this to life.
Prince unintentionally ushered in the age of the “Tipper sticker” on albums with this particular song. Again,it’s a very European classical styled rock opera number-heavy on the drum pedal at the end with Prince screaming “COME BACK NIKKI,COME BACK!” at the top of his lungs. His vivid tale of an encounter with a nymphomaniac was intended to repel Apollona in the film. Again,Prince writhing shirtless on his piano as Apollonia wells up with tears (and stomps out of the First Avenue during the songs performance) illustrates one of the darker,most hurtful elements of “The Kid’s” personality.
“When Doves Cry”
This was the first I ever heard of Prince. Never noticed it had no bass line. Didn’t know what a bass line was at age 5. It’s still not an easy song to describe. It’s very close to Prince’s earlier stripped down Minneapolis funk/rock sound. There’s also a synth playing a straight up European classical string section on the outro. Lyrically it’s a very dark song-with Prince musing on domestic discord/abuse as depicted by his parents in the film as being antithetical to peace: “why do we scream at each other/this is what it sounds like when doves cry”.
“I Would Die 4 U”
Prince spends the first half of Purple Rain as a very self centered character,with strong overtones of misogyny thrown into the mix. By this point,his film father’s suicide attempt has led him to understand himself and those around him. This is one of the more funk structured songs on this album-with brittle bass synth and synth brass playing call and response all the way down-with Prince declaring “I’m not a woman/I’m not a man/I am something that you’ll never understand”
“Baby I’m A Star”
Prince is back with the straight up tent show style uptempo gospel attitude on this song. With the synth horns on the latter half,this is likely the funkiest thing on the whole soundtrack-very similar in musical character to what The Time did on the soundtrack. It also has some strong singalong moments on the chorus.
Most people who know Prince know of this song. With it’s live sound-especially Prince’s highly echoed voice and the string arrangements,it’s one of those arena rock ballads that’s always sure to get the Bic lighters raised by the audience. Hearing Aretha Franklin sing it recently on PBS,it reminded me how much gospel/soul still remains a part of this song-originally his apology to Apollonia for his poor treatment of her in the film.
Interestingly enough,Purple Rain not my favorite Prince album. Not even of his 80’s output. All the same,there’s something addictive about these songs. Each one of them has a certain allure. Some of it might just be the idea that this was the most public display of Prince’s normally somewhat shy persona. One feels as if they know this man whose playing and singing to them. These songs are up close and personal-not distant. Often more rock then funk and soul-for certain. But it’s not music that anyone can dismiss or ignore. It got Prince noticed. And his purple musical journey was only just beginning.