Prince's "Purple Rain": Has It Been 30 Years Already?
In certain rock critic circles there is an ongoing either-or debate when it comes to the dreaded 1980s: Thriller or Purple Rain? Sure, Thriller essentially changed the rules of the music industry in terms of sales and mass appeal. (Didn’t everyone have a copy of it?) But a case should be made for Purple Rain, Prince’s multimedia follow-up to his monster double-album 1999.
The movie and its accompanying soundtrack were released this week in 1984, on June 25. Of course, where the film faltered on an artistic level, the album soared. From the faux-eulogy that opens the rollicking “Let’s Go Crazy” to the epic rock balladry of the title track, there isn’t a dull moment on the grooves in between. If Thriller-era Michael Jackson was the ‘80s version of Elvis or the Beatles, then Prince and the Revolution were the Pepsi Generation’s new Rolling Stones. Where Michael moonwalked across the stage, Prince would simulate sex and masturbation mid-song. Thriller was the safe, white-bread pop album, complete with Paul McCartney duet. Purple Rain was raucous, raunchy and daring with both its genre-blending sound (funk, pop, rock, and metal somehow playing nice together) and risqué lyrics.
Those lyrics ended up having an unexpected deeper impact on the entire music industry when Tipper Gore heard her daughter playing “Darling Nikki.” She immediately put together the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) with her fellow “Washington Wives.” The congressional hearings that followed resulted in the major record companies creating the ubiquitous black-and-white Parental Advisory sticker that still graces the covers of edgy, explicit records. (Ironically, Prince’s classic album never bore the sticker.)
All controversy aside, the music itself still sounds as vital and fun today as it did in 1984. The megahit “When Doves Cry” still garners airplay as a staple of retro radio, and magazines like Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly rank the album among the best ever released, and indeed the best released during the ‘80s. As long and strange a career as the Purple One has had, this outing still stands as his most iconic, a commercial and critical triumph.
"When Doves Cry" Music Video
"Purple Rain" U.S. Chart Positions
U.S. Billboard 200
U.S. Billboard R&B Albums
U.S. Billboard Pop Albums (end of 1984)
U.S. Billboard Pop Albums (end of 1985)
RIAA Sales Certification
13,000,000 (13x Platinum)
Let's Go (Singles) Crazy!
What is your favorite single from "Purple Rain"?
Deeper into the Rain... (Little-Known Facts about the Album)
As with most classic albums, Purple Rain is not without its storied history. Some little-known facts about the album’s content and its recording:
“Let’s Go Crazy” and especially “Computer Blue” were intended to be much longer than their final cuts. “Computer Blue” was conceived as a nearly eight-minute suite, but both songs had to be edited to make room for “Take Me With U,” Prince’s duet with protégée and co-star Apollonia.
For all its lyrical controversy, “Darling Nikki” contains a rather contrary message in its background. The odd gibberish that the choir sings at the end is actually a message of faith played backwards. Spun in reverse: “Hello, how are you? I’m fine because I know the Lord is coming, coming, coming… Ha, ha, ha, ha…”
Another spiritual Easter egg is within the lyrics of single “I Would Die 4 U.” On the surface the lyrics read as a passionate ode to a lover, but they have also been interpreted as being sung from the point of view of Jesus Christ to his disciples. (i.e., “I’m your messiah and you’re the reason why,” “All I really need to know is that you believe.”)
The album’s biggest hit single and centerpiece “When Doves Cry” is missing an element common to all good funk tunes. The song was recorded without a bass line, which lends to its stark arrangement.
The cover image features a rough draft of the infamous symbol that served as Prince’s legal name for the better part of the 1990s. Check out the decorations on his purple motorcycle…