Album of the Day — May 24
Prince — Purple Rain
Prince — Purple Rain
“If the elevator tries to bring you down — go crazy — punch a higher floor”
Everyone’s got that one quintessential summer album, for me, it’s Prince’s Purple Rain.
Released in June of 1984, it spent 24 consecutive weeks at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, sell over 25 million copies worldwide, won two Grammy Awards, one Academy Award. Purple Rain was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”
Coupled with the movie Purple Rain, Prince also joined an elite club that included only The Beatles and Elvis Presley as being the only artists to have the number-one album, single and film in the US all at the same time.
That was one summer in 1984. Purple Rain was and is a big album.
Perhaps because the emphasis is on the band performance more than just Prince tinkering in the studio alone is why he credits his band, The Revolution, on the albums cover and as a producer. It also makes the album have a denser sound than any of his previous five albums with layers of instruments, effects and, drum machines.
Up to that point, all songs were attributed to Prince. Purple Rain is the only record where Prince shares songwriting credit with anyone else — “Computer Blue” is credited to Prince, his father John L. Nelson and Revolution members Wendy & Lisa (albeit it’s only one song, it still indicates a more collaborative Prince).
According to keyboardist Matt Fink: “He (Prince) was always open to anybody trying to contribute creatively to the process of writing” and guitarist Wendy Melvoin said the band members were: “absolute musical equals in the sense that Prince respected us, and allowed us to contribute to the music without any interference.”
Purple Rain produced an updated pop-sounding psychedelic radiance that makes it one of his most pop-oriented albums. However, songs like “Darling Niki” and “When Doves Cry” provide a little insight into the musical exploration Prince would go on to make in the ensuing years.
It’s impossible to say just how insanely popular this album was that summer.
It didn’t just transcend race, it crossed the almost as firmly entrenched radio station formats. Recognizing how popular — and brilliant — “Let’s Go Crazy” was, eventually white rock stations jumped on and played the song.
Critics were unanimous in the praise:
In Rolling Stone, Kurt Loder wrote: “Prince seems to have tapped into some extraterrestrial musical dimension where black and white styles are merely different aspects of the same funky thing.”
In AllMusic Stephen Erlewine wrote that Purple Rain finds Prince “consolidating his funk and R&B roots while moving boldly into pop, rock, and heavy metal,” as well as identifying the nine songs as “uncompromising … forays into pop” and “stylistic experiments”, echoing general sentiment that Purple Rain’s music represented Prince at his most popular without forsaking his experimental bent.
In Billboard, Kenneth Partridge wrote a retro-review stating simply that Purple Rain’s opening track, “Let’s Go Crazy” is “arguably the best intro in pop history”. (agreed)
While all of Purple Rain is coyly sensual, it was only “Darlin’ Nikki’” which dealt with a sexually liberated and free woman that openly drew the ire of people. Because, you know, women aren’t allowed to enjoy or desire sex:
I knew a girl named Nikki
I guess you could say she was a sex fiend
I met her in a hotel lobby
Masturbating with a magazine
She said how’d you like to waste some time
In this case it was politician’s spouses, who almost always have too much time on their hands.
The newly formed Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) led by Tipper Gore got their knickers all knotted up about “Darlin’ Nikki’”. So Warner Bros Records was forced to slap a Parental Advisory label on the album … it would be years before the PMRC realized this sticker only INCREASED record sales, it did absolutely nothing to deter them.
The diversity of music on Purple Rain, pop, rock, funk, experimental, psychedelic, R&B, etc. lays out the blueprint for what Prince would continue to do for the remainder of his career … whatever the fuck he wanted to.
You didn’t always hear from Prince, but you always knew he was doing something … and he’d release whatever that was when he was ready … and not one damn second before. Now when he did, you were sometimes left scratching your head … but when you did heard it, you always thought “God DAMN, that guy is amazing.”
I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the loss of Prince has created a giant creative void in music. And it’s here with Purple Rain that the entire world recognized the genius that was Prince.
Knowing Prince was making music just made life seem normal. And since he passed away in April of 2016, it’s safe to say things have been considerably less than normal.