Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Purple Rain - A Royal Masterpiece

Dig up "Purple People"! Today I'm here to discuss one of the most phenomenal albums ever created. The album Purple Rain is a pop culture classic and is known as Prince's crowing achievement. After the success of the 1999 album and tour Prince had achieved "cross over" appeal. No longer just a cult artist who had mainly a black following but now reached a new audience. As hot as the top 10 hit singles "Little Red Corvette" and "Delirious" were, Prince still didn't reached the level of superstardom quite yet. Now with a little momentum on his side seems like the expectations for his next project were gonna be bigger and better. During the 1999 tour Prince begin developing ideas in a purple notebook to star in a movie. Later those ideas turned into a semi-biographical film. The majority of material for the album and film was written and recorded in the summer of 1983 to March 1984. According to director Albert Magnoli there were 100 songs fully produced. Five of the tracks that ended up on the forth-coming album were previewed on August 3, 1983 at the First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis when Prince, along the new formed band The Revolution performed a benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theater. It was guitarist Wendy Melvoin debut as a member of the band. The show was recorded using a mobile recording unit with the possibility that some of the tracks might be used on the album. The basic tracks of three songs were used, "I Would Die 4 U", "Baby I'm A Star", and "Purple Rain." The rest of the album was recorded at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles, the rehearsal warehouse in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, and Prince's home studio in Minneapolis.

On June 25, 1984 Prince released his sixth studio album and the soundtrack to his debut motion picture Purple Rain. It was the first album that shared album credits with his band The Revolution, that featured some important contributions. Just days after the release it sold over a million copies in the U.S., and held the number one spot for 24 consecutive weeks selling over 15 million copies worldwide. Making this his most commercial effort and biggest seller of his career. In comparing to his first five albums the music is mainly pop-rock oriented packed with hits that caters towards the mainstream but still experimental with innovative sounds. According to Per Nilsen of Uptown magazine (the former Prince fan magazine), "The songs are written from the viewpoint of the Kid, Prince's character in the film, and the storyline of the film obviously gave Prince a structure and focus for his lyrics. Purple Rain depicts convincingly the Kid's emotional odyssey, from a cold, untrusting loner to a fully realized person who can relate to others on a meaningful level. Encompassing strong mood changes, the songs showcase a great deal of emotional depth and maturity." 

The album kicks off with "Let's Go Crazy", a fast, exciting, energetic pop-rock dance track with some great playing on electric guitar. This was the second single released and became his second number one pop hit. During this time Prince had the number one song, album, and film in the country. To my knowledge The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Prince are the only artists to ever share this feat. The song makes spiritual references describing the after-life, a place of everlasting life and happiness. But in this life things can get hard, and when they do don't let the "de-elevator" which is a metaphor for the devil bring you down. Stay strong and positive, don't give into drugs or other worldly temptations. The church-like organ with a brief sermon, "Dearly beloved, we're are gathered here today to get through this thing called life", opens up the song perfectly. Creating excitement and building up anticipation around the song almost the same way "1999" did but better. By far this has to be the best opening track on any Prince album. One of the highlights is the amazing guitar solo at 3:53 towards the end of the song, you can definitely hear some Jimi Hendrix influence. Definitely one of his all time greatest hits, love hearing it everytime. The second song "Take Me With U" is a duet between Prince and Apollonia Kotero. This was the fifth single released becoming a Top 30 hit reaching #25 on the charts. Originally intended for Apollonia 6's album but was pulled for the Purple Rain. A very good pop love song which is notable for the drum solo and finger cymbals that plays at the beginning and repeats at the end. It has a nice melody, a simple catchy hook, and its a likable track. What I found out that's so interesting is that this the first song Prince incorporated strings into his music. The string section seems to bring out a certain brightness that gives it a sweet sound. I think this song and the scene in the film when Prince and Apollonia are riding on the motorcycle to the lake really compliment each other very well.

Next the pace slows down into the gorgeous love ballad "The Beautiful Ones", which was written about Susannah Melvoin (Wendy's twin sister). Prince and Susannah met in May 1983, while she was still in another relationship. This is absolutely one of greatest songs he has ever written! From the intimate opening with a drum machine and organ synth along with piano chords to a beautifully sung falsetto. The music goes into a intense moment when Prince pours out some serious emotions while delivering some powerful screams that leads into the climax of the song, fading out smoothly. Definitely one of the most passionate and powerful love ballads ever! Probably the second best all time slow jam by Prince behind "Adore." The pace switches back into fast gear with the mechancial rock track "Computer Blue." This track features songwriting input by Matt Fink, Lisa Coleman, Wendy Melvoin, and Prince's father John L. Nelson. He's credited for portions of "Father's Song" which is played during the second section of the song. I think this is a very good rock track that focuses on Prince's brilliant guitar playing which is the highlight of the song. Originally this was recorded longer before being edited down. There are several different versions circulating, like the 11 or 12 minute version that features the "hallway speech" and Wendy's speech before the loud scream at the end of the song. Next is the most explict song on the album "Darling Nikki", which Prince described it in a 1990 Rolling Stone interview as the coldest song ever written." This is a story about a sex-obsessed woman who seduces Prince and uses him to get her bump and grind on before dumping him.  The racy lyrics got Tipper Gore's attention when she heard her then 11 year old daughter playing the song in her room. Tipper Gore founded the Parents Music Resource Center which led to the idea the Parental Advisory stickers on album covers. I have to say this is one of the funkiest hard- rock tracks by Prince. The music has this loud, raw, intense, live feel to it. Prince just strips down and gets nasty on guitar.

The second half of the albums opens up with the first single released off the album "When Doves Cry." This was Prince's first number one pop hit, staying at the top of charts for 5 weeks and went on being the biggest selling single of 1984 selling two million copies. It is one of the most original and unique songs in pop music. It is noticeable for its innovative sound, great vocals, catchy hook, brilliant songwriting, and having no bass line. The song was inspired by his relationship with Vanity 6 & Apollonia 6 member Susan Moonsie. The lyrics deal with abandonment in a turbulent relationship, where his actions caused the breakup of the relationship. I would say "When Doves Cry" is the standout track on the whole album. Its another example how Prince's creativity & genius at its finest and cannot be denied. I love this song! Classic ! Next is "I Would Die 4 U", a great up-tempo pop song which was the forth single released reaching number 8 on the charts. One of the ways I now interpret the meaning behind this song is Prince is using a spiritual metaphor by singing from the viewpoint of God or Jesus. Lyrics like, "You're just a sinner I am told, I'll be your fire when you're cold. I'll make you happy when you're sad, I'll make u happy when u r bad. I'm not human I am dove I am your conscious I am love. All I really need is to know that you believe." The other interpretation is Prince may think of himself as his lover's messiah. Keeping the momentum going "I Would Die 4 U" segue perfectly into the next track "Baby I'm A Star", Originally this song was recorded in 1981, but was re-recorded from scratch for the Purple Rain album. This funky upbeat dance track is about a raising star celebrating is rise to stardom. This song can fill up the dance floor I'm for sure and put people in the mood to have a good time. The song is a bold but true statement pertaining to where Prince was at in his career and where he knew he was going. 

 Last but not least is what many people consider to be Prince's signature song, the epic title track "Purple Rain." It was the third single released, reaching number two on the pop charts. The song is a combination of rock, pop, gospel, and orchestral music. The lyrics speak from the viewpoint of Prince's character in the film The Kid, showing remorse for his actions in the difficult relationships in his troubled life. The first verse is dedicated to the the father, the second to his girlfriend (Apollonia), and the third to his band mates. My interpretation of "Purple Rain" is its a place that will wash away hurt and pain. Its simply heaven. This powerful rock ballad opens with  guitar chords followed by the slow paced live drumming that builds the song up to where Prince emotional becomes intense with each verse he sings. After the third verse and chorus, Prince delivers what Rolling Stone Magazine said in their Greatest Guitar Players special edition issue, is the greatest guitar solo in a rock ballad. As Prince plays towards to the heavens, then comes the singalong chant with his angelic vocals that just hits you emotionally in the right place. I discovered something new while listening to the song "Purple Rain" on my IPod. I envision different images of what the music was saying.  During the guitar solo and when Prince does the singalong chant, its sounds like the rain pouring down washing away the pain. As the song comes to a climax a piano chord that sounds like rain showers indicating that the rain is ending. Then the string section comes in which sounds like the awakening of the dawn, and if you ever seen the sky at sunrise where you are amazed by how beautiful God and his creation is, that's a spiritual connection u and him have made. This what music use to do back in the day, an artist could let you envision what they were talking about and would allow you to use your imagination freely with the music. Which is something Prince has been such a genius at.

Everytime I listen to Purple Rain the more I recognize its musical brilliance. This album is a definite must have for any music lover! The album is perfect from beginning to end, period. A 5 star classic rating! The songs are very well produced, each track is a hit with catchy hooks and great melodies. Making it one of his most strongest and consistent work. The songwriting showed his maturity as a lyricist by dealing with deeper emotions, having less sexuality and more spirituality. One of the highlights in which surprisingly I haven't heard too many fans discuss is Prince's guitar performance. Songs like "Let's Go Crazy", "Computer Blue", Darling Nikki, "Purple Rain", and "When Doves Cry" showcases some of his most brilliant guitar playing. The marketing and promotion by the people at Warner Bros. was set up very well. With the single being released in May then going to number one, next the album in June going to number one, and the movie released in July going number one. It was obvious 1984 was going to be the year Prince and The Revolution took over the music world. Let's not forget the accolades that were received, winning 3 American  Music Awards, 3 Grammy Awards, and an Oscar for Best Original Score. After almost 29 years Purple Rain today has sold 20 million copies worldwide still remains as one of the best selling and most influential albums of all time. Making Prince a household name to what is now a music icon. In 2012 the album was added to the Library of Congress's National Recordings Registry list of sound recordings that "are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and or inform or reflect life in the United States." Just another proven fact on how iconic this landmark masterpiece is, and will forever reign among as one of the best albums in music history. 

Written By Micah Simpson AKA CMS 

Thursday, January 10, 2013