A PURPLE FLASHBACK
Prince's death has hit us all hard. When we lose a true icon, we lose a part of ourselves as well. As a tribute, we revisit an article first published in 2013, ahead of Prince's two sold out shows at the Vogue:
It is time to revisit a classic: Purple Rain. Considered by most publications and critics to be one of the top albums of all time, the best album of the 1980’s, and the best soundtrack of all time, Purple Rain is a seminal work of art, and it cemented Prince’s status as a true musical icon, and influenced a slew of artists to follow.
Released in the Summer of 1984 as a soundtrack to Prince’s semi-autobiographical film of the same name, Purple Rain was an instant hit. It contained nine songs, a diversity of musical styles, and his trademark flamboyance: Prince burst onto the scene as the love child of Jimi Hendrix, George Clinton and Liberace. Purple Rain was the perfect storm of superior songwriting, musicianship, and production. It changed the game.
Purple Rain took off due in large part to the success of the leadoff single, “When Doves Cry.” I was in junior high in 1984, and I can still remember the first time I heard the squealing guitar and warped-voice intro, and then the hypnotic piano lines which open the song. It remains an almost perfect pop song and contains everything that made Prince such a unique and influential artist: The sexually-charged and mystical lyrics; the effortless fusing of musical styles – funk, R & B, pop, rock, new wave – which came to be known as “the Minneapolis Sound”; the mix of tenderness and swagger; the hypnotic catchiness of it all.
“Let’s Go Crazy” was the next number one hit, and it is in almost direct contrast to “When Doves Cry”. Where the latter is languorous and hypnotic, the former is an all out funk-rock-dance jam, a seemingly simple party anthem, with a complex musical arrangement. You couldn’t help but bob your head, sing along and think about going crazy.
Like a lot of artists, Prince wore his influences on his sleeve, but what made him great, what made him original, was how he was able to channel his influences while staying to true to his own musical aesthetic: he borrowed, not stole. This was never more apparent than in the nine songs that make up Purple Rain. In the haunting and beautiful title track, he channels his inner Jimi Hendrix, showing off his often underrated guitar chops. In the emotional and poignant “The Beautiful Ones,” he channels his inner Marvin Gaye. On “Computer Blue” and “Baby, I’m A Star,” he channels his inner George Clinton. The sexually-charged “Darling Nikki,” which earned the album a Parental Advisory sticker, is a wonderful combination of all three. In the end, you have an album that you can party to, chill to, groove to…do pretty much anything to.
Although Prince would go on to great success, and the release of some classic singles, Purple Rain was his apex. It was original and fresh, slightly ahead of its time. And its influence remains to this day. Artists as diverse as Dr. Dre, Justin Timberlake, Phoenix, and Toro Y Moi all site Prince, and Purple Rain in particular, as a major musical influence.
Having been immersed in punk rock and heavy metal at the time of Purple Rain’s release, it was a true awakening for a white kid from the ‘burbs. I became borderline obsessed with both the movie and the album, and like some sort of reverse osmosis, it was through Purple Rain that I discovered and grew to appreciate the 70’s funk that I still hold dear to this day. It taught me that music could be eclectic, diverse and funky, and still be cool. It taught me that music could be fun and emotional at the same time. It truly opened my mind.