In the Summer of 1984 Warners Brothers got huge financial payback for their investment, patience and trust in Minneapolis Pop Funk short guy Prince.
From my seven years experience working in a record shop Warners Brothers were like the Rolls-Royce of record labels, and I do not mean that in any bad way. My take on Warners Brothers is that they allowed artists to do things organically, they probably still do. I will always be in the camp that independent labels are really where it is at but Warners do things their own way and for a label so big to allow / encourage artistic freedom deserves a lot of respect. The labels music catalogue is pretty much proof of what I’m suggesting.
So. Prince released his 6th studio Purple Rain and the album shot him to superstardom. It has sold just shy of 20 million units in America and peaked at Number 2 in the U.K. album charts.
Prince is in many ways his own worst enemy. He has released 35 studio albums and is arguably too prolific / productive for his own good. Few could realistically argue that Purple Rain is not his best album. There will always be suggestions that Sign O’ The Times is more highbrow and of similar quality but Purple Rain will always be his stand out album?
With hindsight Purple Rain sits between Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bad and to an extent Prince is indeed the ‘Rolling Stones’ to Jacko’s ‘Beatles” – the album is well placed timewise and it served to push 80’s music forwards. Whereas Michael Jackson arguably took too long beween studio albums Prince just couldn’t wait to get on with his next project. In a way, this oddly was detrimental to both artists.
Let’s Go Crazy starts with a downbeat near funeral tone. This tone is spoken over in near biblical fashion. Emerging from this sombre tone rockets an upbeat pop gem. Whereas Jacko nailed the musical beat to sheer perfection (Billie Jean) Prince showed he could rock a pop song like few others would even dare. The song is pretty electrifying and a terrific album opener. Of note, the B-Side to the single release of Let’s Go Crazy, Erotic City, is also a better song than many, many artists could ever muster.
Take Me With You is a love song and softer than the album opener. It features a vocal duet of sorts with Apollonia and a charming tumbling sound. There are no fillers on the album and the song was another single release in early 1985 when Warners started to milk the album.
The Beautiful Ones is more of a one sided love song than the preceding track. The song builds vocally to an intense finish which only go to showcase Prince’s vocal range and rasp.
Computer Blue has a cold robotic vocal intro that twists into an upbeat near stomp-a-long. Guitar breaks phase in and out as the song continues to twist and deviate. It’s a pretty unique song.
Darling Nikki and Purple Rain continues to up its own ante. Storytelling style and a funk 80’s rock Beatles is almost touched upon. Prince also plays his badboy side particularly well on this song, lyrically it goes places Michael Jackson would never dream of going. As the record loops backwards you begin to wonder if Side Two can possibly keep up these levels.
That question is answered freakin’ immediately.
When Doves Cry is not only Prince’s best ever song it is one of the best records of the 80’s. Hands down. Ludicrously light yet stunningly deep strings. It has no bass and soars to form incredible musical imagery. The vocal delivery is earnest, soulful and accesible to everybody. Guitar, funk cries, strings, that groove. So simple. So perfect.
I Would Die 4 U and Prince goes and invents ‘text’ speak before anyone on the planet had a mobile phone. Light yet full fluttering sounds pushing forwards continually. It was yet another single and the album is playing it’s badboy Thriller superbly well.
On a sunny Saturday in 1984 I went into Discovery Records in Solihull. As I entered the shop Baby I’m A Star was just starting. I’d never heard the song before. The volume was at a maximum. The shop was literally rocking. Strangers browsing records were all beaming. It is a true feel good party upbeat gem. The album is already a victory and it’s like this song is a celebration of this fact.
Purple Rain brings the album to a close with slow mastery. Again it is accessible yet searchingly earnest and still 28 years later sounds both fresh and touching. At just under 9 minutes the song somehow does not overstay its welcome. It closes one of the most succesful albums of all-time and confirms Minneapolis had at least one genius who was not in Husker Du…