Revisiting a Classic: Purple Rain

(Author's Note:Prince's lawyers are well known for their activity on the internet. And while I am not profiting financially in any way, shape, or form for this page, it is highly possible any videos I include with this post will vanish as quickly as they were included. For this, I apologize to any and all concerned.)

In the summer of 1984, Warner Brothers released what is most likely Prince's most popular album, Purple Rain. Without a doubt, this record made him an international superstar.

I didn't give a damn.

In 1984, my musical mind was rock-driven, with a splash of jazz fusion. I was all about Rush, Genesis, and Return to Forever. The tiny man in the lace shirt and high-heeled boots may have been burning up the R&B and pop charts, but that meant nothing to me. To say nothing of the fact that girls were positively going CRAZY over Prince. To my mind, that was the musical equivalent of Kryptonite. (We'll discuss my occasional bouts of musical sexism another time.) Nothing that popular could possibly be worth my time.

Prince's music didn't enter my system the way most music did. There was no overt attack. Rather, the music festered in my musical subconscious for the better part of three years. I didn't want anything to do with Purple Rain, but there could be no denying Prince's guitar chops on the album's title track and "Let's Go Crazy," which certainly appealed to my rock side. When Around the World in a Day came out a year later, I found myself unconsciously bopping along to the groove of tunes like "America" and "Tamborine," which were being played in my Army dorm that summer. Still, I refused to fully embrace the music.

It wasn't until May of 1988, at the behest of my new friend Edward Wehrenberg, that I finally made the effort to embrace Prince's music. Ed insisted that I watch a concert video called Sign O The Times with him at his home near our Air Force base in South Carolina. Out of politeness, I agreed. I had absolutely no expectations of Prince or his band when the video started. Maybe that's why the music got to me as quickly as it did. I'm all about acknowledging musical talent when I hear it. Prince and his band (featuring Sheila E. on drums) had it! I was positively blown away. And before I knew it, another musical obsession was born.

Naturally, I bought a copy of Sign O the Times. Then I got 1999, Around the World in a Day, and Under the Cherry Moon. What took me so long to embrace Purple Rain? Its popularity. I know how crazy that sounds. But that's the way my musical mind works. If tons of people embrace something, I thought, best to go the other way. Far too many "certified classics" have been relegated to the "What the hell was I thinking?" pile where pop music was concerned. Still, I eventually had to know what all the fuss was about. So I bought myself a copy. It didn't take long to figure it out.

Prince was a musical anomaly. Not only was he a certified rock star, he was an absolutely brilliant musician. Normally, someone making music for a living decides to be one or the other. It is very difficult to do both. Prince did it with ease. I had seen enough music videos to understand why women adored him. There was no annoying his swagger and charisma. It poured off the stage. But I didn't care about that.

What blew me away were the man's musical chops, on multiple instruments! AND he could dance? Damn! I'm pretty sure the music world can count on one hand the number of artists with that level of ability. I remember playing a Prince album in my office one day while I was stationed in Japan. My editor, Adam Johnston, walked by and froze in his tracks, listening. Then he smiled and shook his head. "It should be a crime to be that damned talented," he said as he walked away.

Purple Rain was remastered in 2015, and is part of a marvelous three-CD/DVD set. In addition to the original album, fans are treated to 11 additional tunes from Prince's legendary Vault (where thousands of songs and several full-length films are said to be stored), a set of B-sides and radio edits, and a concert video recorded in Syracuse, New York, during the Purple Rain tour. I've seen bootleg snippets of that show over the years, so I was more than a little excited to get my hands on an authorized copy. Even in standard definition under less-than-perfect lighting, there could be no doubting the power of Prince, his band, and the sell-out crowd adoring them that evening.

Song-for-song, Purple Rain is a rock solid album, and serves as magnificent foreshadowing for what was to come. It's not my favorite Prince album overall (I go back and forth between Sign O the Times, The Gold Experience, and 1999), but it does kick the appropriate amount of backside. The guitar moments in "Let's Go Crazy" alone are more than enough to keep me coming back for more.

Like everyone else, I couldn't figure out at first what made the amazing "When Doves Cry" so unique. But at some point, I remember asking myself, "Where's the bass?" Well, there was the genius, because the bass line had been intentionally omitted. Wow!!! Who does that?

By the time the band started playing "Baby I'm a Star," all I could do was stare at the speakers and say, "Yes you are, sir. Yes you are."

When I consider an album to be a "classic," it usually means I love the entire record, front to back, note for note. That's not necessarily the case here. I could have gone through life just fine without hearing "Take Me With You." It's the second song on the album, and damn near derails the whole thing. But I can find something to like in just about everything, so I will compliment Prince here for one of his more prominent uses of the acoustic guitar. The drums are pretty cool, too. But the flaws are pretty obvious. I'm looking right at YOU, Apollonia. I also go back and forth on "Darling Nikki." I don't feel any Tipper Gore-oriented outrage toward the lyrics or anything. It's just a so-so song. But in context with the movie, it makes a lot more sense. So I'll let it slide. Besides, the epic nature of the title track more than make up for any alleged slippage.

The bottom line is this: Purple Rain is a great album from a once-in-a-lifetime musician. The Deluxe Edition is a worthy addition to any music collection. I've always enjoyed being able to go deeper into the mind of a master musician at work. That's what this set feels like. Jump on in and share the genius!




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