Published on March 18th, 2014 | by Andy Sedlak
‘Purple Rain’ – Prince 
Summary: Prince & the Revolution give us a record that was indisputably a product of the times. Yes, it’s time capsule worthy. But it’s more about '80s nostalgia than being a viable piece of art at this point.
Length: 43:51 | Release: June 25, 1984
Produced By: Prince & the Revolution | Label: Warner Bros.
Top 40 U.S. Singles: 5 | Peak Position on Billboard Album Chart: 1
It never hurts to start with a dose of truth. Let’s get it out of the way.
The Purple One’s grooves haven’t aged particularly well.
Prince & the Revolution’s landmark 1984 release hasn’t either. Purple Rain sold 1.5 million copies its first week and would eventually move 13 million copies in the United States. But upon further review, it doesn’t seem like the record was necessarily built to last. It was crafted to conquer the summer of 1984. And that’s exactly what it did.
Purple Rain regularly receives high marks for forcing pop to grow up and for diversifying the tastes of kids who were buying records at the moment. It’s credited for fusing R&B, pop, rock and dance music into something that could only be described as “Prince.”
All songs were written by Prince, except “Computer Blue.” Three members of his backing band, The Revolution, and Prince’s father, John Nelson, had a hand in writing that song.
Although it’s a soundtrack album, this was always a two-pronged attack. The LP had more weight behind it than the film it was engineered to accompany. Apollonia Kotero, who co-starred with Prince in the film, lends her vocals to “Take Me With U.” Three songs were recorded live the year before (“Purple Rain,” “Baby I’m A Star” and “I Would Die 4 U”). Studio magic was added later.
Video: Prince accepts an Oscar for the original songs from ‘Purple Rain’.
The record is sequenced well. The first minute of “Let’s Go Crazy” still pumps me up. “The Beautiful Ones” nearly lives up to the snackable drama Purple Rain is supposed to represent and the bass-less “When Doves Cry” is one of the most interesting chart-topping singles of all time.
But…that production. It’s distinctly Reagan-era. And it has my attention cornered.
Purple Rain was “produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince & the Revolution,” per the album’s liner notes. That means there were no babysitters in the room when they were twisting knobs. It seems clear its players yearned to take the throne the next day. They wanted a record that would get the job done. By doing so, they missed out on “timeless.”
But they were kings of the mountain in the mid-80s. I guess most of us would agree to the trade off.
Let’s say you’re listening to this record on June 26, 1984 (the day after record was released). The first elements you probably notice are what so many critics refer to as “grandiose” arrangements. The adjective fits. They rise and fall but it never feels like the Revolution is cheaply trying to impress. Prince’s vocal jumps, slithers and pounces. His falsetto is primal. That’s his great gift as a vocalist.
Then certain lines jump out…
From “Take Me With U”:
I can’t disguise the pounding of my heart.
“I Would Die 4 U”:
I’m not a woman
I’m not a man
I am something that you’ll never understand
“Baby I’m a Star”:
I ain’t got no money
But I’m rich on personality
And then there’s “Darling Nikki.”
She had so many devices
Everything that money could buy
The song was one of many referenced by Tipper Gore as reasons to warn parents of the explicit content she and others felt had started to permeate recorded music. Gore wasn’t wrong, but that doesn’t make the pursuit any more admirable. She would soon form the Parents Music Resource Center. It would be responsible for putting “Parental Advisory” labels on album covers.
I can only imagine that people were buzzing about the hubbub. And Prince’s tune about an encounter with a “sex fiend” became all the more enticing. I don’t believe this inflated sales to a substantial degree – I believe a strong first single and a fan-friendly film led the charge. But the devil’s advocate in me must ask, since when does controversy hurt pop sales?
And we should mention Gore’s efforts had the adverse effect. It turned out there was nothing cooler than that badass sticker on an album cover – it looked like prison bars and everything – and kids gravitated toward what they weren’t supposed to hear. Shocker.
But all of this speaks to Purple Rain being a cultural phenomenal at the moment. The movement becomes bigger than the single album. Or film. Prince was a fixture on ’80s culture. This was where it culminated.
The album’s only clunker is “Computer Blue.” “When Doves Cry” is the best track, followed closely by “The Beautiful Ones.” The rest are above-average fare. “Darling Nikki” is always an interesting listen. “I Would Die 4 U” and the sly “Baby I’m A Star” are standard pop hits for the time period.
And if we’re being honest with ourselves, “Let’s Go Crazy” is a generic opener after the intro. The title song – a lighter ballad that lives best in concert – closes out the album with what feels like a black and white montage in slow-mo.
We’re left with a striking record, but one of a certain time and place. It’s the musical equivalent to the guy or girl you were enamored with in high school until you realized the best was yet to come.