“Purple Rain” Turns 30: Secrets Behind The Making Of An Iconic Album
Today , June 25 2014, marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Prince Rogers Nelson’s game-changing album Purple Rain. As we all know the music was written to support the film in which Prince conceptualized and starred in, but most people will tell you that the music, far eclipsed the movie. And so in celebration of that, take a look at some little know facts behind the making of this iconic piece of work.
You know this album was successful but let me just nail the point home, so you get a better understanding of how genius it was and still is. To date, it’s sold over 20 million copies worldwide and became the sixth best-selling soundtrack of all time. It won two Grammy awards, one for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a duo or Group and the now defunct category Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or TV Special. Then in 1985, “Purple Rain” won an Oscar for Best Original Song Score. And then, perhaps most impressively, the Library of Congress listed it as a sound recording that is “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”
Live Performances o
n the Album
The songs “I Would Die 4 U,” “Purple Rain” and “Baby I’m a Star were recorded at a live show on August 3, 1983 at the First Avenue Club. The same club where many of the scenes from the Purple Rain movie were filmed. The show that night was a benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theater and was also the first time Wendy Melvoin performed with The Revolution, Prince’s band. They added overdubs and edits later. This was also the first time Prince included live recordings on an album. When he was writing the Purple Rain album, he was fresh off of the success of “1999” and several people around him got the sense that Prince knew he was about to blow up even further and “Baby, I’m a Star” was the first declaration of that.
Tipper Gore wasn’t a Fan
When the album was released, Tipper Gore bought it for her 11 year old daughter. Though she admitted Prince was a musical genius, she didn’t feel like the lyrics to “Darling Nikki” were appropriate. If you know the song, you know she referenced the “masturbating with a magazine” line. When she tried to return the album, the store wouldn’t take it back because it had been opened and played. The incident prompted Gore, wife of Al Gore (the two aren’t officially divorced yet), to go before Congress and ask that warning labels be included on music featuring explicit content. As you know she eventually won that battle and Parental Advisory stickers were included on explicit albums.
And as life and maturity would have it, years later when Hip Hop started taking over the charts, a lot of those artists requested to use Prince’s music for samples, he said with words like “b*tch this and 40 that” he wouldn’t want his work associated with something that doesn’t have a positive closure at the end. He continued, “I don’t want to contribute to the problem.”
Let’s Go Crazy is about God
And while there was some risqué content on the album, “Let’s Go Crazy” was about God and Satan. He said in an interview with Chris Rock, “I had to change those words up but the elevator was Satan in that song. I had to change those words up because you couldn’t say God on the radio. ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ was God to me. Stay happy, stay focused and you can beat the elevator.” We’re not going to let the elevator bring us down takes on a whole new meaning now, huh?
Giving and then taking away
“Take Me With U,” the song that was the last single released from the album was originally written for Prince’s protégée group Apollonia 6 but it was later shelved for Purple Rain. It ended up reaching number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Stevie Nicks couldn’t do it
Prince initially asked Stevie Nicks to write lyrics for “Purple Rain” but she was intimidated. “It was so overwhelming, that 10-minute track…I listened to it and I just got scared. I called him back and said, ‘I can’t do it. I wish I could. It’s too much for me.” And so Prince proved the age old adage to be true: when you want something done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself.
What is “Purple Rain” about?
There were a lot of spiritual messages on this album actually. Many have speculated for years, wondering what the title track is about. His bandmate, Lisa, said it’s about the beginning. Purple symbolizes the sky at dawn and the rain is cleansing.
But Prince explained, in his usual mysterious way:
“When there’s blood in the sky – red and blue = purple.. purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god”guide you through the purple rain”
Some still consider that explanation an enigma but it makes sense to me.
Prince’s Favorite Track
Susan Rodgers, the woman who engineered the album, told Rolling Stone earlier this year that “The Beautiful Ones” was Prince’s favorite song from the project. She says, “That song meant a lot to him. It was written for Susannah Melvoin (Wendy’s sister and Prince’s girlfriend at the time.) A lot of songs were written about her but that was the first one.”
Was there a copycat?
Initially, Prince was worried that the title track sounded too much like Journey’s “Faithfully.” And so he called Jonathan Cain, the band’s keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist, and asked him if he thought the similarities were too great. Cain said it was fine because it only shared a few chords. Take a listen to the song (in the hyperlink above) and let us know if you think it’s too similar.
Can he top it?
When an artist is as successful as Prince was with Purple Rain, the next question is always, can he top it? or the declaration that he’ll never be that good again. But in that same interview with Chris Rock Prince said:
“Purple Rain and that whole situation, Thriller that whole situation, Like a Virgin, that whole situation that was a time period. The Beatles are never going to capture what they did in the beginning. If they continue working, if we all continue working then we all continue growing, I think. And it’s our journey. It’s not for someone who doesn’t play music to say ‘That’s not as good as…’ I think we’ve lost sight of the fact that music, I believe, was put on earth to enlighten and empower us and make us feel closer to our center.”
The entire interview was pretty fascinating so I’ll include it here if you want to watch.