Purple Rain 30 Years On: The Soundtrack, The Movie
Purple Rain 30 Years On: The Soundtrack, The Movie
As you may or may not know, this week marks the 30 year anniversary of the release of modern-day-miniature-man-Mozart; Prince’s seminal soundtrack album Purple Rain, accredited to the cult rock-movie of the same name, released in theatres one month later in late July of 1984.
Both record and movie are held as golden gems in a trove of personal fancies for me. When I was about 18, maybe 19 I began the intimate and calculated endeavour of becoming a Prince fan. I was at a stage of my musical enlightenment where I had begun to throw down the shackles of musical snobbery and close-mindedness; the fallout from my high school days when my juvenile tastes dictated, with strong enforcement from my peers that I solely listen to the high octane, the adrenalised; the heavy rock sounds that would satisfy my puberty ridden body; the Clash’s, the Sex Pistols, the Nirvana’s and before that the Slipknot’s and the Limp Bizkit’s (worst band name ever). There was a long way to go and there still is; God help me, but I had made a decision back then to broaden my pallet, expand my tastes; to appear more worthy and interesting around the new set of piers I had acquired at college, and thus it was Prince whom I chose amongst many to join me on my journey of musical discovery.
I hadn’t really heard too much of his stuff but I knew damn well and sure that he was a revered little man; the word genius often being branded around his effigy in magazines and such. So after further discography research, off I hopped to my local HMV in search of Prince’s highly acclaimed third album ‘Dirty Mind’ on CD. But then, I get’s it home, stick it on and frankly it’s not what I expected, which unfortunately culminated in me not really liking it; my teenage ears unfamiliar and confused by it’s soft funky textures, its cool groove, the cheeky layered vocals. On I pursued, unperturbed, I go out; try and buy ‘1999’, his fourth album release; it’s got that hit on it that I know, surely things will be different? I like the hit I know, the rest all seemed a little too strange, too out-there; I just didn’t get the arrangements.
So finally after a degree of internal debate on whether to ditch Prince; I mean I’ve already spent like £12 of accumulated college lunch money on this asshole, I take a punt after perusing the bargain aisle at the aforementioned CD outlet and purchase Prince & The Revolution’s ‘Purple Rain’. What’s the worse that can happen; I starve from a lack of canteen nutrition offered to me but my higher education establishment? No, I survive at shit and am instantly rewarded with an album that makes complete sense to me after my first listen! I finally ‘get’ Prince, and boy does it slap me in the face.
So what was it about this record, compared with the two I had already acquired? Well, the greatest difference between Purple Rain and all of Prince’s previous releases were that the playing on nearly all of those songs on the former albums; the instrumentation in particular, were all recorded and performed solely by Prince; the multi talented little wretch. This gives these records a subtle but very particular groove, a rhythmic feel seldom heard; this is not a live band jamming it out, this is Prince in all of his technicality. Purple Rain however, has The Revolution. They’d been Prince’s live band for some time before the inception of Purple Rain, despite various members lending their vocal or such on the odd track here and there. But on this record they play, and it definitely gives the mix a different groove compared with his former fare.
[Just a little foot note for y’all: It should be said at this point, that despite the deep literary adorations and the descriptions for the wonder of Purple Rain; and its band jam benefits, incidentally, my favourite album of Prince’s happens to be ‘Dirty Mind’; for all it’s recorded solitude and much, much else; do listen to that album if you haven’t already, its filth, I turned a corner, contradicted myself and never looked back.]
But aside from its initial feel, Purple Rain has the songs, regardless of them being specifically chosen for the film; which we’ll get to shortly, and the scenes that they’re in. Each works so cohesively, like songs together on any other great or acclaimed album. Its opener ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ hums in with this lovely warm synthie organie chord sustain, followed with an evangelical spoken word, taken straight from Prince’s very own purple pulpit, and its at this point that you know that the sounds and the themes on this record are going to be rich, immediate and of a high pop quality.
And they sure are. Squealing guitar leads, memorable riffs, orchestral string moments, solid and interesting vocal performances and inflections from Prince and the band, and of course the sophisticated synthesis; arpeggios, synth pads, drum hits and programmables. This is a record very much of its time, but of the most exquisite grade. The melding of rock, new wave and pop, infused with a big old lathering of funk and soul akin to that of George Clinton and Parliament, is just pulled off with such ease and finesse.
What I also love about this record is its production and the mix. Unlike previous albums, the use of reverb; natural or otherwise seems more present, obviously this is due to the context of the film and the music’s use in such. But I think the fact that the mix sounds spacious, gives the album a grandiose vibe that works so nicely with Prince’s diverse style; whether he be getting all emotional on us or rocking that party flair. If the latter opens this record, then the former certainly closes it with the anthemic ‘Purple Rain’. ‘When Doves Cry’, ‘I Would Die 4 U’ can be heard in-between; this is classic Prince, songs that stand up as fantastic singles! 44 minutes long, you’re just not gonna not listen to the whole thing in its entirety.
So now it would only be natural to assume that after listening to the soundtrack for a period, one would in-turn develop a curiosity for its film, right? Yes, I can say that happened to me. After an undisclosed period of time I again returned to the neighbourhood dog and gramophone place for further perusing’s and eventually their I see it; probably amongst a two for £10 mix and match offering, Purple Rain; the 20th anniversary two-disc special edition DVD. Need I say anymore?
Well, indeed yes, the movie is a pop culture classic, an eighties time-piece, and a truly fun promotional accompaniment to the album; if you so happen to see Purple Rain as more of a stand alone record. Semi-autobiographical in places, the movie tells the tale of The Kid; played here by Prince, and his journey before stardom, performing a residency at Minneapolis’s famous First Avenue nightclub. A young and talented musician, The Kid basically rides around the plot; quite literally on a motor bike with a purple paint job, tortured and dysfunctional with various afflictions and tribulations: He can’t seem to please his band mates, cos he’s got this inflated ego that alienates any creative input from others; standard. He’s got rival band The Time played here by The Time on his back; in particular lead singer Morris played absolutely brilliantly by Morris Day (the singer is a comedic screen natural), he’s constantly putting him down, giving him bother. Also you got the stage manager / club owner Billy acting the hard-ass; giving further discouragement to The Kid. Then he’s dealing with all this heavy domestic abuse from his father; mandem mistreating his mother and shit. And then to top it all off, of course there’s an obligatory female love interest he so comes to desire; furthering his jeopardy and woe. So much to overcome, so much to learn, this film has it all!
Now of course, yes it should be mentioned that certain aspects of this movie leave a little to be desired, I mean they don’t call it a cult for nothing. Prince’s acting is pretty far-out. The scenes with just him and Apollonia (of Apollonia 6 fame); his love equity in the movie, are probably the worst. Watching Prince passionately kiss another human being has left me diving for the covers each time I’ve watched it; his pronounce pout rabidly going to town. A contradiction to my mind, I always figured Prince to be a magnificent kisser; what with that famous song he gone and wrote.
Some of the dialogue ain’t much better, and certainly some of the other acting, but in the end these are just factors that add to the film’s charm. I mean, half these players aren’t actors, they’re musicians, or at the very least part of Prince’s entourage at the time. But of course these credentials elevate the greatest moments of the movie; the show scenes, the performances filmed at First Avenue; they are just exhilarating. Prince and The Revolution in full throttle, The Time in full throttle, all filmed perfectly; the sense of the stage and the audience pit is captured believably, yet very cinematically. The costumes, the fashion, and the general colour palette of the film is just great; purples, warm reds and blues, and oranges give the film a real exuberance and look. Whatever you say about the movie, by the time you’ll get to the penultimate performance of Purple Rain towards the film’s ending, you will be fist clenching, arm swaying, lighter igniting and perhaps tear jerking with elation, I promise you.
Anyway, the whole point of this long winded, self-appeasing personal account was that for me Prince was this entity that I definitely appreciated but didn’t quite understand back whence. Although he plays and writes in familiar realms of different styles and genres; the likes of which we all understand, his records and his product; ‘Prince’ (the being) operate within a genuine uniqueness. He is one of a kind; to use a flimsy journalistic cliché, and it took Purple Rain; the soundtrack, the movie for me to realise that. If you haven’t indulged in either, I suggest you damn well do.
Prince and The Revolution – Purple Rain
30 Years On: The Soundtrack, The Movie.
OST Released: 25/06/1984 / Warner Bros. Records
Film Release: 27/07/1984 / Warner Bros. Pictures
Text: G. Wilfred Trinder
[Born in 1987; just so as you understand the tedious context of this piece.]