Prince’s seminal 1984 album Purple Rain is actually the soundtrack to the significantly less successful movie, also titled Purple Rain. A semi-autobiographical film about “The Kid” (Prince) and his band The Revolution, the film was almost entirely shot in Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis, including scenes at the legendary First Avenue nightclub where much of the soundtrack was recorded live a year before. The film, unfortunately, garnered very negative feedback upon its release, but even so it won an Oscar for Best Original Song score for the title track “Purple Rain.” Today it’s considered a cult classic and critical reception has gone up over the years, though the soundtrack arguably remains Prince’s greatest achievement.
In 1983, a year before Prince’s Purple Rain album was released, Prince and The Revolution premiered most of the album’s songs at a benefit concert at the First Avenue nightclub in Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was the first show that featured Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman performing together as the guitarist and keyboardist of The Revolution, respectively. Revolution drummer Bobby Z even said that the performance was “certainly was one of the best concerts we ever did.” Five songs from the album were performed, two of which were “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Computer Blue.” The other three songs, “I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby I’m A Star,” and the iconic title track “Purple Rain” were actually recorded live and used as the basic tracks for the studio recordings on the album. Engineer David Rivkin, in charge of the live recording, recalls “He was doing a live concert benefit for a dance company in Minneapolis and we recorded it with a remote truck. And it was the first time he used Wendy and Lisa together. All those songs were brand new. Nobody had heard them before: ‘Purple Rain,’ ‘Let’s Go Crazy,’ ‘I Would Die For U…’ all those songs, nobody had heard. So nobody really applauded after each song, and it was very strange. Because it was new; people don’t taste familiarity sometimes. But Purple Rain was a live recording in First Avenue.”
The title track and last song on Prince’s Purple Rain still remains today Prince’s most popular song. Credited to Prince and the Revolution, “Purple Rain” was released as a single in 1984, reaching number 2 in the US. It is Prince’s most performed song, played at every one of his concerts since its release. The song’s extreme popularity was unprecedented; its running time is over eight and a half minutes. “Believe me, you don’t usually want to spend eight and a half minutes of your life listening to anything. ‘American Pie?’ Okay, Don McLean, great. A couple of things, but not too many. That’s a big investment of your life. But ‘Purple Rain’ deserves it,” says radio legend Paul Gambaccini.
The studio version of the song was actually recorded live, and touched up with overdubs later in the studio. After the recording was finished, however, Prince was worried that it sounded too much like Journey’s hit song “Faithfully” from the year before. He phoned Journey’s keyboardist Jonathon Cain asking if he could still release the song. While Cain acknowledged the two song’s similarities, he reassured Prince that the release of “Purple Rain” was fine and in no danger of plagiarism.
Says Revolution guitarist Dez Dickerson, “The song ‘Purple Rain’ for me is his masterpiece in terms of marrying commerciality and emotion. It’s one of those songs that when you hear, it you remember where you were the first time you heard it.”
You know those “Parental Advisory” stickers on some albums? That all started with “Darling Nikki,” the fifth track on Prince’s seminal Purple Rain album. Soon after the album was released in 1984, future Second Lady Tipper Gore, wife of Al Gore, walked in on her twelve-year-old daughter listening to the song. This would lead to Tipper Gore creating the Parents Music Resource Center. The PMRC then released a list called The Filthy Fifteen, which contained the fifteen songs with the most inappropriate lyrics, in which “Darling Nikki” was number 1. The committee then created the Parental Advisory label, and a year after the release of Purple Rain certain albums began to be sold with the sticker on the cover. Funnily enough, Purple Rain was never re-released with the label.
Prince’s biggest hit ever is the Purple Rain track “When Doves Cry,” staying at the top of the charts for five weeks in 1984. The song is especially notable for having no bass, a bold move for a hit song. Purple Rain recording engineer Peggy McCreary-Blum recalls “It was a beautiful song, but it was a normal song. And he looked over on the final passes of the mix and took the bass out. And he said ‘Nobody’s gonna believe this.’ And it was true, nobody could believe it, and it became a huge hit. Everybody loved that song. And people really did sit up and take notice. He was different, he was unique. He was turning it upside down on what was normal in this business. He injected some life into the ‘80s, I think.”
The opener on Prince’s Purple Rain, “Let’s Go Crazy,” has been described as “the quintessential opening song.” Credited to Prince and the Revolution, the song was a number one hit in the US. It’s still today a concert favorite for Prince, played nearly at every show since its release.
“Purple Rain kicks things off epically with the song ‘Let’s Go Crazy.’ Like we’re about to embark on some kind of musical religious pop experience.” – music reviewer Anthony Fantano
“I think he’d managed for the first time in his career to write a signature song that every time somebody bought a ticket to a Prince show, the thing that came to mind was ‘Man, I hope they play that song first.” – Revolution guitarist Dez Dickerson
“I love the sermon at the beginning. It’s wacky. Everything that Prince does sounds like it’s coming from a unique perspective.” – radio legend Paul Gambaccini
Album of the Week:
Prince and the Revolution – Purple Rain (1984)
30 years ago in 1984, master entertainer Prince released the film and soundtrack album Purple Rain. While the film was met with an almost overwhelming negative reaction, the soundtrack album (and Prince’s sixth studio release) has been regarded as one of the best albums of the 1980’s. Today, Purple Rain is seen as one of the most classic albums of all time. Kicking off with the sermon-inspired introduction on the opener “Let’s Go Crazy,” Prince takes the listener to every end of the pop spectrum; from the ballads such as “The Beautiful Ones,” the upbeat “I Would Die For U” and “Computer Blue,” the controversial “Darling Nikki,” and of course the timeless hits “When Doves Cry” and the closing title track “Purple Rain.” It was Prince’s first album that credited his backup band The Revolution, and three songs actually recorded by the band live at a benefit concert in Prince’s hometown Minneapolis, which were later touched up in the studio. The album won an Oscar for Best Original Song Score with the title track itself winning two Grammys. The album has sold over 20 million copies, gone 13 times platinum, and has even been preserved by the Library of Congress. Today, Prince still performs more songs from Purple Rain than from any other album. Dez Dickerson, the first guitarist of The Revolution, said of Purple Rain “…when you hear it you remember where you were the first time you heard it. It was a real step forward for him in terms of his evolution as a commercial artist but yet a distinct artist. You know that it’s him. You’ll hear it 20 years from now, it’ll still be classic.”
Axis: Bold As Love had a deadline of December 1st, 1967. The Jimi Hendrix Experience were contractually obligated to record two records that year, and Axis was their second after Are You Experienced? The album’s release was actually extremely close to being delayed. After the final mixes for the first side of the album were completed, Hendrix took them but left them in the London taxi cab he rode home. Realizing he’d lost the tapes (which have never been found to this day), the band, along with producer Chas Chandler and engineer Eddie Kramer, remixed the entire album in an entire overnight session to avoid the album’s delay, as well as a potential breach of their contract. Hendrix has said he was sad with how they had to remix the album as quickly as they did, and that it would have been better if they had more time to correct it.
The one song Chandler and Kramer were unable to mix properly was “If 6 Was 9,” the album’s seventh track and side one closer. When they ultimately decided that they couldn’t match the original quality of the first mix, as Kramer recalls, “Chas turned around and said to everybody ‘Hey, does anybody got a rough mix copy of what Eddie did?’ and [Noel Redding, bassist] says ‘Yeah, I have.’ We said ‘Get in a cab, go back to your house and get it!’” When Redding came back with the tape, they found that it was too wrinkled to go through the tape machine. They ended up using a clothing iron to smooth out the tape, and that became the master for the song.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s first album Are You Experienced was comprised of songs the band had already written and performed live many times before they were recorded. Going into their next album Axis: Bold As Love, there were no full songs written at all so the band had to create an album from the ground up. The band, along with producer Chas Chandler and engineer Eddie Kramer, took advantage of this opportunity in the studio to experiment and create new sounds and effects for the album. Hendrix was extremely inspired by The Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, even covering the title track live only three days after the album’s release. Drummer Mitch Mitchell recalls “Sgt. Pepper started the ball rolling, really. Everyone was listening to everyone else’s records and wondering ‘How’d they get that effect?’”
The end of the album’s final track “Bold As Love” features a section Hendrix requested to sound “underwater.” Chandler and Kramer then found a way to bring his vision to life. As Kramer recalls, “We said to Jimi, ‘You know, we’ve got this really nice thing we want to play you. Come and have a quick listen to this.’ My assistant and I had been experimenting with phasing. So we came with stereo phasing and we applied it to Axis.” They achieved this effect by mixing the signals of two tape decks playing the song simultaneously. “So as one can imagine Jimi just freaking out, and hearing the sound for the first time. It was really a revelation for him.”
Jimi Hendrix never really lived to see an album cover he liked. The only album cover he truly enjoyed was the classic US version of Are You Experienced? After the album’s success, unfortunately, neither Hendrix nor any of the other members of The Jimi Hendrix Experience had any say about the cover for their next album, Axis: Bold As Love. Reflecting the 1967 trend of Indian influence, the cover depicts Jimi Hendrix in the center, bassist Noel Redding on the left, and drummer Mitch Mitchell on the right as different forms the Hindu God Vishnu. Hendrix expressed his disappointment with how the cover depicted a heritage he doesn’t identify with, used mainly as a marketing tool. He stated that he would have rather seen something that identified more with his Native American heritage, as his great-great grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee. This wouldn’t be the last time Hendrix would be disappointed with an album cover; there were many disputes over the cover for the band’s next album, Electric Ladyland.