Monday, August 3, 2015

Prince - Purple Rain (1984) 50th Post

Assuming that most of the readers here are over the age of 35, love the 80's culture, and or have a vast appreciation of popular cultures greatest decade of excess, there was a lot going on to remember in 1984.  Let's set the mood a bit in case you forgot:

  • Michael Jackson won 8 Grammy Awards for Thriller, a month after the Pepsi incident
  • Herbie Hancock owns at the 1st ever MTV Music Video Awards, guess which song put him over.
  • Rick Allen makes Def Leopard jokes funny
  • Tipper Gore almost destroys artistic expression by creating the PMRC because...
  • Prince releases Purple Rain, no doubt one of the greatest, filthiest, most groundbreaking and successful albums in the history of music.
Purple Rain was a lot of things, fundamentally it was an album, a movie, and a soundtrack.  The 3 being mutually exclusive.  If you've never seen the movie, I implore you to just buy it.  While it's far from cinematic award winning genius, it's an excellent period piece on "teenage" angst with outstanding music.  It's almost the "anti" John Hughes type of 80's flick.  The album itself, Prince's 6th studio album, was made more successful than 1999, his 1982 behemoth album that officially put him into mega star status.   

Purple Rain is consistently, to this day even, ranked by many measures as one of the greatest albums of all time.  In it's first week, it managed to be certified Diamond in it's first week selling a bit less than 2 million copies.  Rolling Stone put it down at 76 in their book of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  In 2008 Entertainment Weekly called it the best album released in 25 years.  The single greatest distinction however came in 2012 when the Library of Congress added it to the National Registry of Recordings that are aesthetically, culturally, and historically important.  That means should the earth ever be destroyed and we're forced underground, this album will survive most others.  Sorry Spice Girls.

What really made this album work was it's exposure and raw talent of Prince Roger Nelson.  (Yep, that's his name...  Suddenly Michael Jackson's kids names aren't so strange now are they?)  When I say raw talent, not only can prince sing across different registers, he can play drums, guitar, and keyboards.  At the core, he is a funk musician, but he's so much deeper than that.  There's R&B, as in he wrote and performed one of Chaka Khan's greatest hit's, I Feel For You.  Matter of fact, he recorded it first in 1979 on his self titled album.  Listen to that one on Spotify, or even better if you can find the album, Prince, kinda rare, buy it.  Remember I Wanna Be Your Lover?  Lead track.  Trust me it's worth it.

Then there's the Psychedelic Prince:

How about Hip-Hop Prince, as in My Name is Prince.  

My Name Is Prince

Purple rain featured 5 released singles beginning in 1984 after the release of the movie.  The first one:

When Doves Cry

When Doves Cry in my opinion was the first modern power ballad before hair bands made the term popular.  It's not often that we hear a song so deep and complex till the 3rd single release, Purple Rain.  For those that remember, it was not only the climax of the film, it genuinely provided the emotional connection to the album.  As awesome as Purple Rain the song was, it suffered from the same thing that most underrated songs often do.  It was too long.  Clocking in at over 8 minutes with soaring guitar solos and isolation of everything from the organ to the orchestra to the vocals, it was a mini opera in it of itself.  It was shortened just to get air play to around 4 minutes and change, sadly it lost a lot in translation.

Purple Rain

Other Singles included, Let's Go Crazy, I Would Die 4 You, and Take Me With U.  The latter being the weakest release on the album, but I'm fairly certain it was the only safe choice left given that Darling Nikki was just as fun as it was downright evil.

Speaking of evil, the album certainly wasn't without it's controversy.  Anyone remember Tipper Gore?  Well, this album kind of illustrates her origin story.  Specifically Tipper's creation of the Parents Music Resource Center.  Why?  Because in 1984, her 11 year old daughter was "caught" rocking out to this album, (along with damn near the rest of the world, my 6 year old self included).  What's so wrong with rocking out to popular music?  I'll answer that question with another question?  What was so wrong with Elvis performing Hound Dog on The Milton Berle Show in 1956?  The answers to both frankly, prude's.  In the 50's, culturally it was almost unheard of for people to overtly display public sexuality in any form.  The rub here was, TV was a relatively new concept then so nobody had ever seen anything like that up until then.  Fast forward to 1984, after decades of music fueled by drugs and alcohol by artists that were literally dying because of excessive amounts of both, someone decided to add some sex instead of the former.  Oops.  Once again, sex is bad, but things that can actually kill you, cool and the gang.  It's here that 2 things happened to music.

1.  The rise of sexuality in musical artistic expression launches across genres.  (Madonna, Robert Palmer)
2.  The rise of the family movement begins.  Which will bite the world in the ass when Bush Sr. becomes President.

Oh, and Tipper Gore becomes a thing if for no other reason than to shame artists for their art, for the sake of art.  It's not until the alternative music wave some 10 years later that this course begins to correct itself.  All hail Rage Against The Machine.  

There's no way I'm going to wrap this post up without my closet favorite song.  Perhaps of all the songs that Prince ever did, this is the one I love the most for a wide range of reasons.  Some personal, many more just because it's almost musically perfect.  It really defines the little things that made 80's music so damn unique.  From the tempo changes, to the story telling to the imagery, all tied up in a short tight package.    It's hauntingly so uneven that you can't help but to love it's rhythm if nothing else.  This shit get's powerful in the last act both in the movie, and on the vinyl.  It really should have been a single.  The Beautiful Ones

The Beautiful Ones

All things considered, Purple Rain was a music defining release.  In 1984, you had a couple of choices of how you were going to enjoy this album.  Most people got it on tape and vinyl.  If you were lucky enough to own it on vinyl back then you were able to hear every ounce of precision that went into the production of it.  You heard every solo and every chord from the synthesizers.  The heard the vocal range that Prince possessed when he was in his prime.  At the time, it was difficult to listen to this album multiple times without getting something different from it every time.  There aren't too many albums ever made that managed to capture the voice of it's generation, in the 90's it was Nirvana, in the 50's it was the Beatles, in the 80's it was all over the map.  But like the 70's, you were of 2 schools, Zeppelin or anybody else.  Prince isn't anybody else.  He's his own definition spanning many decades.  Find this album.  Even if you don't have a turntable, you should just own this to say that you do.

Here's to another 50 posts!

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