Prince: Purple Rain 35th Anniversary Coming
Upon June 25, 2019, we will embark upon the 35th anniversary of the release of Purple Rain Prince and the Revolution by Prince Rogers Nelson, belovingly known as Prince.
The opening track on the Purple Rain album was “Let’s Go Crazy” and I am gradually coming to the conclusion that maybe Prince’s intention of a fun, upbeat, dance tune would ultimately be a timeless mantra throughout this thing we call life.
Had someone told me in 1984, 35 years ago, that I would be writing and analyzing Prince on a vinyl records blog, I would have thought they were crazy! Now, I suspect there are a fair amount of people who think I am! They may be right, and I may be crazy, but I just may be the lunatic you were looking for!
But, I digress… maybe we’ll get to Billy Joel another day. 🙂
Prince Rogers Nelson before he became Prince
As a middle school and high school student, Prince Rogers Nelson was bullied and ridiculed by peers. At a diminutive height of 5′ 4″, he was an easy target for bullies, but early accounts indicate he was not afraid to throw a good punch and run and when necessary. Secondly, he was a speedy basketball player in middle school and played some ball in the early years of high school before transferring to a different school with “taller talent”, if you will.
His father maintained a day job, but played music at night and never did quite give up on his dream of playing music for a living as a piano player, influenced by the likes of Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk. His mother, Mattie, was a singer, but gave up her musical aspirations with the hardship of motherhood and an impoverished family. To her credit, she did eventually continued her education and earned a masters degree in social work.
Prince’s parents split up when he was 13 and bounced back and forth between living with his mom and dad. One day, when his dad came home to find him in bed with a young girl, he put young Prince on the street where he cried in a phone booth for hours until someone rescued him and brought him to a relative’s home. Said phone booth was near a McDonald’s restaurant where the smell of hamburgers he could not afford initially contributed to his resolve and determination to overcome his poverty. Prince’s plan was to overcome hardship and adversity through music, but not just music in and of itself. His collective goal, was to manifest himself into a superstar! His hero was Jimi Hendrix, and borrowed from the eccentric guitar riffs, but Prince had every intention of implementing musical ideas from Jazz, Blues, Rock and Roll, Psychedelic hippy sh@@, Disco, etc. A Star is Born…
One of Prince’s future keyboard players at this time, Lisa Coleman, thought it was cute that he had a poster of the movie “A Star it Born” featuring Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand on his wall when they began their collaboration.
The Ascension of Prince
Prince’s first album, “For you” had limited success, was way over budget, and probably made Warner Brothers executive nervous. Despite their best efforts, they wanted to “pigeonhole” Prince into something he was not, a black, R&B / disco artist. The reality was, Prince was inspired by all genres and musicians of all persuasions. He refused to be labeled or characterized as “black” and made it crystal clear to record executives in the late 1970s that he would write music to cater to a much more diverse population.
His second album, simply named “Prince” featured his first number #1 hit in Soul Charts with “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, which reached #11 on the Pop Charts in 1979. With sales of the single surpassing 500,000, and radio stations all around the country playing it, this tune became Prince’s first gold-certified record.
As the “Prince” album itself was fast approaching 500,000 sales, the executives at Warner Brothers were finally on board with Prince’s vision and realize the potential for future commercial success. They were now ready to invest in his first tour, having previously denied him.
Prince’s first televised national appearance was on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand”. Once on camera, Prince informed the band that he would not verbally answer any of Clark’s questions and instructed the bank to do the same.
1.) He wanted it to be all about the music
2.) He wanted to create an aura of allusive mysteriousness (these are my words – if they make sense) to make viewers wonder what was going on and was in his head.
Dick Clark never forgot the awkwardness of that “banter less” episode and continued to relay the story for the rest of his days.
As time went on, Prince went on to write about a lot of weird and controversial sh@@. He wrote songs with crazy sexual themes, including sleeping with his sister. He wrote about politics with a tune entitled, “Ronnie, Talk to Russia”, to encourage peace talks between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. At this time, Prince paraded around in trench coats with nothing on other than black briefs, periodically exposing his lack of clothing.
Prince thrived on shock value and his third record, appropriately entitled “Controversy” fit the bill of where he was in life, but the project also presented tracks that were more authentic, less synthesized, and rooted in traditional Jazz, R&B, and Rock and Roll. The trip is, every now and then, Prince will throw out at a tradional sounding tune in between crazy, “in your face”, new tunes using the latest technology.
Basically, Prince always wanted to be “edgy” and push accepted norms to the limits musically and fashionably, all the while referencing multiple genres of music and mashing them into his own sound.
Dearly beloved, for the sake of brevity, let’s fast-forward three albums to Purple Rain which was the second effort with Prince and the Revolution and became one of the top selling albums of all time. The first track, “Let’s Go Crazy”, was one of Prince’s most popular tunes.
The title track and last track on the album, “Purple Rain“, is arguably his most popular song, which in fact inspired the movie of the same name.
In 2012, the Purple Rain Album by Prince was added to National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.
In the vast catalog Prince has left us, there are some tracks that stand the test of time as radio favorites we will never forget. There are others with sexual innuendo from a challenged youth with enough synthesized orchestral bursts (cutting edge technology at the time) that sound a bit cheesy and overdone in hindsight.
Notwithstanding, the greatness is recognized and appreciated here. There is great joy in the tunes we are comfortable with. Prince contributed to a camaraderie among people of all walks of life who enjoy music, very much like a winning NFL team does in a united city.
In the end, Prince achieved what he always longed for a child, to be loved and appreciated.