Thirty years ago today on June 25, 1984, Prince (and his band, the Revolution) released his sixth album: Purple Rain.
As a pre-teen growing up on pop radio in the midwest, I didn’t discover Prince until his fifth album (1999) was released. While heavy rotation hits from that album including “Little Red Corvette”, “Delirious”, and the title track introduced the Minnesota rocker to not only me but an entire generation, it was Prince’s following album that truly set his place in rock and roll history.
Although surely I knew that the album was technically a soundtrack, at least for me, the album was infinitely more important and influential than the movie, which I didn’t see until I was in my 30s. For me, Purple Rain was all about the music.
Purple Rain contains nine songs: “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Take Me with U”, “The Beautiful Ones”, “Computer Blue”, “Darling Nikki”, “When Doves Cry”, “I Would Die 4 U”, “Baby I’m a Star”, and the final and title track, “Purple Rain”. Of those nine, five (“When Doves Cry”, “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Purple Rain”, “I Would Die 4 U”, and “Take Me With U”) were released as singles, with four of the five breaking the US top 10 charts. The songs “17 Days” and “Erotic City”, not included on the album but as b-sides, also received radio play during that time. I personally have always felt that “The Beautiful Ones” was the weakest track on the album, but even that one won’t stop me from listening to the entire album from cover to cover straight through.
While all Prince songs undeniably “sound like Prince”, Purple Rain runs the full gamut, from pop hits to synth-heavy creations and powerful ballads. The manic pace of “Let’s Go Crazy” stands in great contrast to the emotional delivery of “Purple Rain”. Although I was only 11 years old when the album was released, after listening to it hundreds of times I really knew what it sounded like when doves cry. Or at least I thought I did.
And then there was Nikki — “Darling Nikki”, to be exact. Because this is a family-friendly site I cannot reveal what Prince caught Nikki doing with a magazine in his hotel lobby, but suffice it to say I learned a lot from that song, enough to make me blush both then and now.
In the summer of 84 and for years to come, it was impossible to turn on a radio or MTV without hearing or seeing Prince. The album Purple Rain spent 24 weeks at number 1 on the pop charts and has sold more than 20 million copies world wide. It repeatedly tops “best album” lists; Rolling Stone rated it the 2nd best album of the 1980s, Vanity Fair called it the greatest soundtrack of all time, and Slant Magazine recently named it the 2nd best album of the 1980s (behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller).
Purple Rain was strong enough to thrust Prince into the spotlight and keep him there for many years to come. Although he had many successful singles post-1984, no album comes close to encapsulating an era and packaging so many hits in one bundle.
Throughout the years Prince has sued his fans, Facebook fan page and blogs for posting links to his videos, had his music and videos removed from Youtube, has unauthorized albums and bootlegs regularly removed from eBay threatened to sue anyone who posted his picture on the internet, changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol (leading to the moniker “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince”) and, perhaps most cruel of all, repeatedly denied Weird Al’s requests to parody one of his songs. Somehow, Purple Rain rises above all that and, even 30 years later, still makes us want to Die 4 U.
But only if you want us 2.