30 Years Ago Today: Purple Rain was Released

Thirty years ago today on June 25, 1984, Prince (and his band, the Revolution) released his sixth album: Purple Rain.

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.

prince 2

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.

Y2K Magazines

In the Fall of 1999, a lot of people thought the world was about to end.

When Prince suggested we all “party like it’s 1999,” he had not anticipated what became known as the “Y2K Bug”. Instead of electronicly recording the year with four digits (“2013”), many old computer languages only used two digits (“13”) to do this. Because of this minor oversight, people became convinced that on midnight, January 1st, 2000, all computer systems would assume it was 1900. This in turn would cause airplanes to fall out of the sky, banks to lose track of our money, ATMs to fail, computer networks to stop operating, and civilization as we knew it to come to a screeching halt.

(If you think I’m kidding, I know several IT professionals who spent New Year’s Eve that year not partying like it was 1999, but rather hunched over computer monitors, hoping that things would keep working. Spoiler alert: they did.)

The Y2K bug had people convinced that, among other things, food would become scarce and people would need to revert to survival skills as the world’s infrastructure imploded. Businesses offering food rations and survival training popped up seemingly overnight. Another industry that appeared during this same time was the “Y2K Magazine Business.” An offshoot of the traditional survival magazines, these Y2K magazines were full of articles dispensing survival advice for the coming apocalyptic times and advertisements hawking every kind of survival-related gear you could imagine.

For thirty years, my Dad worked in the printing industry. The company he worked for printed everything from tiny pamphlets to giant posters and everything in between, including magazines. (To give you an idea of scale, the print shop he worked in had at least six presses capable of printing 70,000 books per hour.) As Y2K approached, so did the number of Y2K-related magazines. These are just three of the different magazines that my Dad’s company printed during that time. Each one has a “proof” sticker on the front, stating that the colors were correct and the plates were aligned and the presses were ready to ramp up and start cranking out magazines.

Like a lot of things, I didn’t think much of these magazines at the time and ended up filing them away. Last weekend while cleaning out my garage I ran across a box of old magazines, with these right on top. I had a good time flipping through them and imagining what could have been (or, according to some people, “what almost was”).

The Purple One or I Love the Movie, Purple Rain

I’ll watch “Purple Rain” anytime, anywhere. The sheer audacity of Prince’s persona makes that flick a classic to me. He listens to music on a cassette tape he made that features people moaning, in the throes of passion. He convinces Appolonia that she must strip naked and purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka before telling her the body of water she’s standing in “ain’t Lake Minnetonka”. He wears a Lone-Ranger esque lace mask onstage and broods offstage in his dressing room, throws violent fits even. He cruises around town on his purple motorcycle. What’s not to like? One of my personal heroes.