”Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today 2 get through this thing called life …”
… and thus begins one of the greatest pop culture phenomena of our time.
This week marks the 25th anniversary of cult hit “Purple Rain.” It seems like only yesterday I tried sneaking into the R-rated movie to see the man who could sing, dance, and play music. Released on July 27, 1984, the move was an overnight success and won an Oscar for Best Music, Original Song Score as well as a Grammy.
With 1982’s release of his smash hit album 1999, Prince had finally found a way to meld his experimental pop tendencies with more “commercial” song structures, resulting in the first two major mainstream hits of his career (Little Red Corvette). Prince’s sexually-charged lyrics, always a point of controversy, were still kept front and center, pushing the envelope of what was considered “acceptable” radio play without compromising Prince’s increasingly-insular artistic vision. During 1999‘s subsequent tour, however, Prince had finally assembled a back-up band that could keep up with his own incredible abilities: the Revolution. With drummer Bobby Z., bassist Mark Brown, keyboardist Matt Fink, and guitar/keys duo Wendy Melovin & Lisa Coleman, Prince was finally able to stop worrying about playing everything himself. He had a found a group of creative individuals who were able to open his mind to new sounds and styles.
During this time, he also expressed interest in starting a movie project based on his life. After protégé starlet Vanity famously left the project just prior to filming, leaving Prince to cast the unknown Apollonia Kotero as his own love interest, filming went underway for Prince’s own faux-biopic, starring himself in the lead role and featuring nothing but brand new, completely unheard songs.
Back in the summer of 1984, “Purple Rain” was more than just a movie: it was a genuine experience which turned an R&B singer into a superstar and international sex symbol. At one point during that year, Prince had not only the Number One movie in America, but also the Number One album and the Number One single. In fact, when Purple Rain entered the album chart at peak position on August 4th of 1984 (displacing Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A.), it wouldn’t vacate that spot until January 19th of the following year.
Prince picked the perfect time to perfect his art. Barely 20-years-old Prince Rogers Nelson had talent beyond the label of R&B star: aside from the fact that he played every instrument on every album he ever produced, his mixture of genres was remarkably unconventional. “When Doves Cry” was a revolutionary single, an addictive classic that still evokes squeals of delight when played. Who can forget “Darling Nikki,” the track that set Tipper Gore on a personal vendetta to clean up pop music (ultimately resulting in the Parental Advisory stickers that pepper albums to this very day).
As the multiple hit singles, Grammy wins, and Best Original Song Score Oscar later proved, this was one of those rare gambles that paid off in droves.
So as The Kid himself would say, “Let’s go crazy …”