Literally don’t even know where to start here. How about this: this was Prince’s signature song. Sure, he had bigger singles (and in fact, cutting the “Purple Rain” down to 4:05 for its single was as stupid as when The Who cut “Won’t Get Fooled Again” down to 3:36, I mean why even bother?), but I don’t think he had a bigger song. On every level.
I mean, you could imagine going to a Prince concert and not seeing any other song, but going to a Prince concert and not seeing “Purple Rain” seems totally unimaginable.
I don’t know, of course, because the only Prince concert I ever saw was when Tim & I saw the infamous opening set for the Rolling Stones. You know, where the fucking “only one way to rock” assholes booed and booed and threw stuff at him.
I don’t think I had heard Prince yet, but I certainly had been reading about him in the wake of Dirty Mind, and I was dead curious. At the time, I was more dismayed at the booing, and I seem to recall that the sound volume was underwhelming, to boot. All in all, all I knew for sure was that Prince in 1981 was a thing I didn’t quite get.
But as always, I assumed that was on me.
Meanwhile, I’ve often wondered how many of the bros who booed him ended up loving him just a few years later. I’d like to think all of them, but that’s probably optimistic. At least some of them, right?
I mean, how can you not love “Purple Rain?”
First off, it’s got that big, repeaty gospelish chorus, with a shitton of reverb on Prince as if he’s preaching from a radio station that’s beaming god’s own word directly into our souls.
And then there’s the guitar solo, which — along with the equally transcendent “whoooo-hooo-hooo-hooos” — dominates the back half of the song.
I’ve just now made up a theory that iconic guitar solos often fall into one of two categories. There are the ones that build and build into their climax: you know, like “Stairway to Heaven” or “Rock Bottom.” Then there are those ones that kind of meander out ahead of the song for a while until the song catches back up with them, like “Down by The River” or “Marquee Moon.”
While “Purple Rain” is closer to the latter than the former, it charts a different path. It starts off wandering around, flirts with the conventional “deedleley-deedlely-deedleley” for a bit, but settles instead for a repeating phrase that anchors the rest of the song.
It is, of course, the sound of the purple rain falling from the skies. What else could it be?
That’s what’s on the album, and the film. And, of course, the performance in the film was transcendent enough to justify all of the self-indulgence that preceded it.
One of the tropes that’s been resurrected in the wake of Prince’s passing was that 1984 was one of the greatest years ever for pop music, what with the waning of Thriller coinciding with Purple Rain, Like a Virgin and Born in the U.S.A., to say nothing of Cyndi Lauper, Tina Turner, The Police and Van Halen.
All I can say is, sure why not? These things are nearly impossible to quantify, but there was great music everywhere in 1984, coming from every part of the dial and still spewing 24 hours a day from the MTV, and it sure seemed like the confluence of “good” and “popular” was extremely high that year.
So if you could somehow create a graph of 1984 in music with “Good” as the X-axis and “Popular” as the Y-axis, there would probably be an abnormally high number of entires in the upper right-hand quadrant. And uppermost, of course, would be Purple Rain.
“Purple Rain” Official Music Video
“Purple Rain” live in 2004
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