June 25 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain and many artists, business people, universities, politicians, and even technologists have a renewed curiosity about the album or they are exploring it for the first time. As a true fan of the kind of creativity Purple Rain represents, and as a patron of many Paisley Park jams and parties over the last fourteen years I offer my commentary on Purple Rain at 30.
Purple Rain is without a doubt one of the top four albums of the 80s and it is arguably the most unique and controversial due to its sex appeal and dirty lyrics, intricate guitar solos, use of the drum machine, dreamy synth lines, wide vocal range, long songs, and gospel energy. When the movie and album are lumped together as one piece of art, the piece transcends generations and has the ability to awaken emotions in us that inspire our best creative thoughts.
Purple Rain is a passionate story of a conflicted artist who is more than confident yet insecure about his love life but he has the musical ability that most university music departments combined could not get close to. Prince’s equivalent in the corporate world would be that creative trial lawyer who never ever loses a case and has garnered the largest settlements possible. Yet his ego and intimidating personality push some people away from him — that distance from regular people allows him to connect with regular people via his art whether in the courtroom or on the concert stage.
L. Londell Mcmillan.
Although Prince is no lawyer, he has hired some great ones over the years, L. Londell Mcmillan – the famous entertainment lawyer and owner of the Source R&B Magazine, and Clive Davis – the Harvard Law educated record mogul, chart-topping producer, and long time record company CEO at Sony, Arista, and J records. Prince’s legal and business maneuvers have helped him win a legal case against his estranged half-sister, got him out of an unfavorable contract with Warner Bros in 1996 to redefine his brand under a new name thus renewing interest in his art, allowed him an open record deal at Arista Records in 1999, and in 2004 his business team came up with the idea to sell his album with each concert ticket sold for his large worldwide Musicology arena tour thus bringing his album sales numbers to the top of the Sound Scan charts in an unprecedented move. Yet Prince like the King / Elvis has lost a few battles, mostly due to his poor management style and huge ego. In one case a European court ordered him to pay $2.95 million dollars to a European concert promoted he stiffed — for good or bad reasons – Prince is indeed battle-tested. Yet presently he has renegotiated a new contract with Warner Bros to re-master and remarket Purple Rain and many of his best albums of years ago and for the most part, he gets the rights to the masters which is unheard of for most artists. Purple Rain helped broaden free speech in music for today, brought about “explicit lyrics” stickers, and encouraged multiculturalism in a band that has mass appeal.
Whether or not all of Purple Rain the movie is factual, Prince’s former manager Alan Leeds would suggest it is at least true about his personality. Prince is the ultimate storyteller with his music even when it has no words. Trial lawyers will use all kinds of words and images to tell stories that lead to winning outcomes, yet Prince has an infinite palette of sounds, tones, and rhythms, and he commands them all at once like a sophisticated CRM software package.
In the movie Prince’s band, The Revolution is on a spaceship ride with Prince as he takes them to musical highs they otherwise would not reach, yet he does have a special relationship with Wendy and Lisa, and the sensitivity they add to the song Purple Rain can be positively felt as helping Prince release his pent-up innovation and raw emotions regarding misspent love, family anger, and frustration with his status as a young boy. Additionally, all the songs are performed as if the band is at a gospel church, and the theme of faith and diversity seems to be inferred in the panoramic cuts to the audience, the band, and even backstage. It is thus no surprise that Prince is now a very serious believer.
Many fans know that the recording of Purple Rain the music was far from perfect. In fact, it was done in 1983 before the movie was released, and it was recorded by a mobile studio sound truck that was connected into First Ave, and not everything went well with the recording in terms of mixing and rigging up the sound. Although the movie and soundtrack ended up being a smash hit not all involved with the project thought it would be and there were concerns that they would not have enough budget to get it done so they were rushed. On the album, tape splices can be heard at times, and When Doves Cry has no bass (Prince’s intention), and the mix is imbalanced by today’s standards but for the most part it is a live album, and even with these imperfections the musical performances are amazing, innovative, and emotionally real, and the songs make the album timeless. The performances truly were a perfect storm and that’s why no other takes even with better recording would have made the album any better. It is a masterpiece and I and many others look forward to the re-mastered version ideally with extra songs on it.
By Jeremy Swenson