On a sunny day in June, 1958, Minneapolis saw the birth of just another black kid amongst a struggling community. Prince Rogers Nelson, in adult life, became a singer, songwriter, producer, record label owner, multi talented instrumentalist and a studio owner, not to mention one of the most exuberant, exciting and outstanding performers of the twentieth century.
His first UK release came in the form of a single called 'I want to be your lover.' It entered the charts in January 1980 and failed to even make the top 40. This didn't deter the young singer and dreamt of greater heights. In all honesty, this didn't come along for another 4 years. Not until July 1984.
'Purple Rain', a film written as a semi autobiographical account of a young, talented boy growing up in a tough and poor neighborhood failed to attract any form of positive recognition. The critics jumped all over it calling it pretentious and a waste of money. The soundtrack, on the other hand had earned Prince World fame. His first real taste of British acclaim came with the single, 'Little Red Corvette,' in April 1983. Prince had needed to maintain is pride by keeping on the same high cloud. 'Purple Rain' arguably became the greatest achievement of his career. A moment in his time, that the artist hasn't really topped since. Even though 'Parade – the soundtrack from' Under The Cherry Moon '(1986) actually reached a higher position in the album chart, (' Parade 'claimed number 4 where as' Purple Rain 'only claimed number 7) it is' Purple Rain 'that stands alone in the corridor of excellence.
His royal purpleness, encaged by an ever growing entourage of purpalies had created an atmosphere of total stardom. Of his own making, he had now reached the summit of God dom and hasn't been able to come down from it since.
His recent performance at the Brits was received with the same exuberance and excitement as if he had donned a Louis XIV wig, purple frills, straddling a purple motorbike and rode it as his entrance on stage. We could forget for one moment that it has been over two years since any releases from him. Hard to believe he is soon to be 48.
'Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life ….' like a James Brown sermon in The Blues Brothers, we open this album with Prince the Preacher dictating to us his understanding of life and the after world . He is about to give us his greatest lesson like Sammy Davis Jr telling us to take a dive and swim to Daddy … our eyes are opened as well as our ears. We get ready for a lesson in throwing away care, kicking troubles in the groin and tweaking the nose hairs of strife, yes, its Prince giving us a taste of the album complete with ecstatic keyboards and low guitar riffs. We hear the artist's adaptation of rock, pop and anything gloriously arrogant.
'Lets Go Crazy' should speak for itself. A mad rush of energy pours out of our speakers and into our brains. We will emerge from this experience fully cleansed and enlightened. I believe that any sudden burst of frighteningly fast drum machines and hysterical guitars good for the soul. It would not be Prince without some yells and screams. This might be the only album where listening is just as good as the visual. We don't need to see Prince having it off with a microphone stand or running his tongue up and down a fret board (ouch), we can experience the whole live thing straight through our speakers. One thing is for sure, this album aims to please, excite, and begs for applause. Prince wormed his way into our hearts and our record collections with this enchanting piece of theatrical performance. There is not much left out of this irrational piece of basically going wild with no sense of direction. One will either love it or hate and skip the rest of the album .. If you keep going with it, listen with an open mind.
'Take Me With You' seems to be a bit of a come down after all the excitement of this first track. A 'duet' with unknown female artist, 'Apollonia.' Prince has always been famed for using good female backing singers with good, strong voices and bringing them to the fore. There are one or two names from the past who owe the start of their careers to Prince. One tends to get the feeling that Prince is very pro women in the industry. As well as constructing his own talent, he sought after creating the same from others. An introduction with hap hazard drums we find ourselves in amongst tambourines and cymbals and enjoying a pretty song that's catchy, inoffensive and perhaps a little childish in its form. Prince went through a stage of using violins to enhance a record. 'Raspberry Beret' was a classic example of using this method. They give femininity to a song and allow the track a fair chunk of jollity and optimism. One to skip along holding hands to …. if your twelve.
There then come a further three tracks that I don't fully understand. Experimental is probably the name of the game here. The first of these three is 'The Beautiful Ones.' A ballad of sorts, Prince has the most diverse vocal range. With the power to adapt to low, tension filled drama within the lines of 'When Doves Cry', to the trill, untuneful, feminine to the extreme weirdness of 'The Beautiful Ones.' Using keyboards practically playing a different tune, we experience, probably, the epitome of a naff eighties ballad. There were greats such as 'Broken Wings' by Mister Mister, then you had off the planet, space themed, where's Blake 7 numbers such as this from Prince. A rock theme drifts in towards the end and Prince does what he does the best, screams like a banshee with a few electric guitar riffs thrown in for good measure. By the end, and Prince loves his extended to the hilt endings, the listener has had enough.
'Wendy? Yes Lisa? Is the water warm enough? Yes Lisa? Shall we begin? Yes Lisa … '
'Computer Blue' voices, Wendy and Lisa who had a few unofficial hits of their own back in the early eighties that didn't really amount to much, they had been Prince's two main backing singers. We hear them here reciting some lines in which they sound thoroughly bored. Stranger than strange, this was actually Prince's attempt at a country themed song. Probably the one song that couldn't be any further away from country if it tried. Listenable to its length, it seems to me, like Miami Vice incidental music, probably used in a car chase, with its funkiness and ostentatious ness, it takes a peculiar slant mid way into something so slow that it cries out for the record player to receive a good kick. A raw bass and riff takes hold where '' Computer Blue 'left off.
What we are now hearing is 'Darling Nikki.' Known for its explicit lyrics, 'I met her in a hotel lobby, masturbating with a magazine.' A story about a one night fling. It has a disturbing energy and a riff that Hendrix would be proud of. It appears too metal for Prince and his voice must have been in tatters at the end of recording. He wails and screams as if in terrible pain. A tremendous performance but all too short lived as the very end of this track is something played backwards. A kind of accapella verse. Thankfully, due to age and a previously local Woolworths, I have this on vinyl. After several attempts to play it backwards, which certainly didn't do my record player any good what so ever, I believe that the lyrics are, 'hello, how are you' and then something about something coming up …. if there is anyone out there with this on vinyl, please help as there is someone here who will not sleep til I find out what that says! Prince's little teaser. Well, we always thought he was a teaser any way …..
The Laurence Llewellyn Bowen of pop dom teases us with the second half of this circus piece from the purple big top …..
'When The Doves Cry' was number one in the US and number four in the UK when it was released in June 1984. The first track from this album it cuts to the chase with its hard hitting lyrics with equally cold blooded drum machine. Starting with a riff that would sound at home on a Jimi Hendrix track, the track consists at first of just a voice lowered to sound hard and cold hearted and a steady drum machine. A powerful track, it is simple and very entrancing. The mix of his voice used in the backing track gives the feel of a continuous thought in the singers head repeating ever word. It is not short of the odd yelp and cry which has always suited Prince far better than Michael Jackson. It is an atmospheric track that enlists the help of a strangled guitar riff as the break. A record ahead of its time, listening to it now, over twenty years on, it is hard to think that its actually been that long since its release. A monumental piece in rock history. It feels just as much apt today for young kids as it was then for the film.
'I Would Die For You' is another creative piece of writing using a drum machine in a different form yet unheard by listeners. The drum machine seems to flicker uncontrollably in the backing track. The lyrics are almost mumbled, as if not to take away the limelight focused upon the unusual usage of the machine. A short number, it allows a simple handful of repeated notes to flow gracefully over the backing track. An inspired piece, again, unheard of until this album.
Straight, and almost without knowing and taking the listener by surprise, we hear the electrifying and glitzy performance of 'Baby I'm A Star,' This track couldn't have had a better title. It full of pretentious arrogance. So much so, that its uplifting for the listeners as one cannot help but feel as if the lyrics could be directed to them. It cries out to be strutted to, wrapped up in sparkly gift wrap with a dirty great bow on the top screaming look at me !!! It has a fantastic fast drum beat throughout, a true stadium piece of work. Some clever backing tracks using keyboards and singers giving it their all. It pours over Prince like it was meant to be his personal theme. Even hints at an audience in the dying seconds to give it that real live theme.
The lights fade, the glitter cast aside and the arms above our heads start to sway hypnotically. 'Purple Rain' is not just a track for the ears but an epic for the soul. One of the finest, still most used ballads, it gives a quality that Meatloaf, I'm afraid just hasn't come close to. It yearns out to us in desperation., That I feel it should be renamed 'Purple Pain.' Prince must have been on the floor in the studio after creating this masterpiece of a broken heart. At a staggering 8 minutes, 45 seconds long, he increasingly becomes more and more distraught towards the end. Unlike James Brown when his guards would come on and throw the cloak over him to drag him off stage, this piece, perhaps too long, equals the complete showmanship of anything ever done by such an artist of this caliber. We are literally crying buckets, it pulls at the strings and has you reaching for the kitchen blades. With incredible clashing of cymbals and strained riffs, and whining violins creeping up the scales, it hardly feels that the track is going to end, we almost feel exhausted when it finally does.
Putting cryptic aside, the downfall of The Revolution is a rather sad tale. Prince disburse his fantastic looking army of beautiful people shining blue lights under their chins to make them even more gorgeous after a tour in 1986. His explicit lyrics and over all performance were sensational products of his making yet Prince wanted to reach out to more fans. Knowing that the act had to be 'cleaned' up somewhat, he re emerged the following year with hair cut, more conservative clothes and a not so startling entourage who competed to out show him.
I personally was devoted to the purple, glitzy ear when it was all about super stardom. That I feel, was the best of the eighties. This type of class act, we just don't get anymore. As much as we are two minds over Michael Jackson, we fail to remember that it was twenty years ago when he wowed us with his incredible, precisely choreographed dance routines. Madonna still wasn't a household name and still laughed at to a point, wondering how long she was going to last, when Prince with his gaiety and stupendous cabaret of a traveling circus delighted us and enchanted us where we liked it or not. A professional at his craft, he produced his masterpiece with this album. The very one that we will eventually remember him by.
At The Brits this year, attending the after show party. He sat down with his now non purple brigade of guards and babes around him like a human fence. He ordered a DVD player and sat and watched films and didn't flutter an eye lash at the surrounding scene of hundreds of drunken, rowdy stars once.
Now, that's Rock and Roll.
Take a bow, your Purpleness.
© Michelle Hatcher ('sam1942') 2006.