Prince and The Revolution – “Purple Rain” (1984 / 2017)

To say that July 4th is an important day here in the good ole’ U S of A would be an understatement.  And since so many Life in the Vinyl Lane readers live in countries that don’t televise hot dog eating contests once a year, I thought I’d give you a bit of a primer about what we Americans refer to officially as Independence Day but more conversationally as simply “The Fourth”.

On July 4, 1776 a bunch of wig-wearing newly-self-proclaimed Americans told King George III of Great Britain to go pound sand, and did so in the kind of language that ensured righteous indignation was permanently enshrined as our true national pastime (♠) and marked the proverbial shot across the bow that quickly turned into real shooting in what call The Revolution.  And ever since then Americans have looked warily at their own government, giving Washington DC that sidelong look that says “we did it once before, so don’t get stupid over there or we might do it again.”  In fact some folks did do it again about 90 years later in what is known as the Civil War, which would probably be known as the Second Revolutionary War had the South won.

But enough of all that nastiness.  What The Fourth is about today is hot dogs and outdoor drinking and blowing up enough fireworks on your friend’s property to actually register on the Richter scale.  It’s about mom and apple pie and the Stars and Stripes, and don’t you dare tread on me.  So what the hell does all this have to do with the deluxe edition release of Prince’s seminal Purple Rain?  Well, that answer can be found in the name of Prince’s band:  The Revolution.  Prince and The Revolution put out Purple Rain 210 years after the actual American Revolution.  Coincidence?  Well, in Hebrew 210 translates to “uphaz”, which is a region where gold is found.  While platinum would probably be more apropos for Purple Rain, it still fits.  And given how Prince changed what it meant to be a musician as both an artist and a businessman, the name of his band was pretty appropriate.

I had this on cassette back in 1984 when I was around 13 or so.  That may not seem terribly surprising, but if you’d known me then it would be.  I was hardly into Prince, at least not in any way that I can remember.  That came later.  So why did I buy a copy of Purple Rain?  Well, in talking to some other kids about the kinds of things kids of that age talk about, I discovered that Purple Rain included a song called “Darling Nikki”, and in that song Prince talked about a woman masturbating.  Now keep in mind kids, this was 1984. We didn’t have the internet.  At that time the ColecoVision was the cutting edge of technology (♣), and if you had a computer and you wanted to do anything at all with it you basically had to learn to write code.  There was no swearing on television other than on HBO, and you only heard that if you happened to have cable and were willing to stay up past 8PM.  Most people didn’t even have VCRs.  The only thing sexually explicit a kid might have even seen would be some tattered magazines stolen from their dad’s closet.  There were no parental advisory stickers on albums (♥) because there wasn’t any need to – there was almost a complete lack of actual obscenity on recorded music.  So Prince singing about a woman masturbating… that was cutting edge.

Fast forward 33 years and pretty much nothing is shocking any more – you name it and you can probably find it on an internet video inside of 15 seconds depending on your bandwidth, and you can watch it right on your phone.  But Prince and The Revolution?  They still sound revolutionary.

I bought the vinyl version of Purple Rain comprised of the 2015 remasters overseen by The Purple One himself.  I was kind of bummed that this didn’t include the previously unreleased material that accompanied the deluxe edition so I actually broke one of my own rules and bought a download of it.  But I just couldn’t help myself – after playing this beautiful version of the original, I just had to hear those unreleased versions and songs.  And I’m glad I did.  Because had those 11 tracks come out in 1984, they might have given the original a run for its money.

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Purple Rain‘s brilliance is well documented.  Look up any list of the “Top Albums of the 1980s” and it almost always falls into the Top 10, often in the Top 5.  Rolling Stone‘s most recent Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time has it at a respectable #76, one spot ahead of Back in Black and one behind James Brown’s Star Time.  Lest you think that it’s one of those albums that didn’t achieve it’s status as a classic until years after its release, consider that on November 15, 1989 Rolling Stone published their list of the Top 100 Albums of the Eighties, right as the decade came to a close.  Purple Rain was #2 on that list (Prince had three albums in the Top 20) behind only The Clash’s London Calling.  Now to be fair that list was probably locked down for publication sometime in late 1989, so due to the timing Prince was able to escape challenges for his #2 spot from Whitesnake’s Slip of the Tongue (released November 7, 1989) and Kenny G’s Kenny G Live (released November 23), so maybe he wouldn’t have held onto #2 had the list come out after 1989 actually closed.  We’ll never know.  But I feel like Purple Rain probably would have weathered the storm.

I’m not going to spend any time talking about the songs on the original Purple Rain release, nor the undeniable brilliant-yet-kind-of-terribleness of the film.  If you haven’t seen it, you need to if only for the stage performances which are insanely good and make me wish I could have snuck into the First Avenue when I was 12 years old to see them.  Prince was clearly Advanced as Jason Hartley outlines in The Advanced Genius Theory, noting “I have no explanation for much of what Prince has done over the years, but I do know that I like it and that it is Advanced.” (p. 101)  I feel like if Prince had decided to put out a death metal album it would have been one of the best death metal albums of all time. He was that talented.

The bonus material opens with the 11+ minute funk-fest that is “The Dance Electric”, a song that sees Prince being funky and poppy and channeling his inner James Brown with a bunch of “uhs” and “ahs”, a track that is as good as literally anything on the original soundtrack with the possible exception of “When Doves Cry”.  Keeping with the electric theme, “Electric Intercourse” is a prime example of Prince’s obsession with musical sexiness (other bonus songs include “Wonderful Ass” and the subtly named “We Can Fuck”), a slower paced almost orchestral song that could have slotted right into some of the more intimate scenes in the film.

The length of many of the extra tracks is notable.  Three of them clock in at over 10 minutes apiece, with another three in the six to eight minute range – far from being radio friendly back in the 80s but giving Prince a chance to explore his compositions, often to the point where you’re convinced a new song started but in fact it’s just the second half of something longer.  That being said, there are some single-length jams here too, most notably the bluesy “Velvet Kitty Kat”, a song that somehow combines a bit of funk, a touch of blues, and some 80s style synths.  Those things shouldn’t go together, but the result is catchy as hell.

The two CD version of Purple Rain is money well spent, giving you the original classic and 11 more songs falling into the same general flavor of the original.

(♠)  Baseball hadn’t been invented yet as the game we know today.

(♣)  The original Nintendo system came out in 1983 in Japan, but didn’t make its way to the States until 1985.  So as far as I was concerned, it didn’t exist.

(♥)  Those came two years later in 1985.  And ironically Prince’s “Darling Nikki” was the #1 song on the Parents Music Resource Center’s “Filthy Fifteen” list of the most objectionably songs.  It’s a good thing “Electric Intercourse” didn’t make it onto the album or Tipper Gore’s head might have exploded.  Although now that I think about it, I did in fact buy this album originally specifically because of “Darling Nikki,” so maybe Tipper Gore was onto something.  But probably not.

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