Prince's 'Purple Rain' subject of new book

Prince's 'Purple Rain' subject of new book

Prince's 'Purple Rain' subject of new book

'Purple Rain', the song, album and film which catapulted Prince to new musical heights, is the subject of a new book which talks in detail about the how the late singer’s masterpiece raised the stakes for pop music.

In “Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain”, music journalist Alan Light takes a look at the making and incredible popularising of this once seemingly impossible project.

With tidbits and interviews with people who witnessed and participated in Prince’s audacious vision becoming a reality, Light reveals how a rising but not yet established artist from the Midwest was able not only to get ‘Purple Rain’ made, but deliver on his promise to conquer the world.

‘Purple Rain’ is a song, an album, and a film - widely considered to be among the most important albums in music history and often named the best soundtrack of all time. It sold over a million copies in its first week of release in 1984 and blasted to number 1 on the charts, where it would remain for a full six months and eventually sell over 20 million copies worldwide.

It spun off three huge hit singles, won Grammys and an Oscar, and took Prince from pop star to legend - the first artist ever simultaneously to have the number 1 album, single, and movie in the country.

“The stage is dark. A chord rings out. It’s an unusual chord - a B flat suspended 2 with a D in the bass. A year from this night, the sound of that chord will be enough to drive audiences into hysteria. But right now, in this club, the crowd of 1,500 or so people listen quietly, because it’s the first time they are hearing the song that the chord introduces.

“A spotlight comes up, revealing a young woman playing a purple guitar. She is dressed simply, in a white V-neck tank top, patterned miniskirt, and white, metal-studded, purple-trimmed high-top sneakers. Her asymmetrical haircut is very much on trend for 1983, the year this show is taking place.

“Wendy Melvoin, the girl holding the guitar, is just 19 years old, and this is not only the first time she is performing this song in public, it is also her first appearance as the new guitarist in Prince’s band, the Revolution. So far tonight, they have played nine songs; this one is kicking off the encore,” the book, published by Simon & Schuster, begins.

Wendy plays through a chord progression once, and the rest of the five-piece band falls in behind her. They go through the cycle again, and then again. The fifth time around, one can hear a second guitar coming from somewhere offstage.

“On the ninth instrumental go-round, Prince strides out, wrapped tightly in a purple trench coat. He plays a few fills, moves his head to the microphone as if he’s about to start singing, then pulls back again. Finally, three and a half minutes into the song, he begins his vocal, reciting more than singing the first line - “I never meant to cause you any sorrow…” The performance would yield what would soon become his signature recording and one of popular music’s greatest landmarks,” Light writes.

“When he reaches the chorus, repeating the phrase ‘purple rain’ six times, the crowd does not sing along. They have no idea how familiar those two words will soon become, or what impact they will turn out to have for the twenty-five-year-old man onstage in front of them.

“But it’s almost surreal to listen to this performance now, because while this 13-minute version of ‘Purple Rain’ will later be edited, with some subtle overdubs and effects added, this very recording -the maiden voyage of the song - is clearly recognisable as the actual ‘Purple Rain’, in the final form that will be burned into a generation’s brain, from the vocal asides to the blistering, high-speed guitar solo to the final, shimmering piano coda,” he describes the euphoria.

As the performance winds down, Prince says quietly to the audience, “We love you very, very much.”

Soon the idea of the movie took shape.

“In the audience, up in the club’s balcony, Albert Magnoli listens to Prince and the Revolution play the song. Magnoli, a recent graduate of the University of Southern California’s film school, has just arrived in Minneapolis to begin work on Prince’s next project, a feature film based on the musician’s life, which will start shooting in a few months.

“He thinks that this grand, epic ballad might provide the climactic, anthemic moment for the movie, an element that he hadn’t yet found in the batch of new recordings and work tapes Prince had given him. After the set, Magnoli joins the singer backstage and asks about the song,” the book says.

“You mean ‘Purple Rain’?” Prince says. “It’s really not done yet.” Magnoli tells him that he thinks this might be the key song they are missing for the film. Prince, the director recalls, considers that for a minute, and then says, “If that’s the song, can Purple Rain also be the title of the movie?”

According to the Light, “This launch and christening of ‘Purple Rain’ occurred on August 3, 1983, at the First Avenue club in downtown Minneapolis. The show - with tickets priced at USD 25 - was a benefit for the Minnesota Dance Theatre, where Prince has already started his band taking lessons in movement and rehearsing in preparation for the film.

“The sold-out concert, which raised USD 23,000 for the company, was his first appearance in his hometown since the tour that followed his breakthrough album, 1999, ended in April, during the course of which he reached the Top Ten on the album and singles charts for the first time, and made the hard-won leap to becoming an A-list pop star.”

Almost exactly one year later, on July 27, 1984, the film “Purple Rain” opened in 900 theatres across the US. It made back its cost of USD 7 million in its first weekend, and went on to clear nearly USD 70 million at the box office. The sound track album has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide, and spent 24 consecutive weeks at number one on Billboard’s album chart. It won two Grammys and an Oscar, and included two number one singles (“When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy”) and another, the title track, that reached number two.

Light says ‘Purple Rain’ came along at precisely the right moment- not just for Prince, but for the culture.

“The summer of 1984 was an unprecedented season, a collision of blockbuster records and the ascension of the music video that created perhaps the biggest boom that pop will ever experience.

It was also a time of great transformation for black culture, when a series of new stars, new projects, and new styles would forever alter the racial composition of music, movies, and television.

“While the magnificence of the ‘Purple Rain’ songs remains clear 30 years later, the album and the film were also perfectly in tune with the time and place in which they were created, and their triumph was partly the result of impeccable timing and circumstances that could never be repeated or replicated,” he writes.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox