Prince has been one of the World’s most successful musicians for over a generation, as well, an enigmatic figure in today’s pop culture. From the slick perm of yesteryear to the blown out fro of today, Prince has continually found ways to reinvent himself without compromising his music or who he is – an icon. And if you had to choose one moment when his legendary status was born, you’d have to say it was the release of his album and movie, both titled Purple Rain in the summer of 1984.
One of the other most endearing things about the movie was that every person in it essentially played themselves. Aside from Prince’s onscreen parents (played by Olga Karlatos and Clarence Williams III), the cast were all musicians from the various groups that they identified with in the movie. For example, the “Wendy” who was The Revolution’s guitarist in the movie was actually Prince’s guitarist in real life, Wendy Melvoin. For those who were around during Youtube’s rise to popularity, you undoubtedly would recognize her from the “Kiss” video (good luck finding the actual original video now). In fact, the only musician who didn’t go by their real name in the film was Prince himself. That shouldn’t come as a surprise considering he also changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol about a decade later. This makes the onscreen tension between Prince and The Revolution, which takes place at different stages of the film, that much more interesting to watch as it was most likely the real thing (Prince dissolved the band just a few years after the movie was released).
Watching Purple Rain is essentially like watching the making of a live concert caught on tape. The movie starts with Prince performing with his band and doesn’t stop until after the encore. While the acting isn’t exactly Oscar-worthy, the way Prince delivers his lines in that dry, brooding tone, (that maybe only Dave Chappelle can imitate) is something that is almost a must watch. We were also treated to seeing a number of Prince proteges that more than helped with “entertaining intermissions in between Prince’s musical sets”.
One such protege was Morris Day, who happened to play the “villain” of the movie. Anyone who has seen an 80s cult classic like The Breakfast Club or Labyrinth, knows that the bad guys were a little different back then. Instead of being menacing and threatening, they were always a bit whimsical, and Morris Day is no different. Along with his sidekick and hype man, Jerome, Morris is locked in a “battle of the bands” situation with Prince throughout the movie but provides a campy and humorous complement to his competitor.
Another protege would be the love interest of Prince’s character in the movie. Playing a young girl searching for fame, Apollonia Kotero (whose character was originally supposed to be played by Prince’s ex, Vanity) hits the screen in a hurry and finds herself in the middle of the dueling bands. Most people who have seen the movie may only know her from the “Lake Minnetonka” scene, and unfortunately, that is in large part due to her main vocal contribution of the movie. “Sex Shooter”, the song that she and her group (Apollonia 6) perform is without a doubt the weakest song in Purple Rain. However, without giving anything away, her presence in the film is one of the main vehicles behind Prince’s transformation from beginning to end.
While the album itself is filled with some of Prince’s best music and guitar playing skills, there are a couple of songs in the movie that aren’t on the original album that shouldn’t be overlooked either. I’m referring to “Jungle Love” and “The Bird”, both performed by The Time. There might always be some controversy over who gets credit for these songs (as Prince was actually the one who wrote them), but the way Day and Co. performed then in the movie make them two of the most memorable moments in Purple Rain. Not only that, but they are the essential embodiment of the threat that Day (and his style of music) imposes during the film.
Of course, a number of the songs that are actually on the album do equally well to drive the plot along. For example, “When Doves Cry” captures the plight of Prince’s character during the film (and possibly some personal turmoil in real life), and “Purple Rain” makes a great symbol for overcoming his issues and starting a new. There’s also “Darling Nikki”, which offers The Kid’s misguided attempt at upstaging The Time and embarrassing Apollonia.
But each song that is performed adds a different stroke to the painting of the story, and for that, one could argue that they all transcend the chords and verses sung. The music is the defining part of the film and is a huge reason for why the movie earned almost 9 times as much as it cost to make.
Purple Rain provides one of the exceedingly rare occasions when you would be able to see any video evidence of Prince and The Revolution playing music. Ever since Prince began his “war on the internet,” his music videos and any footage that includes the music (as sung by him) have been removed online. The songs still exists, but you generally have to pay for it or use apps like Spotify to host it, and not all of his albums are available either.
However, I encourage you to track down a few of his tracks, as there are a ton of gems that haven’t quite reached the cult status of the tracks from this movie. As far as the songs off of his Purple Rain soundtrack are concerned here are some songs that, in my opinion, could do the job and take you back to 1984:
1. “Let’s Go Crazy”: This song is probably the second most fun song from the album, and if you are in love with the tempo and chords Prince rips on his guitar, then you’ll probably also love “Guitar, Chelsea Rodgers” (Planet Earth) and “Alphabet Street”. For those looking to get more up to speed on fun, old school Prince, try “1999″ and “Raspberry Beret” (Around the World in a Day).
2. “Take Me With U”: A really good duet with Apollonia, but Prince has a few other songs with complementary female voices like “Diamonds and Pearls”, “Nothing Compares 2 U” and one of his newer songs, “FALLINLOVE2NITE”, which aired on New Girl, after this past year’s Superbowl.
3. “The Beautiful Ones”: This song has a bit of a weird tone, but the slow and rhythmic feel of the track is slightly emulated in other Prince tunes like “Adore” (from Sign ‘O’ the Times), “Somewhere Here on Earth” and “Lion Of Judah” (from Planet Earth).
4. “Computer Blue”: This track has a similar tone to a ton of early Prince songs, including “D.M.S.R.” (1999), “Uptown” (Dirty Mind), and a host of songs from 1989’s Batman soundtrack.
5. “Darling Nikki”: The edgiest song from the movie, it’s not really one of Prince’s edgiest songs. He’s made plenty of gasp-inducing tracks including “Soft and Wet” (For You), “If I Was Your Girlfriend” (Sign ‘O’ the Times) , “Head” (Dirty Mind) and “Sexy M.F.” You probably don’t want to listen to any of these at work….or with your family.
7. “I Would Die 4 U”: Look no further than Prince’s self-titled album from the late 70s, with “I Wanna Be Your Lover” the track that will give listeners the best feel.
8. “Baby I’m a Star”: It’s one of the more eclectic songs from the album and features some of Prince’s best vocal variations. You won’t get too many other chances to hear a song like that. But I’d recommend “U Got the Look” (Sign ‘O’ the Times). “All the Midnights in the World” (Planet Earth) is worth a listen as well.
The other two tracks from the album, “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry”, are the most iconic songs that Prince has ever performed and it’s impossible for me to give you anything that compares. Only “Little Red Corvette” (1999) and “Kiss” (Parade/Under the Cherry Moon) can come close to being considered “quintessential Prince.” However, as I said before, there are still many musical treasures out there for your enjoyment, and if you’re lucky, you might stumble onto a new favorite from the “Purple One” himself.