And if the elevator tries 2 bring u down, go crazy – punch a higher floor

Posted: October 5, 2014 in music, Record reviews
Tags: , , , , , ,

Purple Rain
Prince & The Revolution
1984

Purple Rain is the soundtrack to the movie of the same name. This soundtrack rocketed Prince to the level just below worldwide godhood – an orbit occupied at that time by only two North Americans, Michael Jackson and the ghost of Elvis. (Madonna joined Michael and Elvis later that year when she unleashed Like a Virgin.) Purple Rain has some slow spots. But when it’s good, it’s hammer-you-like-Mjölnir good.

As a critic, I should do my homework, but I was never good with after-school assignments. I haven’t seen the film. As much as I love this guy’s music, I know that Prince’s real topic is Prince. I can handle that on an album but probably not with visuals.

But it occurred to me last week when I saw Boyhood that I should do a soundtracks week, and if I do I might revisit this issue. I already have the following films lined up: Purple Rain, Stormy Weather, Almost Famous, Footloose, Backbeat, The Wiz, The Crow, The King and I, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Dazed and Confused, Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion, Krush Groove, ’Round Midnight, Rocky Horror Picture Show, High Fidelity, Chicago, Kansas City, Escape From New York, Meet Me in St. Louis, Viva Las Vegas, Head, Shaft, Great Balls of Fire, Where the Boys Are, Never on Sunday, all of the Batmans (or at least the one scored by Prince), anything where they play AC/DC’s “Back in Black” or “Highway to Hell” before the big battle, and Amadeus.

[Editor’s note: My wife has asked me to mark on the calendar the weeks I’ll require for this project so she’ll know when to fly to Kauai.]

On Purple Rain, “Let’s Go Crazy” kicks things off in typical kick-you-in-the-posterior, kick-things-off Prince fashion. I can only borrow a phrase my late father-in-law learned back in the 1940s when he wanted to express his appreciation for an attractive woman: “What a tomato!”

I often skip “Take Me With U” and “The Beautiful Ones.” They’re too earnest. But I don’t skip “Computer Blue,” which is funky, danceable, and (I think) told from the point of view of a man who lives inside a computer. He’s kinda blue. This is another song that David Bowie would’ve killed for 30 years ago.

“Darling Nikki” is sex. That’s all. You don’t dance to it, you scare your parents with it. An aspirational number for every gender, particularly female-type persons who grew up under the sway of Madonna or (God help you) Britney. The final minute is dumb. It was dumb in 1984 and it’s still dumb in 2014. There. It had to be said.

“When Doves Cry” has no bass player and doesn’t need one. How many confessional, soul-flayed-open, bass-less songs that compare the singer to his father and his lover to her mother go straight to #1? I like Prince best when he’s more light-hearted, but I can’t help liking this song.

“I Would Die 4 U” is a good rocker, but it’s really the set-up for “Baby I’m a Star,” which goes nova within seconds. This is one of the songs I want played at my memorial service.

Hey! Look me over
Tell me do you like what you see?
Hey, I ain’t got no money
But honey, I’m rich on personality

OK, big finish
And finally, “Purple Rain.” For once, Prince ends rather than begins an album with the title track. I suppose this was the music for the triumphant, light-washed and love-filled final scene in the film, and I suppose if I’d been in the theater for it, it would’ve given me chills. All 9 minutes of it. Listening to it as I have all these years without the movie in front of me, I always wish it were shorter. Well, it definitely sets a mood, and there’s a guitar onslaught halfway through that would’ve caused Huey Lewis or Night Ranger to spontaneously combust. Send the violins off to somebody else’s house and I’d be a lot happier.

It was with this record that I finally recognized the twin messages of empowerment and reassurance in Prince’s lyrics. I heard this 20 years later in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” When I launched this blog after one of her concerts, I wrote that she was “Prince in a bikini.” I shouldn’t have been so flippant. Lady Gaga is not one of the many young women Prince has mentored, but she’s definitely his heir. Also, Prince has probably worn a bikini.

You knew this was going to happen
I should’ve figured that when I started out to review every Prince album ever made, he’d strike back by making more. Sure enough, he has a new album. If I had chosen Sir Paul instead of Prince, the same thing would’ve happened.

Scoreboard
Just as 1999 ran into the buzzsaw of Thriller, this year Purple Rain was overwhelmed by Born in the USA. Not many albums can stand against Born in the USA and not look silly. Purple Rain is one.

Rolling Stone’s best albums of 1984:

Winner:
Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen

Runners-up:
Purple Rain – Prince
Private Dancer – Tina Turner
How Will the Wolf Survive? – Los Lobos
Learning to Crawl – The Pretenders

In 1984, Rolling Stone gave their readers the vote. They too went for Born in the USA in the top spot. These were the runners-up:

Purple Rain – Prince
1984 – Van Halen
Sports – Huey Lewis & The News
Eliminator – ZZ Top

Nobody picked Amadeus. Dudes!

Random Pan of the Day
Prince, Around the World in a Day (1985)
A good album from anyone else but a disappointment from Prince. (Be fair: How do you follow the stupendiosity of Purple Rain?) For the first time in years, the opening track of a Prince album doesn’t rock the house. “Around the World in a Day” doesn’t even knock on the front door. “America” is too much like “Baby I’m a Star,” this time with a few remarks on poverty (he’s against it). The religious-themed songs (Prince became a Seventh Day Adventist around this time) don’t make me jump up and shout “You go, God!”

The one song that’s up to Prince’s standards is “Raspberry Beret,” which sounds vaguely like Michael Jackson territory. I like it, but The Jackson Five would’ve done it better. (The J5 could never have written lyrics anything like Prince’s, though.)

R.I.P.: Paul Revere, 1938-2014. Thanks for the kicks.

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