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“Desert Island Album” Spotlight: Prince’s Purple Rain

In his bleak, distopian vision for 1984, George Orwell could have never foreseen the Purple Rain that would wash over the world when 1984 actually arrived.

Nearly 30 years ago, Prince’s masterpiece was everywhere.  While he grumbled across the big screen on his iconic purple motorcycle in his film debut, Purple Rain, music from the film saturated airwaves with its sexy pop, sinewed by exotic musical structures that popped and buzzed with a new electronic life.  Three decades later, I still consider Purple Rain one of the greatest albums ever produced, so today, I give it the “Desert Island Album” spotlight.

PrincepurplerainThe album opens with an unforgettably churchy sermon (“Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called Life . . .”) then  launches into one of the album’s two #1 hits, the lively, guitar-driven “Let’s Go Crazy.”  Next, Prince shares the vocals with Apollonia for the infectious, richly textured pop tune “Take Me With U” before a offering a breather with the chill falsetto of “The Beautiful Ones”.

“Computer Blue” brings the guitar back to the forefront with a zany piece that sets the stage for the album’s centerpiece.  Lyrically risqué, the raunchy funk-rock fusion of “Darling Nikki” provides the single best cross section of the album, offering sparse arrangements mixed with full-on band jamming, a full-throated screaming Prince, and nifty experimental production.

But it’s the back half of the album that provides its beauty.  “When Doves Cry” provides a pensive musical arc.  The album’s second track to reach #1, “When Doves Cried” oozes exotica, with a sparse, bass-less arrangement, classical scales, unique guitar sound, and exceptionally primal lyrics.

“I Would Die 4 U” provides emotional lift and fills in the spaces left by “When Doves Cry” with airy synthesizers and more upbeat lyrics, but it only serves as a launchpad for “Baby I’m a Star,” which hears the album’s persona celebrate reconciliation of all the doubts and struggles he has grappled with throughout preceding tracks.

Then there’s the beautifully anthemic R&B finale, “Purple Rain.”  Recorded live at a benefit concert, the title track is stripped down, compared to the rest of the album, featuring standard rock instrumentation and a jam-up performance of a great song, which serves as a perfect album closer.

In many ways, the 1980’s were a perilous time for a lot of great artists.  Rockers suddenly found themselves donning pastel wardrobes, and bands began trading in crunchy guitars for glossy keytars.  It was tough for even the best of artists to strike a respectable balance while the synth revolution took over radio and flashy videos took over music.  Prince, however, accomplished the feat masterfully with Purple Rain.  What makes the album even more of an achievement is that it still holds up today.

Prince live

Be sure to check out other “Desert Island Albums” below:

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This entry was posted on February 4, 2014 by in Music Notes and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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