Released: June 25, 1984
Peak: #124 US, #4 UK, #113 CN, #11 AU
Sales (in millions): 14.48 US, 0.6 UK, 26.0 world (includes US and UK)
Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
Total Running Time: 43:51
4.595 out of 5.00 (average of 20 ratings)
Quotable: “A landmark that solidified Prince’s standing as the preeminent pop genius of his generation” – Pitchfork’s Carvell Wallace
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
Prior to the Purple Rain movie and its soundtrack, Prince was known as “a multi-instrumentalist and prodigious musical upstart” PF who “famously stonewalled music press royalty…You were not to know who he was or where he was from. You were not to fully comprehend his race nor his gender.” PF Purple Rain thrust Prince into the limelight so that everyone knew he was. The movie told a “schmaltzy tale with Prince taking the role of The Kid, beset by parental woes and the inevitable girl trouble.” MF It “cracks open the shell of his reclusive sex alien persona to tell something of an origin story, one slightly more than loosely based on Prince’s real life.” PF
It was an unexpected hit; it cost only $7 million and made over $68 million. NME It ranks in the top ten of the Dave’s Music Database list Top 50 Music Movies and, despite its “cringeworthy acting,” BBC serves as “a big-screen showcase for Prince to perform these songs (some of them in tear-the-roof-off ‘live’ versions set in a Minneapolis club).” JE All Music Guide’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine said it was designed “as the project that would make him a superstar, and, surprisingly, that is exactly what happened.” AMG “The film turned this diminutive Midwestern oddball into a pop-culture giant on par with Elvis, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson.” BB
Prince had experienced mainstream success before. With his previous album, 1999, Prince scored top ten hits with “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious.” However, Purple Rain became a juggernaut, landing four top ten hits and spending a whopping 6 months atop the album chart. It was big right out of the gate, debuting at #11 with sales of a million and a half. It hit #1 four weeks later, WK knocking Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. from the summit – and then being dethroned by that same album 24 weeks later.
Erlewine said this was “more focused and ambitious than any of his previous records.” AMG The album “manages to deftly thread the needle between a dazzling array of genres: disaffected synth pop, tongue-wagging hair metal, dark R&B, and pleading soul.” PF Prince demonstrates his “ability to fashion the most avant garde pop imaginable while still making you want to shake your booty.” BBC “He plays rock better than rock musicians, composes better than jazz guys, and performs better than everyone, all without ever abandoning his roots as a funk man.” PF
“Let’s Go Crazy”
“In arguably the best intro in pop history, Prince spends the first 40 seconds of this smash single playing gospel preacher, telling us to forget about the afterworld and start enjoying this one.” BB This song “thematically picks up where the titular title track from 1999 leves off, namely: ‘We’re all going to die one way or another, so let’s rock while we’re here.’” PF On the “major metallic-funk hit” GS Prince “goes for a monstrous synth-and-guitar sonic attack turning the song into a hair-metal and synth-pop classic at once.” GS Prince rips “the kind of ostentatiously speedy Van Halen-esque guitar work that would become the audio version of the generation’s early MTV aesthetic.” PF
“Take Me with U”
This is the closest thing the album has to a dud, PF but Prince’s work, like Stevie Wonder, “brims with so many compelling musical ideas that they can be found hidden in even the weakest of tracks.” PF “After some frenzied drum rolls and a paranoid keyboard riff, Prince u-turns into a sweet psych-rock duet with Apollonia, his costar in the film. It’s a song about love conquering all, and the frilly orchestral synth sounds add to the neo-‘60s vibe.” BB This song was originally intended for the Apollonia 6 album. Reportedly, Prince played all the instruments on the song except for the string overdubs. WK
“The Beautiful Ones”
While most of the Purple Rain album was recorded as a band, this song, “Darling Nikki,” and “When Doves Cry” are solo Prince recordings. WK This song presents “Prince the serpentine…at his most coiled, his falsetto vocals syrupy and tightly wound until they explode into a wounded animal scream.” PF “Despite those heavy synths and hollow Linn drums—go-to electronic effects on early Prince albums – ‘The Beautiful Ones’ doesn’t play like some bad ‘80s New Wave song. This lush ballad begins with Prince asking, ‘Is it him, or is it me?’ and over the next five minutes, he gives his would-be lover an increasingly intense sales pitch. By the end, he’s down on his knees, shredding that guitar of his. Let’s see the other guy beat that.” BB
Originally written as a 14 minute opus, this song had to be edited down to make room for “Take Me with U.” WKThe opening dialogue between Revolution band members Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman “may either be about an impending sex act or an impending cup of tea.” PF “The ensuing song is a club jam about the common ’80s theme of existential technological alienation.” PF It incorporates “the unlisted ‘Father’s Song’ that showcases Prince’s talent for crafting a surprisingly emotional narrative out of a chord progression and a guitar solo (foreshadowing, perhaps?) before devolving into feedback, wordless screaming, and the intro to the crowning achievement of the first half.” PF
“The only thing rawer than the guitars are the lyrics, all about a porn-loving gal not shy about pleasuring herself in hotel lobbies.” BB This is “a thumping, loping, grinding fuck song about getting dirty with and getting played by the timeless femme fatale.” PF The lyrics made it a target of the Parents Music Resource Center, spearheaded by Tipper Gore. The group pushed for parental advisory labels on albums with what they deemed questionable content. WK
“Salaciousness aside, ‘Darling Nikki’ is a stunning piece of music.” BB The “quivering undulating coda, impossibly finds the musical link between burlesque backing bands and thrash metal double bass pedal rumbles.” PF The distorted vocals at the end of the song are the result of recording an extra verse during a rain storm and then playing them backwards. NME
“When Doves Cry”
The album’s masterpiece was “When Doves Cry,” the top-selling single of 1984 BB and the biggest song of Prince’s career. The single preceded the album by a month and caught everyone off-guard with its unusual bass-free sound. Critic Dave Marsh called it “the most influential single record of the eighties.” MA The song is featured in the book The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999.
The confessional song features Prince’s “most pointedly personal lyrics yet” PF as he “fears he’s becoming like his emotionally unavailable parents:” BB “Maybe I’m just like my father/Too bold/Maybe you’re just like my mother/She’s never satisfied.” The “steadily unfolding melodic progressions…expertly capture the helpless confessional pleading of a man trying to figure out who he is and why it hurts so damn much.” PF
“I Would Die 4 U”
This “is a celebratory, if lyrically morose, jam distinguished by a vast swaths of new wave synth, deep bounce and an insistent high hat.” PF Lyrically, there is debate as to “whether this dance floor favorite is about the connection between god and man, as many fans suggest, or simply the spirit of devotion between two lovers.” BB
This song, “Baby I’m a Star,” and “Purple Rain” were recorded live at the First Avenue Club in Minneapolis on August 3, 1983. Overdubs and edits were added later. The show was a benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theater and marked the first appearance of Wendy Melvoin as a guitarist in Prince’s band. WK
“Baby I’m a Star”
“As he wrote the Purple Rain album, Prince was already thinking about the movie, and he knew damn well he was about to break big. ‘Baby, I’m a Star’ is his early victory lap,” BB “serving notice that he’s greater than we could have ever imagined (turned out he was right) and that we need either get on board or get left.” PF “‘You might not know it now, but I are – I’m a star,’ Prince tells a global audience about to be rocked in ways it can’t begin to understand.” BB
The title cut, an “epic and uncharacteristic arena jam” PF which Rolling Stone magazine said recalls Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel”, “finds Prince taking on the world of stadium rock and beating it at its own game.” MF A couple of sources have written that the title comes from a lyric in the America song “Ventura Highway.” WK As for the lyrics for “Purple Rain,” Prince initially reached out to Stevie Nicks, but she said, “I listened to it and I just got scared…I called him back and said, ‘I can’t do it. I wish I could. It’s too much for me.’” NME He also reached out to Journey’s Jonathan Cain when he worried the song sounded too similar to “Faithfully.” Cain decided the songs only shared a few chords and gave his blessing. NME
The song was originally an 11-minute opus that was whittled down to the eight-minute version on the album and then edited further for the single version. A verse and chorus were cut because their focus on money didn’t fit. NME The song “is a baptism, a washing clean of sins and a chance at redemption, even if the words don’t make any sense, (and to most people they don’t) the vastness of the arrangement, the grandiosity of the soloing, the pleading of the vocals reaches you, makes you cry, makes you feel free.” PF It is “one of the most affecting blues soul laments ever recorded” BBC and a fitting “tour de force” BBC to cap off a “rare critical and commercial success that justifies every scrap of hyperbolic praise.” BB
Notes: A 2017 reissue of the album included a remastered version of the original album, a disc of previously unreleased material from the era, a disc of singles and B-sides, and a DVD of a live 1985 performance.
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First posted 3/23/2008; last updated 8/22/2021.
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