Warner Bros. 25110
Producers: Prince and the Revolution
August 4, 1984
As the ’70s gave way to the ’80s, a multi-instrumentalist/singer-song writer named Prince Rogers Nelson had emerged from Minneapolis to become one of the most exciting and innovative new acts in years. Initially, Prince, whose music often combined rock-guitar instincts of Jimi Hendrix with the funk flavor of Sly and the Family Stone, was a hit with rock critics and cutting-edge music fans, but with his fifth album, 1999, Prince became a mainstream success. The two-record set, released in 1982, reached number nine and spawned the top 10 singles “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious.” Yet even the success of 1999 couldn’t have prepared the world for Prince’s next move, Purple Rain.
The album, which also served as the soundtrack to the film of the same name, began to take shape in the summer of 1983, at a concert held at 1st Avenue, a Minneapolis nightspot frequented by Prince. The concert was a benefit for the Minnesota Dance Theatre, but Prince had other things on his mind. Engineers David Rivkin and David Leonard recorded the show that night from the Record Plant mobile truck. Three of the songs recorded that night—”I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby I’m a Star,” and “Purple Rain” — would turn up on the album.
Thrilled by the experience of performing with his new band the Revolution and the spontaneity of a live setting, Prince opted to record additional tracks at a Minneapolis rehearsal space known as the Warehouse. “He said he wanted to record the whole band that night,” recalls Leonard, “There were no remote trucks, so I just had to put a console up on road cases and plug it in so they could record.” The result of that impromptu session was “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Computer Blue.” “Once we got set up, they just blew through it,” Leonard says.
By then, the film was also in production. “He was planning out the film and the album simultaneously in his head,” says Leonard. The film, a semi-biographical story of Prince’s rise from an unhappy home life to become a star, had Prince cast as “the Kid.” The film also featured several of Prince’s protégés, including Morris Day of the Time as the Kid’s arch rival, and Apollonia Kotero as Prince’s love interest.
The album, particularly the confessional “When Doves Cry” and the gospel-flavored title track, also delved into Prince’s life story. “It was a very personal album,” says engineer Peggy McCready, who was married to Leonard at the time.
With the film in production, Prince traveled frequently between his home base of Minneapolis and Los Angeles, where he mixed the live tracks, recorded overdubs, and laid down the additional songs “Take Me With You,” “The Beautiful Ones,” and “When Doves Cry.” The suggestive “Darling Nikki” was recorded in Prince’s basement. “The live recordings were the band,” says Leonard, “but Prince played most of the other stuff. He’s a genius,” Leonard adds. “He works really fast sometimes, but he would work all day and all night until a song was where he wanted it to be.”
One of the last songs recorded was “When Doves Cry,” a track for which Prince had big plans. “He wanted two boards together so he could have 48 tracks, which was something that he never did in the early days,” says McCready. As Leonard recalls, initially, Prince layered guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, and strings on the track. But in the final mix, Prince stripped the song down. “He took the bass out,” McCready says. “I remember him saying, ‘It will be real different. No one else will have the guts to do that,’ and he was right, because it became a hit.”
“When Doves Cry” wasn’t only a hit, it became Prince’s first Number One single on July 7, 1984. Four weeks later, with the single still at Number One, Purple Rain bumped Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. from the top spot on the album chart. And the Purple One’s reign had just begun — “Let’s Go Crazy” went on to top the Hot 100, while the title track reached number two, and “I Would Die 4 W reached number eight.
THE TOP FIVE
Week of August 4, 1984
- Purple Rain, Prince and the Revolution
- Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen
- Sports, Huey Lewis and the News
- Victory, The Jacksons
- Can’t Slow Down, Lionel Richie