By Sam Bleazard
“Dearly beloved…we are gathered here today to get through this thing called, life…”
“…and if de-elevator tries 2 bring u down, go crazy…punch a higher floor!”
Whether heard on the opening track of 1984’s multi-million selling movie soundtrack LP, or at the start of the globally broadcast Live in ’85 concert from Syracuse, New York – these were the words that turned pop culture Purple. Rock, funk, electro and new wave, androgyny, and a whole new sound crossed into the global consciousness – and all emanating from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Heard 33 years on, along with the classic album itself, you get a bonus disc of long anticipated out-takes and rare songs from the fabled Paisley Park vault, but also the first ever DVD release of the closing concert from the Purple Rain live tour.
Hard to believe that Prince fans felt this list barely scratched the surface of what could have been released from the period. The album, but more specifically the song ‘Darling Nikki’, was responsible for Tipper Gore’s movement to introduce Parental Advisory stickers on new releases. As a collection it still retains its taut fresh sound – never better realised on the bleak claustrophobic beats of When Doves Cry. It’s not all studio trickery and innovation of course, with Prince reviving the spirit of Jimi Hendrix on both the Gospel driven hard rock funker Let’s Go Crazy and stadium anthem Purple Rain itself. So much so that when guitar hero Eric Clapton saw the movie – struggling with both drink and drugs problems at the time – he described it as something of a revelation and wrote the song ‘Holy Mother’ as a result. Many will have memories of the period, but for two summers in 1984 and ’85 the world did seem to have more of a purple hue, and pop music would never be the same.
Inevitably the best music is on the album itself, not least because large parts of the basic tracks were lifted from a late 1983 concert at First Avenue in Minneapolis (the club that appears in the movie). Purple Rain the song is effectively a live track with a verse edited and some minimal overdubs. It’s also virtually the first time the song was ever played live, with Prince trusting his instincts by putting this raw first take down as the album’s definitive statement. In fact the closing triplet of I Would Die 4 U, Baby I’m A Star and the title track are all performances from that small club gig on a hot August night in First Avenue. An impassioned ballad called Electric Intercourse was also premiered at the concert, here the studio version is included on the disc of extras – it was eventually replaced by The Beautiful Ones on the original release.
Take Me With U is the sound of summer, a classic feel good pop duet (originally written for girlfriend Vanity, and also considered for pop starlets The Bangles), while the combination of The Beautiful Ones, Computer Blue and Darling Nikki is the weirdest and most compelling scream of passion that only Prince and The Revolution could deliver.
As part of the package you also get all of the 7 and 12″ single cuts and b-sides recorded at the time. This disc is worth checking out for the angst and melancholy of 17 Days, Another Lonely Christmas (Slade it is not) and the P-Funk inspired Erotic City, restored to its full seven and a half minute glory here. The vault disc is the most curious part of the package in that you hear a diverse collection of previously unheard material, with fully realised extended tracks – check out the rage expressed on the 12mins+ version of Computer Blue – but also some very demo-ish sounding ideas such as Katrina’s Paper Dolls. Did the world need to hear it? Would Prince have released it himself? You get the suspicion it’s unlikely, but there are also some real gems included from his collaborations with band members Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin. Our Destiny / Roadhouse Garden and Wonderful Ass (yup it really is that simple), are clear highlights, and point to the more psychedelic and experimental direction Prince was headed with future albums Around The World in a Day and Parade.
Sex is a key theme of all of the material, and nowhere is that more apparent on the concert DVD included. Every hard driven rocker, ballad or extended jam seems to be part of an elaborate carnal bedroom sermon. But it being the 80s it’s all eye-liner, lace, frills and Revolutionary outfits from the dress up box of Adam Ant and the English new wave scene. Occasionally you see during the performance that audiences of the time fully entered into that spirit as well. The highlights of the concert are the opening blitz of Let’s Go Crazy, Delirious, 1999, Little Red Corvette and Take Me With U. The middle section hasn’t aged as well (with more than its fair share of self-indulgent meandering), but check out the electrifying nod to James Brown theatrics on ‘Possessed’. The opening is matched and exceeded in performance terms by the closing 45 mins however, as The Revolution did when testing out their new material on the Minneapolis faithful, they close with extended versions of I Would Die 4 U, Baby I’m A Star and the definitive 19 minute version of Purple Rain itself. Contrary to what’s often written about Prince’s best solo of all time, on While My Guitar Gently Weeps at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, in reality that looks like throw away show-boating compared to this. It’s a truly soaring and inspired performance from an artist at the top of his game. Essential. Much as he no doubt planned it, even in death, Prince continues to surprise and confound.