Collection: 1. Prince and the Revolution - Purple Rain

It all poured out of him faster than he could put it onto tape. He was not a perfectionist, contrary to belief; Prince could not wait on perfection. If Purple Rain was to be his masterpiece, it needed to have the spark of a live show, to have the hits to fill the arenas, to pleasure the audience that would spy into his personal life in the semi-autobiographical movie of the same name. So Prince worked up to 24 hours at a time in the studio—writing, recording, programming, and playing. Rehearsals with his new band, the Revolution, could last until sunrise.

Prince learned something about the connections between sound and color from listening to Joni Mitchell, and it was “A Case of You,” the tipsy ballad from her 1971 album Blue, that he chose to cover when he debuted more than half of the songs from Purple Rain live on August 3, 1983, in Minneapolis. That show served as the framework for an album so rich, it could become whatever the listener desired: black music, white music, spiritual sustenance, sexual fantasy. No longer just a cult R&B singer, Prince now had the ear of an ever-growing audience with the success of “Little Red Corvette,” and he didn’t want to lose them. So he gave them more glammy guitars and turned the Revolution into a machine that could execute these enormous songs with the lithe feel of a scrappy funk band.

Purple Rain was omnivorous in how it absorbed the pop and rock music all around Prince in the early ’80s and refracted it through a brilliant prism. Here was this five-foot-three black man from the Midwest who could conjure a gossamer falsetto that grew into a storm on “The Beautiful Ones.” His voice could shape-shift, catching the spirit like James Brown or issuing an avian call to the dancefloor, as could his Telecaster: It blares, it cries, and it serves as an extension of his body as he shreds an icy solo on “Computer Blue.” At full boil, the record is a full endorsement of gospel music and arena-rock ambition—a strange cosmology formed by his conservative Christian upbringing and his proclivity for wearing heels and assless body suits.

Prince spoke to the people during a decade that prided itself on aspiration, sex, and money; from his pen came coy flourishes of romantic scripture and sub-dom fantasies told as casually as a chat over beers. On “Darling Nikki,” he told off the conservative Moral Majority with just a woman, a hotel lobby, and a magazine. And then there’s the closer, the timeless “Purple Rain”: a savior perfumed in petrichor, giving pop music its velvet baptism. Most of what you hear of the song was recorded live at that sweaty and smoky club in Minneapolis, a blinding and momentary flash that singed the essence of Prince into one hymn—the star and artist, giving everything at once. –Jeremy D. Larson /

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