Purple Rain (song)

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"Purple Rain"
Purple-rain-cover.jpg
US 12" single
Single by Prince and The Revolution
from the album Purple Rain
B-side
  • "God"
  • "God" (Instr.) (UK 12")
Released September 26, 1984
Format
Recorded Live, First Avenue, Minneapolis, August 3, 1983, Overdubs, Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, Mid August-Mid September, 1983
Genre
Length
  • 7" edit: 4:05
  • Album/12": 8:41
Label Warner Bros.
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s) Prince and the Revolution
Prince and The Revolution singles chronology
"Let's Go Crazy"
(1984)
"Purple Rain"
(1984)
"I Would Die 4 U"
(1984)

"Purple Rain" is a song by Prince and The Revolution. It is the title track from the 1984 album of the same name, which in turn is the soundtrack album for the 1984 film of the same name, and was released as the third single from that album. The song is a combination of rock, R&B, gospel, and orchestral music. It reached number 2 in the United States for two weeks,[5] behind "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" by Wham!, and it is considered to be one of Prince's signature songs. It was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in 1984, shipping one million units in the United States,[6] and was certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry in 2013.[7]

Following Prince's death in 2016, the song rose to number one on the US and UK iTunes Charts, allowing "Purple Rain" to re-enter the Billboard Hot 100 at number 17, later reaching number four.[8][9] It also re-entered the UK Singles Chart at number 6,[10] making it two places higher than its original peak of number 8.[11] Originally peaking at number 12 in France, "Purple Rain" reached number one on the national singles chart.[12] In the United States, it has sold an additional 1.18 million copies after becoming available as digital downloads.[13]

Composition[edit]

"Purple Rain" was originally written as a country song and intended to be a collaboration with Stevie Nicks.[14] According to Nicks, she received a 10-minute instrumental version of the song from Prince with a request to write the lyrics, but felt overwhelmed. 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.'"[15] At a rehearsal, Prince then asked his backing band to try the song: "I want to try something before we go home. It's mellow." According to Lisa Coleman, Prince then changed the song after Wendy Melvoin started playing guitar chords to accompany the song: "He was excited to hear it voiced differently. It took it out of that country feeling. Then we all started playing it a bit harder and taking it more seriously. We played it for six hours straight and by the end of that day we had it mostly written and arranged."[14]

Prince's explanation of meaning[edit]

Prince explained the meaning of "Purple Rain" as follows: "When there's blood in the sky – red and blue = purple... purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god guide you through the purple rain."[16] The title track of Prince's preceding album, 1999, included similar references to a doomed ending under a purple sky ("...could have sworn it was Judgment Day, the sky was all purple...").

Song structure[edit]

"Purple Rain" opens with a lone guitar quickly followed by live drumming and a prominent Yamaha CP70 Electric grand piano, evoking images of church gospel music. Three verses are each followed by a chorus, with a building emotional delivery. In the context of the film, each verse ties into a different strained relationship Prince's character has and his desire to reconcile. The song is dedicated to his father in the movie, not ex-girlfriend Denise Matthews better known as Vanity. After the final chorus, a guitar solo takes over the song. The song ends with a piano solo and orchestral strings. Prince's vocal range spans from the low note of F3 to the high note of A5.[17]

Recording[edit]

The song was recorded during a benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theatre at the First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis on August 3, 1983. The performance was guitarist Wendy Melvoin's live debut with The Revolution, at the age of 19. City Pages described the 70-minute performance as Prince's "sweatiest and most soulful hometown concert yet", and drummer Bobby Z stated, "it certainly was one of the best concerts we ever did".[18]

The concert was recorded by David Rivkin (a.k.a. David Z, brother of Bobby Z) using a mobile recording unit brought in from the Record Plant in New York City, staffed by engineers Dave Hewitt and Kooster McAllister.[19] David Z's connection to Prince is deeper than most professional relationships. David's older brother Cliff Rifkin was the regional promotion executive for Warners in Minneapolis, who also expedited Prince's label signing. David Z's younger brother, Bobby Z, would then become Prince's drummer in the Revolution. David Z wasn't surprised when he was requested to set up the live recording in August 3, 1983, "With Prince, you never knew, " he says. "I thought we were recording a concert, but I wasn't sure if it was going to be a record, too. I knew they were working on the movie as, as well. You just had to go in prepared to record whatever it was going to be as well as you could."[20] The basic tracks for three songs were used on the Purple Rain soundtrack: "Purple Rain", "I Would Die 4 U", and "Baby I'm a Star". Prince performed overdubs while working at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles from August–September 1983. A solo and the third verse from the original recording were edited out, changing the length from eleven to eight minutes.[18] The extra verse was about money, but was removed because it diluted the emotional impact of the song.[citation needed]

After recording the song, Prince phoned Jonathan Cain from Journey to ask him to listen to it, as he was worried that it might be too similar to "Faithfully", a Journey single composed by Cain which had recently been in the charts. Cain reassured Prince by telling him that the songs only shared the same four chords.[21] Lisa Coleman created the string arrangement, played by her brother and friends, that was overdubbed into the song in a studio in Los Angeles.[14]

Performances[edit]

The song was a staple of Prince's live performances. He played it on nearly every tour since 1984, except for a period after his name change when he avoided his older hits for a few years. At Super Bowl XLI's halftime show, in which he was the featured performer, "Purple Rain" was featured as the last song of his set and was, appropriately, played during a downpour at the stadium, which when combined with the purple stage lighting created the song's signature image. Prince performed the song as the opening of a medley of his hits with Beyoncé at the 2004 Grammy Awards, and also at the 2006 Brit Awards. Purple Rain ended up being the final song Prince performed live during his final concert in Atlanta, Georgia on April 14, 2016.[22]

As a single[edit]

For release as a single, the song was edited down from 8:45 to 4:05.

The B-side, "God", is a much more overtly religious number (Prince's most religious), recalling the book of Genesis. The song also features extensive vocal experimentation. Towards the end, Prince mentions "The Dance Electric", which was a song given to former band member André Cymone. In the U.K., the 12" single also included an instrumental of "God", also known as "Love Theme from Purple Rain", an edited portion of which appears in the film.

Reception and legacy[edit]

The song ranked number 144 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Q magazine placed it at number 40 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks, and Pitchfork named it the best song of the 1980s.

The song is also included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.[23]

Personnel[edit]

  • Prince – lead vocals, backing vocals, lead guitar and other instruments
  • Wendy Melvoin – rhythm guitar and backing vocals
  • Lisa Coleman – keyboards and backing vocals
  • Matt Fink – keyboards
  • Brown Mark – bass and backing vocals
  • Bobby Z. – drums and percussion
  • Novi Novog – violin and viola
  • David Coleman – cello
  • Suzie Katayama – cello

Track listing[edit]

7"[edit]

  • A. "Purple Rain" (edit) – 4:02
  • B. "God" – 3:59

12"[edit]

  • A. "Purple Rain" – 8:45
  • B. "God" – 3:59

12 " (UK)[edit]

  • A. "Purple Rain" (long version) – 7:05
  • B1. "God (Love Theme from Purple Rain)" (instrumental) – 7:54
  • B2. "God" (vocal) – 3:59

Shaped picture disc (UK)[edit]

  • A. "Purple Rain" (edit) – 4:02
  • B. "God" – 3:59

7" promo (US)[edit]

  • A. "Purple Rain" (edit) – 4:02
  • B. "Purple Rain" (edit) – 4:02

7" promo (UK)[edit]

  • A. "Purple Rain" (radio edit) – 4:19
  • B. "Purple Rain" (long radio edit) – 5:37

12" promo (US)[edit]

  • A. "Purple Rain" (edit) – 4:02
  • B. "Purple Rain" (LP version) – 8:45

Charts and certifications[edit]

References[edit]

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