Assaulting the throne of the 80s

By Sergio Ariza

Prince's career was built gradually until ‘the final assault’ of Purple Rain. Prince was first seen as the heir to Stevie Wonder with his first two albums; then Dirty Mind was his critical consolidation, 1999 his first massive success and later came Purple Rain, the definitive peak of his career, which consolidated him as a pop star with a success similar to that of Michael Jackson or Madonna and as the most important musical figure of the decade. With an image, and a spirit, someway between Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix and Mozart, the diminutive genius of Minneapolis made the world surrender at his feet and people like Clapton and Bowie declared him to be the most important figure of the 80s.  

Purple Rain
was the album in which Prince gave free rein to his particular vision of the 60s, from that pop delight that is Take Me With U, a clear antecedent of the wonderful Raspberry Beret, to the tribute to his beloved Hendrix in the tittle song, through to the psychedelia of When Doves Cry. That does not mean that this is a 'retro' album, but that it sounds 100% Prince. There is a reason that the author of 1999 is one of the most original and unclassifiable musicians of all time, someone able to deliver one of the wildest guitar solos in history on Let's Go Crazy and then caresses the ears with the delicate The Beautiful Ones.

Let's Go Crazy
opened both the album and the movie; and he could not have chosen a better presentation card. It has an organ like the one heard at funerals, accompanied by a kind of ‘praise for life’ from Prince. Then the song takes off like a rocket until it gets to two incredible solos in which the artist formerly known as the fucking master of the 80s showed that he could look direct in the eye at any of the 'shredders' that populated the decade. But apart from his incredible speed, Prince also put feeling, making each note important; and not just a simple demonstration of technical expertise. In the first solo he uses the whole arsenal of his beloved Boss pedals, including with certainty the BF-2 Flanger, while in the second he also uses the Dunlop Crybaby Wah, which produced possibly one of his most crazy (and remembered) solos.

Then comes the irresistible pop melody of Take Me With U, a song that linked him to the sixties aromas of the Paisley Underground scene (in a couple of years he would give the fantastic Manic Monday to the Bangles). The Beautiful Ones is an R & B ballad in which Prince caresses every word. While Computer Blue has a nasty riff and a brilliant instrumental bridge in which he again shines on guitar. Even though he never chose it as a single, Darling Nikki gained fame when Tipper Gore, Al Gore's wife, moved heaven and earth until she was able to add the label that we all saw now on album covers: "Parental Advisory Explicit Content ", due to its explicit lyrics.

The second side opened with When Doves Cry, one of the strangest pop singles in the history of music, and also one of the best. A song that opens with a distorted psychedelic solo, in which he uses the Boss OC-2, and gives way to a Linn LM-1 rhythm box on which Prince sings the melody. There is no bass, or almost no other adornment, yet it is absolutely irresistible, in the end the guitar returns, its Hohner (a cheap copy of a Telecaster), with another sublime piece full of distortion in which you can hear all the pain of the lyrics, giving way to a single ending with a synthesizer that, of course, is also moving. With Baby I'm A Star he brings out his funkiest side, without forgetting the totally irresistible chorus.

But the best comes at the end, with what has been considered the best song of the decade for Pitchfork, Eric Clapton's favorite song in all history and a classic that has seen covers by practically everyone. From Bruce Springsteen, with a splendid solo by Nils Logren, to Etta James, from John Petrucci to Jeff Beck, from Dwight Yoakam to Beyoncé and from David Gilmour to Ritchie Sambora & Orianthi, thousands of musicians have surrendered to its charms. Purple Rain is his most heartfelt tribute to the 'Wild Blue Angel', or what is the same, Jimi Hendrix. Prince channels the legendary guitarist’s vibe and delivers his most remembered song in a live take recorded on August 3, 1983; the first time that rhythm guitarist Wendy Melvoin, 19 years old, played live with The Revolution, the Prince’s backing band. Melvoin plays the chords with her heavily modified purple Rickenbacker 330, but it is Prince who ends up shining with his incredible and melodic solo, alternating fast phrases with repeated and easily hummed notes that make Purple Rain one of the great songs in history. Although in the film of the same name Prince appears playing his mythical Cloud guitar, most of the album, including this song, was recorded with his Hohner Telecaster, designed by H.S. Anderson, possibly connected to one of his beloved Mesa / Boogie Mark II amplifiers.

The album and the film (with which he won an Oscar for his soundtrack) made him a mega-star, with his five singles turned into world hits and more than 25 million copies sold worldwide. Its position as the most popular album of his career was confirmed when a month after the sad news of his death, on April 21, 2016, the Top Ten Rock Billboard charts contained four songs from this album, with the title song, how could it be otherwise, at number one.