Looking at Purple Rain one song at a time, we uncover a lot of what made this album tick, an expertly paced pop-music masterpiece about love, relationships, and voyeuristic women waiting in hotel lobbies ...
"Let's Go Crazy"
Having encouraged us two years earlier to accept that "Life is just a party and parties weren't meant 2 last," Prince started 1984 with a more defiantly optimistic sermon, suggesting that in life, "things are much harder than in the afterworld", and that our reward for enduring our current hardships would be to enter "a world of never-ending happiness." (Seriously: why were we so surprised when His Royal Badness "became" devout?)
More importantly, "Let's Go Crazy" -- the lead-off track to Purple Rain -- suggests that the best way to endure one's hardships is to rebel against the expectations and norms of our safe, sanitized society; essentially, Prince's message is the message of all good rock n' roll, which is ... well ... "let's go crazy." And make no mistake: Purple Rain is rock n' roll first and foremost; its opening salvo's guitar solo puts Slayer to shame.
"Let's Go Crazy" boasts that elusive sense of inevitability and completeness that only the greatest rock songs offer; who but Prince could yield such provocative, anarchic alchemy from so simple and unassuming a guitar riff? And who would dare to suggest that a single second of the song could be changed?
At its best, rock n' roll serves as a call-to-arms, even when the revolution in question is nothing more subversive or relevant than a suggestion to party. "Let's Go Crazy" is not shy about extending an invitation to the audience; its opening monologue, which reads as intimately as a "Dear Constant Reader" introduction from a Stephen King collection, addresses the listener in a warm and direct and empowering manner that went unmatched until Danzig's "Godless" in 1993, which itself sounds like something Prince could have written ("I ask all who have gathered here to join me in this feast ... may we always be strong in body, spirit and mind"):
We are gathered here today
2 get through this thing called life
Electric word, life
It means forever, and that's a mighty long time
But I'm here 2 tell U
There's something else:
A world of never ending happiness
U can always see the sun, day or night
The pop cultural landscape of today is a barren and exhausting place, inordinately enamored with irony. Nonetheless, for all the earnest optimism of its opening sermon, "Let's Go Crazy" was the freshest, coolest, trendiest sound of 1984, and yet it does not sound dated in 2009.
I knew in 1984 that Prince and his Purple Rain were special. I may have been only seven years old at the time, but I wanted to be Prince; no other performer inspired such adoration. Still, would I have predicted that Prince would boast such staying power and lasting relevance?
No. In an early episode of Family Ties, Mallory asked her mother if she was familiar with Purple Rain's opening track (which she mistakenly called "Let's Get Crazy"), and Elise quipped, "It was our wedding song," and had you asked me then, I'd have assumed that the canned sitcom laughter would probably be pop culture's last response to "Let's Go Crazy."
Instead, 25 years later, "Let's Go Crazy" still rocks, and Purple Rain is arguably the album of the '80s.
And I still want to be Prince.