Dig if you will the picture.
With a wicked snarl of guitar, two garish wooden doors swing open and startled doves flutter in confusion as we enter a long, purple-hued rectangular room. Flowers, mostly purple, are strewn about the floor as we glide closer to an old-school bathtub hazy with steam, the guitar giving way to a sparse electronic rhythm and a simple but hypnotic descending keyboard riff. A slight, striking, well-muscled man with a shock of dark curls calmly raises his head and turns a sensual stare directly toward us as we approach, his large, expressive eyes thick with lust. He languidly emerges from the tub like a God of Sin rising from his pool of desire, never breaking his penetrating stare directly into our souls by so much as a blink. He stands naked, a golden cross necklace gleaming on his chest, steam billowing around his head. Slowly his right arm rises to point directly at us, his hand opening for us to grasp, inviting and enticing us to come into his world.
We do. How can we not? The spell has already been cast. Prince captured millions in that moment, many of whom have never been able to escape his dominion, nor would they care to try.
“When Doves Cry” was the gateway to the Purple Rain universe: an album, a major motion picture, and a tour that dominated the pop culture landscape of 1984. The daring and dramatic single, a slow-building brew of simmering tension and searing cathartic release, debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 on 2 June 1984 at #57 and then jolted up the chart like a missile: #36, #17, #8, #3 and then, on 7 July 1984, it became Prince’s first number one hit. It reigned for five weeks at the top during which span its parent album was released to massive acclaim and sales, and the accompanying feature length film, such a risky endeavor for a company to take on an artist yet to consolidate his long-term mainstream appeal, became an instant smash.
Prince had envisioned Purple Rain as the project that would elevate him to the next tier of stardom, and that’s exactly what it did. The album spent an extraordinary 24 weeks at number one and has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide. Hailed by critics and fans, who rarely seem to agree on anything, the album is an electrifying rock/fuck hybrid that is passionate, bold, brazenly sexual and adventurous but still brimming with enough pop hooks to ensnare a large mainstream audience. Purple Rain is one of the cornerstone albums not just of the ‘80s, but in all of pop/rock history. Prince is gone now, but his music is forever, and at the core of his legacy Purple Rain will always stand as his signature triumph, a monument to his boundless talent and ambition.
Prince was a compulsive workaholic in the recording studio, often spending day after day with little sleep, writing and recording new music. Some of it he released in his lifetime, some of it he handed off to the numerous side projects he cultivated over the years, and a vast library of his recorded output — the famous Vault — remains unreleased. Prince’s catalog of officially released work is massive, but only represents a fraction of his lifetime of work. Fans have been aware of the Vault since the ‘80s, as slowly but surely unreleased studio material started to leak and trickle out onto bootlegs, often in poor sound quality. Prince has bragged about the Vault and its contents, and associates and collaborators with whom he worked over the years have confirmed that a massive hoard of songs on which they contributed remains unreleased.
Over the decades, dozens and dozens of songs have emerged to circulate among fans in varying degrees of quality (both in terms of sound and content), while others have remained sealed up and unheard by most. Fans have been pining for the floodgates to open and for Prince to unleash the Vault material in a series of box sets or multi-disc expanded reissues of his studio albums for many years, but with a few exceptions Prince was not interested in satisfying those cravings. He always looked forward, focused on whatever his project of the moment might be.
Complicating matters has been his distrust of record labels and the music industry mechanics in general, which rendered it extremely difficult for his back catalog to be properly upgraded as technology has changed over time. Prince’s relationship with Warner Bros. Records, the label on which he released most of his classic albums, turned bitterly contentious in the late ‘80s and into the early ‘90s and remained frosty to the very end.
Fans have long been resigned to the realization that the visions of expanded reissues teeming with gems from the Vault in pristine sound quality that have been swimming around their heads like sugar plums were mere daydreams unlikely to ever come to fruition. Most major artists with a long history of landmark albums have by now been subject to lavish reissues, often including treasures of previously unheard material. Carefully curated archival projects and reissue series have been released for artists like Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, the Beatles and many others. Even artists with far lesser pedigrees than Prince (and, let’s face it, that includes most everybody) have mined their catalog for often beautifully produced reissues. That has not been the case for Prince, much to his fans’ eternal frustration. His catalog has for years been the most neglected of any major artist in pop/rock history.
As the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain rapidly approached, speculation (and more than a little wishful thinking) intensified that perhaps there was a chance that Prince would relent and work with Warner Bros. to celebrate his beloved masterpiece. Finally, in April 2014, Warner Bros. announced the news that Prince fans had been anticipating for many years: a deluxe reissue of Purple Rain would be released that summer in conjunction with its 30th anniversary, followed by a new studio album by Prince that the company would distribute and promote. Details were sparse, but Warner Bros. promised “long-awaited, previously unheard studio material” as part of the reissue and that future projects would follow. In return, Prince would retain the rights to his master recordings, a goal he had been working toward for many years in his often bitterly antagonistic feud with the media giant.
Prince fans, though, have learned through experience not to allow their excitement to fully blossom until the product is actually in their hands, and for good reason. A long trail of promised projects that have never seen the light of day extends far back throughout Prince’s career. As the 30th anniversary came and went with no announcement of a reissue, it seemed obvious that things had gone awry once again. Warner Bros. followed through with their promise to release and distribute new Prince music — two new albums in fact, both released on 24 September 2014: Art Official Age, an excellent collection of slick electronic funk/pop and one of Prince’s finest albums of the latter stages of his career, and the less impressive PlecetrumElectrum, an edgier rock-oriented collaboration with his backing band 3RDEYEGIRL. Both albums reached the Top 10 as die-hard fans eagerly snatched them up, but with haphazard promotion and no support from mainstream radio, they shared the fate of other recent Prince albums and faded quickly into obscurity.
The promised Purple Rain reissue, however, never materialized, and fans were left once again to wait and wonder. Prince at one point tweeted cryptically that the reissue had been turned into Warner Bros. and that the ball was in their court. That turned out to be true, but not the whole story. Prince finally delivered the remaster, but only of the main album. He refused Warner Bros. the top-tier Vault material they requested, and the company balked at releasing a single-CD reissue with none of the unreleased tracks they had promised in their press release.
Then two years later, in April 2016, the unthinkable happened. Prince’s sudden death from an opioid overdose rocked the music industry and sent millions of fans reeling. After the initial shock subsided, Prince’s heirs and his associated record labels began complex negotiations regarding the disposition of his massive back catalog and priceless Vault of unreleased material. While still mourning his death, fans began to speculate that perhaps now there was a chance that Prince’s full music legacy might finally be revealed.
Six months after his death, in October 2016, Warner Bros. and representatives of Prince’s estate announced that a 2-CD hits collection titled 4Ever would be released in November of that year, and in early 2017 the long-delayed Purple Rain reissue would follow. It seemed with Prince’s death his famous Vault was finally being pried open, yet fans greeted the news with anticipation mixed with trepidation. We’d been down this path before. 4Ever appeared as promised, but as 2017 stretched on with no word about the Purple Rain reissue, fans began to wonder if yet another disappointment loomed. Finally, in late April 2017, their worries were put to rest: the Purple Rain deluxe reissue, with a full disc of unreleased studio material and a remastered version of the original album supervised by Prince before he died, would be released this summer.
The set finally hit retailers on June 23 in multiple formats. The deluxe edition contains three CDs and a DVD — the original album remastered, a disc of previously unreleased material from the Purple Rain era, a disc containing all of the album’s single edits, B-sides and 12-inch extended remixes, and the first ever DVD release of a performance from 30 March 1985 in Syracuse previously available back in the ‘80s on VHS as Prince And The Revolution: Live. A 2-CD edition with just the remastered original album and unreleased material is also available, along with a newly remastered vinyl edition with a silvery reflective cover.
So of course the big question remains: is it everything fans had hoped? Well… no. Of course, it was never going to be possible to please everybody, but this project has every sign of being a hastily thrown-together stop-gap release. The album itself remains a masterpiece, and while the reissue has some jaw-dropping moments of greatness on the disc of previously unavailable tracks, the package as a whole falls well short of the definitive expanded edition of Purple Rain than an album of it’s indisputably exalted stature deserves. That said, perhaps with detachment we can acknowledge that this may be the best we could have expected under the circumstances, and that perhaps in the future a more satisfying exploration of this incredibly important era of Prince’s music will be unveiled.
As for the current release — how can something be so amazing and so frustrating at the same time? Prince fans know the feeling well — it’s the territory they’ve tread for 40 years. The music itself, of course, remains nothing short of staggeringly brilliant, and a full disc of previously unreleased material is a treasure that fans have been lusting after for decades. It seems churlish to object in any way… and yet, the remaster is botched, and the disc of unreleased material is an awkward and haphazard sampler that seems to represent what Warner Bros. had readily available to them than a carefully curated archival of Prince’s Purple Rain-era recordings.
Warner Bros. has hyped this collection as “Prince’s final word on his definitive masterpiece” — an easy claim to make considering Prince is no longer with us. The new reissue is dubbed the “2015 Paisley Park Remaster supervised by Prince”, which is a sly attempt to imply Prince was manning the controls himself when in reality he simply foisted the project onto Josh Welton, husband of Hannah Welton, drummer of Prince’s backing band at the time, 3RDEYEGIRL. Welton collaborated with Prince on the outstanding Art Official Age, but when handed a more prominent role on 2015’s HITNRUN: Phase One the result was the single worst album of Prince’s career.
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Giving the keys of his ultimate classic to such a studio novice was such a Princely move — surely a finger in the eye of Warner Bros. and a not-so-subtle shrug that the project meant little to him and was only being done to allow wider distribution of his new music. Perhaps it’s not so surprising given Prince’s apparent indifference to the appalling state of his back catalog, and ultimately it’s his creation and was certainly his decision to make. That said, to those who hold music as personally vital, it’s shocking that Prince chose to entrust a masterpiece so important to so many people, a cultural touchstone of monumental importance, to an amateur rather than allowing a top-tier pro to treat it with the reverence and careful attention it deserves.
Again, though, it’s not surprising — surrendering control of his work to someone from outside his purple bubble and not firmly flattened under his finely-formed thumb is something that was simply not in Prince’s DNA. Prince was undoubtedly great at many things, but perhaps his greatest flaw in regard to his music is that he did not appreciate his own limitations. The Purple Rain remaster is a shining example of that short-sightedness. Welton no doubt tried his best but the end result is nothing short of unlistenable.
Welton’s remaster is a brickwalled disaster, harsh and brutal on the ears. It is undeniably far louder than the original CD pressing, which may make it seem to pop out with more clarity (especially on subpar audio equipment), but Welton destroyed the music’s dynamic range in the process. It’s a huge wasted opportunity. All one needs to do is compare the sound on Disc One, Welton’s work, with the unreleased material on Disc Two or the single versions on Disc Three — both remastered by Bernie Grundman, one of the best in the business — to understand why a true professional was needed for this project. Load Disc One and Disc Three into your CD player, cue up “Let’s Go Crazy” or “Take Me With U” on both, and compare Welton’s travesty with Grundman’s work and the difference is painfully obvious.
The vinyl pressing is marginally better than the CD, but is still lackluster. If you have the 2009 reissue of Purple Rain on vinyl in your collection or, better yet, a clean copy of the original 1984 pressing, there is absolutely zero reason to buy the new vinyl edition unless you’re enamoured by the cool silvery cover. The new remaster doesn’t even register on the scale when compared to some of the highest quality reissues in recent years like the stunning series from Peter Gabriel, for instance, or the phenomenal new pressing of Radiohead’s OK Computer. The lavish attention to detail and lovingly produced reissues in recent years by the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Bob Dylan, David Bowie and others all blow Purple Rain out of the water, and it’s not even close. It’s an embarrassment.
A Fiery Meteor
Of course, the music itself is timeless and remains as powerful and compelling as when it hit like a fiery meteor 33 years ago. “Let’s Go Crazy” opens the album (and the film) with a dramatic whirl of Matt Fink’s keyboard and Prince intoning his famous opening speech: “Dearly beloved / we are gathered here to get through this thing called life!” It’s a bold and dynamic opener, an electrifying pop/rock/funk hybrid sparking with energy. “Let’s Go Crazy” revisits a theme that Prince would explore over and over again during his career, and in fact one particular line might be the ultimate summation of his music in its entirety: “You better live now before the Grim Reaper come knocking on your door!” Indeed. Of course, “Let’s Go Crazy” is particularly notable for its breathtaking finale, a blistering guitar freakout capped by Prince’s hot-blooded shout of “take me away!” Even all these years later it’s a sonic wallop that’s like a jolt of pure electric adrenaline right into the heart. As the album’s second single, “Let’s Go Crazy” followed “When Doves Cry” straight to number one for two weeks in September 1984, and it remains one of his most widely-loved tracks.
The last song to make the cut on Purple Rain is “Take Me With U”, a sparkling pop confection that Prince recorded in late January 1984 but not included on the album until a few months later. The song was intended for Apollonia 6, the Purple Rain companion album written and performed by Prince with vocals by the all-female trio, including leading lady Apollonia Kotero, featured in the movie. Prince realized that he needed a strong pop tune for Purple Rain, so only a few months prior to the album’s released he cut sections of “Computer Blue” and “Let’s Go Crazy” to make room. The track is ostensibly a duet with Kotero, although her voice is actually a blend with Lisa Coleman, who sang the guide vocal on Prince’s original recording, along with Jill Jones. “Take Me With U” appears in the film during one of its happier sequences, as Prince drives his new lady friend (fresh from her Lake Minnetonka purification) around the Minnesota countryside on his purple motorcycle. Released as the album’s fifth and final single in late January 1985, the track reached #25 in the US.
A complete solo recording, “The Beautiful Ones” is a breathtaking rock ballad with one of Prince’s greatest vocal performances, a delicate falsetto that erupts into wildly impassioned screams during the fiery climax. It’s followed by the much-abbreviated “Computer Blue”, a wicked dose of funk that grew out of a jam session with the Revolution and includes a stunningly beautiful guitar solo based on the recurring “Father’s Song” motif. It blends right into the propulsively sexual “Darling Nikki”, a solo recording by Prince about a one-night tryst that caused a frenzy of pearl-clutching from the likes of Tipper Gore for its supposedly pornogrpahic lyrics (which by today’s standards, or even by the standards of some of Prince’s earlier material, are actually fairly tame).
Prince’s scorchingly bitter masterpiece “When Doves Cry” was the final track recorded for Purple Rain, a wholly solo performance laid down at Sunset Studios on 1 March 1984, only 11 weeks prior to it being released as the project’s first single. “When Doves Cry” is an exercise in minimalism with no bass line at all, and from the 0:36 point to 1:07 — when a slithery keyboard riff appears — the only instrument backing Prince’s taut vocal is the Linn drum machine. The tension builds in a slow boil of barely controlled desperation and anguish until finally erupting into a catharsis of blazing guitar and brain-searing screams. Prince twists the atmosphere of sexual tension tighter and tighter as the song grooves towards its sonically innovative finale of slippery keyboards and shimmering vocal harmonies.
“When Doves Cry” is 5:54 of gripping melodrama, a stunning display of emotional and musical dexterity that remains arguably Prince’s crowning artistic achievement. Helped by its visually striking video that introduced the Revolution to a wider audience and acted as an incredibly effective trailer for the upcoming film, it became the biggest hit of Prince’s career, logging five weeks at number one. “When Doves Cry” was the fuel that launched Purple Rain to the meteoric success that forever changed Prince’s life and career, and its impact rippled through the music industry in massive waves still being felt today.
“I Would Die 4 U”, a tightly-wound barrage of synths over a kinetic rhythm, segues right into “Baby I’m a Star on the album as well as in the film. They were also performed back-to-back on the Purple Rain tour, and over time the two songs have become intrinsically linked. They are the two oldest compositions on the album, dating from at least as far back as 1981, and both were recorded live with the Revolution in August 1983 during the same performance at First Avenue in Minneapolis that yielded the album’s title track. Released as the album’s fourth single, “I Would Die 4 U” reached #8 in early February 1985. “Baby I’m a Star” is a hard-charging funk raver, a bold declaration of Prince’s self-confidence that became a showstopper in the film and when performed live. Even when it was written, Prince obviously had no doubt that he would capture the massive success that he sought, and of course he was right.
“Purple Rain” itself is, of course, an epic that demonstrates the true power of rock ‘n’ roll at its emotional best like few other recordings in history. “Purple Rain” is a magnificent anthem, an electric hymn that remains as wrenching and potent as ever. This is the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll dreams, with a stunning vocal drenched in genuine longing and spiritual intensity, a chorus that will get an entire arena singing along and waving their arms in endless moments of the kind of unforgettable human connection that only music can provide, and that soaring, ferocious guitar solo that pierces straight to the heart no matter how many times it’s played. “Purple Rain” is Prince defined, an unparallelled talent blazing across the sky in a spectacular flash of purple fire that eventually flickered, burned out and was quenched by the very humanity and vulnerability that made a song like this possible in the first place.
Pure, raw, authentic, unmatched… “Purple Rain” is a song for the ages. In the liner notes, Lisa Coleman says of the recording of “Purple Rain”: “Each person had a specific role in the production of his or her part. It was like dancing together… We were at our best, and like a test of a good dance, we could slow dance really well.” Indeed they could.
While long-time fans know every moment of the Purple Rain album by heart thanks to endless listens over three decades, the big draw of the deluxe reissue for most is the second disc, the collection of previously unreleased studio material drawn from around the same time period as the album itself. Given the excitement generated by the release on last year’s hits compilation 4Ever of “Moonbeam Levels”, a much beloved 1999-era outtake that has been circulating on bootlegs since the ‘80s, it’s hardly a surprise that the anticipation among fans for an entire disc from the Vault has been feverish.
It’s immediately clear upon listening to Disc Two that this is not in any way representative of a careful mining of Prince’s Vault or a comprehensive archival project covering the Purple Rain era with any great substance or depth. That said, anything different would have been shocking. The legal turmoil surrounding the disposition of Prince’s music is still ongoing and it will be years before these complicated contractual issues are completely resolved, and a competent team of experts can be assembled and charged with the vast task of managing Prince’s recorded archives, cataloging, restoring, and compiling them into the type of top-tier release that his music demands and fans should expect.
These songs, while clearly released in collaboration with Prince’s estate since the reissue is labeled NPG Records along with Warner Bros. and the family members are thanked in the credits, do not in any way represent the cream of the Vault. There is little doubt that these are recordings that Warner Bros. had in their possession, for which there could be numerous reasons. It seems highly likely, given the song selection, some of the versions used and some of the key tracks circulating among collectors that were omitted, that the sources for these songs are not original masters.
Despite this, Bernie Grundman has them sounding absolutely fantastic. Prince had nothing to do with their selection or compilation, and it seems highly unlikely that he ever would have approved their release. That said, given its status as the best that could be done under the current set of realities, Warner Bros. and the team behind this set did a superb job presenting a very good single disc of outtakes with what they had to work with. And let’s face it — the official release of ANY unreleased Prince track from the Vault is cause for celebration. A couple tracks are clearly scraping the bottom of the barrel, although nothing on the disc is without value. It’s an odd assortment of songs, but still deeply fascinating from start to finish, and there are moments of absolute purple ecstasy.
The disc opens with “The Dance Electric”, an 11-plus minute funk workout that Prince eventually donated to his longtime associate André Cymone, who released his version — essentially Prince’s solo recording with Cymone replacing his vocal — as the first single from his 1985 album A.C.. It reached the Top 10 on the R&B chart but was ignored by Top 40 radio. Unfortunately the version here is missing the razor-sharp guitar solos slicing through the hot funk and Wendy & Lisa’s backing vocals which are present on the version that has been circulating on bootlegs for years — presumable because either Warner Bros. didn’t have access to that mix (most likely), or because those parts were added later, which would take it too far out of the Purple Rain time period. The version included here feels naked in comparison, yet it’s still a smokin’ track, a heavily rhythmic showcase for Prince’s enormous gifts working the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer.
On 27 February 1984, three days before recording “When Doves Cry”, Prince laid down another solo recording, “Love and Sex”, in a single day. Prince delivers a manic, throat-shredding vocal over hyper-jittery funk layered with synths and multi-tracked vocals. “Love is Sex” is more a groove than a fully-realized song, but is carried by Prince’s irrepressible energy. Unlike most multi-instrumentalists who play most (or all) of their own stuff, Prince manages to inject the excitement and chemistry of a tight-ass band performance into a solo recording.
To make room for a late addition to Purple Rain, “Take Me With U”, Prince took the axe once again to a song that had already been edited multiple times, “Computer Blue”. Perhaps the single most exciting track included on Disc Two, the 12-minute “hallway speech” version of “Computer Blue” is something fans have been yearning to hear in pristine sound quality for many years. They finally can. This full version of the song renders the album version to the equivalent status of a horribly butchered single edit. The official track is a malnourished snippet compared to the full cosmic funk glory exhibited here. As with the full version of “Let’s Go Crazy” on Disc Three, this is the version of “Computer Blue” that should have been on the album (and of course that would have required a 2-LP set).
This is Prince at his electrifying best, with some key assists from Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin. “Computer Blue” rocks and funks and seethes and erupts, all the while containing a stunningly gorgeous middle section based around the guitar solo using the “Father’s Song” melody featured so prominently in the film. Fans who have not heard the bootleg of this mix that has been bouncing around the interwebs for many years are going to be blown away when they hear this. It’s interesting that Warner Bros. used the fan vernacular “hallway speech” label as part of the official title. It’s one of several examples of the keen awareness exhibited by the set’s creative team (led by Michael Howe) of just exactly what tracks have been bootlegged and how fans feel about them and discuss them.
The same awareness is shown with the ballad “Electric Intercourse”, on which the producers specify as the “Studio Version”, knowing that a live recording of the song has been bootlegged endlessly for many years. This studio recording, though, is one of the set’s great revelations. It’s a stunning vocal, with Prince ending each ascending falsetto line of verse with a quavering layered effect that’s strange and enchanting. Unlike most of the selections on Disc Two, “Electric Intercourse” was a serious contender for inclusion on Purple Rain, and the basic track was recorded during the same performance on 3 August 1983 at First Avenue in Minneapolis (the famed club depicted in the film) as “I Would Die 4 U”, “Baby I’m a Star” and “Purple Rain”.
The song was ultimately dropped in favor of an even stronger balled, “The Beautiful Ones”. Prince undoubtedly made the right choice as “The Beautiful Ones” is clearly the superior song (and it works better in the film), but “Electric Intercourse” has a unique vibe of surreal sexuality. Had Purple Rain been a double album (not likely given the risk Warner Bros. was already taking with the money poured into the film, and also given the fact that Prince’s last release 1999 was a double album), then there might have been a place for it. As it is, the studio version “Electric Intercourse” has languished, gathering dust, for 33 years until being unearthed for his project. It’s emergence is love overdue.
”Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden” is presented as a two-song suite, although they really don’t fit together particularly well. It seems an odd pairing. “Our Destiny” is a dreamy pop song with vocals by Lisa Coleman (Jill Jones also recorded a gorgeous version). It’s lovely, and yet feels underdeveloped despite a shimmery string arrangement, part of which would later be recycled on the “The Ladder” for Around the World in a Day. Better is part two, “Roadhouse Garden”, a trippy pop song that’s a solo recording by Prince (with some added vocals by Wendy & Lisa). Both tracks were recorded long after Purple Rain was finished, so their inclusion here is somewhat of a mystery as they fit stylistically and chronologically more with Around the World in a Day. Also, the merging of the two songs (already so awkward that it’s hard to imagine Prince would ever have considered them releasing them in such a fashion) is botched — there is an audible click at the 2:53 point as the tracks transition.
Amazement and Frustration
Opening with a banshee wail of sexual frustration, “Possessed” is a James Brown-inspired eight-minute electro-charged funk jam that Prince and the Revolution often performed on the Purple Rain tour. Although a snippet of the song was used in the film, there was clearly no room for “Possessed” on the album, although it would have been a logical addition had Purple Rain been stretched to LPs. As it is, “Possessed” has been bootlegged but otherwise has languished in obscurity for three decades. It’s a treat for Prince fans to finally have this gem in outstanding sound quality, given the generally sound-quality of the versions circulating. An earlier version with the Revolution was recorded during the summer of 1983, but the recording here is a completely different Prince solo take from March 1984 (despite the erroneous claim in the liner notes that this is the 1983 version).
One of the most widely-bootlegged previously unreleased tracks in Prince’s catalog is undoubtedly ”Wonderful Ass”. A slinky pop/funk groove with pulsing riffs of synth and wickedly funky guitar, “Wonderful Ass” is undoubtedly one of the set’s highlights. Several different versions of the song are known to exist, although the song has never definitively been linked to any particular album. Prince’s basic track was recorded in 1983 and Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman later added guitar, keyboard and vocal parts, and the song has sometimes been included on bootlegs proclaiming to cover the 1985/86 period associated with The Dream Factory. Whether or not the song was ever considered for Purple Rain is unknown and its inclusion here is a bit questionable as it was at least partially recorded long after the album’s release, but it fits stylistically and it’s such a sexy funk nugget that it works quite well.
Unfortunately, the next two tracks are less impressive. ”Velvet Kitty Cat” and ”Katrina’s Paper Dolls are both simplistic solo recordings by Prince, recorded in early 1983 and presumably intended for the second Vanity 6 album (which was canceled after Vanity exited the Princely universe). Both are slight ditties of that type that Prince could churn out by the dozen. They sound like half hearted demos, and while they are cute enough, and might be appropriate for inclusion on a much more comprehensive and extensive box set, their presence here is one of the strongest indications that Warner Bros. compiled this disc with material readily available to them and that there was no extensive mining of Prince’s archives for the cream of the Purple Rain-era material for this project. All that said, even these bits of sonic fluff are fascinating in their way, and any unreleased studio material from Prince that sees the light of day can only be a good thing — just not at the expense of other, superior material that remains sealed away on a shelf in Minnesota.
Holidays in Princeworld were much like any other day, as Susan Rogers relates in the essay introducing the deluxe edition. She describes how, as Christmas Eve 1984 turned into Christmas Day, she and Prince stayed in the studio alone working on two tracks for his next album, “The Ladder” and “Tamborine”. It was much the same nearly a year prior, only in a much warmer locale, and Prince was in a sex-obsessed mood as shocking as that may seem. As New Year’s Eve 1983 — a year that saw Prince break through to a large new audience which major mainstream hits “1999”, “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious” — wound into the first day of 1984, a year in which Prince would triumph on a level nobody could possibly have imagined, the musician was holed up at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles working with Rogers on ”We Can Fuck” (a day prior he had recorded perhaps his most famous b-side, the lustful classic “Erotic City”).
The track was later reworked for possible inclusion on Crystal Ball several years later, but wasn’t officially released until 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, re-purposed as “We Can Funk” and bedecked with an much more elaborate vocal arrangement and guest vocals by George Clinton. The raw scalding funk of this 1983/84 version is much leaner and edgier than the final release. The fiercely intense sequence from the 3:50 point until 6:10, as Prince ratchets up the simmering sexual tension inch by inch with an increasingly fierce vocal that finally builds into orgasmic screams of release, is as viscerally pulse-pounding as anything else Prince ever recorded. Unfortunately “We Can Fuck” is marred by finger-cymbals high in the mix that clink annoyingly for its entire ten-plus minutes, rendering it practically unlistenable in headphones unless you enjoy nails scratching burrows down the length of a chalkboard.
The final song on Disc Two is a melody that recurs throughout Purple Rain, most notably in the scene during which Prince’s character The Kid discovers a stash of sheet music written by his father in the film who, like Prince’s own father, was a musician. “Father’s Song”, also used as the key guitar solo melody in “Computer Blue”, is actually based on a melody written by Prince’s father John L. Nelson, who is granted co-writing credits. The studio recording presented here, over five minutes in length, is a revelation (although it seems doubtful that this oddly-mixed version was a final product). Beautiful and chilling, “Father’s Song” is pure heart and emotion. It’s Prince at his essence, revealing the beauty always lurking inside his music, the pain and passion.
Yes, there are a long list of higher quality and more historically important songs from the period that remain in the Vault and are sadly not on this collection, presumably because Warner Bros. does not yet have access to them. By and large, the disc of unreleased material is a blistering collection jammed full of classic Prince. If we are to go down the road of what-could-have-been, the possibilities are undeniably enticing, but right now that’s a pointless exercise. The lawyers must have their say, and then perhaps some serious work can be done on a truly comprehensive collection. There is certainly no shortage of material with which to work.
Disc Three contains all of the single edits, 12-inch extended remixes and B-sides for all the Purple Rain singles. The single edits are largely useless (particularly the butchery of “Let’s Go Crazy”) and redundant as nearly all of them were included just last fall on the 4Ever hits compilation. Still, it’s nice to have them all compiled in one place, and the disc includes such lesser-known tunes as the full version of the blues-rocker “Another Lonely Christmas”, the b-side to “I Would Die 4 U”, as well as the lovely eight-minute instrumental “God (Love Theme From Purple Rain)”, a song heard in the film and previously only available on the U.K. pressing of the “Purple Rain” 12 inch vinyl single. Also welcome are two of Prince’s most beloved b-sides, “17 Days” and “Erotic City”. Another gem that might be only known to die-hard is the ten-minute extended 12-inch single version of “I Would Die 4 U”, snipped from an even longer 30-minute jam recorded live during a rehearsal session in the fall of 1984.
Watching the DVD, filmed live in Syracuse in March 1985 as the long Purple Rain tour was winding toward its conclusions, transports us fully back into a singular universe, one that only Prince could have created. Rock, funk, sex, big hair and ruffled shirts, imagery of flowers and doves and artsy masks — the imagery associated with the album is as iconic as everything else, and helps fill in the colors on a cultural tsunami that steamrolled 1984. The performance itself is electrifying, the Revolution a tightly-focused unit rehearsed to a fine funk/rock machine by the always-perfectionist Prince. The man himself delivers a blazing performance. Watching him here in his youth, his fire, the pure intensity and audacity of his stage presence, performing one powerhouse song after another, is a sharp reminder of how amazing he truly was at his best. Yeah, the video is a little grainy, but the sound is terrific.
The packing on the set is another area where frustration battles with absolute delight. The deluxe edition comes in a cheap four-panel digipak from which the discs easily fall out. The essay written by the great Susan Rogers to introduce the set, one of the true unsung heroes in Prince’s career, is fantastic. Rogers was the engineer on the majority of Prince’s most important albums, and she worked with him closely on Purple Rain. The commentary by each member of the Revolution for each track of the main album is also excellent reading — informative, funny, candid and poignant.
That said, it would have been nice to have more information on each previously unreleased track in the liner notes — some commentary from Rogers, for instance. The credits for these tracks are also riddled with inaccuracies, including wrong recording dates and credits for who appears on a song. Two examples: “We Can Fuck” is listed as a solo Prince recording with vocal and musical contributions by Wendy & Lisa, but it’s clear that Jonathan Melvoin plays the finger cymbals and oud, and the backing vocals sound more like Jill Jones. The recording date for “Possessed” was March 1984, not May 1983 as the booklet indicates.
The most unforgivable lapse in quality control (apart from Josh Welton’s ghastly sonic butchery on Disc One) are the glitches in the music, of which there are several. There is an inexcusable drop-out at the beginning of the extended remix of “Erotic City” that is a serious blot on Disc Three, as is the botched edit on “Our Destiny”/”Roadhouse Garden” and an error at the 3:33 point on the extended “Computer Blue” that is so obvious it’s hard to imagine how it was not corrected before release. These type of lapses are inexcusable given the stature of the album and the artist, and the fact that this is the first major archival project since Prince’s death. The lack of attention to detail on these factual and sonic errors is stunning.
The bottom line on the deluxe reissue of Purple Rain — while we couldn’t have expected a truly comprehensive collection (yet), this is simply just not good enough. It’s a thin layer of asphalt on a massive pothole of neglect. There seems to be a prevailing attitude among some that we’re lucky to get anything and we should be satisfied just to have something. And yet — why should Prince’s catalog remain the single most shamefully neglected by any major artist in pop rock history?
Millions of fans the world over have devoted enormous time, money, energy and emotion into Prince and his music, and in particular Purple Rain. Too many millions of records and singles and CDs bought and played, too many concert memories to cherish, too many late night viewings of Purple Rain and getting choked up at the end during that always-emotional performance of the title song. Too many posters on walls, magazines, t-shirts, staying up for hours watching MTV waiting for “When Doves Cry” or “Little Red Corvette” in an era that didn’t have the instant gratification of YouTube or being two smart-phone clicks away from any video you want to watch, instantly. Too much bonding with other fans, many of whom, like Prince himself, are now gone, and many more will be gone before experiencing their musical equivalent of nirvana, a full exploration of the Vault. Too many hours tracking down any recorded tidbit no matter how poor the quality and dreaming of hearing it in good sound, too many years spent wishing that somehow, someway the doors would be opened. Does any of that mean anything? The music, Prince’s legacy, the fans, and history all deserve much, much better.
Hopefully once the estate gets settled and all the lawyers and family members have hammered out the best way to make their money, and the label issues are resolved — and it will happen eventually, there is simply too much money on the line — we will get a truly definitive version but it may be years down the line. Miles Davis’ exhaustive sets via Columbia, or the phenomenal Bob Dylan Bootleg Series archival releases, are the standard to which Prince’s archival released should be held. These collections are exquisitely compiled in stunning audio clarity with careful research undertaken and presented in superb packaging… while Prince fans get Josh Welton’s take on Purple Rain and a disc full of the leavings that Warner Bros’ was able to cobble together. The fact that these previously unreleased tracks are still largely brilliant is a testament to Prince’s extraordinary talent and the quality of what he recorded during this era, yet as of now it’s still an era that remains largely unexcavated and preserved. That must change, and hopefully it will.
Amazement and frustration — two feelings Prince fans know well. Prince is gone, and despite his own ambivalence about his recorded past, care must be taken to preserve and present his back catalog with the highest standards in the industry. This deluxe reissue is worth picking up for the unreleased tracks, but in the end it’s just a sad, small gesture that does little to reflect the greatness and importance of Purple Rain and what that album represents. Is this truly the “Ultimate Collector’s Edition of Purple Rain” as the hype sticker on the package indicates? Let’s hope not. Maybe someday… words that are somewhat of a mantra for Prince fans.