Friday Feature: Prince on Film
The Second Disc reader Robert Altman was predicting the future when he suggested a week devoted to Prince a few days ago. Prince – one of the most polarizing and intriguing figures to ever saunter onto the pop music scene – deserves reams (or gigabytes, in this case) written about his music and its impact, and The Second Disc promises to deliver in that regard. From this Friday to next Friday – going right through Prince’s 52nd birthday on Monday – TSD will present a few features on Prince’s music, impact and relative lack of catalogue presence.
Today, it makes sense to start with a Friday Feature, devoted to the three films Prince starred in and the soundtracks they spawned. Hit the jump to start lookin’ for the purple banana ’til they put U in the truck.
Part I: Dearly Beloved…
When Prince got the idea to make his own movie, he had every reason to consider it. His “Triple Threat” tour, featuring his own band plus killer protegees Vanity 6 and The Time, was a top critical draw. The album he was promoting, 1982’s double LP 1999, was a hit as well, not only with R&B and soul fans but traditional pop and rock listeners (the same crowd that, only a few years before, would pelt him with fruit during his opening slot on a Rolling Stones tour). Gradually, he began to work with director Albert Magnoli and writer William Blinn in constructing a semi-autobiographical tale of a musician (“The Kid”) fighting for love and recognition in the competitive Minneapolis music scene. Ever the Svengali among his peers, Prince whipped his cast into shape, treating members of his new band The Revolution and the members of The Time to acting and choreography lessons. He also penned a plethora of songs for the project, many of which were road-tested and recorded at an education benefit concert at the First Avenue club in the Twin Cities. (The show, the first with guitarist Wendy Melvoin, actually proved successful enough to provide the basic tracks for several of the final songs from Purple Rain, which were inevitably overdubbed.)
Part soap opera and part extended music video, Purple Rain was a smash hit with teenagers all over the country, grossing more than $64 million during its theatrical run. At one point, Prince held the pole position at the box office and both album and single charts simultaneously. And what an achievement. Despite the obvious flaws in the acting and plot (except the charismatic Apollonia Kotero, who replaced Vanity after she broke up with Prince), the film is still pretty watchable (more so than Prince’s other two films, but more on that in a bit). It was perhaps the first great example of the MTV style translating into another visual medium, and there’s a bizarre balance of wacky gags (thanks to Time leader Morris Day and his ridiculous hetero-life-partner Jerome Benton) and pathos (Prince’s The Kid struggles to get along with most of the women in his life, from frustrated band members Wendy and Lisa to Apollonia, who becomes an unwitting victim of his violence and rage).
But come on: the real success lies in that soundtrack album. While it doesn’t feature all the hits from the movie (refer to The Time’s Ice Cream Castle or the Apollonia 6 LP for those), it is nine tracks of taut pop, rock and soul that is only flawed in that there is not more of it. (Blame it on a late-in-the-game track list shift that added “Take Me with U” – possibly the weakest of the album but still awesomely upbeat – at the expense of portions of “Computer Blue.”) A deluxe version of this record would be beyond welcome, not only for the many B-sides but a handful of known outtakes and ephemera that surfaced in the process (the full-length versions of “Computer Blue” and “Purple Rain,” the unusual track “Modernaire” by Prince’s ex-guitarist Dez Dickerson, the hauntingly gorgeous piano tune “Father’s Song” which forms the bridge section of “Computer Blue,” tons of others). Perhaps a release of Michel Colombier’s synth-driven incidental score could happen, as well.
What follows is a look at all of the released goodies put out by Prince himself during the Purple Rain era.
Prince and The Revolution, Purple Rain (Warner Bros. 1-25110, 1984)
- Let’s Go Crazy – 4:39
- Take Me With U (Duet with Apollonia) – 3:54
- The Beautiful Ones – 5:15
- Computer Blue – 3:59
- Darling Nikki – 4:15
- When Doves Cry – 5:52
- I Would Die 4 U – 2:51
- Baby I’m a Star – 4:20
- Purple Rain – 8:45
B-sides and Remixes
There were five hit singles spun off of Purple Rain. The first, chart-topper “When Doves Cry,” spawned one of Prince’s best B-sides ever, the chugging breakup ballad “17 Days” (Warner Bros. 7-29286, 1984). Follow-up single “Let’s Go Crazy” had an even bigger B-side, “Erotic City,” (Warner Bros. 7-29216, 1984), which actually cracked the lower reaches of the Billboard Hot 100. “Purple Rain” (obviously edited for the 45) had an ethereal track on its flip side called “God” (Warner Bros. 7-29174, 1984) (the only B-side that was actually heard – albeit briefly – in the movie). “I Would Die 4 U” (slightly remixed on 7″) had another killer rock ballad, “Another Lonely Christmas,” to back it up (Warner Bros. 7-29121, 1984), but last single “Take Me With U” only used an edit of “Baby I’m a Star” on side B (Warner Bros. 7-29079, 1985).
When it came to 12-inch singles, there were a few choice remixes and rarities. The “Let’s Go Crazy” single featured a “Special Dance Mix” – the seven-minute version heard in the final film – and a longer version of “Erotic City (Make Love Not War Erotic City Come Alive”) (Warner Bros. 0-20246, 1984). “Purple Rain,” which featured the full LP version on the 12″ single, had a longer version of “God” billed as the “Love Theme from ‘Purple Rain'” (Warner Bros. 0-20267, 1984). And the maxi-single of “I Would Die 4 U” had not only a longer “Another Lonely Christmas” but a 10-minute live rehearsal version of the single recorded with the touring version of The Revolution (including guitarist Miko Weaver and others) (Warner Bros. 0-20291, 1984). (Bootleg enthusiasts will recall that this version of “I Would Die 4 U” – which can test your patience halfway through – was cut down from a half-hour recording!)
Fortunately, many of these extra tracks can be found on CD. All the 7″ versions of those B-sides were included on the third disc of Warner’s The Hits/The B-Sides compilation (Warner Bros. 9 45440-2, 1993). A German CD single (Warner Bros./Paisley Park 7599-21185-2, 1989) featured both long versions of “Erotic City” and “I Would Die 4 U.” And the long “Let’s Go Crazy” was on the second disc of the excellent Ultimate Prince compilation (Warner Bros. R2 73381, 2006). Unfortunately, Prince himself vetoed a wider release of the longer “Erotic City” on the very same set.
Part II: Act Your Age, Not Your Shoe Size
Prince followed up Purple Rain with the semi-psychedelic Around the World in a Day in 1985, an underrated but not spectacular LP. Before long, he was prepping another film project – but to call this a follow-up to Purple Rain would be a bold-faced lie. Under the Cherry Moon was a bizarre attempt at an art piece, where Prince and Jerome Benton play dandy swindlers in 1920s France. It was in black and white and featured almost no direct musical performances, and was directed by Prince himself after music video Mary Lambert was fired after creative differences.
To put a positive spin on things, one of the reasons Cherry Moon may have been so turgid is that Prince was too busy concentrating on one of the most productive creative periods of his career. During 1985 and 1986, when the film was ultimately released, Prince began work on a myriad of projects, including not only Parade, the soundtrack to the film, but the aborted Dream Factory and Crystal Ball opuses and early versions of Camille and The Black Album (of course, almost all of those projects were shelved in one way or another, but much of the material made a proper release in 1987 called Sign ‘O’ the Times, which was an instant classic). And the resultant Parade LP was actually really darn good, bolstered by a fuller band setting (more contributions by band members abounded, which was ironic since Prince disbanded The Revolution not long after) and some killer singles. Most notable of all, of course, is “Kiss,” an otherworldly funk jam built on guitar and drum machine (like “When Doves Cry,” the song conspicuously lacked a bassline) – but don’t count out tunes like “Anotherloverholenyohead,” the James Brown-esque “Mountains” (bolstered by horn players Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss), the exuberant title track and the bittersweet ballad “Sometimes It Snows in April.” Much like any of Prince’s records, Parade deserves a revisiting on CD (though I’d argue that most of the outtakes would sound better in a 1986-1987 box set of sorts).
Prince and The Revolution, Parade (Paisley Park 1-25395, 1986)
- Christopher Tracy’s Parade – 2:11
- New Position – 2:21
- I Wonder U – 1:40
- Under the Cherry Moon – 2:57
- Girls & Boys – 5:30
- Life Can Be So Nice – 3:12
- Venus De Milo – 1:54
- Mountains – 3:58
- Do U Lie? – 2:43
- Kiss – 3:38
- Anotherloverholenyohead – 3:58
- Sometimes It Snows in April – 6:50
B-sides and Remixes
Only one of Parade‘s singles could match the success of any of the hits from Purple Rain: the spare funk of “Kiss.” The original single, which had a slightly longer running time thanks to a funky playout at the end, was backed by the jam “<3 or $” (Paisley Park 7-28751, 1986). Follow-up single “Mountains” – easily one of Prince’s most underrated tunes, had an instrumental, “Alexa de Paris,” on the B-side (Paisley Park 7-28711, 1986). Thanks in part to the failure of Under the Cherry Moon, the next singles (“Anotherloverholenyohead” in the U.S., “Girls & Boys” elsewhere) were stiffs too, merely backed with LP tracks.
Extended versions were abundant, though: “Kiss,” “Mountains” and “Anotherloverholenyohead” (Paisley Park 0-20516, 1986) all got extended on vinyl (in each case, the original LP version followed by a killer jam session), and “<3 or $” (Paisley Park 0-20442, 1986) and “Alexa de Paris” (Paisley Park 0-20465, 1986) did too. Regrettably, few of them are readily available; the long “Kiss” was included on Ultimate Prince, and the short “<3 or $” was released on iTunes as part of a digital 45 version of its famous A-side.
Part III: Your Problem is You Got Too Many Problems
While Prince continued to commercially stumble through the rest of the 1980s (except in Europe, where he only got bigger after Purple Rain), someone put a terrible idea in his head: a Purple Rain sequel. I suppose it made sense enough, but the finished product was a shambles: written and directed by Prince, The Kid was now a nightclub owner in some fantasy version of Minneapolis (shot entirely on soundstages in his Paisley Park complex) competing with The Time’s increasing influence over the nightclubs in the area and struggling to keep his faith intact with the help of a bizarre muse (played by singer-poet Ingrid Chavez, who is perhaps most famous for suing Madonna over writing credits for “Justify My Love”). As plot-free as Purple Rain may have seemed, it was as though Graffiti Bridge was stitched together with drug trips and music videos. (The greatest one-sentence denunciation of the film is this: Madonna – the star of hits like the Swept Away remake and Body of Evidence – turned down the film based on its awful script.)
What makes Graffiti Bridge doubly and triply ridiculous is that such a terrible film spawned an actually fantastic soundtrack that was a mishmash of other aborted Prince tunes. Seriously. “Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got,” “Joy in Repetition” and “We Can Funk” were holdovers from the Crystal Ball era. All The Time’s tracks were from a shelved comeback LP from 1988 called Corporate World (“The Latest Fashion” was actually reconstructed from another track of theirs, “My Summertime Thang.”) “Elephants & Flowers,” “Melody Cool” and “Still Would Stand All Time” were taken from an aborted 1988 record, Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic, which also was utilized in part for Prince’s Batman soundtrack a year later. “Tick, Tick, Bang” was actually demoed nearly a decade before. And so on. (Only “Thieves in the Temple,” added very late in the game, was kind of new.) Most of the ideal tracks that would expand Graffiti Bridge are Prince-produced tracks for other artists (most of which exist in demo form and are mostly inferior to what ended up on the record), but a remastering might be nice someday.
Prince, Graffiti Bridge (Warner Bros./Paisley Park 1-27493, 1990)
- Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got – 4:24
- New Power Generation – 3:39
- The Time – Release It – 3:54
- The Question of U – 3:59
- Elephants & Flowers – 3:54
- Tevin Campbell – Round and Round – 3:55
- Prince and George Clinton – We Can Funk – 5:28
- Joy in Repetition – 4:53
- The Time – Love Machine – 3:34
- Tick, Tick, Bang – 3:31
- The Time – Shake! – 4:01
- Thieves in the Temple – 3:19
- The Time and Prince – The Latest Fashion – 4:02
- Mavis Staples – Melody Cool – 3:39
- Still Would Stand All Time – 5:23
- Graffiti Bridge – 3:51
- Prince featuring Mavis Staples, Tevin Campbell, Robin Power and T.C. Ellis – New Power Generation (Pt. II) – 2:57
B-sides and Remixes
There were almost no non-LP tracks on any of the singles released from Graffiti Bridge, which is odd for two reasons: 1) this is Prince we’re talking about, and 2) there were five singles released off this album. Of course, only two of them were real hits. “Thieves in the Temple” led the pack and broke the Top 10; an extended version and a pair of house mixes were included on the 12″ single (Paisley Park 0-21598, 1990). “New Power Generation” stiffed thanks to the failure of the film, although it included a remix and a song cycle (terrible raps by T.C. Ellis and future New Power Generation member Tony M., an embryonic version of “Get Off” and two others) (Paisley Park 0-21783, 1990). Three non-Prince singles were released; only “Round and Round,” by impishly talented then-youngster Tevin Campbell went anywhere (No. 2 R&B, No. 12 Pop). It too had nothing but dance remixes on its 12-incher (Paisley Park 0-21740, 1990). Same went for Mavis Staples’ “Melody Cool” (Paisley Park 0-21748, 1990) and The Time’s “Shake!” (Paisley Park 0-21817, 1990). All were released on CD but are unsurprisingly out of print (but not impossible to find on Amazon and the like).
As for the films themselves, all are available on DVD, and actually possess some intriguing bonus features (all come with their respective music videos, but Purple Rain has a set of new, engaging documentaries – all released, naturally, without The Purple One’s input).