Wednesday, June 25th, marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Prince and The Revolution’s Purple Rain. In honor of this, Deadshirt presents an entire week of art and essays that explore and celebrate one of the greatest albums of all time. Dig, if you will.
The spiritual successor to Funkadelic’s acid-trippy “Free Your Mind…and Your Ass Will Follow,” “Let’s Go Crazy” is the track that opens Purple Rain and is the very first bit of music featured in the film of the same name. The decision to start off the album and its accompanying movie with this song is a no-brainer; it’s a song calculated to get your blood pumping and loosen up those party muscles. “Let’s go crazy. Let’s get nuts.” These aren’t so much invitations from Prince as commands. As the song reaches its mile a minute, guitar wailing crescendo, we’re left exhausted but hungry for more. Really it’s the perfect Prince “sampler,” a raucous dance song that flirts with Christianity and sex while alluding to a whole lot more.
The song’s placement in the film is emblematic of just how fantastic Purple Rain (the film) is at incorporating music from Purple Rain (the album). An extended version of it plays as the film cuts between Prince performing the song, surprisingly dense micro-vignettes of Apollonia arriving in Minneapolis for the first time, and the weirdly vulnerable Morris Day as he vacuums his crummy apartment (a direct confirmation that Day’s later claims of enormous wealth and largess are all a front he puts up). It’s a quick scene that’s tasked with setting up the film’s crucial legs and “Let’s Go Crazy” gives the sequence exactly the kind of juice it needs.
The most striking thing about “Let’s Go Crazy” is the use of church aesthetics in the song’s opening. The listener is greeted with a blast of synthesized organ as Prince preaches from the pulpit of Rock N Roll. I say “aesthetics” here because while Prince has since written and performed his fair share of songs extolling the virtues of Christianity, “Let’s Go Crazy” is an artifact from his life pre-conversion and uses the concepts of Heaven and Hell as set dressing. Prince’s description of “The Afterworld,” for instance, comes off as deliberately trite and more than a little sarcastic: “A world of never ending happiness/You can always see the sun, day or night.” While some of the language is vague (no one seems to have a clear answer on whether “de-elevator” is just colorful wordplay or a Prince-imagined stand-in for The Devil that’s trying to bring us down) the gist of his sermon is loud and clear: Heaven can wait, it’s party time.
Although Prince was only 25 at the time of its recording, “Let’s Go Crazy” is a song surprisingly, overwhelmingly concerned with mortality. Lets take a look:
All excited but we don’t know why
Maybe it’s ’cause we’re all gonna die
And when we do, what’s it all for
Better live now before the grim reaper
Come knocking on your door
The lyrics, considered as a whole, paint a very profound portrait of Prince’s outlook on life at this point in time: in a world that offers only despair and the promise of death, the only way to deal, to “punch a higher floor,” is to party until you lose your mind. Its quasi-nihilist edge sneaks up on you, finally emerging once and for all in the singer’s desperate, unhinged scream of “TAKE ME AWAY!”. “Let’s Go Crazy” is an introduction to Prince the man and a song about the toll taken by a life lived in the moment disguised as a head bopping club jam. Purple Rain is an album bookended by two very similar songs, with “Lets Go Crazy” serving as the funky frantic alpha to the self-titled final track’s apologetic omega. And if “Purple Rain” is about lessons learned by a young artist, “Let’s Go Crazy” is a snapshot of the hard-living road he traveled and came to regret.
It’s telling that, in Prince’s recent work with sidekick cohorts 3rdEyeGirl, a heavily-reworked “Let’s Go Crazy” is the piece of his back catalogue that gets the most of his personal attention. The new version of the song, made thirty years later, forgoes the original’s biblical trappings and lightning pitch for a slower, stripped down hard rock sound. While Prince may have left past classics like “Darling Nikki” and “Erotic City” in his rearview, “Crazy” is an enduring and well-worn weapon in his repertoire that’s likely more relevant to the 56-year-old musician today than it was in 1983.
JoJo Seames is an illustrator, comic book artist and painter. Her projects include a webcomic adaptation of The Castle of Otranto, The Abettor’s Letters, Monster Plus and The Makeshift Man. You can follow her on Twitter, tumblr and DeviantArt.