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.
By Brandon Soderberg
All right, now look. Shit changes and nostalgia is always an ugly and pointless endeavor, and music was neither better nor worse now than it was in 1984 when Prince dropped Purple Rain on our brains, but stuff was, well, just inarguably different.
See, kiddos, in the early ’80s it was a still common to listen to a record all the way through, over and over again, for a few reasons. First, there wasn’t the instant, on-demand access to most of recorded pop music that the Internet has enabled. Second, the act of dropping a decent amount of dough on a cassette or record meant you were held hostage by it and nearly forced to enjoy it, experience it, and figure it out, even if it maybe kind of stunk. With incredible albums like Purple Rain, it encouraged the exploration of endless caves of sonic eccentricity just below the surface. It’s also why even superficially “meh” stuff that you probably passed up at the Goodwill last weekend, like Mike + the Mechanics’ 1985 self-titled album, Club Nouveau’s Life, Love, & Pain, or Rick Astley’s Whenever You Need Somebody (which OMG, is so much more than the album that’s got “Never Gonna Give You Up” on it) turn out to be bafflingly solid 37-39 minute collections of soul-pop if you sit with them long enough.
All of this also counters the idea that the ’80s were primarily an era of antiseptic mainstream pablum that is best forgotten, but hopefully you’ve already seen through that rhetorical load sold to you by rock dads who came of age in the ’60s and ’70s. Those same dads are why the genius of Prince, even if it is a universal truth that only the most curmudgeonly guitar-worshipping dickforz (‘What’s a dick for,’ you ask? Got you, dad!) refuse to acknowledge, went from a hotly-debated assertion to just something taken for granted. A gender-fucking little man who could shred and craft Art&B and be kind of reclusive and play all kinds of “real” instruments and also make a wonderfully terrible Hollywood musical does not compute. Better to acknowledge it and then keep it moving. We’ve got a conventionally macho, dickhead white man guitar G-d canon to uphold, now don’t we?
Prince is one of the most recognizable pop stars ever, and somehow, he’s still underrated. How’d that happen?
So, back to my point, which was something or other about the little details on records (especially great records, from the hey-day of records) that grab your ear on maybe the twelfth or twentieth time you hear them instead of the first, keeping the song interesting long after the cheap thrills of sturdy songwriting and catchy hooks have grown old. And “Take Me With U” has one of the best weird-ass-things-on-a-big-record in Prince’s catalog: those breezy Beethoven-symphony-on-speed strings that scrunch up and then expand and complete themselves. (It happens first after Prince sings “It’s calling out your name” and then consistently after that.) It’s actually the catchiest part of the song. The chorus is nice, but it’s intentionally buried by too many ideas and is rendered kind of irrelevant by the strings. They swing through the track over and over again, leaving some empty space you subliminally desire to be filled, and so Prince leads you on, teases you, seduces you, not completing the string swing good and proper until a minute and ten seconds into the track, after you hear the hook for the first time. It has the maddening effect of making the hook unsatisfying, because it hasn’t actually assisted the song in going full circle. This string thing completes the circle.
OutKast, obvious disciples of the Purple One, would extend this aural cocktease concept on “The Way You Move,” never ever giving you the final horn stab you desire. Notice that “The Way You Move” has three stabs after “I like the way you move” is crooned (doot, Doot, DOOT) instead of the far more fulfilling four (doot, doot, Doot, DOOT). A whole generation’s still waiting for the fourth honky horn! Prince hates hip-hop or whatever because everybody’s a moron on one topic or another, even Prince (he’s actually a moron on a lot of topics, including women, Christianity, and file-sharing but hey), though you gotta imagine he could appreciate that kind of subtle earworm fuckery if he opened his own ears enough.
An inventory of other weirdness coursing through “Take Me With U”: the drum fill-packed intro that sounds like it could be the theme song to Step by Step or some shit; all of those acoustic guitars strummed and strummed and strummed into a wall of pleasantness, resulting in a kind of ambient hum; that the vocals seem to come in mid-song, without much context, like the first verse was lopped off; the humble brag qualities of the “I don’t care if we spend the night at your mansion”; the odd drone that rings through the final twenty seconds. I could go on, but an auteurist sex bomb like Purple Rain is full of these things. Go listen for yourself. For the thousandth time.
Brandon Soderberg is a Contributing Writer for SPIN and the Special Issues editor of the Baltimore City Paper. His favorite Prince song is “Another Lonely Christmas” because it’s one of those rare Xmas songs that’s good all year round.