That Purple Day in August a Prince Blew Up
The soundtrack to the movie “Purple Rain,” hit the shelves in June of 1984. By August 4 the soundtrack hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100. That was almost exactly one year after a now-famous 1983 First Avenue show, where he debuted the title track. We’ll come back to that part in a second.
The “Purple Rain” soundtrack would hold that first place spot for 24 weeks, finally ceding to Bruce Springsteen (of all acts). By then, Prince’s star was already fixed in space.
It wasn’t like Prince was a nobody before that. When Purple Rain hit the shelves in 1984, he’d enjoyed success as a solo artist since 1978. Hits like “Little Red Corvette,” and “1999,” did well enough on the charts (peaking at 6 and 12, respectively).
He didn’t need a movie, and he didn’t need the Revolution. The fans did, though. So did Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Purple Rain, the album but also the movie, thrust Prince into the spotlight as a legitimate albeit controversial talent. It also put Minneapolis on the musical map.
The 1999 album didn’t do so well at first, but two standout tracks helped. The title track, “1999,” was the first hit single. It promised a future which seemed so far away at that time.
It was only 1982, two years shy of George Orwell’s dystopian “1984,” and this a guy suggesting we party like it was the last year of the millennium.
The same way fans of Orwell imagined the future world of the 80s with Big Brother and all that technology, Prince forced listeners to imagine a party to end all parties: New Year’s Eve of 2000.
It was a genius roll of the dice. If “1999” was any kind of success, he could expect to cash in again at the end of the next decade.
Then, from the same album, he dropped “Little Red Corvette.” It was funky and it was naughty.
Both songs appeared on the new cable station, MTV, featuring Prince. At that time, few artists in the United States saw the money spent on music videos as a viable investment.
Most of what was on there were European pop bands, Duran Duran, Pet Shop Boys, that sort of music. Prince stood out as not only an American artist but a black one at that. There were no other black performers on MTV at the time.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that he could shake his booty and play the guitar too.
In 1983, Prince performed a concert at the now-famous Minneapolis nightclub, First Avenue. It wasn’t the first or last time. He was a regular. The explosion of Prince and the movie “Purple Rain,” was directly connected to First Ave’s long-term success.
That night in 1983, he played a benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theater. Anyone who knew him expected to hear hits from 1999. They did, plus a whole batch of new songs he was working on for a new album.
During that show, he and his band, The Revolution, performed a 13-minute cut of the title song from their upcoming album. At the point, there was a whole third verse, something about money that wouldn’t make the final cut.
Although nobody knew what would come of these songs, that night proved influential to their eventual application.
For the soundtrack versions of any least two songs, “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star,” producers would source what they recorded at that show.
When the “Purple Rain” soundtrack hit, it was the first most knew about Prince’s backup band. The anomalous band was a collection of instrumentalists who played with Prince for a time. They weren’t some band-for-hire he employed to record the album.
Some of the band members, like Bobby Z, the drummer, Prince had played with since 1978. As an interesting side note, Wendy the guitarist (as in “Wendy? Yes Lisa. Is the water warm enough?”) first played with the band at that 1983 First Ave show. She was only 18 at the time.
Why Prince decided to brand the band as Prince and The Revolution on “Purple Rain,” is somewhat of a mystery. It wasn’t like he needed a backup band. The movie features the band as part of the story, so presumably, they made the album cover as part of the marketing plan for the album.
The name Revolution checked out though. For Prince, and for the unknown talent of Minneapolis, “Purple Rain” brought record contracts to the neighborhood locals affectionately call the mini apple. (Cute, right?)
In the years after that, Prince would open one of the largest recording studios around, Paisley Park. Local acts like Soul Asylum and Husker Dü suddenly had money. It was all thanks to Prince and the Revolution… and the subsequent revolution.
To Spin Magazine, Paul Dickerson, a guitarist for the band The Time (featured in the movie), said this:
“Prince was the game-changer. One of the reasons the area had always been cover-band-dominated was there wasn’t a template of ‘Do this, put together a showcase, get A&R people.’ Nobody knew anything about that. So there was no label presence until Prince. Once that happened, people started coming in.”
In the end, the music and a pushy Prince drove the movie to happen. The movie reciprocated, driving Prince’s brand and the whole town of Minneapolis.
Prince would collaborate on and produce other movies after “Purple Rain,” but none would get to those heights. It didn’t matter. The movie and the album did exactly what it needed to do to Prince’s name. Baby, he’s a star.