YEAR OF RELEASE: 1984
COMMENTS: Prince lays out the epic guitar rock song of his career. This is his answer to "Freebird" or "Stairway to Heaven."
Like any proper epic worthy of its long playing time, he works his way through several layers of emotion. There is a contemplative layer, taking stock. There is regret for all the strife that has come between him and the woman. There is fear for both of their fates in a world going to hell. There is hope of coming through it all together.
"Purple Rain" plays out like Jimi Hendrix doing gospel. He comes on like he's St. John having revelations of the apocalypse. You can just about imagine the choir in their long robes swaying in the back singing the dramatic recitations of the title. Prince declaims like a Pentecostal preacher with the rushed phrasing and long pauses. "I only want to hear you one time say you love me..."
Then he makes with the heavenly guitar. It plays out as the promise of redemption. The long yearning, fluid blues lines come out like the promise of better things. The final long solo works like an altar call, inviting us all to come join him in the purple rain.
I once saw David Gilmour playing this song on tv (Tom Jones was singing. Oy.). It was revealing to hear how much sense it made coming from him. He was playing in his classic smooth Floyd style, yet sounded very close to the original Prince. You might say that Prince was playing Gilmour style, though the rest of the song sounds nothing like Floyd. File this under "things that make you go 'hmmmmm.'"
Playing the part of Doubting Thomas in this religious ecstasy, I have become more conscious and skeptical of Mr. Nelson's religious machinations, particularly on this album. A lot of it comes down to emotional manipulation. "I would die for you" so how's about a blowjob now, and we'll run things my way. This song plays out somewhat that way. He's really just interested in saving her soul. With age, I have less and less patience for people playing martyr.
No doubt this song rates as a major classic, though. It has soul, it has melody. It has a groove, and lots of interesting instrumental color. You couldn't ask for more.
Music Sustains the Soul
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