Purple Rain

Prince is the embodiment of an ancient pop principle: if your music is cool you can write the worst lyrics in the world and nobody will care.  Let us take a moment to reflect on this through the first and last song on the “masterpiece” Purple Rain.

Let’s Go Crazy
When I was a kid I spent a long time playing air guitar to this song. In fact, if I had spent all that time actually practising on an actual guitar I would be a lot better guitarist. A lot better.

Let’s Go Crazy is a great example of how you can spend twenty years singing along to a song (making up strange semi words for all the bits you can’t understand), and then when you finally sit down with the lyrics and read them you end up thinking “what the f*%k?” I realise that close-reading pop lyrics is bit like writing a review of Coke for a wine magazine, but it’s got to be worth a few laughs so here it goes; a summary of the lyrics:

  • Life is an electric word that means forever, which is a long time but Prince is here to tell us there’s the afterworld.
  • So when you call up your shrink in Beverly Hills, don’t ask him how much time you have left ask him how much of your mind is left (it’s asking questions like this that keeps shrinks in business).
  • If you don’t like life, and you get depressed, don’t take drugs, think about the “higher floor”
  • Even though Prince said earlier that you were alone, well you actually have friends, for example he called up his old lady for a chat and she started simulating sex over the phone
  • So, hey, don’t get depressed go look for the purple banana until they take you to a mental institution.
  • Kids, just say no to drugs (and daffodils) because He (and Prince) is coming. Again, see how comforting that is… the idea of Prince and, I suppose, God “coming”.

There might be a message in the words (might be), but the message of the chorus, and the music is: let’s paaaaaaaaaaaarrrrty! Which I think is what we’re really supposed to take from the song.

And then there’s the end.

The end fits with the beginning. We have had the stately start, been lifted up by the song sermon, and now we get the big finale (as in a black gospel church finale, not a hand-around-the-tea-and-scones white-church finale). When that guitar lifts out of all the synthesized pomposity and scorches alone, slightly breaking up – oh, man! It had more impact for me back in ‘84 because playing guitar that fast seemed impossible, like we had entered another realm, like Prince had really leaped beyond the song and gone to, well, the afterworld.

Later on, sitting in various bedrooms around my crummy hometown with heavy metal albums and guys with guitars replaying solos note perfectly, I realised that even though it seems like you want more of that kind of Let’s Go Crazy guitar solo you don’t… less really is more.



Purple Rain
This song fits with the religious theme that keeps cropping up inappropriately on Prince albums (like a vicar walking into a fetish shop by mistake).

How many million people have sung along to the chorus of this song (including me) full of emotion without the faintest idea what on earth Purple Rain is supposed to be or represent?  The high point of irony is when Prince says:

 “Everybody here knows what I’m talking about come on raise your hand”

This leads to massed hand-raising. I don’t know what he’s talking about but I’m raising my hand anyway because he does enough to create this feeling that we sort of know what he’s on about – he’s lost someone, forever, he wishes them well, he is sad, he is uplifted, (or something) – that we don’t care and, anyway, it’s a cool song.

Now that we’re into the most serious part of the album it seems appropriate to mention that I owned a video of a Prince concert. There are many things I could share with you from this video but I will pick the most offensive.

There was a section where Prince engaged in a particularly long guitar solo. It involved a lot of gyrating with the guitar between his legs, and even though you got the idea he went the extra mile in establishing the guitar as penis metaphor. He had a hose attached to his guitar. The nozzle came out the end of the guitar where the “head” was, and (have you guessed already?), at the climax of his solo a white liquid began shooting out the end of his guitar. As I write this I can’t believe it. One thing I have always wondered is how did the crowd that got sprayed with this white liquid react? There must have been a moment of sheer horror, a few seconds of tentativeness as you checked what the hell the liquid actually was, a sense of relief (presumably), and then what? I’m really not sure how I would react to someone spraying sheets of fake sperm over me, and I pray to remain unsure for the rest of my life.

The last two minutes of the album is all violins and endings. I always appreciated this ending because it eased me out of the album as gently as possible. When I was a teenager I just wanted this album to go on and on, and this long ending prepared me for the collapse of the circus tent and the return of the unbelievably mundane world. The only other album that had this effect on me from that period was Welcome to the Pleasure Dome. Both of those albums seemed to have fabricated fantastic worlds that in no way resembled the prosaic one I was stuck with.



Still buried under reports, and still drawing on the back catalogue.

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