And the Rain Came Down
In 1983 Michael Jacksons music was consistently played on the radio, with the release of his album Thriller. The big hits Billie Jean and Beat It had reached many new fans, so many that he sold more albums than any performer ever had before. I dont care what they say about me anymore, Prince said in 1981. Just dont compare me to Michael Jackson. But people were going to compare them whether Prince liked it or not. In some ways, the success of Michael Jackson fueled the success of Prince by creating a rivalry in the media much like that between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the 1960s. Because Michael was so remarkably popular there had to be an alternative to him who could be just as big. Prince was it. Its interesting that Michael and Prince have very little to say about one another.
A fact that many people forget is that Prince was first to get his videos on MTV, the popular music video cable station that many say brought the record industry out of its slump. MTV was accused for a long time of not playing videos by black artists, but they were playing Princes Little Red Corvette because it was such a great rock song. Prince may have opened the door for Michael, whose rock videos really went through the roof.
Prince knew that if he was going to make his mark, he would have to come up with something new and push himself to the limit. He would write and perform in his own movie.
Prince had been writing his ideas in a purple notebook for quite some time. He wanted to tell the story of his life in a fictional form. People would refer to it as faction or an emotional biography. Although the facts were not exactly the same as his own life, the underlying emotional truths would be the same. Prince went to his management company and asked them what they thought. The idea intrigued them because, like Prince, they had never taken on such a challenge and they were ready for something new.
Writers were brought in to help Prince with the script. It was decided that Vanity would co-star, Morris Day would play a lovable villain, and Princes band would play themselves.
Before the project even got off the ground, things began to fall apart, things that would ultimately affect the outcome of the movie. Dez Dickerson decided he wanted a solo career away from Prince; three members of The Time left the group because they wanted more freedom to work on outside projects; and Vanity herself decided things were not working out for her in Minneapolis.
Just as Andr Cymone had left because he wanted to run his own life, now others were following suit. Princes kingdom was in a shambles and he had brought it upon himself. Taking responsibility for your own actions would become a central theme in his movie, along with the notion that you have to respect those around you while you follow your own personal dreams.
I needed one person to love me, and he needed more, Vanity told People magazine. I miss his humor. I always felt wed be like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor over the years. I can honestly say I love the kid.”
Right now the Kid, as he would be called in the movie, had to rebuild his kingdom. The Time had suffered real damage when keyboardist Jimmy Jam and bass player Terry Lewis left the band. They were followed by the other keyboardist Monte Moir. Prince replaced them with three new members: Terry Hubbard, Paul Peterson, and Mark Cardenas. It was certainly not the same band and at one point Prince tried to get Jam and Lewis to return to the band. By then, though, they were ready to be on their own. Since they left, Jam and Lewis have charted nine times with records they wrote and/or produced for the S.O.S. Band, Gladys Knight, Klymmax, and Cheryl Lynn.
How could Prince match the rocking fire of Dez Dickerson? Instead of trying, he took a new approach. From now on, Prince would do most of the lead guitar work and hed find a good rhythm guitar player. Through keyboardist Lisa Coleman, Prince got Wendy Melvoin. Wendy and Lisa had known each other most of their lives. Their fathers were studio musicians who had played on records by the Beach Boys years before. Wendy fit right in. The band was now a fascinating mixture of characters.
The idea of integration is important to Prince, Lisa Coleman told Kurt Loder of Rolling Stone. Its just good fate that its worked out as well as it has .. . hes chosen people in his band because of their musical abilities, but it does help to have two female musicians who are competent.
For the first time Prince gave his band a name: The Revolution.
Princes biggest problem was to find a replacement for Vanity. How do you replace your girlfriend when she is also co-star of your movie?
A casting call went out across the country and 700 young women responded. Prince found his new co-star in a nineteen-year-old Hispanic-American girl named Patricia Koterosoon to be re-named Apollonia.
Apollonia was discovered in Los Angeles where she had been working as a model and actress. When Prince met her he asked about her experience and if she believed in God. Prince has a deep commitment to Godhis band prays together before every show and he has given special thanks to God on each of his album jackets.
Prince and Apollonia talked about all sorts of things that first day, then, after a ride in his limousine, he took her dancing at his favorite club, First Avenue.
Many people speculated that Apollonia was Princes new girlfriend but when asked she would just say, I dont kiss and tell. She did admit that she waited anxiously for the first kiss she would get from Prince. It would come in front of the cameras during the filming of the movie.
Prince worked hard rehearsing The Revolution, The Time and Apollonia 6. They not only practiced singing and playing, but took singing and acting lessons as well. Even Princes bodyguard Chick would be in the movie.
The project got underway in the summer of 1983. Prince brought a mobile recording studio to First Avenue to record some new songs that he was playing as part of a benefit for the Minnesota Dance Theatre, the people who were teaching Prince and his entourage to dance. Among the songs performed were I Would Die U,Baby Im A Star, and the song that would become the theme song of his movie, Purple Rain.
Originally the movie was going to be called Dreams, but Prince was obsessed with the color purple. He had a purple car, a purple coat, a purple house, and a purple motorcycle. He might as well have a purple movie, too!
As the script was re-written under the watchful eye of Prince and director Albert Magnoli, the story began to take form. Magnoli described it to Creem magazine. A girl comes into town to a club. She sweeps out of a cab in black. Theres Princehes a dark figure. Theres Morrishes a light figure. Theres the girlshes a mystery.
Most of the action would take place at First Avenue. The club was closed for six weeks while the movie was shot. A call for extras went out and hundreds of hopefuls lined up in a suburban parking lot to try their luck at being part of Princes movie. Dress as you would to party with Prince, read the invitation to the extras. In the morning they auditioned men and in the afternoon, women.
Extras made $24 for a days work plus a free lunch. Prince watched the applicants in the parking lot through the blinds of the hotel office. Once the extras were picked they were told not to speak to Prince on the set. If they did they would be fired immediately. Cameras were forbidden and the extras were also instructed not to speak to the press. Although only a few of them could be seen on the screen, the movie had 6oo extras. The idea was to make First Avenue look like a packed night club even at seven oclock in the morning when shooting began.
Although the music was pre-recorded, Prince insisted that the lip-synching be done with the music being played through the loudspeakers at concert volume. This way the audience of extras could feel they were at a real concert. The music was so loud that members of the technical crew bought $200 worth of sound protection devices.
In Purple Rain Prince plays the part of the Kid, a troubled but talented youth who is trying to make it with his rock group. Although he is not called Prince, everyone else in the movie uses his or her real name, except Princes mother and father, who are played by Olga Karlotos and Clarence Williams III (who played Link on the popular 6os TV show, The Mod Squad).
The Kid is less than a nice guy when the film starts. He refuses to listen to any of the songs that his band members, Lisa and Wendy, have written. He only wants to do his own material. Prince and Apollonia take a motorcycle ride together with the song Take Me with U playing in the background. They stop to walk by a lake, and he tells her he will only help her if she first passes an initiation. The initiation is to purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. Eager for the Kids help, Apollonia strips down and hops into the lake. Then the Kid tells her she jumped into the wrong lake!
It becomes obvious that some of the Kids problems stem from a troubled home life. His parents are constantly fighting and his father beats his mother. When the Kid tries to step in his father beats him too.
When Apollonia tells the Kid she is going to get help from Morris Day to start a group, he strikes her. Its a shocking moment in which the Kid realizes he is lollowing in the footsteps of his father.
Suddenly everything crumbles for the Kid: his band might break up; the club owner tells him he is ready to dump the act because the Kid is just too weird; Apollonia leaves him; and, worst of all, his father shoots himself, ending up in the hospital in critical condition. The Kids world is caving in on him and he takes off on his motorcycle, trying to sort his thoughts out while the song When Doves Cry plays in the background. Maybe he is just like his father, a troubled musician who tells him, Never get married.
All through the movie the action is punctuated with song. When Apollonia first starts hanging out with Morris at the club Prince sings The Beautiful Ones from the stage, imploring his love to stay with him. I want you baby: he screams at the end of the song as the camera zooms in on Apollonias tear-stained face. Later, when he knows he has lost her, he sings the angry and nasty Darling Nikki to get back at her, and Apollonia storms out of the club. (Nikki was the name of the original heroine in the movie before Vanity was replaced by Apollonia.)
At the climactic finale, the Kid comes to grip with some of his problems. He dedicates a song to his father who is still in the hospital. The song is Purple Rain. In the movie it is the song written by Wendy and Lisa that the Kid had earlier refused to play. The crowd is moved by it and sway back and forth, pointing heavenward as Prince plays the beautiful ballad. The Kid is called back to the stage for an encore and Apollonia is there waiting for him. He launches into I Would Die 4U, a song inspired by something his father said to his mother whereby the Kid realized that, despite all their problems, his parents still love each other. There is a scene during the song of the Kid going to the hospital, where he sees his mother sleeping with her head on her husbands hospital bed. The movie closes with Baby, Im a Star, where the Kid pulls out all the stops and gets the whole place rocking, including the movie theater audience. Even Morris Day, who has been his rival all through the movie, is seen getting down and boogying.
If Purple Rain has a message, it is that one must rise above ones problems by guarding against selfishness and coming to terms with ones faults. Sometimes life deals us some tough blows but, like the Kid, we must go on living and rise above the sorrow and pain.
Along with all the Prince music, there were also songs by The Time, Dez Dickerson, and Apollonia 6. Perhaps most interesting was a piece written by Princes father, John Nelson, a piano instrumental that Clarence Williams III, his screen father, is seen performing. The piece is simply called Fathers Song. There was too much music in the movie for one record, so the Purple Rain album was comprised completely of Prince songs. In the months following the movie, records would be released by The Time and Apollonia 6. Dez Dickerson is ready to release a record as well.
The first single released from Purple Rain was the single When Doves Cry, which raced to the top of the pop charts within six weeks. When the album came out it too hit the number one spotit was the first time a soundtrack album went to number one before the movie was even released!
The movie Purple Rain premiered in Los Angeles on July 26, 1984. It was a star-studded event attended by many of Hollywoods biggest celebrities. MTV broadcast the opening night party nationally, so fans got to watch for the stars who included Eddie Murphy, Lionel Richie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, Pee Wee Herman, Steven Spielberg, Morgan Fairchild, and Little Richard.
The movies cast was there as well. Morris Day arrived in a brightly colored Cadillac wearing a shiny white suit. Apollonia came in a Rolls Royce and was decked out in a beautiful purple evening gown. Of course the biggest star of all was Prince himself accompanied by his bodyguard Chick. Prince pulled up in his purple limousine, wearing his famous trenchcoat and carrying a purple flower. All the women who came to the party were given purple orchids, and everything at the after-show party was decorated in purplethere were even purple spotlights dancing across the sky.
After a performance by members of the Minneapolis Dance Theatre, Sheila E., Princes latest musical find also rumored to be his new girlfriendtook the stage and performed, followed by Prince and The Revolution, who played three songs.
Critics began raving about the movie, calling it the best rock-and-roll movie since the Beatles first film, Hard Days Night. With great advance press and the number one album, the movie was primed for release. It opened across the country in close to a thousand theaters. In one week the movie had already broken even, bringing in some seven million dollars at the box office.
During the month of July, Prince celebrated his twenty-sixth birthday at a special concert at First Avenue. Well wishers sang Happy Birthday, and Prince and The Revolution played for over an hour and a half. That same month Prince flew to Dallas to check out the Jacksons tour.
Although Michael has never acknowledged Prince as competition, the Jackson Brothers did see Purple Rain at a special screening. Meanwhile Prince was beating Michael and his brothers on the charts. Their Victory album and the single, State of Shock, were selling at a far slower rate than Princes album and single. To date, the Purple Rain album has sold over eight million copies, both When Doves Cry and Lets Go Crazy have gone to number one, and a third single of the song Purple Rain went Top 10. Prince was by far the biggest star of the summer and fall of 1984.