Purple Rain, 1984 and Pop’s Perfect Year



There may be more than a bit of truth to older folk bemoaning the fact that radio sucks at the moment, so consider this your alternative NYE2020 party playlist. #Prince #NYE2020 #Apollonia #PurpleRain #TheTime #1984

2019 was a truly odd year in music overall. Rock and Roll, formerly the biggest part of the Pop culture landscape, has become like Jazz: a few excellent practitioners, but now relegated to the realm of high-priced ticket packages and live shows that are 21+ that have put it out of reach for younger music fans, a terrible irony if there ever was one.

Detail from the album cover for Purple Rain, with Prince seated on the motorcycle. Photo by Jeff Katz, art direction by Laura LiPuma Nash.

So-called “Rhythmic” music has dominated much of the landscape, as has Hip Hop. The Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm illustrates that music has in fact become more repetitive on the charts, and slower. There are a few stellar examples of new acts borrowing on older traditions, such as Kendrick Lamar, Amyl and The Sniffers, Ibibio Sound Machine and Lizzo, but by and large, there is little variation on the charts currently.

This was not always the case. The editors of Rolling Stone magazine, purveyors of the musical landscape for over five decades, back in 2014 named 1984 as the perfect year for Pop music: incredible variety on the charts and the rise in popularity of music video service MTV (a place YouTube now holds a dominion over) helped breathe new life into a landscape that just two years prior was choked and steeped in bland adult contemporary hits.

“Anything I can’t do? Yeah. I can’t cook.”

Prince to time magazine, 1984

Music in 1984 was all about Prince. He ended up having the biggest single of the year with “When Doves Cry” and released an album with one of the hottest live bands of the decade, The Revolution. At the center of all of this was Purple Rain, a film soundtrack that would go on to spend 24 consecutive weeks at number one and spawn other chart toppers, something only Adele has matched since then.

Underwear as outerware: Apollonia 6. (l-r) Susan Moonsie, Patricia Apollonia Kotero and Brenda Bennett. Photo by Jeff Katz. And no, that is not Lake Minnetonka behind them.

The accompanying film also hit number one at the box office, an amazing feat in of itself as it basically was a low-budget Blaxploitation flick with a host of amazing musical numbers. The album won multiple Grammy awards, and the film even won Prince an Oscar, making him only the fifth Black person to achieve this recognition.

The film’s success also briefly helped two other Prince-associated acts break through into the mainstream, Apollonia 6 and The Time. Sadly, within a year of the film’s release, neither band was a functioning unit, though the Time reformed briefly in 1990 for the Purple Rain sequel, the box-office bomb Graffiti Bridge, broke up again but came back in 1995 and still continue to perform to this day.

The Time, 1984, detail from their album Ice Cream Castle. Photo by Jeff Katz.

The big difference between now and then is political, believe it or not. These three groups were all multi-ethnic, with the Revolution even being multi-gendered and featured lesbian members. Their bold sexuality and uncompromising attitude among the conservatism of the Reagan years was a statement in of itself, one that many of today’s artists seemingly avoid in fear of ruining their careers. With 2020 promising to be the most important year ever in the history of the United States, there is still time for many artists to step up their game. As time has already proven, fortune favors the bold. One needs to look back no further than to Prince in 1984 to remember this.

First Part

  • Let’s Go Crazy (12″ Dance Mix), Prince and the Revolution
  • Jungle Love (live, 1983), The Time (soundboard recording)
  • The Beautiful Ones, Prince
  • Modernaire, Dez Dickerson
  • Erotic City (single B-side edit), Prince with Apollonia

Second Part

  • The Message
  • When Doves Cry (full-length album version), Prince
  • Sex Shooter (12″ Dance Mix), Apollonia 6
  • 17 Days (single B-Side), Prince and the Revolution

Finale

  • Purple Rain (live in Syracuse, 1985), Prince and The Revolution

Love to you all, and have a happy and safe New Year.

Ben “Daddy Ben Bear” Brown Jr. 
Host, Producer, Audio Engineer, Researcher, Webmaster and Writer

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