This Month in Musical History: Purple Rain becomes a popular deluge

By Lee Zimmerman

Although Prince had released five albums prior to Purple Rain, up until that time he had demonstrated only a hint of his true crossover potential. So it‘s certainly significant that in the years following its release it would come to be hailed as one of the best albums of all time, one that provided Prince his big breakthrough and proved conclusively that his music was palatable for a multi-racial audience. A visceral synthesis of street-savvy R&B and unabashedly exhilarating rock ‘n’ roll, Purple Rain was the album that proved Prince was a star.

Released on June 25, 1984, Purple Rain was in fact the first Prince album that found the former Prince Rogers Nelson co-billed with the Revolution, a dynamic ensemble which helped spur the energy and thrust of the new material, composed by Prince with input from the band. Some of the music was said to have been recorded live at a August 3, 1983 benefit concert in Minneapolis, but with the May, 1984 release of its first single, “When Doves Cry,” it became immediately apparent that these tunes were vastly more complex than the organic sound Prince had proffered before. Guitars, keyboards and synthesizers were given full expression, and while there were obvious hints of that trademark fusion of soul, funk and dance, Purple Rain delved freely into psychedelia and unabashed experimentation. In the minds of many, he had become Jimi Hendrix’s heir apparent, a daring Black genius whose music transcended race and defied all hints of inhibition.

Like most great soundtracks, Purple Rain not only provided ideal accompaniment for the film of the same name, but also stood solidly on its own. Like the Beatles’ Hard Days Night, it packed plenty of greatest hits potential, as fine a set list as any other album before or since. The songs “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Take Me With U,” “When Doves Cry” and, of course, the title track offered more than enough substance to ensure its success, given their catchy, propulsive rhythms and tantalizingly infectious melodies. Still, Prince had always courted controversy, and so it was almost a matter of course that the risqué lyrics to “Darling Nikki” would find the album targeted by Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center, leading Warner Bros. to slap the disc with a Parents Advisory sticker in order to avoid incurring their wrath. Interestingly, the aforementioned “Take Me With U” also had its own back story; originally slated for an album by Apollonia 6, another Prince related project, it was pulled for placement on Purple Rain, where it usurped some of the running time given to “Computer Blue,” an ambitious suitethat was originally significantly longer.
Purple Rain quickly elevated Prince to the highest echelons of critical and commercial success. It garnered two Grammies – for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group and Best Album for Motion Picture or TV Special – and was nominated for another nod, as Album of the Year. To add to its accolades, it also won an Oscar for Best Original Song Score. It would also go on to sell some 13 million units in the U.S. and 20 million worldwide, becoming one of the best selling soundtracks of all time. In all, it spent 24 weeks at Number One on the Billboard album chart, where it successfully slugged it out with Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. Three of its songs – “When Doves Cry,” “Purple Rain” and “Let’s Go Crazy” – further fueled the album’s success by hitting the upper rungs of the pop charts.

Now, 27 years later, Prince still reigns as one of popular music’s most remarkable innovators, an artist whose mystique and charisma rival that of Dylan, Bowie, Bono and Michael Jackson, as well as all the other marquee names who claim fanatical followings. Yet, Purple Rain was the album that started in all, and turned an ambitious provocateur into an iconic idol.

Other late June highlights in music history:

* The Monterey Pop Festival begin at the Monterey Fairgrounds in Northern California. The festival lasts three days. – June 16, 1967

* Bad acid? Woodstock Ventures, the sponsors of the original Woodstock, announce that they lost more than $1.2 million on the festival. – June 16, 1970

* John Lennon sues the U.S. government, charging that officials tried to deny his immigration through selective prosecution. – June 16, 1975

* Beatlemania opens on Broadway. – June 16, 1977

* Only the good die young… Pretender’s James Honeyman-Scott died of a drug overdose at the age of 15 – June 16, 1982

* Pearl Jam begin a tour without using Ticketmaster. They choose to use a mail order ticket service instead. – June 16, 1995

* Radiohead release OK Computer. – June 16, 1997

* Must have been something in the air that night… Phil Collins receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. June 16, 1999

* The Kinks arrive in New York City to start their first U.S. tour. – June 17, 1965

* Moby Grape releases five singles simultaneously. – June 17, 1967

* Oh, the mighty have fallen: Paul McCartney releases “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” – June 17, 1972

* Steve Winwood releases his first solo album, Steve Winwood. – June 17, 1977

* Good times, bad times: Led Zeppelin begin their last tour. – June 17, 1980

* Obviously, this was prior to his Great American Standards series. Rod Stewart sets an attendance record for Wembley Stadium with a concert crowd of 90,000. – June 17, 1995

* 8 tracks can’t be far behind. Columbia Records publicly unveils its new long-playing phonograph record, the 33 1/3, in New York City. – June 18, 1948

* Ready those fire extinguishers ready! The Jimi Hendrix Experience makes its U.S. debut at the Monterey Pop Festival in California. — $125,000.– June 18, 1967

* Blue Oyster Cult release the album, Agents of Fortune. – June 19, 1976

* Donna Summer becomes the first act to sign with Geffen Records. – June 19, 1980

* Must be a bad translation. Did he say the chair is not his son? Over 3,000 East Germans gather at the Berlin Wall to hear Michael Jackson who is performing a concert on the other side of the wall in West Berlin. – June 19, 1988

* Money money money! Jimi Hendrix earns the largest paycheck (up until that time) for a single show when he earned $125,000 for a single set at the Newport Jazz Festival. – June 20, 1969

* American Bandstand celebrates its 20th anniversary with a 90-minute television special. Little Richard, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Cheech and Chong and Three Dog Night all makeappearances. – June 20, 1973

* And it’s still a standard: “It’s Still Rock & Roll” becomes Billy Joel’s first #1 hit. – June 20, 1980

* Fats Domino’s “Goin’ Home” becomes his first #1 hit. – June 21, 1951

* Johnny Cash releases his first single, “Cry Cry Cry.” – June 21, 1955

* Ritchie Blackmore quits Deep Purple to form Rainbow. – June 21, 1975

* Mick Taylor releases his first solo album after leaving the Rolling Stones four years before. – June 21, 1979

* Donald Fagan and Walter Becker announce the break-up of Steely Dan. – June 21, 1981

* About time! Little Richard receives a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. – June 21, 1990

* The Safaris’ release “Wipe Out”. – June 22, 1963

* Introducing the Boy Genius: “Fingertips – Pt 2,” by “Little” Stevie Wonder is issued. – June 22, 1963

* The drug possession trial of Rolling Stone members Mick Jagger and Keith Richards commences in London. – June 22, 1967

* His Great American Standards series was but a twinkle in his eye! The Jeff Beck with Rod Stewart group makes its U.S. debut in New York at The Fillmore East. – June 22, 1968

* A gas, gas, gas. Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas” is released. – June 22, 1968

* Mark David Chapman pleads guilty to killing John Lennon. – June 22, 1981

* But it’s still rock ‘n’ roll to him. Billy Joel becomes the first rock artist to perform at Yankee Stadium. – June 22, 1990

* Smokey Robinson & The Miracles release “Tracks Of My Tears”. – June 23, 1965

* Careful with the snake, Alice! Alice Cooper falls off the set of his “Welcome To My Nightmare” tour in Vancouver and breaks six ribs. – June 23, 1975

*It probably more than covered the cost of admission: Eminem gives a $450,000 necklace to a fan in the front row of his London concert after announcing, “I’m going to give this to the sexiest woman I see.” – June 23, 2003

* Paperback Writer: John Lennon’s second book, “A Spaniard in the Works” is published. – June 24, 1965

* Hear her roar! “I Am Woman,” by Helen Reddy, is released. – June 24, 1972

* The Beatles record “All You Need Is Love” live on the “Our World” program. – June 25, 1967

* The Hollies record “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” with Elton John playing piano. – June 25, 1969

* Mick Taylor makes his first concert appearance with the Rolling Stones at a free concert in Hyde Park after replacing Brian Jones. – June 25, 1969

* The Purple Rain soundtrack is released five weeks ahead of the film. – June 25, 1984

* Patti Scialfa joins Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. – June 25, 1984

* Hillel Slovak of the Red Hot Chili Peppers dies. – June 25, 1988

* Better late than never. Billy Joel gets his high school diploma. He never got it in the first place because he overslept and missed English and Gym finals 25 years before. – June 25, 1992

* Pearl Jam cancels their tour because of an ongoing feud with Ticketmaster. – June 25, 1995

* The Recording Industry Association of America discloses its plans to fight Internet piracy. The plan was to sue hundreds of individual computer users who illegally share music files online.– June 25, 2003

* The soundtrack to the film “A Hard Day’s Night,” is released by The Beatles. – June 26, 1964

* Elvis leaves the building for the final times. Elvis Presley’s final concert took place at Market Square Arena, Indianapolis. – June 26, 1977

* Go granny go! Jan & Dean release “Little Old Lady From Pasadena” – June 27, 1964

* Under their thumbs – up or down? The Rolling Stones appear as the entire panel on BBC-TV’s “Juke Box Jury.” – June 27, 1964

* Elvis Presley begins taping his first television special, “Elvis,” at NBC studios in Burbank, CA. – June 27, 1968

* End of an era. The Fillmore East in New York City is closed. – June 27, 1971

* MCA Records buys Motown Records for $61 million. – June 27, 1988

* The Who perform the rock opera, “Tommy,” in its entirety for the first time in 17 years at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. – June 27, 1989

* He’s not unusual Well, maybe just a little bit…. Tom Jones is awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. – June 27, 1989

* Not her type? Lyle Lovett and actress Julia Roberts are married. They were divorced in 1995. – June 27, 1993

* A San Francisco appeals court rules that the Rolling Stones improperly borrowed “Love in Vain and “Stop Breakin’ Down” from Robert Johnson. It seems the Stones’ former record label had wrongly assumed that the songs were public domain. – June 27, 2000

* The Youngbloods enter the American charts with their hippie anthem “Get Together.” — June 28, 1969

* Crosby Stills and Nash’s eponymous debut enters the U.S. charts – June 28, 1969

* Jimi Hendrix announces he has a new bassist, old army buddy Billy Cox – June 28, 1969

* Pretty, pretty… Buddy Holly records “Peggy Sue.” – June 29, 1957

* Forever bad boys. Keith Richards is found guilty of allowing his property to be used for the smoking of marijuana and sentenced to one year in jail and was fined. Mick Jagger is found guilty of illegal possession of pep pills and is sentenced to three months in jail. – June 29, 1967

* Pink Floyd’s second album A Saucerful of Secrets is released. – June 29, 1968

* The Jimi Hendrix Experience play their last concert on the last day of the Denver Pop Festival. – June 29, 1969

* Ian Gillan leaves Deep Purple after a concert in Japan.—June 29, 1973

* Introducing Old Blue Eyes. Frank Sinatra made his first appearance with Harry James’ band. – June 30, 1939

* The Supremes record “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” – June 30, 1966

* And they said it wouldn’t last. Cher and Greg Allman are married. They were divorced just 10 days later. – June 30, 1975

* Truth in advertising: Sid Vicious releases “My Way.” – June 30, 1978

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