Revisit rare footage of Prince’s first performance of ‘Purple Rain’ from 1983
We’re digging into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you a moment in pop music history. The first-ever performance of Prince’s iconic song, the everlasting brilliance of ‘Purple Rain’.
There are few artists as fluid, as multi-talented and singular in their vision than Prince Rogers Nelson. The late singer not only captivated the music world with a genre-skipping ability to write incredible songs but also played his part in the film industry too. Most notably, of course, his feature film Purple Rain. But before the film, there had to be a song and this debut performance of ‘Purple Rain’ is giving us chills.
The footage of that incredible night with Prince is either a triumphant (if not fleeting) win or a big fat L, depending on which side of the fight you’re on. Either way, it remains to be fantastic viewing. It would appear there’s an almost continuous war being waged for those of us who binge on the “early performance” material of our favourite artists. That fight this week is being fought between Prince and those who are pushing his work onto streaming services whenever they possibly can.
While it is very easy to see why an artist may want to harness any early-career bootleg potential, it is also easy to see how having this work available to your die-hard fans to watch over and over again will likely add to a more engaged audience. We’re not sure if there’s a right or wrong answer here but whichever way you cut it—the footage is unmissable.
The clip in question is Prince’s first-ever performance of his now-famous and simply iconic song ‘Purple Rain’. The video was shot around 1983, taking place at the First Avenue club in Minneapolis, a spot Prince frequented on many an occasion. The rendition remains a shining a piece of the Purple One’s illustrious history.
Looking back, it is clear to see how the gig was a turning point for Prince—it was the moment he became more than just a pop star. Yet, at the time, reviewers from the Star-Tribune noted that fans in attendance were becoming more and more “disinterested” as the song went on. It may well be expected considering that Prince was performing a concept album without much context. However, it’s clear that during this period Prince was a fledgeling icon.
Having just seen 1999 make a dent in the charts, the artist was ready to turn it up a notch—and he had some big plans. So, while performing for Minnesota’s Dance Theatre charity show, Prince decided that this night would be the night to debut some of his soon-to-be most iconic material.
Prince provided fans with future muso-collateral by performing for the first time some of the jewels in his musical crown—songs like ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, ‘I Would Die 4 U’, ‘Baby, I’m A Star’ and of course, what would become the title track from his next LP, as well as the title of his first motion picture, ‘Purple Rain’. The track would go on to immortalise his wonderful career and cement his name as “The Purple One”.
Of the song’s construction, Prince was once quoted as saying: “When there’s blood in the sky – red and blue = purple… purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god guide you through the purple rain.” Prince’s magnum opus was complete.
The footage captured from the aforementioned evening is not likely to hang around for too long as it holds itself as yet another battlefield for the streaming guerilla war. So, while it is here, we suggest you enjoy all 13 minutes of it while you get the chance. It’s a meaty version of the track but its weight is warranted and wanted every single minute of it. The performance feels even more impressive knowing that Prince performed it with the crowd not knowing a single lick of it. Looking back we bet they all count themselves lucky they were in attendance when prince debuted ‘Purple Rain’ for the first time.
Watch Prince’s first-ever performance of his iconic track ‘Purple Rain’, below.
The song is a special track for many of the aforementioned reasons. It will linger long in the pantheon of music, but there is a niggling notion that it maybe could’ve been a little different if Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks had a little more bravery.
Nicks, who was in contact with The Purple One at the height of his fame, once revealed in an interview that she was “too scared” to even approach the song and, despite her collaborative moments with Prince, it remained a true realisation that Nicks couldn’t bring herself to jump on the track and make it her own.
The duo became good friends and collaborators in the early eighties, a time in 1983 when Nicks was inspired by Prince song ‘Little Red Corvette’ to pen her own track ‘Stand Back’. Nicks recalled that while she was driving home with new-husband Kim Anderson, upon hearing the Prince number inspiration struck her down: “All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I’m singing along, going, ‘Stand back!’” she recalled. “I’m like, ’Kim, pull over! We need to buy a tape recorder because I need to record this.’ And so we do—we careen off the freeway to find a radio, record shop or something, and we go in and we buy a little tape recorder.”
It was Nicks and Anderson’s wedding night but, instead of celebrating their nuptials, the two stayed up all night and perfected the track. Nicks, with excitement running through her music, called Prince almost immediately to speak with him about the track: “I know that 50 per cent of it is yours—and, what are you doing later? Because we’re here at Sunset Sound,” she said. “Do you have any interest in coming down and hearing it?” she added, later revealing that “never in a million years thinking that he would say ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’ll be right down,’ and he came down.”
What happened next was that Prince moved over to the keyboard and began to lay new licks on the song, giving it a brand new vibe and contributing to one of Nicks’ stand out tracks of her career. Astonished by the situation, Nicks later said the whole ordeal: “Takes him an hour; he gives me a little ‘I don’t really know you’ hug, and, uh, he’s gone. Like a little spirit.” Given the speed in which the two creative forces collided, Prince had also found inspiration from the situation and later called Nicks in a bid to continue their budding creative relationship—one which many would expect Stevie to jump at the chance… but that is not how it played out.
“It was so overwhelming,” she later recalled after Prince suggested that the pair work in his song ‘Purple Rain. “I listened to it and I just got scared. I called him back and said, ‘I can’t do it. I wish I could. It’s too much for me.’ I’m so glad that I didn’t, because he wrote it, and it became ‘Purple Rain.’”
She told Mojo (via NME) “I’ve still got it, the whole instrumental track and a little bit of Prince singing, ‘can’t get over that feeling’, or something. I told him, ‘Prince, I’ve listened to this a hundred times but I wouldn’t know where to start. It’s a movie, it’s epic.”
All in all, it was probably the right decision for both Nicks and Prince. However, that won’t stop us dreaming about what could’ve been. The merging minds of the smooth Prince and the soulful Stevie could’ve been a match made in heaven—but perhaps the original isn’t too bad either.