The Story Behind The Song: Prince’s apocalyptic ballad ‘Purple Rain’
The mercurial mind of an artist like the late, great Prince is a difficult nut to crack, mostly because he refused to offer up many interpretations of his own songs, preferring entirely to allow the audience to make up their own minds. But one that has stumped us for some time is the singer’s unstoppable anthem, ‘Purple Rain’. What exactly was the song about?
Of course, the song was written as part of the film of the same name, showcasing Prince as one of the brightest talents in the eighties and proving that he wasn’t just a pop prince but a star of the silver screen too. But, even with the context of the song, finding a definitive meaning behind the track is a difficult thing to do. Below, we’ve got all the facts you need to find out the story behind Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’.
The track was written in 1983 and was intended to be a country song. The track was actually even offered up to the acclaimed artist Stevie Nicks who ended up turning it down. “It was so overwhelming,” she later recalled after Prince suggested that the pair work in his song. “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.’”
During a rehearsal with The Revolution, Prince asked his backing band to try a new track: “I want to try something before we go home. It’s mellow,” he said. According to Lisa Coleman, a member of the band, Prince then changed the song’s sentiment after Wendy Melvoin started playing the iconic guitar chords to accompany the song: “He was excited to hear it voiced differently. It took it out of that country feeling. Then we all started playing it a bit harder and taking it more seriously. We played it for six hours straight and by the end of that day we had it mostly written and arranged.”
After the band had arranged it, Prince was a little worried that it was too closely aligned to another track, Journey’s song ‘Faithfully’. He was so worried, in fact, that he called the band’s Jonathan Cain to confirm the differences between them. He asked Cain to listen to the song and let him know if there were any issues. Thankfully, Cain was an instant fan. “I thought it was an amazing tune,” Cain said. “I told him, ‘Man, I’m just super-flattered that you even called. It shows you’re that classy of a guy. Good luck with the song. I know it’s gonna be a hit.'”
It became the centrepiece of the 1984 film of the same name and works as a vital plot point within the picture too. In the plot, Prince is given a song by Wendy and Lisa which he dutifully ignores. It provokes an argument between Prince, Wendy and Lisa as they accuse him of “being paranoid as usual.” At the end of the film, as Prince and his group battle it out with another band The Time in a showdown, Prince uses ‘Purple Rain’ to defeat them, introducing the song as being written by the duo.
Aside from being a useful plot device, what else was the song actually about? If you’re thinking it was just a straight-up love song, you’d only be half right. Of course, there is an element of balladry in the track but the continuous use of the imagery of purple rain does a lot to transport the listener out of that safe love song space. It’s true that the use of purple came from Prince’s creative mind.
According to NME, he said, “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 would go on to say that he enjoyed the apocalyptic connotations of the colour and used it frequently as a cut-through piece of imagery.
Thanks to the song, album and film, Prince quickly became known as The Purple One and he used the colour to express himself throughout most of his career. It’s fitting then that one of Prince’s most iconic songs should be the final song he ever performed live for his audience.
It will forever remain an anthem not only of music but of sheer creativity forevermore.