The music world has the strange habit of almost mystically entwining certain artists. Prince and Stevie Nicks happen to be two musicians who somehow crossed paths more than most.
One of the most notable occasions was when the two performers had been paired into friendship by fate and Prince and offered up perhaps his most iconic track of all, ‘Purple Rain’. But Nicks was “too scared” to go near the surrealist wonder, thus she snubbed the offer and, the rest is history.
On that fateful occasion, Nicks had called Prince on her wedding night with Kim Anderson to say that she been stirred enough by ‘Little Red Corvette’ to write ‘Stand Back’. “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.”
They rattled off the track and layering instruments over Nicks groove and then, she says, they hug and “He’s gone. Like a little spirit.” Prince later called to ask her to write the lyrics of ‘Purple Rain’, but Nicks says, “It was so overwhelming, 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.’”
There is another moment of inspiration, however, where Nicks actually formed the inspiration for a Prince smash hit. In Nicks classic solo effort ‘Edge of Seventeen’, she roars out the final refrain in typical emotive fashion: “Just like the white winged dove/ Sings a song, sounds like you singing.”
Prince was a fan of this mystical winged motif and figured he’d transpose it into his synthesiser drenched sound of the era. As Nicks told the New Zealand Herald: “He was inspired by ‘Edge of Seventeen’ to write ‘When Doves Cry,’” The Fleetwood Mac phenom explained. “That’s really when he and I started to sort of be friends. From that moment onward at the very end of ‘Edge of Seventeen’ I go, ‘I know what it sounds like, I know what it sounds like, I know what it sounds like when doves cry. It sounds like you.’”
After that moment of winged inspiration, Prince got down to work on his lonesome. Aside from writing and composing the song by himself, he also plays every single instrument on the song. And even though he had in fact recorded a bass part, he begrudgingly ripped it out of the mix at the last minute. “Sometimes your brain kind of splits in two – your ego tells you one thing, and the rest of you says something else. You have to go with what you know is right,” he told Bass Player magazine.
In the end, what he was left with was a song that kept Bruce Springsteen’s classic ‘Dancing In The Dark’ off the top of the charts in the US and remained in the number one spotted for five weeks in the summer of 1984. Not that Springsteen would’ve been too miffed by this trumping, as he once said, “Whenever I would catch one of his shows, I would always leave humbled.”
‘When Doves Cry’ certainly has some of Nicks’ trademark bravura in the mix, but in truth, it is quintessentially mystic Prince at his ‘little spirit’ like best.