One thing is for sure, Stevie Nicks is one hell of a songwriter. Her ability to transfer her emotion into her music that is then accessible to everybody, yet feels like it has descended from high, is second to none. However, it appears that there was one song which even the enigmatic lead singer of Fleetwood Mac couldn’t attach herself to; Prince’s now-iconic effort ‘Purple Rain’.
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. Perhaps owing to an unusual foresight, and despite her collaborative moments with Prince, it remained a realisation that Nicks, having only heard the demo, 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. The pair were entwined when, in 1983, 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 as most couples would, the two stayed up all night and perfected the track. Nicks, with excitement running through her music and her veins, called Prince almost immediately to speak with him about the track and confess: “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, the Fleetwood Mac singer later said of 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.’” Considering the huge weight of the song, something Prince said was akin to the meeting of good and evil, red and blue, heaven and hell, one can maybe forgive Nicks denying us this wondrous concoction of talent.
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.