His sales began to match his notoriety with his fifth album, "1999." The single "Little Red Corvette" joined
When he began work on "Purple Rain," Prince already had sold millions of albums, appeared on "Saturday Night Live" and opened for the Rolling Stones. He understood what it took to appeal to the masses, but like fellow
By this point, Prince had already carved out a distinct image. He channeled the mascara-smeared androgyny of Little Richard, the stage mastery of James Brown and the guitar skills of
While building what would become the Revolution, Prince consciously mirrored the approach of Sly Stone, populating his own version of the Family Stone with black and white and male and female musicians. He also wisely traded in lingerie for a frilly white shirt, purple velvet jacket and a motorcycle.
But when it came time to turn the rain purple, Prince looked to no less than the Beatles for inspiration. Following the lead of "A Hard Day's Night" two decades before, Prince crafted "Purple Rain" as a full-out, multimedia extravaganza, with a hit album, smash singles, feature film and sold-out tour.
Yet the project's lead single, "When Doves Cry," had
Coupled with a literally steamy video -- the Purple One spent much of the clip writhing around in a bathtub -- "When Doves Cry" felt too dark and too weird for the mainstream, particularly at the height of the Reagan administration.
It was released in mid-May, and listeners quickly embraced the improbable hit as
The full "Purple Rain" soundtrack arrived in stores that June and sold more than 1.5 million copies its first week.
In a piece equating Prince with
Long after that summer's smashes are forgotten, the writer predicted, "'Purple Rain' will still be remembered, and played, as an enduring rock classic."
In many ways "Purple Rain" ended up soundtracking the latter half of 1984, with the singles "Let's Go Crazy," "I Would Die 4 U," "Take Me With U" and the indelible title track fueling the success of the album and the often-silly film.
The record topped the charts in August and stayed there for 24 consecutive weeks. At one point, Prince set a new record by simultaneously claiming the No. 1 album, single and film in the country.
The only thing left for Prince to do was take a victory lap. He opened the "Purple Rain" tour in November with seven shows at
The runaway success of "Purple Rain" changed everything. It pioneered the concept of the Minneapolis Sound and transformed
The Prince Effect turned Sheila E. and the Time into stars, while collaborators
That dizzying level of success proved impossible for Prince to maintain, something he noted himself in the lyrics to 1985's "Pop Life" when he sang "everybody wants to be on top" and later concluded "everybody can't be on top."
But the legacy of "Purple Rain" endures to this day, as was in evidence earlier this year at the rapturous response to news that Prince and
In the 30 years that have followed "Purple Rain," Prince has endlessly tested himself and his fans, sometimes with groundbreaking new music, sometimes with canceled projects and frustrating dead ends. Thanks to "Purple Rain," Prince will have listeners hanging on through to his very last note.
Pop music critic
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