Ground-breaking, game changing, monumental -- these are some of the words that regularly categorize Prince's 1984 movie and corresponding album, Purple Rain. "It's the sound of a generation," says Morty Okin, co-founder of The Purple Ones, a 10-piece Prince tribute band that is set to pay homage to Purple Rain at Slim's this Saturday, July 26. "Even if you don’t know any other Prince stuff, you know Purple Rain," says Okin.
It's hard to counter his claims. Even 30 years later, it seems Purple Rain still holds a prominent place in the culture of music fans spread across the entire spectrum of genres. And how would it not? Prince is an indigenous species in the domain of musical fusion. From the outset, expanding out of a pseudo-religious opening monologue, Purple Rain's opening track, "Let's Go Crazy," contains morsels of psychedelia, funk, disco, electronica and heavy metal. It's this uniquely Princian idiosyncrasy that made Purple Rain so special and that continues to carve out its space in our musical canon.
After a recent bout of concentrated listening, the true depth of Purple Rain's awesomeness has started to crystallize in my mind. Not that I was ever a stranger to the record or the rest of Prince's catalogue, but I can't say I've previously given it this discerning an analysis. I can see how it garnered such critical and commercial success (at one point in 1984, Prince had the number one album, pop single and movie.) From the gorgeous, yet foreboding "The Beautiful Ones" to the urgently stomping rhythm of "I Would Die 4 U"; from the triumphant proclamation of "Baby I'm a Star" to the unassuming greatness of "When Doves Cry;" and from the playfully controversial "Darling Nikki" to the epic title track, this is a musical composition as complete and well-rounded as any historic album -- while coming in at just nine songs.
These are thoughts on the record that have not even begun to take into account the fact that it was the soundtrack to an accompanying motion picture. "Let’s be honest, the movie is a classic for different reasons than certain films become classics," admits Okin of The Purple Ones. "It’s not a Francis Ford Coppola film," he continues, "[but] I love it -- it’s hilarious, dramatic -- it’s got everything."
Something else it has are spectacular scenes displaying Prince's legendary performance ability, many of which were filmed in just one take. If that's not impressive enough, consider the fact that the final three tracks on the album -- "I Would Die 4 U," "Baby I'm a Star" and "Purple Rain" -- were tracked at a live show at the First Avenue Club in Minneapolis. The upshot is that Prince and The Revolution were (and still are) fantastic performers -- something not easily replicated in a tribute band.
The challenge of faithfully recreating Prince wasn't lost on Okin when he and Roger Rocha (of 4 Non Blondes) founded The Purple Ones. "We’re not impersonating how Prince acts," says Okin. "It’s just an homage to the music, and it’s just a fun night." Even paying homage to the music is a tall order when it comes to Prince. As Okin points out, "He'll do a regular concert for three to four hours, and then he'll have an after-party show for another three to four hours. You have to be a robot -- you're a machine to do that."
A machine Prince is. His own surprise celebratory concert at his estate outside Minneapolis back in June began at 3am, and came just a few weeks after his 56th birthday. The sheer energy and output of this music legend is reason enough to induce reverence. Couple this with the unbelievable quality of his work over the years, and it's enough to blow the mind of even the most prudish of listeners.
For their part, The Purple Ones, which features current and former members of the Pacific Mambo Orchestra, Superdiamond and Foreverland, will play all the tracks from the album and much more, including b-sides, and one-offs like Sheila E.'s "The Glamorous Life" and Sheena Easton's "U Got the Look." The band may not equal The Purple One's own stamina, but they will surely exhaust themselves trying, leaving all they've got on the dance floor.
The 30th Anniversary of Purple Rain Featuring The Purple Ones will take place Saturday, July 26, 2014 at Slim's in San Francisco. For more information visit slimspresents.com.
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED