We could debate all day about the best song from Purple Rain, but it’s been done. More important to me is this question: What’s the 4th best song from Purple Rain? I know many of you would argue that other songs belong in the top three and I’m not going to say you’re wrong. Here’s the thing: Even people who don’t know Prince know “Let’s Go Crazy”, “When Doves Cry”, and “Purple Rain”. For the sake of this argument, they have to be the top three in some order. The point here is to find the best of the lesser-known tracks.
This summer marks 35 years since Prince blessed us with Purple Rain – the film and the soundtrack. Purple Rain is not only one of the greatest albums ever recorded, but also one of the unlikeliest achievements in the history of popular music. Think about it. Prince had been something of a critical darling early in his career but it wasn’t until October of 1982 when he released 1999 that he got his first real taste of commercial success. We’re not talking about a string of #1 singles either. “Little Red Corvette” peaked at #6 on the Billboard singles chart. Can you believe that? What five songs were possibly better than “Little Red Corvette” at the same time in early 1983? Five other songs by Prince? The title track peaked at #12. “Delirious” #8. “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” #52. The album itself peaked at #9 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart. Following that success, Prince decided it was time to create and star in a movie. This isn’t the Beatles we’re talking about. This is a guy five albums into a moderately successful career who, through immense talent and will, decided he was going to get a movie made in an era when that wasn’t happening. Of all the audacious moves Prince made in his career, that has to rank at the top, right?
If you’re reading this, you know what happened next. Purple Rain was a massive success. Prince became an icon. The album is still mentioned – usually near the top – of every list of the greatest pop/rock albums or soundtracks of all time. “Let’s Go Crazy” is one of the most infectious and beloved party rock anthems ever recorded. It also launched Prince into the conversation of greatest guitarists on the planet, a skill many somehow didn’t know he possessed until this song. “When Doves Cry” turned pop music upside down simply by losing the bass line. It didn’t hurt that the songwriting was also brilliant. “Purple Rain” became arguably the best rock ballad ever written. But what made the Purple Rain soundtrack amazing was that it went nine tracks and 44 minutes deep without a single bad moment. Without even just an OK moment. Purple Rain is peak Prince from start to finish.
Now I’m going to consider the contenders for #4 and place them in categories:
— Didn’t Even Make the Album, but Still Worth Mentioning
17 Days, Erotic City
“17 Days” was the B-Side to the “When Doves Cry” single. “Erotic City” was the B-side to “Let’s Go Crazy”. Prince released several hundred songs over the course of his career. I put those two B-Sides in my personal top 20 Prince songs. B-Sides!!! The stuff that didn’t make the cut for Prince is better than most people’s best. “17 Days” features Prince singing about loneliness, cigarettes, and broken hearts over one of his signature perfect drum machine beats and an insanely catchy bass line. It would’ve been an ideal song for the movie if “When Doves Cry” wasn’t an otherworldly piece of perfection about a similar topic. “Erotic City” is stripped down funk with more mind-blowing drum programming. It also features laugh out loud lyrics like, “If we cannot make babies, maybe we can make some time.” I’m not sure where this song would’ve fit in the movie. I could see it as a second song performed by The Revolution after “Let’s Go Crazy” or else as a lead-in to “The Beautiful Ones” later in the movie. It doesn’t exactly fit, but I love this song and it would’ve been cool to see it not only on the soundtrack but in the movie.
The Dance Electric, Wonderful Ass
In 2017 the Prince Estate released Purple Rain Deluxe Expanded Edition. Disc One was the original album remastered by Prince in 2015. Disc Three was loaded with single edits and B-Sides. Disc Two was the one I anticipated before its release: Previously unreleased songs from the vault. It gave us the 12- minute epic “Hallway Speech” version of “Computer Blue” I waited years for. Aside from that, my two favorite Disc Two songs are “The Dance Electric” and “Wonderful Ass”. “The Dance Electric” was a hit single for Prince’s one-time best friend and former roommate André Cymone in 1985. The song was written by Prince and his version is nearly identical. Once again, I just can’t believe there wasn’t room for this song somewhere in Prince’s discography. The song is over 11 minutes long and I enjoy every second of it. Much of it is repetitive, but the beat is so unique and infectious it doesn’t get old or drag. At 6+ minutes, “Wonderful Ass” is another funk journey that sneaks up on you. The first time I heard it I found the keyboards silly and out of place. The song just needs time to grow on you. Once you hit the 3:30 mark in the song you’re bobbing your head, consumed by the funk. For a song with a title as camp as “Wonderful Ass” it’s actually misleading because the lyrics are clever. He spends entire verses listing the reasons his woman is wrong for him, but on the other hand she has a wonderful ass so maybe she’s worth the trouble. The song sounds more 1999-era than Purple Rain, but it’s another one that should’ve seen a proper release long before 2017.
— Sorry, but No
Take Me With U
I like “Take Me With U”. It’s the perfect soundtrack for a romantic autumn motorcycle ride to purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. I can’t not sing along when this song comes on. Apollonia is so out of her league on a track with Prince that it’s charming, especially when he refers to her as sheer perfection and she replies, “Thank you!” When my wife and I got married in 2005, we made mix CDs as a favor for all of our guests and the second track – like Purple Rain – was “Take Me With U”. I did this realizing that Prince would’ve probably taken legal action against me for distributing his song to a couple of hundred people for free. I hope he would’ve appreciated that it was being used as a positive representation of our love and was done because we adore Prince. All of that said, “Take Me With U” is not better than all of the other songs on that Purple Rain and I refuse to hear any argument otherwise. Let’s just get it out of the way now.
*It’s at this point that you need to understand a few things about the movie Purple Rain for the rest of this list to make sense. Prince’s character is named “The Kid”. His band is called The Revolution and they perform at a Minneapolis club called 1st Avenue. His father is a failed musician who is physically abusive to his mother on a nightly basis. His love interest is Apollonia. His rival and lead singer of The Time, Morris, is also interested in Apollonia, but only because he thinks she can make him money as the lead singer of a girl group he’s trying to manage…and also he wants to get in her pants. For reasons nobody needs to understand, Morris has a comical man-servant named Jerome.
— I’ll Consider It
I Would Die 4 U
This song is brilliant by itself. If I’m shuffling my Prince playlist and it starts playing I’m singing along to every word. It’s even better in the movie. After a particularly upsetting stretch of the movie that saw The Kid seemingly lose Apollonia to Morris (at least partially because he smacked her in the face), then lose his dad to a self-inflicted gunshot to the head, it seemed like it couldn’t get any darker. Then he went berserk and trashed his basement/bedroom. The Kid needed a W. He performed “Purple Rain” and won back the adoration of the 1st Avenue ownership and clientele. “I Would Die 4 U” is a much deserved celebration after a long, depressing run in the movie, which makes it that much more satisfying. My sneaky favorite part of his performance is when he grabs the two tambourines and I’m thinking, “Oh, Prince is gonna do something amazing with tambourines now,” and instead he throws them in to the crowd. Seems like a waste of two perfectly good tambourines. I was hoping to find out that Prince is also the best tambourine player who ever lived.
Baby I’m a Star
You can’t have “I Would Die 4 U” without “Baby I’m a Star”. If I hear one without the other it feels wrong. Like Minneapolis and St. Paul. If I’m being 100% honest, “Baby I’m a Star” is Minneapolis for me in this scenario. Sorry for the unnecessary shot at St. Paul, but I’ve had more good times in Minneapolis in my life. I saw D’Angelo and Questlove at 1st Avenue there. You’re still cool, St. Paul. Minneapolis is just slightly better. What puts “Baby I’m a Star” over the top is the Dr. Fink keyboard performance in the final minute. The song stops and you think it’s over, but then it starts again…three times. I wish it went on forever. Plus, in the movie there’s the unforgettable moment when Prince’s ejaculating guitar sprays all over the crowd. The Kid started his night onstage mourning his father and 15 minutes later he ended it with a guitar orgasm. Guitargasm. You’re welcome. Quite a rollercoaster ride for The Kid that night.
— If You Pick One of These, You’re not Wrong
The Beautiful Ones
Nobody does a ballad like Prince. His ability to write about love and vulnerability is matched only by Stevie Wonder. His impeccable falsetto is without peer. The list of people who can release a primal scream like he can is short. Those three qualities were never on greater display together like they were on “The Beautiful Ones”. This song is The Kid going way out on a limb. Apollonia is in the crowd looking stunning on a business meeting/date with Morris and The Kid decides to put it all out there. What’s it gonna be, baby? Do you want him or do you want me? I’m getting chills just thinking about it. What a beautiful, powerful piece of music. The secret MVP of this song is the Linn drum machine. The same cool effect that Prince used so often throughout much of his funkiest music of the 80’s is slowed down to add to the haunting effect in this song, echoing underneath the drums and keyboards.
I have a lot to say about this song. First, the movie Purple Rain is not without flaw. Most notably, the rampant misogyny. I’m not about to condemn the movie because of it. It’s a necessary part of the story if you’re going to understand The Kid’s relationship with his father. There are so many things he can’t stand about his dad, but in the moment when he strikes Apollonia he also realizes that if he’s not careful he could become him. There’s a real Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker vibe. However, the scene when Jerome throws the girl in the dumpster is a lot tougher to swallow.
The real part of the movie I struggle to comprehend is that Morris and Billy – the owner of 1st Avenue – seem to think that The Kid’s music sucks. The Time repeatedly mock “Let’s Go Crazy” throughout the movie. Look, I freaking love “Jungle Love” but it’s not on the same level as “Let’s Go Crazy”. The good people of fictional Minneapolis in 1984 had to know this. Morris and Billy are like, “Oh no, here goes The Kid again playing his bullshit. He’s not bringing them in like he used to,” when he’s performing “Computer Blue” and “Darling Nikki”. If they wanted me to believe that The Kid was on the verge of being taken out of the rotation at the club, they should’ve had him covering “Puttin’ on the Ritz” followed by “One Night in Bangkok” or something.
He’s got at least two pints of Johnson & Johnson’s baby oil on his upper body. Poor Wendy is simulating oral sex on him during a guitar solo.
Let me get back to my point. We’ve got The Kid in what I’ll call his experimental phase at 1st Avenue pissing off the club manager/owner with a life-altering performance of “Computer Blue”. This is my favorite performance of the movie. The Kid is shirtless in black tights with a black lace blindfold tied around his head. He’s got at least two pints of Johnson & Johnson’s baby oil on his upper body. Poor Wendy is simulating oral sex on him during a guitar solo. There’s some cool choreography with Wendy and Brownmark in front of a spotlight. It’s a complete freak show. If you were at 1st Avenue that night it was the best night of your life. I haven’t even mentioned the actual song yet. I’m not saying it’s my favorite Prince song because it’s not (but it’s up there). I will say this: I believe this song successfully combines more of Prince’s signature qualities than any other song. Sick drum programming? Check. Bizarre erotic fantasy? Check. Unparalleled keyboard funk? For sure. Screaming? Plenty. Blistering guitar solo? Hell yes. The only thing missing is his high falsetto. Everything else is present on “Computer Blue”. The aforementioned “Hallway Speech” version takes it to another level. A masterpiece.
— The Correct Answer
So, The Revolution are on stage at 1st Avenue treating the good patrons to a once-in-a-lifetime performance of “Computer Blue” and in walks Morris, once again, with The Kid’s girl, Apollonia. Morris could’ve approached The Kid with two middle fingers in the air and spit in his face and it would’ve been less offensive. The Kid spots them together, rips off his black lace blindfold thing and begins screaming. It’s at this point that The Revolution instinctively know that it’s time to take the freakery up a notch. Morris and Billy each sneak in more erroneous lines about Prince’s performance. The lights go red. “Darling Nikki” begins. God, I love this movie. Prince describes a bizarre sexual encounter with Nikki in great detail. Apollonia reacts like the fembots in Austin Powers right before their heads explode. Morris and Billy look pissed. The only two people who had the proper response to this performance were Brenda and Susan from Apollonia 6, who were clearly 100% into it and may have simultaneously climaxed in their 1.5 seconds on camera. Apollonia exits the club sobbing. Prince starts hate-fucking the speakers. Song over. Billy chews out The Kid. The Kid – usually poetic and clever – simply tells him to fuck off. What is wrong with these people? When The Kid gives you a performance of “Darling Nikki” like that the only appropriate response from the club owner is some version of, “Holy shit. That performance changed my life. Can you do it again tomorrow and every night in perpetuity?”
Apollonia’s response should’ve been, “That was the hottest shit I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe a sexy genius like you would lower yourself to date my dumb ass after I just showed up for one of your performances with Morris…again. My bad.” End of movie. Roll credits.
Nikki is the reason we’ve had the parental advisory stickers on music for the past 30+ years. Calling to curious young minds like a foghorn.
That previous paragraph recounting the “Darling Nikki” scene in Purple Rain was my way of saying that any description I write about that song won’t do it justice. Nikki is the reason we’ve had the parental advisory stickers on music for the past 30+ years. Calling to curious young minds like a foghorn. Your parents will disapprove of this! Buy me! Only Prince, the magnificent, filthy maestro, could give us something as amazing as “Darling Nikki”…the 4th best song on the Purple Rain soundtrack.