February , 1985
By David Huff
The Purple Reign of a Prince Begins
"The difference between Michael Jackson and Prince," commented singer/songwriter Carole Bayer Sager, wife of composer Burt Bacharach, "is the same difference people saw in the Beatles and the Rolling Stones 20 years ago. Michael Jackson represents the good and the wholesomeness to people like the Beatles did, and Prince, like the Rolling Stones, represents the complete opposite, the alter ego.”
Of all the comments made about these two superstar performers, Carole Bayer Sager’s candid observation most certainly hit the nail on the hammer. Last year, these two opposites collided, and in their wake, created a musical furor that may never be equaled.
My compliments go out to both Prince and Michael Jackson for the sheer brilliance of the methods they have used to get their musical points across to millions of fans the world over. The medium of choice was film. For Michael Jackson, he chose music videos as his medium to get his message across. The result was albums sales of over 30 million and counting for his breathtaking album, Thriller. As for Prince, he went the motion picture route. The movie, Purple Rain, won an Oscar for best original sound score and the soundtrack sold an astounding 13 million copies in the U.S. alone.
But this story is not a comparison between two pop giants who singlehandedly reshaped and redefined the term Top 40. This is a look at 'the kid' who would be Prince.
It seems like only yesterday that 'The Kid' from Minneapolis (of all places) was creating a sort of mild sensation with his vividly graphic, highly descriptive songs and rebellious musical nature that would become a trademark, and later a reminder, of a man one day destined to hold his own court in his own terms, in a mighty land.
It took a Purple Rain to create a Purple Reign that could rule for some time to come. Though Prince hasn't done a live interview in over two years, his statement of fact has been a semi-autobiographical movie that revealed an emotional, tense inner side to a man misunderstood as well as mystifying.
Purple Rain cost $7 million to make. It has grossed over $80 million, and before it's all over, could very well top $100 million worldwide. You could call it quite simply a 'thriller' on celluloid, it has had that much of an impact.
I am one of the fortunate few that has gotten within three feet of Prince and lived to tell about it considering the ever-present body guards that surround his highness wherever he goes.
Two years ago when the country was beginning to tune into Prince because of the album 1999, Prince Nelson Rogers decided to stop off in Norman, Oklahoma to give a concert on his way to Los Angeles. The show also included Morris Day and the Time and the scantily clad Vanity 6.
No one knew quite what to think about Prince in March of 1983 when he invaded the Lloyd Noble Center. His two mega hit singles, "Little Red Corvette" and "1999" had broken the color line for this Yankee and for him to perform of all places in a college town was not only amazing, it was quite confusing as well.
Last month while driving to the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas to catch Prince's Purple Rain tour, I found myself drifting back in time to the scene of my brief encounter with Prince and the bewildered and amusing thoughts that ran through my mind.
Security was quite tight for the show in Norman. Since I was preparing to do an interview with Morris Day later in the evening, I was permitted to sort of 'hang out' as activity buzzed around me. I was still trying to figure out how a guy like Prince could create so much emotion and excitement on the strength of two hit singles. His previous three albums had gone unnoticed except on the R&B charts, but as an amused observer accustomed to the hustle and bustle of rock and roll shows, the similarities were quite striking.
Leaning against the entrance of the caterer’s room wondering what in the world I was going to talk to Morris Day about, (in almost four years of interviewing musicians, this was my first black group to do a story on which I am embarrassed to admit). I happened to glance over my shoulder and there he was, the Prince that would be King. I could have reached out and touched him, but I just stared at him perplexed.
Prince by my recollection stands just around 5' 5". His mascara laden eyes and smooth, silky face were scanning the room for someone as he leaned and peered through the door.
"Hello," I said with a sense of wonderment in my tone of voice.
"Hello," whispered Prince as our eyes met and scrutinized one another. Five seconds later the Interview was over.
As quietly as Prince slipped into the room he was gone. His show later on that night was one of the most highly energized shows I had ever seen. Not even the hyper David Lee Roth could have kept up with this dynamo. Rapid gyration would most aptly describe Prince's movements onstage. He seemed emotionally and physically attached to a brass bed that was positioned high above the stage. The crowd went wild.
And Morris Day & The Time - what a band. What a show! As for Vanity 6, their bedtime attire was a perfectly suited for their hit single, "Nasty Girl."
Entering the Erwin Center two years later and sitting down in my seat, I wondered if Prince had toned down his act. I wondered if Sheila E. was anything like Vanity 6. He did, she was.
From the opening song, "Let's Go Crazy," the Prince show was non-stop energy. I found myself more excited for this one show than I think I had ever been for any rock and roll concert, and in my business, I thought I had experienced the best. Far from it as I was about to witness.
The highly publicized Jackson Victory tour, though visually stimulating and a joy to watch (both times) couldn't hold a candle to what Prince was able to do. He has the energy and spirit of Van Halen rolled into one. He far outclasses Roth, and plays just as mean a guitar as Eddie, which is no small feat. As he roamed the stage at the Erwin Center, the crowd inside didn't know what hit them until they left the auditorium. Even then, I doubt they could have put the experience into coherent terms.
I especially found myself congratulating Prince during his encore songs. His band, with a little help from The Time, pulled at least 30 people from the audience onto the stage to share the excitement of the evening and dance. I never thought I would say this, but I would actually pay to see Prince perform again the show was that inspiring, exciting and entertaining.
A special note of congratulations should go out to Sheila E. who geared the crowd up to fever pitch with a spectacular opening show that was a perfectly complimented the show that was to follow.
On the way home from the show, I found myself experiencing a sense of deja vu as I was both bewildered and amazed again by a man I overheard one person describe as a cellophane toothpick wrapped in a purple doily.
No matter what anyone thought, there was one fact that could not be overlooked. The Purple Reign was without a doubt on its way to becoming a dynasty.