Like millions of people, I could not believe last week’s news of Prince’s untimely death, at only age 57.
It is not my place to comment on his lifestyle or speculate about the cause of his death, but for my generation, his music was the soundtrack to our youth — and it may surprise you that this American star had a very special place in the hearts of British fans.
To those like me growing up in uptight 1980s Britain, Prince seemed to us to embody that quintessentially American freedom to be, do and wear whatever felt good and, looking back, Prince and the rest of America seemed impossibly glamorous, distant and different. "Little Red Corvette" was named after a car which, in those pre-Internet days with only three channels on TV, we might have only glimpsed one on the occasional imported American movie or TV show. And, of course, no millennium eve party was complete without repeatedly playing Prince’s 1982 hit "1999."
One of my all-time favorite songs is "Purple Rain" — not just because I am a sucker for a power ballad and it is an amazing piece of music, but also because it and the movie were released in 1984 — the year I went to university and what I thought of as the beginning of my adult life. The song reached only No. 8 in the British top 10 back in 1984, but this week British fans are now buying his music at such a rate that it will probably now go to No. 1 on the charts 32 years after its release.
I have very vivid memories of daringly going to see the movie "Purple Rain." After all, I had just turned 18 and finally could go see whatever I wanted, despite its rating. Here are a few facts about the movie "Purple Rain" that might surprise you. There is more information at www.nme.com.
• The movie was a huge commercial success. It made $68 million at the box office but cost only $7 million to make.
• Prince won an Oscar in 1985 for the category Best Original Song Score (a category that no longer exists), beating "The Muppets Take Manhattan."
• The lead female role was supposed to be Prince’s girlfriend Vanity, but she left Prince just before filming. After Jennifer Beals of "Flashdance" fame turned down the role, Apollonia Kotero got the job.
• Screenwriter William Blinn wanted to call the film "Dreams," but Prince insisted "purple" was in the title of the movie. From that day forward, purple became and remained the color associated with Prince.
• The "Purple Rain" soundtrack spent 24 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, although the title track hit only No. 2 in the USA.
• Prince asked Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac to write the song lyrics but she was overwhelmed by the challenge and declined. (No disrespect to Stevie, but thank goodness.)
• Fans have been trying to work out the meaning of "purple rain" for decades. Some believe it’s about the end of the world, a theme Prince was interested in during the mid-80s, but he never spelled it out.
• Prince thought the song "Purple Rain" sounded too much like Journey’s "Faithfully." He called Jonathan Cain, singer and songwriter for Journey, and asked him what he thought. Cain gave Prince the go-ahead, saying that he thought the two songs only shared a few power chords.
It is clear from the outpouring of grief that many people have been deeply affected by his death, so it seems appropriate to leave you with some of Prince’s lyrics from "Purple Rain;" "I never meant to cause you any sorrow, I never meant to cause you any pain, I only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain."
Rest in peace, Prince, and God bless America!