The songs from “Purple Rain” are familiar. The stories behind them are not. Prince and the Revolution never really talked about them. Until now.
With remastered and deluxe versions of the blockbuster 1984 soundtrack “Purple Rain” being released on Friday, the Star Tribune spoke to Lisa Coleman, keyboardist for Prince and the Revolution. She talked about the well-known songs, the 11 previously unreleased tunes and a live DVD of a 1985 concert in Syracuse, N.Y., that is included in a four-disc expanded package.
On Prince’s involvement with this repackaging, which was reportedly in the works before his death in April 2016
“It was hard for him to ever look backwards,” Coleman said. “I can’t imagine him being involved in it. But who knows? He was such a control freak.”
Nevertheless, she felt “he’d be proud of it. They [Warner Bros.] made smart choices as far as what bonus tracks to include.”
On the band’s involvement in the songwriting
Unlike previous Prince albums, “Purple Rain” was “a band thing,” said Coleman. Prince would come to rehearsal in a warehouse and the Revolution would flesh out his ideas.
For example, Coleman said “Let’s Go Crazy” started as “a typical rock riff. I thought it was kind of silly. The more we played it, the more it developed into a sparkly, tough song. It’s sort of Disneyland, but it’s talking about life before death. The band added just the right attitude.”
On the evolution of the song “Purple Rain”
Prince had the seed of an idea in his mind, Coleman said, but the song was country or folk — and he didn’t cotton to either genre. He brought the song to rehearsal anyway.
“When Wendy [Melvoin] played those chords on guitar, it changed his mind about what the song could be. I remember his face: ‘How do you do that?’ It ignited him and the rest of us. By the end of the day, it was pretty much in shape. Except for the vocals.
“He overwrote. He wrote many more verses. We played three verses at First Avenue [at a concert in August 1983 when the song was first recorded]. He later cut it to two. Lyrically the other verse wasn’t in the same heart as the first two.”
On Coleman’s spoken opening line to “Computer Blue” — “Wendy? Is the water warm enough?”
“Isn’t it so silly?” Coleman proffered. “It was Prince. He literally handed me a piece of paper in the studio and said ‘Would you say this?’ I said, ‘When?’ ‘Right now on the mic,’ he said. ‘Stop being a wiseguy.’
“The words had no meaning in my mind.”
On “When Doves Cry”
“I didn’t think it would connect with people. I thought it was really mature. It was the most grown-up thing he’d done. There’s something about the minimalism of it that’s sophisticated. Then the lyrical content is universal. He found such a great way of addressing that old issue of us becoming our parents. It was very artful.”
On “Darling Nikki”
He recorded this song and “The Beautiful Ones” all by himself, without the Revolution. And then he played “Nikki” for Coleman in his car one night.
“I loved it. I tagged the line [about masturbation] that [people] were going to freak out about. I thought it was funny. He was like, ‘Am I going to get away with it?’ He blasted it in his car. Blew my head off. So I had to punch him in the arm. He was too good. Musically it was so cocky.”
On the new songs — starting with “Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden,” which the Revolution is performing on its current tour
They were two different songs at first. Prince sang “Our Destiny,” then he had Coleman record it on lead vocals and then Jill Jones do it. Coleman said Prince was caught up about a line about Rita Hayworth that didn’t please him.
To Coleman, “Roadhouse Garden” was “such a good time. It reminds me of a sunny day in Minneapolis and things were good. We were in a good mood. Prince was really happy. It felt like a true story.”
“That’s the kind of songs when little girls love Prince. It’s like ‘Do Me, Baby’ or something like that but a little more risqué. It was successful when we played it live, but in the studio it wasn’t quite as dynamic.”
“Wendy and her twin sister, Susannah, are pretty famous for having nice butts. And Prince did have one of the world’s cutest butts. Prince was dating Susannah, and I was with Wendy. It was us being goofy about our girlfriends. I sang co-lead with Prince. It was a happy-go-lucky time.”
“It was one of our favorite things to play live. But it was never on the set list. He’d just call it out. It wasn’t like an official song for us. It was just so fun to play. It’s funky.”
“We Can [Bleep]”
This song grew out of a Los Angeles jam session involving Coleman’s brother, David Coleman, playing an oud, a Middle Eastern stringed instrument.
“This was when we were moving onto [the next album] ‘Around the World in a Day.’ Prince was really taken with David at the time. My brother was very schooled in Arabic and Middle Eastern music. Prince was piqued by someone who knew part of a language he wasn’t familiar with.
“David’s groove brought out Prince’s favorite thing — funky. He thought Middle Eastern music was very sexy. He married a belly dancer after that.
“The words were pretty silly. Prince was telling me to sing like Bette Davis.”
“Prince and his dad had a very deep, important relationship. His father was a piano player. Prince really looked up to him. Their relationship needed a lot of healing. After a couple years, he started inviting his dad around more.
“This song was a healing gesture. It was important to Prince to have his father be represented. ‘Father’s Song’ is based on a melody that John Nelson wrote. Prince played piano on the recording.
“He would be pleased to have it included [in this package]. Their relationship got so much better.”
On the Syracuse concert at the Carrier Dome
“I remember Prince being super-excited about that show — that it was being filmed and televised. We did some extra-crazy arrangements of a few things. We sounded huge.
“When I watched it a couple of months ago, I was impressed with the musicianship and what a good band we were. When you’re in it, you have no idea. You’re too busy experiencing the thing to really know what it is.”