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‘Graffiti Bridge’: The Album That Connected Prince’s Past And Future
In Depth

‘Graffiti Bridge’: The Album That Connected Prince’s Past And Future

Though the ‘Graffiti Bridge’ movie found Prince revisiting his ‘Purple Rain’ era, its soundtrack album offered a path to what lay ahead.


Prince’s refusal to repeat himself resulted in one of the most artistically creative and commercially successful runs in the history of music – and also meant that, at the peak of his fame, he was confident enough to confound expectations and move in an entirely new direction. Purple Rain may have made him a star in 1984, but it took him six years to revisit that world. By the time he came to film its sequel, Graffiti Bridge, Prince was entering both a new decade and another significant reinvention. But while the Graffiti Bridge film may not have performed as he had hoped, its soundtrack album proved more impactful, serving as a goodbye to one era while also hinting at what lay ahead for Prince in the 90s.

Listen to ‘Graffiti Bridge’ here.

“One of the most spiritual, uplifting things I’ve ever done”

The disappointing response to the film Prince made after Purple Rain, Under The Cherry Moon, initially left Warner Bros reluctant to back a third cinematic venture, while also teaching Prince that he “can’t direct what I didn’t write”. With Graffiti Bridge, then, he worked the script up himself. Initially starting life in 1987, at which time Madonna was approached to take on the lead female role, it was only after Prince’s gargantuan success with the Batman soundtrack, in 1989, that Warners green-lit the project – under the condition that Prince reconvene the original line-up of The Time, the protégé act that, fronted by the charismatic Morris Day, had disbanded immediately after Purple Rain wrapped.

Revisiting the battle-of-the-bands storyline that had given much of Purple Rain its narrative thrust, Prince – assuming the role of an older, spiritually adrift Kid – once again pitted himself against Day, this time over ownership of the Glam Slam nightclub, a fictional version of a real-life venue Prince would soon open in Minneapolis. With new love interest Aura (Ingrid Chavez) helping to guide his enlightenment, The Kid would find spiritual salvation – and claim full ownership of his club – by the end of the movie.

Prince described Graffiti Bridge as “one of the purest, most spiritual, uplifting things I’ve ever done”, but critics struggled with a movie that had been filmed in a matter of weeks on Prince’s Paisley Park soundstage. Though the shoot was completed with Prince’s customary speed in the early months of 1990 (“You get one or two takes and that’s it,” former Warner Bros exec Marylou Badeaux, who was present throughout much of the filming, told this author for the book Lives Of The Musicians: Prince), the editing process was more laborious, with Prince making editing decisions from his hotel throughout the summer, while on the road for his Nude tour; on days off, he would fly back to Los Angeles in order to oversee the process in person. As newly hired drummer Michael Bland recalled for this writer in 2020, “A lot of the stuff that made the story make sense ended up on the cutting-room floor.”

The musical set-pieces, however, reminded fans and critics alike that Prince could still bring his A-game to the recording studio, leading the St Paul Pioneer Press to declare that the movie had “so many good musical numbers… the plot barely has time to exist”. When the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack album was released, on 20 August 1990 in the UK (21 August in the US), just over two months ahead of the movie, fans agreed, sending the record to No.6 in the US Top Pop and Top Black Albums charts, and to No.1 in the UK.

“A creative and commercially successful master stroke”

If the Graffiti Bridge storyline revisited Purple Rain territory, the soundtrack album marked a first for Prince, in that it found him making space for songs recorded by side-project groups and other artists who had inspired him throughout his career. Both gospel-soul icon Mavis Staples and P-Funk pioneer George Clinton – who also had bit parts in the movie – chipped in with Melody Cool and We Can Funk, respectively, while the album also featured Release It, Shake! and the Prince duet The Latest Fashion – cuts that didn’t make The Time’s own reunion album, Pandemonium, but which found Morris Day’s group delivering some of Graffiti Bridge’s more straight-up funky moments.

Like the movie itself, however, the Graffiti Bridge album was ultimately Prince’s show, and it found him combing through his ever-growing stash of unreleased material in order to repurpose stand-out cuts that may otherwise have languished in obscurity. If The Time’s tracks continued their tradition of laying down high-octane grooves while Prince explored other territory, songs such as the Question Of U and Joy In Repetition – the latter salvaged from the shelved Crystal Ball project that evolved into his 1987 masterpiece, Sign O’ The Times – emerged as two of his finest ballads, with the cyclical Joy In Repetition in particular unfolding with enough narrative and goose-bump-inducing atmosphere to fuel a movie of its own. Immediately taking their places as fan favourites among the best Prince songs, both tracks lasted into setlists for his final tour, 2016’s Piano & A Microphone.

Also exhumed from The Vault were the hyper-sexed Tick, Tick Bang and the pop-rock Bold Generation. Repurposed as The New Power Generation (“We wanna change the world/The only thing that’s in our way is you”), the latter marked a statement of intent for Prince in the new decade, and effectively gave his backing group their name – though it wouldn’t be officially bestowed upon them until 1991’s Diamonds And Pearls album.

“Like nothing I’ve ever done before”

Thieves In The Temple, meanwhile, found Prince forging into unknown territory. With operatic vocals, Middle Eastern flourishes and some of the rawest beats he had committed to tape, the song acted as both a eulogy to his brief relationship with actress Kim Basinger – begun on the set of the Batman film, and another star once tipped for Graffiti Bridge’s lead female role – and a signpost towards the more radical musical evolutions he would make across his next two albums, which would draw on hip-hop and, inspired by meeting belly dancer Mayte Garcia, the traditional music which she set her dances to.

“Thieves In The Temple and Tick, Tick Bang don’t sound like nothing I’ve ever done before,” Prince told Rolling Stone. The magazine itself awarded the Graffiti Bridge album four and a half stars while praising Prince for “reasserting his originality… with the ease of a conqueror”. Elsewhere, Detroit Free Press received it as “a creative and commercially accessible master stroke” and “a seminal work that should be a pop reference point well into the 90s”, while the New York Times found Prince taking “chances that didn’t exist for him with Purple Rain”.

Though, by filming Graffiti Bridge at all, Prince had made a concession to everyone who wanted Purple Rain 2, the soundtrack album confirmed he was doing it on his own terms. It may not have quite changed the world, but it proved that nothing would stand in Prince’s way.

Check out our best Prince songs to find out which ‘Graffiti Bridge’ tracks made the cut.

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