When Prince took his 1999 album on the road, he dubbed it the “Triple Threat Tour”. Named in reference to the line-up, which saw Prince side projects Vanity 6 and The Time perform support slots before his own headline appearances, its unofficial title also nodded to the old-Hollywood term for someone who could act, dance and sing – in other words, someone so talented they could do everything. It’s fitting, then, that Prince’s next project, Purple Rain, would find him doing just that as he staked his claim to being the world’s greatest musician on record, on screen and on stage. Not so much capturing the zeitgeist, the Purple Rain album, film and tour invented it and then watched everyone follow as Prince stormed his way to superstardom.
Listen to ‘Purple Rain’ here.
“There was no precedent for this”
Prince’s original idea for the film had been sketched out in an 11-page handwritten treatment titled Dreams, which detailed “the story of the dreams and aspirations of 3 individuals” on the local Minneapolis music scene. In this early draft, the Morris Day-fronted The Time faced off against Prince for local glory, while their frontman also challenged him for the affections of the movie’s leading lady – at that point Vanity 6’s frontwoman, Vanity. However, by the time shooting for the movie began, in November 1983 – in the middle of a typically harsh Minneapolis winter, during which cast members woke up to three inches of ice on their windows – both the cast and Prince’s treatment had been overhauled.
Vanity was out – either of her own accord, or due to the financial demands she’d made during pre-production – to be replaced by Patricia Kotero as Apollonia, in a newly configured Apollonia 6. And while The Time remained, their line-up had undergone a reshuffle following Prince’s firing of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis after the fledging production duo found themselves snowed in in Atlanta, Georgia, while finishing some side work with The SOS Band, causing them to miss a show on the 1999 tour. A disgruntled Day would stick around long enough to complete filming but, after shooting wrapped, he would leave of his own accord.
Meanwhile, Prince’s treatment had been turned into a fully fledged script by rookie director Albert Magnoli, whose pitch not only helped Prince envision a film with more mainstream box-office appeal than the indie-type flick he had once considered making, but also captured the themes that lay at the heart of the semi-autobiographical narrative the rising star wanted to bring to life: “You’ve only known me for ten minutes, yet you tell me basically my story,” Prince told the director. “How is that possible?”
“I’m an alternative. I’m something else”
In the months leading up to the shoot, Prince also worked on three albums’ worth of material – including Apollonia 6’s debut album and the third Time album record, Ice Cream Castle, alongside what would become the Purple Rain album – ran his bands through rehearsals and, along with the rest of the cast, attended dancing and acting classes, honing everyone’s skills while en route to creating the greatest live show on the planet. Setting up a base of operations in a Minneapolis warehouse, Prince worked around the clock, ensuring not only that each band was flawlessly drilled, but that the new songs he was recording would flow with the film’s narrative: the battle-of-the-bands element between Prince and The Time – along with Morris Day’s rivalry for Apollonia – would provide some of the drama and much of the humour, but the emotional heart of the movie followed Prince’s character – The Kid – as he struggled to escape an abusive household and balance his own creative aspirations with the expectations of his band. Peaking – narratively, emotionally and artistically – with the Purple Rain song itself, the finished film ensured Prince would live for all eternity in the rock firmament.