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Bobby Z shares his Purple Rain memories on the album’s 30th anniversary

by Andrea Swensson

June 25, 2014

It was 30 years ago today that Prince and his band the Revolution released Purple Rain, still the best-selling album to come out of Minnesota. The record came out just over a month before the film of the same name would hit theaters, and the singles "When Doves Cry and "Let's Go Crazy" quickly climbed to the top of the charts.

Few would argue that the album not only propelled Prince to his highest level of fame but also attracted attention to his hometown of Minneapolis, so much so that the style of music played on Purple Rain became one of the most clear-cut examples of his famed "Minneapolis Sound." But what exactly was it about the nine tracks on Purple Rain that made the album so iconic?

"I think he was really ahead of what the ‘80s were about to become," says Revolution drummer Bobby Rivkin, who is known on stage as Bobby Z. Rivkin was responsible for performing some of the most compelling and forward-thinking rhythms of Prince's early compositions, and he's helped to carry the Minneapolis Sound torch forward with his now-annual Benefit 2 Celebrate Life fundraising concert that takes over First Avenue this Saturday.

"The Minneapolis Sound is very simply Prince," Rivkin says. "And the discovery he made of synthesizers doing horn parts—taking synthesizers and giving those horn stabs like what James Brown used to do with horns. When you think of the ‘80s, the horn stabs and the punches were done on these Oberheims and all these cool new synthesizers. Everybody else started imitating it. And that’s what we know now as the Minneapolis Sound: Prince in the studio by himself with drum machines and synthesizers."

With Purple Rain celebrating a big anniversary this week—and with Prince's co-star in the Purple Rain movie, Apollonia, coming to town to perform at the show this weekend—Rivkin has had a lot of opportunities to reflect back on those early days and the distinctive sound that ended up defining an entire era of the Twin Cities scene. He was happy to give us a few anecdotes in advance of his show, and you'll be able to hear them at the top of the hour all day today on the Current as we play each of the record's tracks.

In honor of the 30th anniversary, here are Bobby Z's track-by-track memories of Purple Rain, (we'll be playing a song from the soundtrack every hour on The Current):

  1. "Let’s Go Crazy" is a great opening, and you could just tell something was about to happen. The rhythm is just right, and I think the thing about the ending is this big Vegas ending, that big powerful ending, and doing that drumfill, going around it’s a pretty exciting moment. I got to be John Bonham for a second.

  2. "Take Me With" you is just a beautiful song. It’s just so great how he got Apollonia in on that, and it’s just a beautiful song that really catches you every time. It’s so simple, isn’t it?

  3. "The Beautiful Ones": That’s what happens when you give Prince 24 hours by himself. We had other songs that people have heard about that would have been in the place of "The Beautiful Ones," but I remember coming back to the studio 36 hours later and he said “Listen to this.” And that’s what you get with Prince by himself in a powerful moment, all fired up in a studio.

  4. "Computer Blue" was a great Prince and the Revolution song. Highlight of that, echoing the movie in some weird, real way, was John Nelson, Prince’s dad, who wrote the insert, or the B-section suite called “Father’s Song.” That's when it changes to this mysterious sound—and then [in the movie] they do the dance, the dip dance. It’s one of the most haunting pieces of music. The way Prince inserted it, arrangement-wise, was just thrilling.

  5. "Darling Nikki," as we all know now, was the song that got the parental advisory sticker. That’s Prince’s Prince. You heard "Dirty Mind" before, so you knew you were going to get some "Darling Nikki."

  6. "When Doves Cry" was the beginning of his real prolific genius on the Purple Rain episode. Just the ability to create those harmonies, that lyric, that vocal, and just the simplistic nature of the rhythm track—it’s just his ability to communicate, is what that song means to me.

  7. "I Would Die 4 U" is a very lighthearted musical piece with a very heavy lyric, and it works really well. He knew exactly what he wanted to synthesize, and he knew exactly what he wanted to do, and the way it tied into "Baby I’m a Star" was a beautiful thing.

  8. Ah, "Baby I’m a Star," the song that used to go 35 minutes at the end of the Purple Rain tour, just before a 30-minute "Purple Rain," with Sheila E and her whole band out there, and stop and goes that would make James Brown’s band sleepy. Stopping on the one, give me 10, give me 25 horn punches—I still can’t sleep at night sometimes, playing Simon Says with that song. But it was epic for the audience, for sure.

  9. "Purple Rain" is just one of those moments, as a band, that you live for. From the first moment of rehearsal, when I heard the strains of it on Prince’s piano, to the last time we played it live at the Myth, just last May with him. He calls it medicine, and it is; it just really has something about it, the way it crescendos, the way it crashes, and the way the guitar solo takes you to a place where you just feel different about your life. No matter what, when you hear those opening chords of Purple Rain, you just stop time somehow, and just listen.


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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.