Apple Music 100 Best Albums

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Purple Rain



Baby, he’s a star.

You can’t very well tell a story about a troubled artist whose difficult personality belies his musical genius without, you know, actual musical genius. In this sense, the soundtrack to Purple Rain began life with the highest degree of difficulty imaginable; the impossibility that its success could ever have been in doubt is the project’s greatest legacy.

“He got an Oscar for Purple Rain. There’s no way your work can be more political than doing that, because he did it all the way his way.”

Pharrell Williams

With half its tracklist comprising Top 10 singles, the soundtrack is what truly turned Prince Rogers Nelson from just big enough to get to star in a summer blockbuster based on his life to one of the most instantly recognizable and distinctive pop artists ever. This is no slight to the movie, which has its charms (shout-out Morris Day), as much as it’s a testament to Prince’s all-engulfing star power and genre-fluid/gender-fluid virtuosity—nine perfect, definitive pop-soul-dance-rock-R&B-funk-whatever-else songs that couldn’t help but swallow everything in their orbit.

The brilliance of Purple Rain is how it stirs seemingly contradictory moods—lust, devotion, intimacy, alienation—into a brew where nothing can be separated from anything else. Prince makes trauma sound erotic (“When Doves Cry”) and salvation sound reckless (“Let’s Go Crazy”). His sexual escapades are spiritual, disorienting, and almost psychedelic (“Darling Nikki,” “Computer Blue”), while his spiritual journeys are grounded in the mechanics of a guitar solo (“Purple Rain”). The album broke records and brains: Tipper Gore’s overreaction to the image of Darling Nikki masturbating to a magazine begat a congressional witch hunt debating the morality of pop music. Prince often drew comparisons to Jimi Hendrix for the way he mixed music that felt Black and white, sacred and profane. The reality is that he had no precedent then and no comparison now.