Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November 30: Prince, "When Doves Cry"

Artist: Prince
Song: "When Doves Cry"
Album: Purple Rain
Year: 1984

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Though it is perhaps the most tossed around word by music critics and fans alike, there are only an elite few musicians in history that are truly worthy of the title of "genius."  While these performers who are beyond comparison are all able to be given this label, there are few common themes that run through them, aside from the fact that in nearly every case, they made music so unique, that it completely altered everything that came after.  In most cases, these musicians are masters at a particular instrument or style of performance, as to be able to be "that" gifted in multiple musical areas is perhaps the most rare occurrence in all of music history.  However, in at least one instance, a single performer proved to have no limits in any sense of the word, that that is the reason that Prince is held in the regard that he is to this day.  A master of every instrument, the music of Prince largely defines itself, as over the decades he has fused together blues, soul, psychedelic, funk, dance, and countless other styles into his unique rock sound.  Due to this, one can make the case for a number of his songs being his "best," and in some cases, one must consider entire albums of his work as true turning points in music history.  Yet it is his work in the early to mid 1980's where his talents shined brightest, and one would be hard pressed to find a more stunning or complete representation of his skills than one finds in Prince's unforgettable 1984 single, "When Doves Cry."

As the lead single from his equally legendary 1984 album, Purple Rain, "When Doves Cry" spun the talents of Prince in a light that had not yet been seen.  The song sounds a bit different than nearly every other track on the album, and this is perhaps due to the fact that Prince himself plays every instrument on the song.  As the legend goes, "When Doves Cry" was written overnight by Prince, when the director of the movie "Purple Rain" asked him to attempt to match a song with a particular scene in the film.  The fact that Prince was able to pull such a work together in that time period is nothing short of stunning, and on every front, the song represents his style perfectly.  Regardless of which instrument one keys into on "When Doves Cry," there is an odd groove that runs throughout the song, and it is this fact that shows the unique talent that "is" Prince.  After the song opens with a shredding of guitar that is far funkier and more powerful than those of his peers, "When Doves Cry" settles in with a brilliant combination of keyboards and programmed drums.  The fact that these are largely the only two instruments present leaves the song sounding rather sparse, and it is almost impossible to consider the fact that the song was a dance hit, even without any bassline at all.  There is also a uniquely dark feel to the song, and the way in which all these elements work perfectly together is the embodiment of the genius that makes Prince such an unparalleled talent.

By the time "When Doves Cry" was released, the world had already been introduced to the almost hypnotic quality of Prince's more spoken style of lyrical delivery.  Having proven his mastery of this a year previous with "Little Red Corvette," Prince seems to up the ante here, getting darker and more intense with his vocal performance.  It is this intensity that has proven to be one of the most consistent markers of the music of Prince, as he brings a level of passion and honesty that cannot be found elsewhere in music.  Throughout his vocal performance on "When Dove Cry," one can easily feel the mood coming through in his words, and it is musical moments like that found here tnat makes it appropriate to use terms like "ooze" to describe the quality of his vocals.  Yet Prince takes a slightly more subtle approach to his lyrics on "When Doves Cry," as he retains the alluring, almost seductive tone to his vocals, yet is not as over the top or exaggerated as he was on some of his previous singles.  This allows a certain vulnerability to come through in the lyrics, and this element only adds to the overall impact of the song.  While there are moments when his intentions are clear, there are points on "When Doves Cry" when Prince seems to almost contradict his regularly cool and confident persona.  His ability to convey a wide range of emotions, whilst keeping the song swaying and sexy throughout is the final piece that makes "When Doves Cry" an absolute work of genius, and unquestionably one of the most impressive moments of Prince's entire career.

For more than a month in 1984, "When Doves Cry" sat atop the charts, and it would be followed by four other singles from Purple Rain, each having its own distinctive sound.  The fact that Prince was able to find musical success with such a diverse range of sounds was all the proof anyone could ask for to show what an unparalleled talent lived within him.  The fact that these songs still retain their power and freshness nearly thirty years later supports this idea, and it also makes it clear what an exceptionally rare talent one can find in Prince's music.  Crafting "When Doves Cry" exactly as he wanted, Prince is almost showing off in the fact that each element of the song is nothing short of perfect, and the fact that he played every note of the song, composing it over a single night, only adds to the legend and status that Prince attained over the decades.  Quite literally, there has never been another artist that is even remotely similar to Prince, as he blends together so many different genres in ways not heard elsewhere.  Though there are a handful, the most common element that links all his songs together is the sensual quality of his performances, and this can be found in both the music and vocals alike.  The way in which Prince makes "When Doves Cry" move and groove, without bringing a bass into the song is nothing short of inexplicable, and this is perhaps all one needs to understand to appreciate the unparalleled talents that he possesses.  Due to this level of talent, there are many groundbreaking moments within the catalog of Prince, yet one cannot deny just how extraordinary an achievement one finds in his classic 1984 single, "When Doves Cry."

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