I have to admit: it feels a little surreal to be writing about the deluxe edition (or “Deluxe Expanded edition,” as the case may be) of Purple Rain. This is a project I’ve been anticipating, conservatively speaking, since it was first announced over three years ago; more accurately, though, it’s something I’ve dreamed about for decades, since those not-so-distant days when the likelihood of Prince and Warner Bros. coming to an agreement over expanded reissues seemed to fall somewhere between the proverbial flying pigs and the proverbial Hell freezing over. So, I’ll admit, my perspective is biased: for me, the fact that this thing exists is in itself a kind of miracle. Any complaints I might have are colored indelibly by the knowledge that the last official collection of vintage Prince outtakes, 1998’s Crystal Ball, is older than many artists’ full discographies. Bands have formed, made it big, broken up, and reunited between now and the last time we got a peek inside the Vault; I think it’s important not to lose sight of that.
It is, of course, also important to call out the collection for its missteps, something I’ve seen many on social media doing. The most egregious of these, from my perspective, is the failure to credit Jill Jones for her backing vocals on “We Can Fuck”: whether made out of malice or plain sloppiness, it’s a damning omission. There are also the unavoidable track-listing quibbles that emerge any time the boundlessness of fan expectations come into contact with the restraints of physical media. Where, for example, is Prince’s version of “Wednesday,” or “G-Spot”–both songs known to have been considered for the Purple Rain album? Where is that extended version of “17 Days” that allegedly exists? And did anyone really need all of those single edits on Disc 3? If nothing else, the imperfections of the deluxe Purple Rain are a timely reminder that hardcore fans still need a healthy ecosystem of bootlegs beyond what’s made available to the mass market; indeed, as if to underscore that point, a trio of outtakes leaked the same day as the official release, including “Wednesday” and a version of “Our Destiny” with the aforementioned Jones on lead vocals. They’re well worth a listen (though, for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t trade them for any of the tracks currently on the deluxe edition).
Yet, as important as bootlegs are, we still need official releases–and, for all its imperfections, this remains the best official archival release of Prince’s music to date. Leaving aside the question of what’s not on Disc 2, let’s reflect on what is: a full-length version of “The Dance Electric,” sounding better than on any circulating recording I’ve heard; “Love and Sex,” a storied outtake previously unheard by the vast majority of collectors; the extended “Hallway Speech” version of “Computer Blue,” again sounding better than ever; the studio version of “Electric Intercourse,” which until this year even the most respected Prince experts didn’t know existed. Not every track is an auditory gem: “Our Destiny,” “Roadhouse Garden,” and “Velvet Kitty Cat,” as many have observed, seem to come from the same, slightly hissy sources as the unofficial recordings that leaked last year. But the versions of “Possessed” and “We Can Fuck” here–hell, “We Can Fuck” alone!–are well worth the $25 current asking price on Amazon. Throw in a great-sounding “Wonderful Ass,” the extremely rare “Katrina’s Paper Dolls,” and an extended, almost Vangelis-esque “Father’s Song,” and we have an impressive overview of the scope of Prince’s musical output in 1983 and 1984. It may not be enough to placate the most hardcore fans and collectors, but it comes as close as any mass-market product can be expected to.
And, let’s face it: like Prince 4Ever before it, this package isn’t really for “us.” The people reading this blog, or posting on prince.org or any of the innumerable fan groups on Facebook, don’t need to be sold on Prince’s genius: quite frankly, they don’t need to buy another copy of Purple Rain, the new remaster of which sounds good (particularly on a phone or in the car), but is hardly essential. There is, however, a market for this collection, and I think it’s well-served overall. People who love the album Purple Rain, but haven’t heard any of the outtakes, are poised to have their mind blown by Disc 2; hell, there are some people who haven’t heard the 12″ version of “Erotic City,” and that’s mind-blowing in itself. And while I respect the fact that a lot of paisley heads still covet their VHS copies of Prince and the Revolution: Live!, let’s keep in mind that there are also multiple generations of fans for whom it’s a whole new experience–and, while the video remaster isn’t ideal, it’s still completely watchable, and a great addition to the set.
I’m not trying to be a corporate Pollyanna here–far from it, I’m a realist. And I also remember the first time I heard “Possessed,” and was transformed from a casual Prince fan into the kind of frothing-at-the-mouth lunatic who writes blog posts about all of his circulating recordings. This new edition of Purple Rain is going to cause that transformation in a lot more people (though, hopefully, not all of them will start blogs–I don’t need the competition). And if we want access to more Prince music, an expanded fanbase–one that is both wide and deep–should be important to everyone.
That’s why I recommend anyone reading this post to support, on some level, the release of Purple Rain deluxe. Obviously, no one should spend money on anything they don’t want to. If you don’t care about the single edits–and really, who can blame you?–go for the “regular” deluxe instead of the “Deluxe Expanded.” If you want some of the bonus tracks but not all, download the individual MP3s. Or, hell, stream them via your service of choice–whatever fraction of a penny NPG Records is paid per stream is still better than nothing. But whatever you decide, the sad truth of our capitalist society is that art, especially popular art, can’t exist on merit alone. If you want more of Prince’s catalogue to receive the archival treatment it deserves–even if you’re disappointed by this first attempt–then on some level, you’re going to have to vote with your dollar and support what we have. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great first step.
If you want to support this blog–which, in defiance of our capitalist society, does exist on merit alone–you can buy the Deluxe Expanded edition of Purple Rain (or anything else!) using my Amazon links.
7 replies on “Review: Purple Rain, Deluxe Expanded Edition”
“And if we want access to more Prince music, an expanded fan base–one that is both wide and deep–should be important to everyone.”
THIS. Thank you Zach.
Disc 2 — Some heard before/some not, and as you predict will happen to many, Mind Blown!
Disc 3 — Are the single edits radio versions that were put out with original release? Thoughts on extended “I Would Die 4 U” + “Another Lonely Christmas” and “God” instrumental?
Vicky — 100% agree, and worth quoting Zach again: “And if we want access to more Prince music, an expanded fanbase–one that is both wide and deep–should be important to everyone.”
Yeah, to my knowledge the single edits would have been the ones played on the radio. A few of them are rare/weird, like Baby I’m a Star, most have already been released in one way or another. My thing is, I can see their value for completists who absolutely have to own everything; but if that was the target market for this compilation, then it would have been a lot bigger than three discs. If it was up to me, I would have put the extended versions and B-sides at the end of Disc 1–or if they absolutely had to keep the album sacrosanct, at the beginning of Disc 2–and replaced the redundant edits with more “Vault” material. Unfortunately, however, WB/NPG still haven’t approached me with a job offer.
I love the “God” instrumental (another one that sounds a bit Vangelis!) and adore the extended “I Would Die 4 U.” There’s a circulating version of that same take that is 30 minutes long–it’s like church, in a good way!
I am the editor of the Journal of African American Studies and would like to know if you would like to write a review of a recent Prince book for my journal. I look forward to hearing from you as this is time sensitive.
Thanks for this thoughtful review, Zach. My Amazon copy finally due to arrive today (you would think I lived on Mars not in Europe!). I have listened to it already however on Spotify and agree that some of the extended edits could have usefully been replaced with other tracks considered for the original recording. This especially since the current state of the UMG contract meltdown would suggest it will be a long time, if ever, before other material makes it onto the open market. You are right when you say the only way his heritage will be preserved and made accessible to future generations is by making our own financial contributions too, bootlegs notwithstanding.
Homogenized, processed (except for his hair and even he eventually realized this) Prince music is the antithesis of the man, ironically, money is the alluring “de-elevator.” Brother P, may the mysteries of this world be revealed to you in the next. Love and Peace.
Good point, Gwen–I should have mentioned, I’ve barely listened to Disc 1, and only then on the kind of equipment it was intended for (earbuds and car stereo). The “remaster” is just a vehicle for the expanded content for me. Also interesting how the most disappointing part of the set happens to be the part Prince was most involved with–for me, it’s more evidence that his way of doing things wasn’t always best. Hopefully they’ll listen to audiophile feedback and future remasters will sound better–Sign “O” the Times and Parade especially need the help!