From its original treatment, the story of Purple Rain had always revolved around three characters: Prince (a.k.a. “the Kid”), Morris, and Vanity (later replaced by Apollonia). Yet, in the early stages of production, Prince and director Albert Magnoli envisioned a broader depiction of the Minneapolis music scene, with subplots for the various supporting players. There was even talk of the accompanying album including tracks from associated artists, along the lines of the later Graffiti Bridge soundtrack. In the end, of course, this ensemble version of Purple Rain was not to be; the final album and film are both unambiguously Prince’s show. But Magnoli’s draft screenplay made plenty of time for one supporting player in particular: “Jill,” the First Avenue waitress played by Prince’s real-life backing singer and paramour, Jill Jones.
Since joining Prince’s camp in early 1982, Jones had been in the wings, waiting for him to figure out her place in his professional universe (and, for that matter, his personal one). She’d sung on the 1999 tour, both onstage for Prince and backstage for Vanity 6; she’d remained on call to add uncredited “filler” vocals to tracks like “Baby I’m a Star,” “Modernaire,” “Vibrator,” and “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come”; and, every once in a while, she’d even managed to record her own music. By October of 1983, she and Prince had amassed a handful of songs for a prospective LP, including, most recently, the Vanity 6 holdover “G-Spot.”
In the meantime, there was the movie role. Jill–who Magnoli’s script describes as “18 years old, blonde and pretty in a cute, innocent way”–is a key part of Purple Rain’s story. She’s the first person at First Avenue to interact with Vanity/Apollonia (not counting bouncer Chick, who just tries to throw her out). She plays the g0-between for Prince and bandmates Lisa and Wendy, passing him their demo tape of the song that becomes “Purple Rain.” She also, in a plot line that doesn’t come across as clearly in the finished film, incites jealousy between the Kid and his leading lady: In the script, it’s explicitly Jill who refers Vanity to Prince’s rival Morris, kicking off the love triangle that is the second act’s main conflict. Not every scene she’s in is gold–the one where Dr. Fink, apropos of nothing, “stares hungrily at her breasts” before honking them like a car horn, was cut for good reason–but she’s undeniably a major presence (Magnoli 1983).
Jill’s biggest moment comes early in the screenplay, when Prince drops in on the “dead” nightclub after hours. As originally written, the scene opens with Jill “seated at the PIANO, [a] la Marlene Dietrich, SINGING to her hearts content. A cigarette dangles from her lip, a police cap is perched jauntily on her head.” The song she sings–described as “a simple bar tune, delivered slightly off-key, but with an openness that is endearing”–isn’t named in Magnoli’s script; it’s possible that he hadn’t actually heard it at the time of writing (Magnoli 1983). But Prince, as ever, had just the right tune for the occasion.
“Wednesday” had reportedly been kicking around for a few months before October 23, when Prince recorded it at his Kiowa Trail home studio. Susan Rogers, who’d taken over as his in-house engineer in the summer, remembered it as “a little piano piece that he was playing upstairs for quite a while” (Tudahl 2018 187). One such instance can be heard on the rehearsal tape posthumously released as Piano & A Microphone 1983. Toward the end of a smattering of assorted sketches, covers, and works in progress, Prince breaks into a halting piano line, his delicate falsetto singing along in unison. The song is wispy, fragmentary: Just a single verse that gives way to a minor-key coda and dissolves into the ether well before hitting the two-minute mark.
Indeed, “Wednesday”–both on Piano & A Microphone and in the circulating studio recording with Jones on vocals–is over so quickly that it may take a few listens for the grim desperation of its lyrics to register. The verse opens with that most characteristic of Prince scenarios: calling a lover on a Saturday night, only to find that they “weren’t even home.” Here, though, the song’s narrator dispenses with any vestige of subtext, confessing to “Contemplating suicide from 12 o’clock till two,” and threatening, “If you’re not back by Wednesday / There’s no telling what I might do.” Jones, understandably, balked at the suicide line, which she changed in her version to “I contemplated your embrace from 12 o’clock till two.” “I’ve always been a little perplexed with Prince with the things he’s given me,” she later recalled to music journalist Alan Light. “Like, ‘Wednesday’ was about suicide, so I was a psycho girl” (Light 2014 133).
To be fair, “Wednesday” is almost certainly written from the perspective of the fictional Jill, who Magnoli’s screenplay makes clear is hopelessly, unrequitedly in love with the Kid. But, as Jones observed, Prince had an uncanny knack for merging fantasy with reality: “What’s so weird about the film is that his impressions of us, that he embellished, all manifested in our relationships with him,” she told Light. “Even if they weren’t real at the beginning, by the time it ended, we were all those people. It’s like he wrote what he wanted [us] to be, and then you became that” (Light 2014 134). In fact, the Jill we see on screen is only a shade or two removed from the one Prince was already crafting through his songs: see, for example, “Baby, You’re a Trip,” with its unflattering portrait of the narrator as a “star struck little fool.” “I kept thinking, ‘Is he writing this from my point of view? Is this how he thinks I see him?’” Jones later said of “Baby,” though it could just as easily apply to “Wednesday.” “What girl ever wants a guy to know she loves him that much? It was a little like being completely naked” (Tudahl 2021 294).
In her own recording of “Wednesday,” Jones tones down the emotional nudity: not only through the omission of the jarring suicide line, but also through the winning camp of her vocal performance. According to sessionographer Duane Tudahl, Prince sat at the piano while she recorded her vocals, coaching her with different approaches to the various takes: “breathy, sexy,” “dramatic,” and so on (Tudahl 2018 188). The result is as self-consciously stagey and artificial as the Piano & A Microphone version is emotionally raw, with the toylike timbre of Prince’s Yamaha CP-70 only adding to the nursery-rhyme tone.
On November 7, Prince included “Wednesday” on his first test pressing of the Purple Rain soundtrack, along with the rest of the songs he’d recorded for the film to date: “Let’s Go Crazy,” “The Beautiful Ones,” “I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby I’m a Star,” “Computer Blue,” “Darling Nikki,” “Purple Rain,” and “Father’s Song,” a piano-based instrumental tracked on the same day as Jones’ vocals for “Wednesday.” As Rogers suggested to Uptown magazine, it’s likely that this was a compilation of backing tracks “intended for singing in the movie,” not a genuine attempt at an album configuration (Tudahl 2018 194). With its brief length and wildly disparate musical style, “Wednesday” never appears to have been seriously considered for official release.
Jones’ performance did, however, almost make it to the big screen. “I shot a portion of it in the movie,” Magnoli told Tudahl. “I put the camera like an inch off the ground. And was able to track across a very shiny floor right up to her legs and her face playing the piano… She’s great, great, great–she’s beautiful–but where the hell is it going? It was like a different movie” (Tudahl 2018 189). In the end, “Wednesday” joined most of Jill’s scenes–including a bizarre subplot where she adopts a puppy that resembles the Kid–on the cutting room floor. When Prince first broke the news to her, “I was really bitter,” she admitted to Light. “I don’t think I had a project that was ready to go, so it wasn’t really mandatory. But when I’m crying at the end of the movie, I remember being so bitchy and going, ‘Now, what the hell am I standing out here crying for?’” (Light 2014 133).
In truth, “Wednesday” wouldn’t have been the best way for Prince to introduce the world to Jill Jones. As a vocal showpiece it reveals little of her talents, since it’s meant to sound amateurish: a non-singer crooning to herself in an unguarded moment. As a movie scene it’s played for laughs, with Prince’s arrival turning Jill into “a bundle of loose, embarrassing ends” and causing her to spill her orange juice (Magnoli 1983). And as a song it’s just incongruous, with a showtuney feel that hints at one of Prince’s future musical directions–within a year, he’d be sharing with Jones his plans to write a stage musical around another of her tracks, “Our Destiny”–but sticks out like a sore thumb amidst Purple Rain’s glossy arena rock and synthesized funk.
The problem with “Wednesday,” then, is less that Prince cut it from the movie, and more that he didn’t have anything to replace it with. It would be more than a year after the release of Purple Rain before he made another serious effort at developing Jones’ career. Nor was she the only one with sour grapes over a reduced role in the film: “The Time had some other stuff [cut] too, and that became a problem, having to tell your friends when we’re all committed to this,” she recalled to Light. “There were expectations for everybody, because Prince talked everybody up so much about it. So when you don’t have all of those things coming, it makes for a ‘the hell with this’ kind of feeling, like, ‘You lied to me’” (Light 2014 133-134).
Prince’s plans for his big-screen debut seem to have been made with the best intentions: Instead of going to Hollywood, he would bring Tinseltown to Minneapolis and make a movie at home with his friends. But in the end, the almost childlike purity of this vision couldn’t compete with a century’s worth of brutal film-industry calculus. Purple Rain would make stars of Prince and a handful of others; everyone else was just along for the ride.
(Thanks to J. Greg Morrison for joining the D / M / S / R Music Club this week. I’m going to try to end 2021 with a post on “Father’s Song” before breaking for the holidays…wish me luck!)