Production on Purple Rain officially wrapped in late December 1983; but as the film’s chief composer as well as its star, Prince remained on call through the post-production phase. Just about a month after the end of shooting, his services were once again required: Director Albert Magnoli wanted a song for the sequence where the Kid and Apollonia ride through rural Henderson, Minnesota on his motorcycle. So, at Sunset Sound on January 22, 1984, Prince started work on “Take Me with U.”
Since “Take Me with U” was one of the few songs written especially for the film, it makes sense to start with its place in the story. Magnoli’s draft screenplay includes an early scene where the newly-acquainted Prince and Vanity stroll through a shopping mall. Vanity is “transfixed” by a bridal gown, while Prince has his eye on a guitar (nobody ever accused Magnoli of subtlety, much less progressive gender politics). There’s some flirty squabbling over Vanity’s ankle chain, then Prince proposes they “go for a ride.”
On the page, this scene reads as more or less exactly what it is: obligatory character development to connect the dots between the earlier scene where the Kid and Vanity/Apollonia meet and the one immediately following, where she takes her top off. But it comes alive on the screen, and 90% of the credit must go to Prince’s music. As the camera pans across the oddly S&M-themed window display for the Kid’s coveted white “Cloud” guitar (see above), an explosive drum fill kicks in. Suddenly, we’re transported to a motorcycle wheel’s view of the open road; even the time of day seems to have shifted, from the moody interior of the mall scene to crisp natural daylight. The music builds to a crescendo and the sun flares out from behind the trees; cut to a panoramic aerial shot of the Kid and Apollonia astride his 1981 Honda CM400A Hondamatic, just as the song’s blissful, string-laden hook comes to the fore.
Up to this point, Purple Rain has been downright claustrophobic, moving from the neon underworld of First Avenue to the Kid’s oppressive family home, then back to the empty club. The preceding sequence, in which the Kid’s rival Morris began to assemble and rehearse his new girl group, may have taken place during the day, but the sunlight merely threw the harsh urban environs into relief; that same sequence ended with Morris’ underling, Jerome, throwing a woman in a dumpster. It’s only when the Kid and Apollonia hit the road that some genuine warmth starts to creep into the film, its cramped nightspots and grimy alleys giving way to green grass and open spaces. With its soaring chorus and buoyant arrangement, “Take Me with U” mirrors that transition perfectly: “You get this huge sense of comfort and relief,” guitarist Wendy Melvoin reflects in the liner notes for the 2017 expanded edition of Purple Rain. “The two of them are connecting. Falling in love. I think everyone feels that way when they play this song” (Revolution 17).
Indeed, so effective is “Take Me with U” at evoking the boundless potential of new love that it’s easy to forget where the movie is actually heading: i.e., to a second ritual humiliation almost as misogynistic as Morris’ and Jerome’s dumpster routine. As the music fades, the Kid and Apollonia pull up to the banks of one of Minnesota’s storied “10,000 lakes.” Apollonia shares her dream of “making it” in show business, and asks the Kid if he’ll help her. He says no–at least, not until after she “purif[ies herself] in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.” Never one to back down from a challenge, Apollonia strips down right then and there, shedding her leather pants and jacket (with no bra; thoughts and prayers to the poor girl’s nipples) and jumping in the lake–only for the Kid to reveal, too late, that the body of water she just “purified” herself in “ain’t Lake Minnetonka.” As she emerges from the water, drenched and understandably furious, he hops back on his Honda and speeds away. He comes back, of course, and coaxes her onto the bike again; but not before accelerating out of her reach a couple more times and teasingly admonishing, “Don’t get my seat all wet.”
The “Lake Minnetonka” scene has aged poorly enough on its own merits, but it’s the story behind it that really runs afoul of today’s post-“#MeToo” mores. According to Apollonia, shooting took place on the Minnesota River (not, in fact, Lake Minnetonka) on November 2, hours after the season’s first snowfall–far from ideal conditions for skinny-dipping. “The first take that you see that was printed, that was the first take that came out in the movie,” the actress told Minnesota Public Radio’s Andrea Swensson in 2014. “I jumped in, and I kicked [stunt coordinator] Al [Jones], I panicked. It was freezing—I actually broke a little sheet of ice” (Swensson 2014 “Apollonia”). When she got out, she recalled to Jon Bream of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “I couldn’t breathe… They said ‘Cut’ and then we did it three more times. By the fourth time, I felt delirious” (Bream 2014). As hypothermia began to set in, she was ushered into a tent, where her costar brought her back to consciousness with his own body heat. Luckily, Prince and Magnoli thought better of making her repeat the ordeal a fifth time; and, while reshoots were required for the shot of her emerging from the water, they were done under more hospitable conditions in Southern California.
All of which is to say that “Take Me with U” has to do a lot of heavy lifting to make its part of the movie work, and it’s a testament to its sturdy construction that it works as well as it does. From its first moments–that aforementioned drum fill, played by Prince on Bobby Z’s hybrid Simmons SDS-V kit–the song crackles with joyous energy. Even the instrumentation feels like a breath of fresh air, augmenting the usual Purple Rain-era palette of electric drums and Oberheim synth with jangly acoustic guitar straight out of a ’60s folk-rock tune. The lyrics, too, put a sweeter spin on Prince’s standard seduction narrative, borrowing imagery from “Lady Cab Driver” to turn the earlier song’s sexual nihilism into pure romantic abandon: “I don’t care if we spend the night at your mansion / I don’t care if we spend the night on the town / All I want is 2 spend the night together / All I want is 2 spend the night in your arms.”
In a canny bid for cross-media synergy–or maybe just because he needed more material for the Apollonia 6 album–Prince penned “Take Me with U” as a duet with his female lead, in character as their fictionalized movie selves. Like with “Sex Shooter” before it, the process of recording Apollonia’s vocals was laborious; sessionographer Duane Tudahl writes that the overdubs took a total of seven and a half hours on January 30. To help build the fledgling singer’s confidence, Prince bolstered her vocal track with subtle “ghost vocals” by bandmate Lisa Coleman and backing singer Jill Jones. As Jones explained, the technique was meant to effectively fool a less experienced vocalist into thinking the augmented performance was their own: “they go home and they listen to their tapes and they come back and maybe do another vocal on top and they actually get a little bit more cojones if they believe a little bit that it might be themselves.” In Apollonia’s case, having a “ghost vocal” to build upon helped her develop one of the song’s most endearing elements: what Jones calls “her Betty Boop-style thing,” best heard when Prince sings, “You’re sheer perfection,” and she guilelessly responds, “Thank you!” (Tudahl 2018 247).
Another, more noticeable studio flourish came the day before Apollonia recorded her vocals, when Prince had Lisa, her younger brother David Coleman, and session player Ilene “Novi” Novog add strings to the track. In the Purple Rain expanded edition liner notes, Lisa recalls writing the arrangement with Prince on the spot: “We sat at the piano and I fooled around with some lines,” she writes. “He started laughing and said he had just recorded ‘Sugar Walls’ with Sheena Easton and he had written a similar line… He went ahead and used it guilt-free, knowing it wasn’t him ripping himself off. It was me!” (Revolution 17). Along with his customary cello, Prince also had David bring his finger cymbals, or zills: Middle Eastern auxiliary percussion instruments previously employed on the unreleased “We Can Fuck.” Their distinctive chime adds a splash of quasi-Orientalist psychedelia to the song, foreshadowing their more extensive use on the following year’s Around the World in a Day.
For the first several weeks after its completion, “Take Me with U” was slated for Apollonia 6; an early compilation of their album, assembled on February 6, had it as the second track, between “Sex Shooter” and “Manic Monday,” while a second compilation from February 29 placed it as the opener. But by mid-April, the appeal of the girl group was wearing thin, and Prince decided to claim the song for his own. “He did that occasionally,” engineer Peggy McCreary explained to Tudahl. “He’d give a song away and then take it back… We never knew what anything was for. It was all part of his master plan. He probably just felt[,] ‘This would fit into my album,’ and it was his song, so why not?” (Tudahl 2018 311).
Whether “Take Me with U” “should” have ended up on Purple Rain is still a matter of healthy debate in the fan community–not least because the track it replaced, the extended version of “Computer Blue,” is such a cult favorite. For my part, however, I can’t imagine the album without it: acquired-taste Apollonia vox notwithstanding, it’s a blast of (sheer) pop perfection, not to mention a valuable peek into Prince’s neo-psychedelic near future. Without “Take Me with U,” the Purple Rain tour also would have been robbed of one of its most galvanizing moments. “When we played this live we would always turn the house lights on,” Wendy writes in the expanded edition liner notes. “We wanted to see the joy in everyone’s faces while we played” (Revolution 17). Watch the music video for the song (above), recorded live at the Summit in Houston, Texas–or the version from Syracuse, New York, on the recently-remastered Prince and the Revolution Live–and that joy is palpable. Perhaps most surprisingly, “Take Me with U” was one of the few Purple Rain-era songs played on the pointedly anti-nostalgic One Nite Alone… tour in 2002: proof, at least in my eyes, that Prince saw it as one of his most durable standards. Love it or lump it, “Take Me with U” is a part of history now–not too shabby for a bit of pop fluff written for a former Rams girl to show her boobs to.
Thanks to Michael Scott Garner for joining the D / M / S /R Music Club during my long silence this month (sorry, I completely missed the notification when it happened–Patreon emails failed me). I’m aware that the Patreon has been dead lately, and I’m working on it. My current idea may not please everyone–or anyone!–but it will be an interesting experiment. Otherwise, we’ll be diving into the songs that actually did make it onto Apollonia 6 very soon!