Hash’s Faves: “When Doves Cry”

24 Apr

princeOf course by now all of you know that Prince died, suddenly and unexpectedly, this week. I know that his music is pretty far afield from what some of you folks listen to, but his impact, not only on the music scene but on American pop culture in general was enormous. One could argue that he changed the entire texture of pop music through his production techniques and arranging savvy. His integration of Hendrix-influenced guitar, new-wave instrumentation, hippie philosophy, punk attitude and funk grooves drawn from classic James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic, The Ohio Players and The Gap Band provided the template not only for the artists that he produced or wrote hits for, like The Time, Chaka Khan, Sheila E, Sheena Easton and Wendy and Lisa, but for other producers like Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Babyface and L.A. Reid. And it goes without saying that Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson pretty much owe their careers to Prince.

Culturally, I think many people forget how totally outrageous he was when he first hit the scene, with his over-the-top androgyny and his sexually explicit songs like “Head” and “Soft and Wet” (co-written with Chris Moon). With his death many LGBT people have come forward to say that Prince gave them the courage to be themselves. His bands were always multi-ethnic and multi-gendered as well, and although he projected a Svengali-like image when managing the careers of female artists like Appolonia, Vanity and Sheena Easton, it was always obvious that he had great respect for the female players in his bands. (Many hard-core jazz fans are unaware that Wendy, of Prince side-project Wendy & Lisa, and longtime guitarist in Prince’s band The Revolution, is the daughter of L.A. jazz and studio pianist Michael Melvoin.)

He was capable of playing (and often did) all of the instruments on his recordings; he was not only a great rock and funky rhythm guitarist but a stanky bass player, a drummer capable of playing or programming irresistible grooves, and a more-than-serviceable keyboard player. And, of course, he could sang! The world of music will miss him.

In his honor, this week’s pick is his “When Doves Cry,” from his 1984 album Purple Rain. Prince composed it and plays all instruments on the track; there are female background vocals (I think, although they could also be Prince), but I couldn’t find any credits in my cursory search.

Prince wrote this song specifically to go with a scene in the Purple Rain movie that had no Prince-When-Doves-Crymusic yet; the Prince mythology has it that he wrote it overnight and recorded it the next day. The texture of the song is remarkably open, and influenced pop music production enormously. It’s mostly Linn drum machine, electric guitar and very sparse synths. It was probably the first hit dance record to not have a bass part; Prince has said that he recorded one initially but that he thought it sounded “too conventional” so he took it out. But the textural space is one of his trademarks; quite a lot of his music, although there might be a lot going on, is very carefully arranged and produced to sound open. All of the rhythm parts, whether they’re drums or drum machines, percussion, guitar, bass or keyboards are carefully orchestrated to stay out of each other’s way. I think Prince would have been a hell of a big-band arranger, and that’s one of the things we’ll never have a chance to know now.

The lyrics refer obliquely to Prince’s troubled childhood and his parents’ relationship. I say this with the greatest respect, but Prince was a master of image projection; he knew how to let his music show tantalizing glimpses of his personal life without letting the listener all the way in. In this may have been influences by John Lennon and Bob Dylan, and he paved the way for Madonna, Sinead O’Connor, Adele and other singers who wrote confessional lyrics.

You can listen to it here:

 

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

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