The birth of the best song of all time: When Doves Cry

When doves cry cover bottom (apoplife.nl)

When Doves Cry 12″ cover (lower part)

Introduction

35 years ago today recording, on a song commenced that would change my musical life forever: Prince started working on When Doves Cry, all by himself.

N.B.:
Two sources have been invaluable for this little article: princevault.com (the online guide to everything Prince) and Duane Tudahl’s book Prince and the Purple Rain era studio sessions 1983 and 1984 (the ultimate Purple Rain book).

March 1st, 1984 (Thursday)

Sunset Sound Recording Studio Logo (fourplayjazz.com)

Prince was in Los Angles in his beloved Sunset Sound studios. His favorite studio was number three (which was sublet to Prince 7 to 8 months every year in 1984, 1985 and 1986). On March 1st, 1984, the studio was used for 2 hours (from 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM) by Prince. He didn’t record anything, but was probably working on drum programming and sounds.

Prince - When Doves Cry - Handwritten lyrics (twitter.com/princemuseum)

Prince – When Doves Cry – Handwritten lyrics

March 2nd, 1984 (Friday)

The most important recording sessions of Prince’s career? Perhaps so. To me personally, it is the most defining one, because in a period of 16 hours of hard work When Doves Cry was recorded. Prince wrote, produced, arranged and performed everything by himself. The only other person present, was engineer Peggy McCreary. The session lasted from 3:30 PM to 7:30 AM the next day.

Prince had the entire song worked out in his head and now it had to get out. He worked frantically at the song and got ever more enthused by it. He knew he had something special at hand. He worked though his ‘normal’ routine: drums, bass, guitar, keyboards and synthesizer. The tape machine was slowed down when it came to recording the synthesizer solo, enabling Prince to play the solo he head in his head.

At about 11 or 12 hours into the session Prince asked McCreary to make a cassette copy of the song, so he could listen to it in his car. Something he regularly did to get a feel for the song and whether it worked. This time he drove over to a couple of band members (Wendy and Lisa) and friends (Jill Jones), arriving in the middle of the night to let them hear his latest creation.

March 3rd, 1984 (Saturday)

More work was done on When Doves Cry. From 4:30 PM to 11:30 PM mixing was done. Prince wasn’t completely satisfied. During mixing, Prince suddenly muted the entire bass part. A masterstroke, because it made the song complete, but also unique. A bold move. Many in his direct circle needed time to adjust to the song and its sound.

March 4th and 5th, 1984 (Sunday and Monday)

The edits were cut. Probably, Prince wasn’t present, but did leave instructions. A single-edit was cut and the album edit was done. After 4 hours the work was done. During the month of March the song was added to the Purple Rain movie.

May 16th, 1984

Prince - When Doves Cry - Platinum award (julienslive.com)

Prince – When Doves Cry – Platinum award

The first single to be released from the upcoming album Purple Rain was When Doves Cry. The Purple Rain album was accredited to Prince and the Revolution, even though a lot of the material was done by Prince all by himself. The single was released some 5 weeks prior to the album’s release. The fantastic song 17 Days was used as a B-side. It made the release the best single of all time. Both songs belong to my personal Prince top 10 songs.

It was Prince’s first number 1 single in the US, the fastest selling single in the history of Warner Bros. up to then, and was marked as ‘#1 single of 1984’ by Billboard.

When Doves Cry was awarded platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Personal

To me When Doves Cry was the start of a lifelong fascination of everything Prince. More on that at a later time.

In closing

What do you think of When Doves Cry? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: The birth of the best song of all time: When Doves Cry. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

Ad for When Doves Cry, 1984

Ad for When Doves Cry, 1984

10 comments

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    • Wayne Futter on 03/02/2019 at 8:43 PM

    I’m going to have to agree with you on this one.

    • Arturo Gucci Guevara on 03/02/2019 at 9:09 PM

    I remember the day this came out. I ran home and played it over and over again. It sounded so new, so fresh… the work of a genius was evident.

    1. I absolutely agree with you! It still ia a genius, brilliant song!

    • SS3121 on 03/04/2019 at 8:00 AM

    When Doves Cry introduced me to the Purple Rain soundtrack and movie. I already liked Prince because of his individuality and talent. I remember playing it over and over because I just couldn’t get enough of the sound! Now I get the most nostalgic feeling when I hear it and I still turn up the volume. I have a long list of favourites and this song is in my list. I always believed that 17 days would have also reached # 1 because it’s just so good – To me Prince will forever be the most talented unique musician to walk among us! I miss him so much 🙁

    1. Yep. Multi talented and sadly missed!

    • James on 03/04/2019 at 9:48 AM

    I listen to long version of this song constantly….it was recorded so well, its hard to hear the difference in the recent Purple Rain remaster. It’s simply awesome with a desert first guitar solo & moaning grinds snyced perfectly to the drum programming & basic toy sounding delicate keyboard hook…..His voice masculine, yet vulnerable telling a very vivid metaphorical & literal story…..The song progresses in to self analysis of which of his parents he is more alike….with beautifully done harmonies (the final HOW CAN YOU JUST LEAVE ME STANDING) that reminds one of Marvin Gaye’s with calm shy pain frustration & Angst
    “I Want You” but THE DRUM playing & Programmed track is Audibly kicking you in your chest His harmonies & pain with near gospel vocalization are so beautifully mixed & snycopated all so well WITH NO BASS LINE on the 1st beat present in Funk….The song speaks to your soul linked through an electric guitair which leads to more harmonies SCREAMS…..to woa ooo woa ooo woa woa a huh mmmm HUMPH …Its sounds like the band is jamming with Matt Fink finishing the solo as seen in the video but NO the mind Funk is PRINCE DID IT ALL this ultra personal song was him telling u I’m Prince & I’m Perfectly Imperfect …Giving us the most Pefect Song Ever in his Career up to that point atleast.

    1. Wow. That sums it up pretty good!

    • David Caplice on 03/07/2019 at 11:17 AM

    Nice piece. Yes mad track – didn’t sound like anything ever back in 84/85. The video was totally dope too with Prince in that bathtub scene. So cool. The film changed my life so I too have great memories of this period.

    1. Thanks for your reply David. Great memories indeed!

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