35 Years ago today When Doves Cry was released. The best single of all time was the start of a long musical journey that isn’t over yet.
When I was young (so much younger than today ) I went out 3 nights a week. Sometimes I went to youth center De Koog (in Zuid-Scharwoude, near Alkmaar, in the Netherlands), where I visited a lot of concerts. But mostly, I went to ‘t Stamcafe in Heerhugowaard (The Netherlands). All my friends were there, the music was great and after 1 AM entrance to the big discotheque next to ‘t Stamcafe was free. It was there that we danced until closing time (2 AM) to somewhat alternative dance music, like New Order’s Blue Monday and later The Cult. After closing time we returned to ‘t Stamcafe. For years on end that was the weekly routine and I had the time of my life.
My musical preference had evolved from punk and ska to new-wave. Early The Clash (Lose This Skin was used as a last call for ordering drinks, if memory serves me well), The Cure, Bauhaus, Joy Division and latter day Japan were among my favorites. I didn’t buy or listen to dance music (and/or disco) anymore (with the exception of Divine). At the time youths (in my school and immediate surroundings, maybe things were different elsewehre, but I doubt it) were divided into groups, oftentimes based on musical taste, including the accompanying lifestyle. Punks, disco’s, wavers, goths, skinheads, rasta’s and hardrockers: mostly everyone stayed within the parameters of their ‘own’ group and had the musical taste that went along with the confinements of that particular group. I could get along with many of the different groups and listened to as much musical styles as I could. Disco or dance music were no part of that. Compartmentalization to the extreme. In 1984 this was still the staus quo.
When Doves Cry
After Prince’s passing I thought it was funny to see, read and hear that this song was the starting point for a lot of people, who could oftentimes vividly remember where they were when they heard it for the very first time. I could apply it to myself as well.
I suspect it was in May 1984, but it may as well have been June, that I heard some weird guitar intro, followed by a voice that went from left to right (or the other way round) followed by a mechanical beat. The synthesizer motif was a top-hook. No bass, great lyrics followed by screaming, more guitar. 5 Minutes later the song was done. I was perplexed. I remember storming at the DJ and asking who, what, how, where: that song! He showed me the cover of When Doves Cry by Prince. Prince? Really? Didn’t he make dance music? What did it matter? All those labels were stifling anyway. Without a doubt, this was the best, most original and exciting music I had ever heard!
The maxi single was a USA import. Soon, it became available in The Netherlands as well. As soon as it was, I bought it and a lifelong admiration (and addiction) was underway. To this day I still feel just as amazed about the song and the audacity to make it sound like it sounds, as I did in 1984. Knowing he wrote, played, sang (including background vocal), mixed and edited it all by himself over a three day period, is still unfathomable to me.
How can u just leave me standing
Alone in a world that’s so cold
Maybe I’m just 2 demanding
Maybe I’m just like my father 2 bold
Maybe you’re just like my mother
She’s never satisfied
Why do we scream at each other
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry
© 1984 Prince
The song with the 85 character long official title, 17 Days (the rain will come down, then U will have 2 choose. If U believe, look 2 the dawn and U shall never lose), was the B-side to When Doves Cry. Later on it turned out to be the introduction to the wonderful world and way of working of Prince: the B-side phenomenon. Songs that weren’t part of the regular albums, but were only available on (maxi) singles. On maxi-singles the B-side was oftentimes released as a remix or extended version. The artistic level of the B-sides was extremely high as well, of which 17 Days is a primary example. The song was originally intended for the planned second Vanity 6 album, but was re-recorded in 1984 with Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman providing background vocals. The song deals with a man who was left by his girlfriend 17 days and 17 night ago, and has a new lover:
You’ve been gone 17 days
17 long nights
The main drag is knowing that
You’re holding someone else tight
So here I sit in my lonely room
Lookin’ for my sunshine
But all I’ve got is two cigarettes
And this broken heart of mine
So let the rain come down
The rain come down
Let the rain come down, down.
© 1984 Prince
When Doves Cry was the first single off the new album Purple Rain, which was the soundtrack to the movie with the same name. The Purple Rain album was accredited to Prince and the Revolution, even though much, very much, of it was done Prince by himself. The single was released approximately 5 weeks prior to the album. It was Prince’s first number 1 single in the USA. It was the fastest selling single in the history of record label Warner Bros. until then, and was named ‘#1 single of 1984’ by Billboard.
Somewhere in 1984 Prince held the number one position for the single, album and movie simultaneously. When Doves Cry was awarded platinum status by the Recording Industry Association of America.
For me personally, it marked the definite end to petty-mindedness, the start of a (long) journey with everything Prince and an introduction to musical styles I never really had (allowed myself?) access to, black music (soul, funk, gospel, jazz). A new world opened up. My life, musically speaking, would never be the same again.
It didn’t end well for ‘t Stamcafe. It was closed at the end of 2008/early 2009 and subsequently demolished, because urban renewal equals progress…
Both When Doves Cry and 17 Days are placed in my top 10. Thus, When Doves Cry is the best Prince single to have ever been released. This automatically leads to the conclusion it is the best single of all time (and yes, I know about The Beatles’ Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever).
Want to know how the song came about? Read The birth of the best song of all time: When Doves Cry.
What do you think of When Doves Cry? Let me know!
‘t Stamcafe Heerhugowaard image: facebook.com
Prince – When Doves Cry – Platinum award image: julienslive.com
All other images: source unknown