Two songs from Purple Rain in three days?!? The Prince Song Randomizer is mercurial as hell. For the entire month of July I’m writing about deep album cuts and random internet-only singles. Then out of the blue two days ago I get “When Doves Cry.” Yesterday I get a single that was only sold at Prince concerts in 2001. Today I’ve got another classic in “Baby I’m a Star.” I can’t figure you out, Prince Song Randomizer, but I love you anyway you unpredictable bastard.
While “When Doves Cry” was the last song created for 1984’s Purple Rain soundtrack, by all accounts “Baby I’m a Star” was the first one. The first known version of “Baby I’m a Star” was recorded in 1981. Speaking about that original demo, recording engineer Don Batts is quoted in Duane Tudahl’s Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions 1983 and 1984 as saying , “That was absolutely magic. It was really from the heart. He was playing at his peak, almost sort of like Stevie Wonder. It was an incredible rocking tune and I still consider it far superior. I think they overdid it later on Purple Rain.” As you can imagine, my response to this was, “Holy shit, I’ve gotta hear this.” A quick search of the internet revealed this version with terrible audio quality. There is no way of knowing if this is the version that Batts was referring to or how many other recordings of this song out there. All I can say is I disagree with Batts on this one, poor audio or not.
On July 12, 1983, Prince was focusing on songs for his upcoming movie and he recorded another version of “Baby I’m a Star.” There’s a possiblity that the version of the song that I posted above was recorded during this session, and not in 1981. Neither the July 1983 or the 1981 version were ever released.
August 3, 1983, is an important day in Prince lore. This was the day Prince and The Revolution debuted several songs that they were considering for Purple Rain to a sold out crowd at First Avenue in Minneapolis. It was also the stage debut of Prince’s new guitarist, Wendy Melvoin, and the first time The Revolution appeared together on stage. Many of the songs played that night are the versions of the songs you hear on the Purple Rain soundtrack and in the movie. Of course, there were some overdubs and editing, but much of what was played that night is what you’ve been hearing for 36 years on the soundtrack. One of those songs is “Baby I’m a Star.” The cellos, violin, and viola were added in September of 1983, including keyboardist Lisa Coleman’s brother David on cello. One of many appearances by David Coleman in Prince’s recordings.
One thing that makes the August 3, 1983, performance so unique for Prince is that it was rare – especially back then – for Prince’s albums to contain other musicians. Prince’s albums are famous for the credits simply saying, “Produced, arranged, composed, and performed by Prince.” He did it all. So, it’s a bit of a surprise to look at the personnel on “Baby I’m a Star” and see:
Bobby Z. – Drums and percussion
Brown Mark – bass guitar and vocals
Wendy Melvoin – guitars and vocals
Lisa Coleman – keyboards and vocals
Matt Fink – keyboards and vocals
Shout out to The Revolution. The baddest band ever to get zero credit for their contribution. I’m not saying Prince wasn’t brilliant without them. But, someone had to have the chops to play with that guy and these cats did it perfectly.
So, about “Baby, I’m a Star.” I wrote about it last year for Prince fan site Housequake.com when I attempted to rank the album cuts from Purple Rain. Here’s what I had to say then:
You can’t have “I Would Die 4 U” without “Baby I’m a Star”. If I hear one without the other it feels wrong. Like Minneapolis and St. Paul. If I’m being 100% honest, “Baby I’m a Star” is Minneapolis for me in this scenario. Sorry for the unnecessary shot at St. Paul, but I’ve had more good times in Minneapolis in my life. I saw D’Angelo and Questlove at 1st Avenue there. You’re still cool, St. Paul. Minneapolis is just slightly better. What puts “Baby I’m a Star” over the top is the Dr. Fink keyboard performance in the final minute. The song stops and you think it’s over, but then it starts again…three times. I wish it went on forever. Plus, in the movie there’s the unforgettable moment when Prince’s ejaculating guitar sprays all over the crowd. The Kid started his night onstage mourning his father and 15 minutes later he ended it with a guitar orgasm. Guitargasm. You’re welcome. Quite a rollercoaster ride for The Kid that night.
I liked what I said then, so I decided to plagiarize myself instead of coming up with anything original. “Baby I’m a Star” is such an infectious, fun song. It’s impossible to hear it and not get pumped up. What an audacious statement by Prince. He knew he was destined for greatness and this song was his declaration. I said it above and I’ll say it again: Matt Fink’s keyboard is so precise and perfect it’s hard for me to imagine a human being playing it. It’s one of those things you hear and just assume it was programmed. It’s a human being playing those keyboards and the Doctor came through. Fink has said on numerous occasions that Prince would come up with these near-impossible keyboard parts for songs like “When Doves Cry” and “Baby I’m a Star” and Fink would say something like, “How am I supposed to play that?” Prince would have a reply like, “I don’t know, I’m not the one who has to play it. You are.” Again, The Revolution: underappreciated. Fink was a beast, as were the rest of them.
The last thing I want to mention about “Baby I’m a Star” is that the performance of the song in Purple Rain. It’s the celebratory moment at the end of a dramatic roller coaster of a movie when all is finally well with The Kid (Prince’s character) and everyone is cheering him on while he plays at Minneapolis club First Avenue. He does a ton of cool dancing and gesturing to fine ass Apollonia. Then he does something at the very end that makes me laugh and cringe equally. He gets a devilish look on his face like he just thought of something naughty, but he’s not sure if he should do it, but of course he does it. He climbs on top of a tower of speakers and finds a guitar lying there. He grabs the guitar as if he’s going to play it and starts running his hand up and down the neck of the guitar until it starts spraying some kind of liquid all over the crowd. That’s right. He jerks off a guitar on to an unsuspecting Minneapolis crowd. That’s gotta be some kind of sexual harassment, right? It’s one of many moments in that movie that are equally laugh out loud funny and horrifying. Still not as bad as the scene when Jerome throws the girl in a dumpster. That’s a topic for another day.
“Baby I’m a Star” is pure fun and the perfect song to end the movie Purple Rain (it’s the penultimate song on the soundtrack as “Purple Rain” closes out the album). While it’s not one of my favorite songs on the album, that’s not a fair statement because I also happen to think that Purple Rain is as close to perfection as any album has ever gotten. I think it’s the seventh or eighth best song on an album with nine songs. All of that said, I would happily listen to it anytime, anyplace.