Let me paint a perfect picture. It’s been a surreal day. We’ll unpack that another time. The reason isn’t pertinent now. My wife went to bed early because she’s on 3AM shift at the hospital tomorrow. I put the kids to bed at 10:00, then picked up the house and cleaned the kitchen. It’s now 11:23 PM and I can finally sit down to write my Daily Prince blog. It’s just me and my trusty dog Belle at my feet. I’ve got three fingers of delicious bourbon. The only light in the house is the glow of the monitor three feet in front of me and the dim purple light next to the turntable. I eagerly opened my Daily Prince Song Randomizer to determine what song I’d be playing on repeat to inspire a blog post. I tapped the button to reveal today’s song…
“The Beautiful Ones”
How the hell does the diabolical Randomizer give me “Sign O’ The Times” yesterday, then follow up with “The Beautiful Ones” at 11:23 PM on a Thursday? I’ve got a meeting at 8:00 tomorrow morning. What am I supposed to do with this? Have you heard “The Beautiful Ones?” I could spend a lifetime listening and researching and still not evoke the words to sufficiently do justice to a stunning work of art like “The Beautiful Ones.” You may recall a few weeks ago when I attempted to summarize my love for “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker” that I called it my favorite Prince song. I stated then there was one other song consistently vying for that top spot in my heart.
“The Beautiful Ones”
Recorded by Prince in September, 1983, for use in his upcoming movie debut Purple Rain. Written by Prince. All vocals and instruments on this track are Prince. By the time Prince recorded the music for Purple Rain he had five albums behind him. There were several ballads scattered throughout the five albums. Many of them excellent. “Do Me, Baby” comes to mind first from 1981’s Controversy. “International Lover” from 1999 somehow manages to achieve the impossible combination of sexy and laugh out loud funny. Nothing he recorded can prepare you for “The Beautiful Ones.”
In July of 1983 Prince recorded a song called “Electric Intercourse” to be the “love song” for Purple Rain. Prince decided he didn’t like the way that it fit in the movie or the soundtrack, so he shelved it. Duane Tudahl, Prince historian and author of Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions 1983 and 1984 speculates that “Electric Intercourse” was written for Purple Rain when Vanity was cast as the female lead opposite Prince. When Vanity left and Apollonia Kotero took her spot, the movie changed. The Apollonia character altered the movie and a song like “Electric Intercourse” no longer fit. He was now missing the right power ballad. On September 20 he went in to the studio at 1:00 PM and proceeded to pull an all-nighter. At 5:15 AM on the morning of September 21 – 17 hours after he began – Prince emerged with a cassette of “The Beautiful Ones.” His band was floored. Revolution keyboardist Matt “Doctor” fink calls it his favorite song from Purple Rain. Guitarist Wendy Melvoin said, “I just remember hearing that song and thinking to myself…God, you’re so good. You are so good at this.” Drummer Bobby Z summed it up perfectly when he said, “That’s what happens when you give Prince 24 hours by himself.” He recorded “Darling Nikki” and a studio version of “Purple Rain” the same week. THE SAME WEEK.
By the time Prince recorded “The Beautiful Ones” he had fallen for Wendy’s twin sister, Susannah Melvoin. People in Prince’s circle at that time unanimously recall that she inspired “The Beautiful Ones.” Prince shut down any speculation.
If they look at it, it’s very obvious. “Do you want him or do you want me,” that was written for that scene in Purple Rain specifically. Where Morris would be sitting with Apollonia and there’d be this back and forth. It’s not about somebody human that I’m looking at right now. It wouldn’t have worked if it was. This was literally for that character. And that’s why it worked.”
I don’t know, Prince. Sounds to me like his friends were like, “Ooh, Prince wrote a love song for Susannah,” and he was like, “Shut up, guys. It’s not about her. It’s for the movie. Leave me alone.”
Speaking of the movie, let’s talk about that for a second. The performance of “The Beautiful Ones” is one of the best scenes in Purple Rain. The Kid (Prince’s character) had been casually hanging out with the new hot girl in Minneapolis, Apollonia, for a while. Nothing serious. Window shopping at the local guitar store. Motorcycle rides to Henderson, Minnesota, so he could trick her into jumping topless into a body of water that was not Lake Minnetonka, then leaving her there alone. You know…normal stuff. After a few day dates The Kid’s rival, Morris, swooped in and offered Apollonia a business opportunity that was really just an attempt to get in her pants. Morris just happened to bring Apollonia to First Avenue, the club where The Kid and his band, The Revolution, were performing that night. The Kid spots his skinny dipping quasi-girlfriend in the crowd with Morris and decides to throw down the gauntlet. An incredible 4:30 performance of “The Beautiful Ones” with much of it sung directly at her while she sits across a table from Morris. A baller move by The Kid. He sons the fuck out of Morris. I have to give it to Apollonia. She delivers in this scene. I’m confident the only direction she got was, “stare at Prince, smile occasionally, and look ridiculously hot.” She does just that. At the end of the song while The Kid writhes on the floor screaming her eyes well up with tears and she has a troubled look on her face as if to say, “Well, this guy is fucking crazy intense, he lives in his parents’ basement, and there’s no way this ends well, but I’m in.” It’s impossible for me to overstate how much I love this scene. Prince is the baddest motherfucker ever.
I’ve wasted enough time describing the recording and the movie. I suppose we should get in to the song itself. If I had to describe it in one word, I’d use intense. That’s an unusual choice for a ballad, but this is an unusual ballad. It opens with perhaps the greatest use of Prince’s signature early-80’s Linn drum machine sound. A Mr. Roboto-esque keyboard follows to create an eerie, almost haunting sound. I truly get chills when I hear the opening bars of this song. Prince uses an acoustic piano for the melody, which gives this otherwise spacey song a more grounded sound. I always think I hear an orchestra in this song, but I know there wasn’t one because Prince actually didn’t play those instruments. As always, Prince’s flawless falsetto glides over the music, constantly asking Apollonia (or Susannah, depending on who you believe) to stop playing games and wasting his time. He’s so tired of wondering where her head is in the relationship he goes for broke and asks mid-song, “If we got married would that be cool?” The song continues to heat up throughout the verses until the final chorus when it comes to a boil. It’s as if he’s so tortured by the “Do you want him or do you want me?” question that he explodes. He adds electric guitar to supplement his singing. Prince puts on arguably the most impressive vocal performance of his career, reduced to primal screams in the final minute of the song. “The Beautiful Ones” is a masterpiece in every aspect: instrumentally, lyrically, and vocally. Every song is a work of art, but this song is a work of art.
I’m sure to the unindoctrinated it sounds insane to call this song the best song on an album that also contains legendary hits like “Purple Rain,” “When Doves Cry,” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” I’m willing to die on that hill. Purple Rain is as close to flawless as an album gets and “The Beautiful Ones” is the best song on it.
This brings me to my 5 Star Prince Playlist. I created it in Apple Music yesterday thinking it could be months before I add another song to it. Instead I only had to wait 24 hours. “The Beautiful Ones” now becomes the 8th song to achieve 5 stars in nearly six months of the Daily Prince blog. The playlist has been updated. Click the link and enjoy.