Sunday, July 10, 2011

Prince - Parade: Music from the Motion Picture Under the Cherry Moon

Welcome to another edition of Soundtrack Sunday.

After the success of the film Purple Rain, Warner Brothers gave Prince the opportunity to create another film. What resulted was 1986's Under the Cherry Moon, a con-game romantic/comedy story released in black and white and having a very distinctive, European style. The film was critical and commercial disaappointment. I think only dedicated fans of the artist were the ones that saw it in its theatrical run.

The soundtrack however was a different story. Backed by the Revolution, Prince’s Parade: Music from the Motion Picture Under the Cherry Moon
went to number 11 in Canada, number 10 in Norway, number 8 in Australia, number 7 in Austria and New Zealand, number 6 in Germany, number 5 in Sweden, number 4 in the UK, number 3 on the US Billboard Album chart, and number 2 in Switzerland and on the US Billboard R&B chart, and number 1 in the Netherlands.

Side one opens with four tracks that fit together in a sequence, forming a musical suite. The first track is “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” with its march-like drumbeats and heralding horns. The sound is definitely different from anything that had appeared on earlier Prince albums.

“New Position” has an equally unique sounding percussion to it (it sounds like steel drums were incorporated into the mix). The lyrics suggest that when things go stale in a relationship that you have to change it up a bit. I think the phrase “new position” is a great way to phrase that.

“I Wonder U” is next. The vocals sound like Wendy and Lisa taking over, showing that this record was truly a collaborative effort. The music has a hypnotic sound to it.

I find the gently swaying rhythm of the film's title track “Under the Cherry Moon” to be very soothing. The piano gives it a nice jazz feel to it.

“Girls & Boys”, the third single, failed to chart in the US but it did go to number 11 in the UK. The song is very funky with a combination of live drums (by Bobby Z and Sheila E.) and a drum machine. Eric Leeds also provides some sexy saxophone on this track. Hearing this one always gets me in the mood to dance. When I would play this one in my bedroom, I would inevitably do a little shuffling around to it.

“Life Can Be So Nice” features Sheila E. on the drums, with an ample amount of cowbell to boot. It is the perfect follow-up to the previous track as it keeps the party moving. The lyrics are classic Prince with double-entendres left and right.

The short instrumental track “Venus de Milo” closes out the side. It is beautiful with the piano and orchestration, and it shows a very different side to Prince as a composer. Is there no musical style that he does not excel at? For me, he handles them all adeptly.

The second side starts with “Mountains”, with the music credited to Wendy and Lisa. As the second single, it peaked at number 23 on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and number 15 on the US Billboard R&B chart. I really love the drums on this one, especially the cascading parts and, of course, the horns. The lyrics have some Biblical references to them (providing the expected religious themed song for the record).

“Do You Lie?” has musical elements that take my mind far away, like to the countryside of France. It has a slow, little jazz swing to it as well.

“Kiss” was the first single from the record; it went straight to number 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts, and number 6 in the UK. The band Mazarati originally recorded the song, but Prince pulled it back for his own use. After replacing the lead vocals with his own and some other musical tweeks, he turned it into one of his signature tracks that everyone knows. I really love the funky guitar solo on this one.

“Kiss” holds a special memory for me too. In 1987, during my final year of college, our Student Orientation Service had a lip-sync contest amongst the ten committees for one of our spring meetings. Each committee was to have a song entry - either a group effort or solo numbers. Since none of my committee wanted to perform, I stepped up to do this song - a favorite of mine at the time. Dressed in my black "pleather" (fake leather) pants and a white shirt, I did my best Prince-like dance moves on the stage. I am just so thankful no one had a video camera that day (this was back long before we had cellphones - and even the early ones couldn't do video). I am sure I have a still picture of it somewhere. I don't know how much the audience enjoyed it but I had fun performing the song.

“Anotherloverholenyohead” was the fourth and final single (number 63 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 18 on the US Billboard R&B chart, number 36 in the UK). The lyrics are about a man trying to win back the love a woman about to leave him for another. Again, we get another fantastic dance groove with this one.

Wendy and Lisa also get music credit on “Sometimes It Snows In April”, the final track of the record. I absolutely love this song! It is my favorite on the album hands down and easily in my top twenty of all-time favorite Prince songs. The piano arrangement is so beautiful and the lyrics so personal. Everything works musically. The song tends to make me a little sad though, for it is about a friend who has died too young. I have always thought that I would like to have this song played at my own funeral - I do not know why but I just do.

Funny, in listening to this final song for the blog post I thought about a friend of mine who died last summer from cancer. It came up very suddenly for him and by the time it was discovered it was too far gone for treatment to be effective. At least when he went it was after a good day, so he could leave this world on a better note. Friday was his birthday. Like many of the good friends he made, I left a message to him on his Facebook page that day and will do every year. KC, I miss you, man.

There are two B-sides to note from this record.

The first is “Love Or Money” (often shown as a heart and a dollar sign). The song is yet another funky groove and was one of the earliest tunes to use his “Camille“ voice. I had the extended version of this one on the flip side of the dance single of “Kiss”. I used to jam to it in my dorm room all the time.

The other is “Alexa de Paris”, the B-side to “Mountains”. This instrumental song has a sweeping rock sound to it. Prince’s guitar gives a hint to more of what we would later hear on the Sign O’ the Times album.

Of course, I owned this record on vinyl back in the day and did see the film in theatres. I also owned a copy of it on cassette (for listening to in my car at the time) and, in the 1990's, bought a copy on CD. Yes, I agree - a bit excessive but we are talking about Prince here, one of my most favorite musical performers ever. I also owned the twelve-inch singles for "Kiss" and "Mountains".

What I really like about Parade is that it was so different from the previous Prince albums before it. I appreciate how he did not go the easy route and remake the same album over again. Moreover, within the album, he varied the musical styles so you did not get a dozen tracks that were interchangeable. That alone makes this soundtrack enjoyable for me.


Empoprises said...

Prince alternated between (seemingly) stripped-down songs such as "Kiss" and "When Doves Cry," and "kitchen-sink" songs such as "Christopher Tracy's Parade" and "Around the World in a Day" (which sound like "Sgt. Pepper" out-takes). Prince & the Revolution excelled at both, and the sequencing of the songs (I owned the cassette) worked out well - the transition from the album version of "Kiss" to "Anotherloverholenyohead" is excellent.

If I recall correctly, this was the last Prince & the Revolution album. With all due respect to Prince himself, I think the Revolution was his best band, and the Sly & the Family Stone-like contributions from other band members were invaluable to the final product.

Martin Maenza said...

It was the last album with the Revolution. Sheila E. was transitioning in for a period after this along with others. I think Prince liked to change things up to keep it fresh and to give him new people to play off of.