Prince Practices Addition by Subtraction With ‘When Doves Cry': 365 Prince Songs in a Year
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To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
When Prince released “When Doves Cry,” the first single from his upcoming blockbuster Purple Rain, pretty much the whole music world rejoiced. Except maybe one person.
Critics fell all over themselves trying to come up with new superlatives to praise the song’s innovative, bass-free structure. His rapidly multiplying legions of fans made the song his first-ever No. 1 hit in the United States, and it would go on to be voted the best single of 1984 by the Village Voice and No. 52 of all time by Rolling Stone.
But imagine for a second how you’d feel if you were Brownmark, the bass player in Prince’s band. So we asked him that very question, shortly before the launch of the Revolution’s 2017 North American tour.
“He had just said, in a Rolling Stone article, that without [me], he’d strip bass from his music,” Brownmark laughingly remembers 33 years later. “Then the next thing you know, here comes ‘When Doves Cry’ with no bass! It was weird in the moment. I was like, ‘what does this mean? You getting rid of me, dude?'”
Of course, that was not the case. “It didn’t mean that at all. Prince was always innovating, and it was just something new. It was a smart move. He’s always been daring like that.” In fact, when Prince originally recorded the song – all by himself on March 1, 1984 at Sunset Sound in Hollywood, according to Prince Vault – it did have a bass line.
“The bass is on the multi-track tape, but it was muted in the final mix,” Prince’s longtime recording engineer Susan Rogers explained to TapeOp. “It’s interesting listening to this record again, and being reminded of how real genius knows when to show it off and when to just be simple. … You don’t have to show off everything. Keep it all really simple and have one magic ingredient, maybe two. It was smart record-making. I don’t know how he knew how to do that, but he knew what he was doing.”
In a1999 interview with Bass Player, Prince said he made the last-minute change because the track “was just sounding too conventional, like every other song with drums and bass and keyboards.’ So while listening to a rough mix with singer Jill Jones, he floated his daring idea. “I said, ‘if I could have it my way it would sound like this,’ and I pulled the bass out of the mix. She said, ‘Why don’t you have it your way?’”
Why not, indeed? According to Rolling Stone, once Prince made the decision, he promised Rogers it would have a big impact: “Nobody would have the balls to do this. You just wait – they’ll be freaking.”
Prince in Photos: 1977-2016