What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Prince? If NMTBP were gamblers, we’d bet that it’s Purple Rain. For one, it’s an amazing song. Second and third, it’s the title of Prince’s sixth studio album and a rock musical drama that served as the singer’s acting debut
The album cover for Purple Rain is hard to miss. One of the most pioneering and androgynous personas in music sits astride a customised 1981 Hondamatic Honda CM400A motorcycle, in an ornate purple suit (appropriate colour choice), and gazing directly out at you amid billows of smoke. Oh, the drama of it all
The photograph itself was under the creative direction of Laura LiPuma and the design was created by Jay Vigon. It was shot by renowned photographer Ed Thrasher (also responsible for the covers of Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced?, Joni Mitchell’s Song to a Seagull and the Grateful Dead’s Anthem of the Sun among many, many others). The location of this shoot also makes this photograph particularly unique. The photo was shot on a Warner Bros Studio backlot in California, an exterior set for the production company. More specifically, though, this particular backlot was known as Hennesy St., and it had been designed to look like a New York apartment complex
There’s a lot going on in this album cover, and you may not have noticed a few nuances.
The first item of note is the inclusion of the phrase “and the Revolution.” Purple Rainwas the first album to officially include Prince’s backing band, The Revolution, on an album. Prince was famous for providing all the instrumentation on his early albums. The act of formally introducing a full band into his music was, consequently, worthy of a mile marker for the artist.
Another detail from the Purple Rain cover is the woman who is standing in the doorway, illuminated by the light of the apartment building. While you likely noticed the woman, you may not have known her identity. She’s none other than Apollonia Kotero, the female lead in the Purple Rain film
To add just another layer of theatrics, a floral frame cushions the photograph of Prince on the left and right sides. Perhaps Prince was already anticipating the bouquets of flowers to be thrown his way when he performed Purple Rain
Beyond the striking visuals, the album cover is often seen as a representation of Prince’s transformation as an artist. It marked a pivotal moment in his career, where he fully embraced his artistic vision and delivered a groundbreaking album and film that catapulted him to international superstardom. The cover became one of the most recognizable and enduring images associated with Prince. It contributed to his status as a pop culture icon and helped define the 1980s music scene
LAstly, one more nugget for music fans and fanatics. The Purple Rain album cover shares something in common with Pink Floyd. Some years before the album debuted, Pink Floyd shot the cover for its album Wish You Were Here in the same Warner Bros Studio backlot