Okay, you are tied to a tree and have an arrow pointed at your head. You are supposed to decide which album is better. Purple Rain or The Chronic. Ooooo, better yet turn that arrow toward the albums. Which one will you remove from existence? Oooooo, better yet, picture this….you are on a bridge over train tracks. You see a speeding train coming toward you from one side of the bridge and you also see that Purple Rain has passed out on the tracks about 200 metres from the other side of the bridge. You scream, but P Rain can’t hear you. At that very moment, The Chronic comes walking towards you on the bridge. T Chronic is all high and has no clue what’s going on. You quickly realize that the only way you can save P Rain is to push T Chronic off the bridge in front of the train in the hopes of derailing it before it gets to P Rain. You must choose what album you want to save. You have no time to think of the logic around this doctored thought experiment. All you have is 5 seconds to process which album you want to remain in existence. Oh, I forgot to mention that killing an anthropomorphized rock album wipes it completely from existing in history. What do you do?
Second 1: cultural impact
Although The Chronic was huge culturally, it was not even close to how big Purple Rain was. If you were a kid growing up in the 80s there is a clear cultural time stamp of immediate Purple Rain saturation. Things were different after Purple Rain. A B.P.R and A.P.R., if you will. Purple Rain hit all mediums at once. A blockbuster movie; a giant album; MTV (or Much Music) videos on constant rotation; the radio; magazines; clothes; hairstyle. Prince was everywhere. This one is not a question. Purple Rain had a bigger impact on the culture.
Second 2: uniqueness
Gotta give this one to Purple Rain too. The Chronic solidified the gangster funk sound in the 90s, but that was only one branch of the 90s rap tree that already had growth from all the other gangster rap outfits out prior. Purple Rain was its own trunk, creating a new 80s style of funk that no one else, save Morris Day and the Time, copied. But it’s more than that. It’s 80s soul music. It’s 80s blues music. It’s 80s rock music. It’s Prince. There was no one like Prince and there never will be again.
Second 3: Ripple effect
The question here is, if you remove one of these albums from history what impact would that have on all the musicians who followed, creating music inspired by that album. Purple Rain was more era defining than The Chronic, but I am not sure that there were many who followed in Prince’s sonic footsteps. What is his actual influence? If Prince were to disappear, are there sonic disciples that would never exist either? The Chronic sampled 70s and early 80s funk. Sampled funk + gangster rap = GFunk. There is a host of GFunk all-stars that came to be after The Chronic. The Chronic put GFunk on the mainstream map and it stayed there for quite a while. You can directly see those who were influenced by The Chronic. Other than Morris Day and the Time (who was really a creation of Prince), I am not sure that there are any sonic disciples of Purple Rain. Cited influencees include Lenny Kravitz, Justin Timberlake Beyonce and Janelle Monae. I don’t know if I really connect those artists to Prince musically but performance-wise for sure. Musical ripple effect, I gotta give it to The Chronic.
Second 4: ethical messaging
In the world of art and music, ethics can be a very complicated discussion. That said, if I am going to be complicit in an album’s death, I wanna make sure that the murdered album is in fact the moral loser. The Chronic has drugs, violence, misogyny, many swears, etc. Purple Rain is just sexually charged. As a kid listening to Purple Rain, it felt very R rated. Now it seems tame. The Chronic is still shocking to me. I know the persona is part of the art, but how can I murder a sexually charged album for an album that degrades women and glorifies murder (irony of the thought experiment aside). The weed part is fine tho. This one goes to Purple Rain.
Second 5: personal taste
My opinion on both of these albums is that they both feel a bit dated. Although amazing albums of their time, they feel a bit stuck in that time. They just aren’t timeless to me. That said, if I were to play one album more than the other it would likely be The Chronic. I love the groove on The Chronic but, I get tired of the bravado and the anger and the attitude. Prince has a great opener song. The awesomeness of “Let’s Go Crazy” carries me happily into the album but my appreciation dwindles by the 4th or 5th song. Purple Rain is full of solid songwriting, but suffers a bit from sounding too much like a soundtrack. In other words, the pop songs sound a bit too cinematic at times. On groove alone I gotta give this second to The Chronic.
So, although I like the music in The Chronic better, weighing both albums in this fast 5 seconds, I think the world would be a worse place if P Rain never existed. So sorry T Chronic. As you stare over the railing at the oncoming train, you have no idea that I am going push you off the bridge and on to the tracks below. And although you will be wiped off the face of the planet and no one will ever hear the GFunk that you successfully popularized, I can take solace in the fact that the Parliament Funkadelic songs you so heavily sampled will remain. I like those versions better anyways. Long live the Mothership Connection!
WINNER: Prince, Purple Rain (5 points)
Next week’s post – #1 The Clash, ‘London Calling’ (1980) vs. Nirvana, ‘Nevermind’ (1991)