Yoda’s iPod: “When Doves Cry” By Prince
I realized something being a longtime fan of Science Fiction: that Yoda’s favorite Prince song would be “When Doves Cry.”
Wait for it…Some of the lyrics are just the phrasing the Jedi Master himself would appreciate. Prince is clearly speaking Yoda’s native tongue here—all three verses begin in “Yoda” or Yodaspeak”:
Dig if you will the picture
Dream if you can a courtyard
Touch if you will my stomach
Can you picture Yoda singing it in the shower? While taking his morning constitutional on planet Dagobah? Can you picture this?
Deeper questions then emerged. Did the Jedi Master himself inspire “When Doves Cry?” Did Prince channel Yoda in the recording studio? Pop culture influences and inspires other pop culture and we may never know.
Linguistics scholars would also appreciate that “Yoda” is a Romance language like French and Spanish. And speaking Yoda is quite fun as well. In the control room of the music instructional video company I used to work for, we’d joke around and talk Yoda on a regular basis. This would frequently spill over the VOG (Voice Of God) to rank on the talent in the studio—yelling at them in “Yoda” for botching up a take as well as providing motivation and guidance for the proper corrective course of action.
“When Doves Cry” was the first number one single for Prince. Ironically it was the last song written for the film/soundtrack to Purple Rain as Director Albert Magnoli needed another song for a montage scene and requested Prince write additional music for it. You’ll notice with all the other songs written for Purple Rain, Prince and The Revolution perform them onstage in the film except “When Doves Cry.” “When Doves Cry” was written to musically portray Prince’s character, The Kid’s parental issues with his father Francis L. and his simultaneous blossoming romance with Apollonia.
Looking at “When Doves Cry” deeper musically, it’s a pretty minimalist song in A minor. There’s no bass line throughout the entire song. Most listeners don’t notice things like this until it’s pointed out to them, and besides the pop rock world has caught fans sleeping at the wheel before. For instance, Free’s classic rock tune “All Right Now” had a hibernating bass line all through the verses and only emerges on the chorus and bass solo leading into the guitar solo overlaying it. And that was during the 70’s–when rock, pop, dance & funk fans were far more rabid about bass in your face.
Still none of this “multi–track lack” reduces the appeal of “When Doves Cry.” Prince was very good at writing for what fits the song. I myself am a believer that every song does not need a guitar solo (or any kind of solo) nor have to contain every instrument in the band just because someone will feel “left out” onstage during a performance. Prince was a screaming guitar player and I dig how he never overplayed or overused his chops at the expense of what a particular song called for. In cover bands, when there was no keyboard part for the song, I’d just either double the bass or a guitar part to fatten things up not add a keys part. The Police were another band that was very good at this non oversaturation and not bludgeoning the listener with excessive musicality at the price of playing within the songs actual needs and parameters. We can take an example from Prince & The Police (an 80’s superband that never happened) here: Musicians have to realize that sometimes “space”, silence, and breathing room are part of the song like in “When Doves Cry.”
There is some flash (no pun intended, Prince was only nude in the music video) of virtuosity in “When Doves Cry” though it’s sparsely and tastefully done. The opening guitar flourishes and the classical cello part towards the end add some moments of heightened tension, higher energy & angry spiciness to the song’s recipe. If memory serves and I’m not the victim of my own Purple Haze, I remember reading years ago in the Prince biography Purple Reign: The Artist Formerly Known As Prince by Liz Jones that Wendy Melvoin’s brother Jonathan Melvoin wrote the classical string part for “When Doves Cry” but I’d have to check that book again if I can find which cardboard storage box it now resides in.
Back to Prince’s #1 Jedi fan, Master Yoda. I can picture an alternate version of the “When Doves Cry” music video being done with Yoda superimposed over Prince (someone on Youtube who has more free time than I preferably). We’d see Yoda stepping out of the bathtub and subsequently crawling on the floor sans Jedi robe. Then Yoda cruising around Minneapolis and the suburbs on Prince’s motorcycle (or riding on the back–riding in the front would be “Too E.T.“), and kissing Apollonia passionately horizontally while levitating over her—hey he’s a Jedi Master remember? Hopefully this won’t be in a galaxy far far away but just in case, here’s your “When Doves Cry” refresher:
Whoa…that crawling on the floor was so much fun Madonna had to try it herself in her video “Express Yourself” and add some bovine special effects.
Since it was an 11th hour recording request for the film, “When Doves Cry” is pretty much Prince by himself with his trusty drum machine playing several instruments and without the vocal harmonizing of The Revolution like on most of the Purple Rain soundtrack. The vocal audio looping bears little resemblance to an actual dove crying not that I’ve crossed the line being cruel to animals to scientifically gather such information. It’s a droning “I” or “Aye” sound making Prince’s looped vocal yearnings sound more like a zombie pirate brigade or some species of South American tree frog that would definitely make you Delirious if you lick its skin. And I’m sure you’d see Paisley Parks and Strawberry Fields Forever but let’s not go there just yet.
But then again these made up syllable loops worked well for Jon & Ritchie on the Bon Jovi hit “Livin’ On A Prayer.” Did Bon Jovi sample a neighbor’s dog or have Chewbacca come in for a session to lay down a vocal track? “Livin On A Prayer” is one of the most frequent songs I hear when I work weddings—and every now and then I hear a Prince tune. But “When Doves Cry” isn’t the optimal Prince song to inaugurate a lifetime together—more salient choices in this department that better suit the occasion are “Kiss” or “I Would Die 4 U” as people can get their pointer finger on while ripping up the dancefloor and impress a slightly inebriated crowd with some stellar rudimentary choreography. Plus it looks pretty cool against uplightling as I can attest. But hey, I’m just a dude behind a camera so what do I know.
“When Doves Cry” was Prince’s directorial debut—it was racy for it’s time and had to threaten heterosexual males watching MTV for the half naked girls. I mean could middle America start liking a song with a naked guy coming out of a bathtub and crawling towards them? It turned out the Bible Belt was on the floor with the rest of Prince’s clothes in that regard.
Fashion wise, I always found it interestingly dapper how The Revolution (save keyboardist Dr. Fink) dressed in ornate clothing similar to the upper crust during the French Revolution. There’s also a funhouse mirror effect in the later dance routine which creates a kaleidoscopic effect with Prince in the center. And Prince wasn’t a slacker on stage performance—he loved to dance with his own trademark moves as well as nods to the Godfather James Brown.
Come to think of it, if Michael Jackson didn’t become the megastar of 1980’s pop, Prince would have been seen as a better dancer than he was usually given credit for. But Prince held his own on his own terms and wasn’t in music to compete with others which isn’t what art and creativity is about—actually competition diminishes the joy of creativity and one’s personal enjoyment of the process.
If Prince was competitive, he would have come out with some lame dance move in response after Michael premiered the Moonwalk with his own version “The Cherry Moonwalk.” Prince never challenged Michael Jackson to a dance off like MC Hammer. Nor did Prince extrapolate his songs into stylized themed dances over the abyss of the campy canyon with The “When Doves Cry Waltz”, the “Let’s Go Crazy Conga” or “The Purple Raindance.”
Yet with all his contributions to pop culture and writing songs for other artists, Prince wouldn’t allow parody of his songs even though Weird Al Yankovic was aching to do so for decades. Some, like Mark Knopfler said yes on one condition—that he play guitar on the parody track. This is why Weird Al’s parody of Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” called “Beverly Hillbillies” musically matches the original version more than his other parodies.
For “When Doves Cry”, I can picture Weird Al doing “When Spuds Fry” starting off saying the word “Fry” as that’s what it sounds like Prince is uttering in the original recording. Weird Al did do a similar themed parody to the Robert Palmer song “Addicted To Love” called “Addicted To Spuds.” And I know for a fact that Weird Al would not pass up the opportunity of being naked in a bathtub to parody the video. That’s the stuff Weird Al bucket lists are made of. Buckets of dove’s tears.
Yankovic was never able to secure permission for parody of any of Prince songs when he was alive. When Prince’s estate gets settled and who owns the licensing to his song catalogue is decided, Weird Al may get to parody Prince songs in the future.
Yankovic is far from malicious towards the artists he parodies—it’s a nod and a tribute, though some like Coolio get miffed when Al does a parody of a song he himself didn’t even write the music to in the first place (Coolio’s 1995 single “Gangsta’s Paradise” sampled the 1976 Stevie Wonder song “Pastime Paradise”).
One thing for certain that’s probably in the works already is a Hollywood biopic about Prince. Within a few years it’ll likely hit theatres. One can only hope Hollywood will see Purple instead of getting tangled up in green and Prince won’t be physically miscast with someone like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. But then again I’d pay to see Arnold Schwarzenegger singing Prince songs and buy that soundtrack. William Shatner can cut a Prince tribute album as well. It’s all become part of our shared collective culture and part of celebrating that will encompass some obligatory moneymaking schlock along the way. But this doesn’t diminish the original inspiration for it nor hamper appreciation of Prince’s contribution to popular culture.
As with Michael Jackson’s glove, that bathtub Prince used in “When Doves Cry” has to fetch a pretty penny on eBay—the perfect gift for those who already have a bottle of Elvis’ bathwater. And then Yoda can whisper at the end of that revamped “When Doves Cry” music video, “There…is…another…Moonwalker.”
© Composer Yoga
Related Posts To Check Out:
Sound Mines: Prince “Mountains”
The Prince Prophecy & The Let’s Go Crazy Code
Prince Joke (Little Red Corvette)
First Recording Of Purple Rain In America
Talking To Your Bandmates During The Song Vol. 1