35 Years Ago: Prince Wins Three Grammys, But Is Already Bored
By the time Prince took a victory lap at the Grammys on Feb. 26, 1985, he had already moved on to his next project in his mind.
The Purple Rain soundtrack took home two statues, for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. He picked up a third, for Best Rhythm & Blues Song as the composer of Chaka Khan's hit cover of "I Feel For You."
Only one of those awards, the Best Original Score, was presented during the telecast, but Prince made headlines via his house-burning performance of "Baby, I'm a Star." In six minutes, he gave the 37 million people watching the telecast a glimpse of all the excitement that had been generated on the Purple Rain tour which had been tearing up arenas since Nov. 4, 1984. He danced up a storm, gave a percussion spotlight to Sheila E. and brought the audience onto the stage of L.A's Shrine Auditorium to dance, before peeling off his shirt and running down the aisle.
Two days before the Grammys, he had wrapped up a week-long stand at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., and another month and a half's worth of shows remained. But as Alan Light revealed in Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain, his head was already somewhere else.
“He was bored,” Revolution guitarist Wendy Melvoin said. “He gave it everything onstage, and he was always in that. But he was gone, he was uninterested, and he had moved on.”
Manager Alan Leeds concurred: “Creatively, he was over it. I’m sure it was fun playing the music for a while, but this is a guy who never stopped rehearsing, so they were all tired of playing the songs long before the tour started: They’d been playing them every day in rehearsals for a year, and the crew had been hearing them every day for a year."
Watch Prince Perform "Baby, I'm a Star" at the Grammys
Light says Jan. 28, 1985 was the moment when everything started to turn. Prince skipped the "We Are the World" session, and his bodyguards roughed up a pair of photographers on the streets of Hollywood while the song was being recorded.
"I remember it perfectly, thinking: ‘This is so wrong. This is so wrong,’" Melvoin remembered. "We were embarrassed. Everybody in the band was horrified. And that’s where it felt like, there’s something shifting here, where he’s getting nasty. The entitlement — it was almost like a kid with too much candy.”
As the tour wound down, lighting director LeRoy Bennett told Rolling Stone that Prince "was just withdrawing. I used to spend a ton of time with him back in Minneapolis over at his house and doing things with him like going to movies. That all started to go away and disappear at a certain degree during that tour. It eventually got to the point where it was us and him. And it started to suck."
"At first it was just one bus for the whole band," keyboardist Lisa Coleman remembered. "Then the boys had a bus, and Wendy and I had a bus. And Prince had his own bus."
Leeds told Light that the show was created to replicate the movie wherever possible. With its choreography and high production values, that "left no room for spontaneity" – except during the encores, where they could jam as long as they wanted. Creativity managed to find its way into the proceedings (bassist Brownmark remembered recording "4 the Tears in Your Eyes" and "The Ladder" during soundchecks) and, eventually, the rigid structure of the show began to break.
"By the end of it, we were changing some arrangements," keyboardist Matt Fink said. "Prince still put us through mental gymnastics every day. He’d make a new transition between certain songs and you had to remember it. It was like a game to him. "
Fortunately for Prince, and unbeknownst to the rest of the world, he had already planned his next move well in advance. Even before the tour began, he had tracked eight songs for what became Around the World in a Day. A ninth, "Temptation," was recorded during a day off in December and completed later that month in his home studio after a concert in St. Paul. Released only 15 days after the Purple Rain tour's last show, the record's '60s psychedelia-influenced pop was a hard left turn from the funk and rock mixture of Purple Rain. And it was all part of his overall refusal to be pigeonholed.
"I think the smartest thing I did was record Around the World in a Day right after I finished Purple Rain," he told Rolling Stone at the time. "I didn’t wait to see what would happen with Purple Rain. That’s why the two albums sound completely different. People think, 'Oh, the new album isn’t half as powerful as Purple Rain or 1999.' You know how easy it would have been to open Around the World in a Day with the guitar solo that’s on the end of 'Let’s Go Crazy'?
"You know how easy it would have been to just put it in a different key?" Prince added. "That would have shut everybody up who said the album wasn’t half as powerful. I don’t want to make an album like the earlier ones. Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to put your albums back to back and not get bored, you dig? I don’t know how many people can play all their albums back to back with each one going to different cities."