[The first in what I hope will be an occasional series.]
In 1986, Prince released Parade: Music From the Motion Picture Under the Cherry Moon. It would prove to be Prince’s last full album the Revolution, the band that backed him at his artistic peak in the mid-1980s. Situated chronologically between masterpieces 1999 and Purple Rain on the one hand and Sign O’ The Times on the other, Parade is an unjustly overlooked gem from Prince’s most fertile creative period.
Parade isn’t just dwarfed by these widely recognized classics, however. It’s also overshadowed by the colorful psychedelia of 1985’s Around the World in a Day, a record that expanded the Prince mythos with “Paisley Park”and gave us the undeniable “Raspberry Beret.” In addition, it certainly didn’t help that Parade had the bad luck to be associated with an unmitigated cinematic disaster that’s more recognizable today as a source for GIFs than its plot or its soundtrack.
To the extent that anyone other than die-hard Prince fans remains aware of Parade today, it’s as the album that includes the superlative single “Kiss.” But Parade – especially the album’s excellent second side – is more than just “Kiss.” In order to capture the sonic subtleties Prince employs with great effect on Parade, it’s necessary to listen actively and attentively to the record as a whole. Indeed, it’s easy to dismiss this album if a you’re not paying attention as you listen. But the music’s well worth the effort involved.
Beyond “Kiss,” Parade contains a number of standout if lesser-known Prince tracks: “Girls and Boys,” for instance, displays Prince’s fondness for lyrics that juxtapose love and lust as horns, guitars, and vocals work together to create a whimsical melody. He closes out the record’s first side with “Venus de Milo,” a dreamy jazz-inflected instrumental driven largely by piano, flutes, and muted horns. It’s a short, slow interlude that eases the listener into the album’s superior second side.
That side starts with a bang: “Mountains” opens with a strong and incessant beat that forms the song’s backbone. A cascade of percussion quickly brings us to a keyboard and guitar riff that fills the space between the beats and drives the song forward. Prince’s falsetto enters to relate the psychedelic story of a lover from “a land called Fantasy” who’s convinced “that another mountain” will appear and “sea would one day overflow with all your tears” whenever “somebody broke your heart.” But rest assured, Prince says: “it’s only mountains and the sea.” The Revolution plays together seamlessly, as evidenced by the song’s breakdown where Prince strips the song down to guitars and drums.
Then there’s “Kiss” – and the song’s introductory guitar riff and opening grunt tells us all we need to know about where it’s going. Here again, Prince’s falsetto works wonders as he expresses his desire to please his lover over a propulsive groove that amounts to funk at its finest. The breakdown brings the song’s infectious guitar strumming back to the fore before transitioning to the twangy, minimalist solo that leads to the back end of the song.
“Anotherloverholenyohead” picks up with a brief guitar solo; pianos and a steady beat then join in to create the song’s crunchy main chord. Prince aggressively begs his now-former lover to return to him, reminding her that they “were inseparable” and that he “gave you all of my time.” His lover says she’s had enough, but Prince warns her that she needs “another lover like you need a hole in your head.” After all, she knows “there ain’t no other/That can do the duty in your bed.” Throughout, the Revolution’s female members – keyboardist Lisa Coleman, guitarist Wendy Melvoin, and Prince’s then-girlfriend Susannah Melvoin – provide strong backing vocals that nicely complement Prince’s desperate romantic pleas.
Parade concludes with the quiet and delicate “Sometimes It Snows In April,” a mournful meditation on the untimely loss of a close friend. The song’s sparse arrangement consists of a piano, acoustic guitar, and vocals, complemented with a muted horn in the introduction. It’s a slow and introspective number in which Prince reminds himself to “always cry for love, never cry for pain” and that “love, it isn’t love until it’s passed.” Though the subject matter veers toward melancholy, the main guitar and piano through-lines consistently lilt upward and lend the song a bittersweet mood.
Why give Parade a listen? As a record, it’s a complex and often whimsical document of a musical artist at the height of his creative powers. If you’ve already heard it casually and dismissed it as one of Prince’s lesser efforts, Parade certainly deserves a second, closer, and more attentive hearing. Ultimately, Parade is a fine record in its own right – but it’s also an album that makes the already colossal achievements of 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign O’ The Times loom all the larger in the pantheon of American popular music.