Kid in a candy store …. This is how I feel thinking about Prince’s catalog of a thousand songs!
Although Prince will forever be identified with the color purple, his exuberant musical catalog skips across the rainbow, from one colorful reference to the next. Like a coat of many colors, Prince’s catalog includes songs such as “Peach,” “Cream,” “Gold” and “Tangerine,” as well as those with colorful adjectives such as “White Mansion,” “Little Red Corvette” and “Raspberry Beret.”
Color references weren’t reserved for songs, however. Prince’s love of color was reflected in his clothing, stage lighting and even his cars, from his yellow BMW to the purple Prowler and the baby blue Bentley (the Prowler and Bentley are on display in the sound stage at Paisley Park). A Chanhassen resident who grew up next door to Prince’s bodyguard Chick Huntsberry told me that Prince would drive around town in an orange VW bus dating from the 1960s. (If anyone can confirm this, please let me know!). He did sing a song live at Paisley Park on June 18,1995 called “The Volkswagen Blues,” so perhaps that is a clue that he was having trouble with the orange bus. Or, as with so many thing Prince — maybe not.
Prince relied heavily on purple stage attire in the early days of his career, but once he “graduated” from the juggernaut that was the Purple Rain tour, he branched out and wore every color of the rainbow. In his first major video after Purple Rain, he appeared wearing a bright blue suit covered in fluffy cumulonimbus clouds and singing “Raspberry Beret.” He looked good in it. Somehow, he managed to look good in all colors, from lime green to vibrant orange (who looks good in both lime green and orange, I ask?).
Halfway into my month of exploring Prince and color, I feel like a kid in a colorful candy store. It occurs to me that Prince delighted in his music the way a kid delights in a candy store. And it led me to wonder if Prince ever secretly got fed up by the limitations of purple and the way that branding effort took on a life of its own. I can imagine that all purple, all the time, could have made him feel like he was painted into a corner. Once, when I was young, my Grandma exclaimed to the family how much she loved the color orange. For the next three years, every gift from every grandchild was orange, from kitchen towels to candles to throw pillows. Finally, my poor, overwhelmed-by-orange Grandma declared a moratorium on the hue!
In fact, what if Prince’s favorite color was not purple, but rather, changed throughout the years? Blasphemy? Not at all! One of his defining qualities as an artist was the way he freely changed his image on a dime. His sister Tyka made headlines in 2017 when she declared that Prince’s favorite color was not purple, but orange. Others have said that Prince’s favorite color was yellow during the early 1990s when he made Diamonds and Pearls. Some reported that he loved the color gold. I can certainly buy that, as the Love Symbol album, released in 1992, one year after Diamonds and Pearls, featured his new symbol emblazoned in gold over a photo from the video for the song “Seven,” with Mayte dressed in a stunning yellow bellydancing costume. In 1995, he released his first album under his new identity as the Love Symbol, and entitled it The Gold Experience. That album’s title track was “Gold,” a power ballad that sure felt a lot like a song intended to be the successor to “Purple Rain.”
This month, we’ll take a look at how Prince branded himself with the color purple — a strategy that other artists from Johnny Cash to Jack White have also done successfully — and explore the many hues he wore, wrote about and incorporated into everything from his beloved cars to his even-more-beloved guitars.