31: Raspberry Beret

Around the World in a Day (1985)
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Purple Rain, Kiss and Raspberry Beret – possibly the only three songs your average non-fan could name – all outside the top 30. What kind of ranking is this? If this was a content-farm listicle or Sunday paper puff-piece, all three would be top five with any one of them topping it. But I’m not pandering to the expectations of passing tourists or part-time Prince fans. This is for you. The real fam. Those whose top 30 doesn’t resemble the Hits on shuffle. Raspberry Beret doesn’t fit my wonky soul as much as its lesser known B-side but that doesn’t mean I fail to occasionally crumble at its majesty. There’s a reason why the song has travelled beyond the purple orbit and into the daytime playlists of commercial radio and high street stores. It’s catchy enough for mass appeal, but with enough left field charm to still intrigue after decades of hearing it mauled by malls.

The song started life in 1982, being first recorded while Prince was putting together the 1999 and Vanity 6 albums. The lyrics were different at this early stage – closer to Darling Nikki, with the woman vanishing after their night of passion, leaving Prince with just a note and her raspberry-coloured headwear. Two years later, the song was rerecorded and became the version we all know, with new lyrics full of imagery from the Purple Rain movie – especially one of its deleted scenes where Prince and Apollonia make love in a barn during a thunder storm. Now the singer is described as losing his virginity (“they say the first time ain’t the greatest”) and it takes place on Old Man Johnson’s farm – a name often highlighted for its innuendo, but actually intended as a dig in the ribs of Time departee, Jesse Johnson. This updated version also features a harpsichord melody written by Lisa and a string section that she was asked to arrange, overdubbed a few days later.

Its video, the first he directed himself, was initially two separate videos (one filmed, one animated) mashed together and if his hair looks a little strange (Prince thought it made him look like Lou Ferrino) it could be because it’s believed to be a wig, after a disastrous attempt to bleach his hair went wrong. Interestingly, in this video The Revolution are all dressed up as the characters that represent them on the album cover, with Prince donning the cloud suit and cloud guitar of the blonde guy sat in the centre. He told Rolling Stone in 1985 he wasn’t on the cover because “people were tired of looking at me” but if the hair story is true then surely that blonde guy was always meant to be Prince.

The video starts with the intro to the extended mix, but don’t stop there. Listen to the full 12” version if you’re going through the motions in your long love affair with Raspberry Beret and wish to rekindle the magic. Supermarkets and malls may take away our radio edits, but they’ll never take away our extended jams with Prince rocking the harmonica.