Wendy & Lisa Tease The Revolution’s ‘Purple Rain’ 40th Anniversary Show – And When Their Album With Annie Lennox Is Coming

Wendy & Lisa Tease The Revolution’s ‘Purple Rain’ 40th Anniversary Show – And When Their Album With Annie Lennox Is Coming

When Prince & the Revolution’s Purple Rain dropped from the sky on July 25, 1984, it saturated pop culture. “When Doves Cry” flew to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, earning Prince his first ruler on that chart. “Doves” perched there for five weeks and was soon followed by another No. 1 smash, “Let’s Go Crazy,” plus two more top 10 singles, “Purple Rain” and “I Would Die 4 U.” The Purple Rain soundtrack album topped the Billboard 200 for a jaw-dropping 24 weeks, and the movie was a smash, too. By December, Billboard reported that “Doves” was 1984’s top-selling single and noted that the year had been “dominated by the phenomenon of His Purple Badness.” Years later, when Prince died unexpectedly in 2016 at the age of 57, it was Purple Rain that people flocked to more than any other studio album in his classic catalog.

It’s a 40th anniversary that deserves a celebration, which is precisely what will happen this weekend in Minneapolis. Prince’s hometown (and his Paisley Park complex in Chanhassen, Minn.) is the site of Celebration 2024, a five-day party featuring live performances by The Revolution, Morris Day — who played Prince’s dapper rival in the film but was a real-life friend — and New Power Generation, his post-Revolution backing band.

On Friday (June 21), The Revolution – Wendy, Lisa, Bobby Z., Brownmark and Dr. Fink – return to First Avenue, the iconic Minneapolis venue where the musical sequences of Purple Rain were shot, to perform that beloved classic. Ahead of this pinch-me concert, Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman spoke to Billboard about what to expect at Celebration 2024 and their memories of making the movie in the freezing Minnesota winter.

But it’s hardly all nostalgia for these two. Wendy & Lisa also spoke to Billboard about their latest musical project, a new band with another musical icon — Annie Lennox. Despite Purple Rain storming the world around the same time Eurythmics were riding high on the charts, the three never met each other until last year – but they’re making up for lost time with an album of original songs that’s on the horizon.

Whose idea was it to commemorate 40 years of Purple Rain with a show at First Avenue?

Wendy: I think, if my memory serves, Bobby Z., the drummer from The Revolution, and First Ave struck up a conversation about how great it would be to have a show commemorating this. And then the estate got wind that we were probably going to do this, and they thought it was such a great idea that they wanted to add [more] and make it an all-inclusive event.

Lisa: It was just a cool idea, because that’s where the movie was filmed — all the music scenes were done there — and so we’re gonna have some fun. [We’re] not recreating it, but almost recreating it.

Wendy: Yeah, right — almost. [Makes womp-womp noise.]

Do you have any particular memories of shooting the movie at First Ave? I know film shoots tend to start pretty early in the morning, and musicians are not exactly known for waking up at the crack of dawn.

Wendy: [laughs]: I gotta say, it felt like a very familiar feeling to me, because I hated getting up for school early in the morning. It had that feeling: “Oh, my God, we have to get up for school.” Our alarms had to be set for 4:30 and we had to go outside and start the cars so that they’d be warm enough to drive downtown in time. And then we’d get there and there’d be all these space heaters everywhere. I do have one memory that was seared into my head. I remember walking to the side of the stage and watching that famous scene of Prince performing “Darling Nikki.” And that was pretty cool to see. I remember that him being up on top of that riser and singing out to the audience — well, he’s actually supposed to be singing to Apollonia – but it was fantastic.

Lisa: Wow, was I there? [laughs]

Wendy: Yeah, you were, I think you were getting makeup done.

Lisa: I remember how cold it was, definitely. At the club, the thing was that the back door had to be open a little bit because there was the truck outside and they were running [power] cables in. We couldn’t actually get the heat to work because there was all this cold air rushing in — minus 20 or whatever. It was seriously cold. And our outfits weren’t that warm. It was a little bit of a bit of a challenge. But it was fun, it was a trip. I mean, we were young, we could do that. And like Wendy said, we had to get up and scrape the ice off the windshield and do all that just to get to work at five in the morning.

What is it like watching yourselves in the Purple Rain movie now?

Wendy: To sit outside myself and satellite and just watch the film as like someone who’s a Prince fan, the music sequences are fantastic. To me, that’s the whole thing. That’s the beauty of it. Yeah, there’s a narrative in there, but as the cinephile that I am, I wouldn’t really have paid that much attention to the narrative. The actual music by everybody in there was just fantastic. It’s a great rock n’ roll movie.

Lisa: I was just saying, I have to sit down and watch it again, because it’s been a while. It’s on TV all the time and I’ll catch a thing here or there. To me, I don’t see it as a movie. To me, it looks like little pieces of home movies: “Oh, there’s my friend Kim in it as a waitress!” It’s just fun to look at how young we were. There was such a build up to it. We had acting classes and dance classes and rehearsals and all this stuff. We were a bunch of crazy twentysomethings. We were serious, but we were also extremely jocular. We were being silly with it, doing dance class with our trench coats on. [laughs] It was just like a silly time, but it ended up being this huge success. And it was really a happy, happy thing.

Wendy: You could also tell that Prince was, at that point, starting a film career. His whole life seemed like it was getting dispersed. He had his hands in so many different things. After a while, he started getting like, “Wow, I need to focus on one thing for a while.” I think that might have taken a toll on him, but he got used to it as well.

Did he seem more stretched or stressed than he would have been during a regular recording session?

Wendy: To me, yeah. It wasn’t dysfunctional but he did have a lot more stress on his shoulders and a lot more responsibility. We didn’t see as much of him during that time. We were like, “Where’s our friend? Where’s our guide? Is he coming? Where is he today?” “Oh, he’s in the editing room” or “he’s at color correction” or “he’s at ADR.” You could see that he was like, “Times a-tickin’.” There wasn’t a lot of time wasted. You could see that stress on him for sure.

Obviously, the music and the movie did remarkably well. When it was finished but hadn’t come out yet, did you know it would be a blockbuster?

Wendy: I knew just by the music sequences that this was going to catapult him. And I wasn’t wrong. I didn’t know what people would think of the acting or the narrative part of it, and that came later, and I really didn’t concentrate much on that at the time. I was very young. But the music sequences, I knew he was going to be a household name by that point. I was like, “This is it, it’s a done deal.”

When the Purple Rain deluxe edition came out in 2017, I flipped over the extended “Computer Blue.” I still can’t believe that didn’t get an official release during his lifetime.

Wendy: I know. I know. Well, he was really having a very close relationship with Mo Ostin and Lenny Waronker over at Warner Bros. at that time. Between Lenny and Mo and Prince and his management, there was a lot of discussion about what would make that album. I know that what was released was agreed upon, but Prince was adamant that he be able to release extended versions and 12 inches [of some of the songs]. My educated guess would be that [they] agreed the extended versions would be the treat for fans [who wanted to] dig for gold. We had a mobile unit at our rehearsal, so a lot of things were going on simultaneously at that time. The song was recorded to be filmed — “Computer Blue” is however many minutes long and we know exactly how that’s gonna look timewise with all the cameras and the performance [in the movie]. Then when we had an extra day and we were at rehearsal, before the soundtrack would come out, we’d pull the songs open, and go, “Let’s extend it.” “Let’s Go Crazy” had one as well, all of them had these extended versions that we would do at the rehearsal space where the mobile truck was. I remember the process of pulling those songs once we were done filming them and making extended versions. Do you remember that, Lisa?

Lisa: Yeah, all the time. That was the fun part, just because we jam and come up with other sections and little things. It was fun and inspiring. It was so great to have a truck there at your rehearsal. You didn’t need to go to a studio and work things out, it was really organic. And there was so much excited energy and I think that it shows on the recording.

Wendy: I think Prince was pretty savvy, or vigilant, to know that the magic that we were all creating as Prince & The Revolution on that particular album was like a magic bullet for him. And to keep recording and have everything hooked up to the mobile unit at all times. He knew there was lightning in a bottle with all of us at that very moment. He knew it.

When you play First Avenue for the Celebration, might you do the extended versions of some of the Purple Rain songs?

Wendy: God, I would love to. No, we’re gonna hit it and quit it. We’re going to just play a kind of truncated version. I would love to do a three-hour show and have it all be our extended versions, but the problem is, we’re missing our commander in chief. And to do those things without him, we just feel funny about it.

Lisa: So much of it was [that] we relied on his cues. We needed him to conduct, so it’s a little hard. It’s a little strange to do those things without him there. We’ll try to do a couple vamps with the horn parts and stuff, but yeah, not really.

Wendy: Yeah, we don’t have him. It’s just different. And we’re not going to have anybody be him on stage. I mean, why? [That would be] ridiculous. We’re just gonna have the audience do it. Audience participation – it’s like the ultimate karaoke night except you’re with the real band.

Does it feel like 40 years since Purple Rain came out?

Wendy: Oh, my God, no. It doesn’t feel 40 years ago at all, zero percent. But that’s the way life goes. The older you get, the faster things go and the world becomes upside down. I remember when I was 10 better than I remember yesterday. That’s what age does.

Anything else you want to mention?

Wendy: Lisa and I and Annie Lennox have formed a band and we’re recording an album right now. We’re really excited about it. We’ve got some great songs — it’s just the three of us, we’re playing everything and she’s singing. We’re just in our little room and we’re making it happen. The three of us met each other because we were all at the Gorge in Washington state doing a Joni Mitchell gig together. The three of us fell in love with each other and now we’re making a record.

That’s amazing, especially because she doesn’t release music that often.

Wendy: She hasn’t released any new songs in 14 years. And these are all brand new, coming from her little brain and coming from our little brains. It’s just the three of us are making some really great music.

What’s the vibe of the music, or the genre, if you were to describe it?

Lisa: All I can say is most of it right now is really up. And it feels good. It’s because we’re happy and excited in the studio getting away from all the really difficult stuff that’s going on in the world. We’re really enjoying getting our rocks off in the studio. It’s pretty fun stuff.

Wendy: If you were to pick a genre, we can’t really find what this is. It feels… I guess you could call it alternative pop.

Lisa: That makes sense.

It’s wild that you had never met her until a year ago, since you both came up during the ‘80s.

Wendy: We crossed each other’s paths, we played in the same venues, blah, blah, blah. But we were always just like ships in the night. And then at the Gorge, it was like, “Oh my God, I’ve known you my whole life.” We were texting just now with each other, saying, “It’s been an entire year since we met each other, but it feels like we’ve known each other forever.” We’re like family. We have dinners every Friday night, we have luncheons every Sunday and we’re in the studio all the time making this record. We’re very excited about it.

Any sense of when it might come out?

Wendy: Well, she and the two of us had this conversation about that very thing. And it could be the beginning of next year. We have a whole summer of writing to do and then maybe fine-tuning things in the fall. Maybe we’d be ready to release it by the beginning of next year.

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