Famous for his astounding vocal range, colourful style and dramatic live shows, the late singer/songwriter Prince left a lasting legacy following his untimely death in April 2016.
The Minneapolis-born star, whose real name was Prince Rogers Nelson, was a talented multi-instrumentalist, playing the guitar, synthesiser, keyboards, drums, bass and percussion. He wrote his first song, Funk Machine, at the age of seven in 1965, composing it on his dad’s piano.
He went on to win eight Grammy Awards, six American Music Awards, an Academy Award for his film Purple Rain and a Golden Globe. He was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. He wrote songs for other major artists, including Madonna and The Bangles, as well as writing and recording his own hits.
After earning a recording contract with Warner Bros at the age of 17, Prince went on to write the Purple Rain album as a film soundtrack in 1984, selling more than 13 million copies. Prince starred in the film as troubled pop star, The Kid.
When Doves Cry
His biggest hit was When Doves Cry (a track from the Purple Rain album) which was his first number one single in the United States. Certified platinum, it topped the US singles chart for five weeks, which was a massive achievement.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named it as one of the top 500 songs of all time that had shaped rock and roll, while Rolling Stone magazine put it at number 52 on its list of the top 500 songs ever written.
For Prince, the lyrics had a deeply personal meeting. According to his biographer, Per Nilson, they were about the singer’s failed relationship with singer Susan Moonsie – a member of the girl trio, Vanity Six.
The band supported Prince on his Dirty Mind tour during 1980 and 1981, while Prince was said to have had a relationship with Moonsie for around five years. He was believed to have written the song about her after their relationship, which had been described as “on and off”, finally came to an end.
The lyrics suggest that the narrator has been left alone in a “world that’s so cold” and he uses crying doves to symbolise his feelings on the ending of the relationship. Throughout the song, the narrator says repeatedly, “This is what it sounds like when doves cry.”
The multi-talented star also wrote and played all the instrumental parts on the track. Unusually, there’s no bass line on the record – an almost unprecedented move for a 1980s song, in an era of dance music with a booming bass.
In later interviews, Prince said there had been a bass originally, but he removed it, as he felt it made the song sound “too conventional”, which didn’t fit his mood at the time.
Can doves cry?
Although the sound of doves crying is an emotive image, conveying sorrow, some rather pedantic fans were spurred into asking if doves can actually cry and what kind of sound they would make! So what does it sound like when doves cry?
According to Michael Shapiro, a professor of biology who runs a research programme on pigeon genetics at the University of Utah in the US, doves can physically produce tears! They also make a mournful sound that could be described as crying – but it’s not due to being in distress.
Shapiro confirms that pigeons have tear ducts, although they are there to keep the birds’ eyes moist. Rather tongue-in-cheek, he added it was “beyond his area of expertise” to speculate on whether doves cried due to feeling sad!
He also revealed that a species called the mourning dove produced calls that sounded sorrowful to the human ear. However, the cries were nothing to do with personal loss! He explained the call didn’t sound sorrowful to the mourning dove. It was more likely to be a mating cry to attract the attention of another dove.
Shapiro says current research suggests there isn’t any connection between dove sounds and a negative emotional state. Interestingly, the professor says a rare breed of pigeon called the Laugher pigeon appears to make a laughing sound, but he adds it’s a genetic sound and the species “isn’t any happier” than other pigeons!
Regardless of what it really sounds like when doves cry, the song was a massive hit for Prince. Following his death, at the age of 57, When Doves Cry re-charted on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart at number eight, 32 years after its original release.
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