Prince hit #1 on the Billboard chart for the very first time 39 years ago today with his song “When Doves Cry.” It stayed #1 for five weeks, and it was also the top-selling single of 1984. It was the lead single for his sixth studio album Purple Rain and it was written for his semi-autobiographical film “Purple Rain.”
American Songwriter took an in-depth look at the lyrics and discovered the meaning behind them. In the film, the song plays after Prince’s character loses his girl (Apollonia) to his rival. The montage includes scenes of Prince’s tumultuous relationship with his father and intimate moments with Apollonia. The song touches on the love affair and also Prince’s fear of becoming too much like his parents.
At the beginning of the song, Prince asks Apollonia to picture a time when the two of them were happy together before moving on to a more melancholy scenario when their relationship began to falter.
Dig if you will the picture
Of you and I engaged in a kiss
The sweat of your body covers me
Can you my darling
Can you picture this?
Dream, if you can, a courtyard
An ocean of violets in bloom
Animals strike curious poses
They feel the heat
The heat between me and you
He then considers if they are too much like his parents, before getting to the “when doves cry” line, which references why they scream at each other.
Maybe I’m just too demanding
Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold
Maybe you’re just like my mother
She’s never satisfied
Why do we scream at each other?
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry
Despite the somewhat melancholy aspects of the song, it does hold an optimistic outlook since doves are a sign of peace… so Prince is ultimately hoping the two can work things out.
According to Prince’s biographer Per Nilsen, the song was inspired by his relationship with Vanity 6 member Susan Moonsie. Prince not only wrote, composed, and sang the song, he also played all instruments on the track!
The music video was an instant hit when it premiered on MTV in 1984. However, it did spark a controversy among network executives who thought it may be too explicit for television!