His Purple Highness released a new album (again), and I have a new favorite Prince song as a result – except it’s not so new, it’s actually 33 years old!
A few weeks back, Prince’s estate re-released his biggest album, Purple Rain, in a special 35-song deluxe version, aptly titled Purple Rain Deluxe (From the Vault & Previously Unreleased). In its CD form, the album is a 4-disc set consisting of the nine original tracks on one disc – in their original album lengths – followed by unreleased tracks, B-sides, edited 7-inch single versions and rare 12-inch extended versions.
Plus one particularly long version of a song from the original album, which was neither released as a 7-inch single, a 12-inch or a B-side back then. In fact, it was largely viewed by mainstream outlets as the most throwaway track on Purple Rain when the album was spewing out radio hits left and right in 1984-85 (although many diehard Prince fans consider the tune a masterpiece).
That song was “Computer Blue.”
As recently as last year, after Prince’s untimely death, I ranked his 57 Greatest Songs (in honor of each year he lived). The song “Computer Blue” barely made the list, ranking at No. 52 – the lowest of the nine Purple Rain songs, all of which made the list.
For last year’s tribute countdown, I wrote the following about “Computer Blue,” in admittedly mocking fashion:
The song with only one verse, one chorus and (the) suggestive dialogue (between Revolution band mates Wendy and Lisa) to start things off…
“Wendy? Yes, Lisa…”
Boy oh boy, was I wrong.
But then I had never heard this hot-as-fire, 12-minute, 19-second monster jam that is “Computer Blue, (the Hallway Speech version).” Hell, none of us had.
In its originally released form, the 3:59 shortened track was squeezed between “The Beautiful Ones” and “Darling Nikki” as tracks 3, 4 and 5 on side A of the landmark soundtrack album. According to the website princevault.com, “Computer Blue” actually clocked in at 14 minutes originally, but it was pared down to its shortest length to make room for another Purple Rain song for the final track list, specifically “Take Me With U,” just a couple of months before the album’s release in June 1984.
As we’ve known it for more than three decades, “Computer Blue” was less than four minutes of pure unadulterated Prince funk – stellar in its own right, yes, but next to the eight other classics on Purple Rain, “Computer Blue” was largely overshadowed, even considered by some to be filler – although being filler material on a Prince album, especially one of the biggest soundtrack LPs of all time, was nothing to sneeze at.
In fact, I really dug “Computer Blue” in 1984 just as I have ever since. I usually cranked it up loud when I played it and never thought of it as a bad song.
But where has THIS version been the past 33 years of my life… the version that adds nearly eight and a half minutes of badass funk to the original and, in the process, reveals one of rock and roll’s best kept musical secrets?!
Oh, and don’t go calling it a remix. A remix is something you do to a song to make it almost unrecognizable from its original version. This here is a pure, extended “Computer Blue,” the way it was originally intended… well, maybe minus those two additional minutes reportedly in existence, according to various sources.
In this 12-plus minute version, there are no annoying loops of certain musical bars on repeat. No added drum machines or dubbed-in instruments. No tempo changes that convert it from its original form to, say, a 2010s EDM track.
No, this is all original “Computer Blue,” just longer – and far more exciting!
Oh and remember all that talk earlier about there just being one verse and chorus in the previously released version?
Forget that…there are two of each here (maybe more if you count all the ad-libbed vocals near the end). And the never-before-heard second verse gives the song more of a traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure in the beginning, making this listener wonder why that second verse, at the very least, wasn’t included in the album’s original release.
And after Prince & The Revolution complete the more traditional 2-verse/chorus song structure about two and a half minutes in, well… that’s when the real rock and roll fun begins for “Computer Blue (“Hallway Speech Version).”
That familiar first instrumental break is there – just longer – reinforcing the opinion that the sound engineers did one heck of a job back in 1984 while editing it down to the familiar short version to which we’ve all been accustomed. Its amazing to think that they could cut a 12-minute song down to less than a third that size so seamlessly, especially with so much going on in it.
For nearly two minutes in the early going, Prince lays into his guitar while The Revolution plays its instruments around him. Then he yields to two female voices at the 5:57 mark – presumably those of Revolution members Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman.
They deliver a “Hallway Speech” containing a deadpan rendering of the following lyrics in spoken-word fashion: “Poor lonely computer, it’s time someone programmed you. It’s time you learned, love and lust – they both have four letters, but they’re entirely different words. Poor lonely computer, do you really know what love is?” Their delivery is drone-like and effective, conjuring up memories of those twin girls in “The Shining.”
Only after hearing them do you really begin to understand and appreciate all the relationship angst that contributed to Prince’s “Computer Blue.”
This notion is reinforced later, at the 8:56 mark, when Prince sings: “I’m on the verge of a breakdown, what is life without love?” as this long jam session works itself to a frenzy. Then, the music seems to quiet itself as if to make way for his answer, which he screams, “It’s hell, Computer Blue!”
It couldn’t get much better, but it does.
The long jam session rumbles on, and near the end, a lot of things seem to be happening all at once. Prince questions religion and love in one segment: “Shouldn’t I go to church on Sunday? Shouldn’t I stay home and pray? Shouldn’t I try to make her happy? Shouldn’t I try to make her stay?” He also sneaks in a bit of his opening line (“where is my love life?”) while shrieks and yowls happen all around him.
Then those overdubbed, deadpan female vocals return for their final “speech,” sounding much more vulnerable than they did when they opened the song in dominatrix-like fashion with their “Yes, Lisa” dialogue. Now they’re back to let the protagonist (Prince) know metaphorically: “we’re not butterflies, we’re computers too, just like you, Computer Blue.” Then they take this opportunity once more before the song returns to the familiar guitar-driven riff that ended the original.
By now it’s 11 minutes in, and there’s still over a minute of track time left. It becomes clear at about the 11:08 mark – when most listeners would be expecting the abruptly clipped ending of Prince’s screeching guitar to segue into the intro for “Darling Nikki,” yet it doesn’t happen – that there is still more to this story.
In this case, it’s the continued howls and shrieks of a distorted guitar and Prince himself that carry the last minute and change of “Computer Blue.” (Reportedly, this goes on for about three minutes in the 14-minute version.)
And for this release, without the outdated confines of limited vinyl album space, there will be no abruptly timed “Darling Nikki” interruption, just the long electric guitar fade that is Prince showing the world why he was considered one of rock’s greatest legends – even if no one (Prince included) really knew it at the time.
Prince fans, I think we found the Righteous 1…
The “Hallway Speech” version, that is.
p.s. Prince’s Purple Rain Deluxe album is available in stores and on streaming services like TIDAL, Apple Music and Spotify. If you have a paid Spotify subscription, you may be able to access “Computer Blue (Hallway Speech version)” here. Although with Prince and his estate, there are no guarantees.