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May 19, 2006

Fun Facts: When Doves Cry

In 1984, Prince released "When Doves Cry," one of the greatest pop songs of all time! The single sold over two million copies, and topped that year's prestigious Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll.

The lyrics to this tune are a bit cryptic. "Dream if u can a courtyard/An ocean of violets in bloom." No one really knows what that's about. However, the chorus to this song does have an interesting story behind it.

In the early 80's, the city of Minneapolis was inundated with pigeons. Filthy, disease ridden pigeons. At the time, Prince's studio was located downtown, where the pigeon problem was most severe. Every day, he was swarmed by these vermin -- one of the animals went so far as to defecate on the man's favorite purple blouse! After a few months of this, Prince swore revenge against the pigeon population of Minneapolis.


On February 7, 1984, Prince's recording engineer Brian DuPree dropped by the studio early to fix a broken console. Upon entering, he was shocked to discover that the main drum tracking room had been transformed into (for want of a better term) a pigeon torture chamber. Prince had spent the night trapping dozens of the birds in cages, then subjecting them to a variety of unspeakable abuse: prodding with a sharp stick, electrocution, searing flame from an acetylene torch. Prince set up microphones and recorded the sounds of dying pigeons, telling DuPree that he was using the audio for a new song entitled "This is What Happens When U Shit on My Favorite Blouse (Die U Dirty Birds)." Allegedly, cocaine may have played a minor role in this incident.

Most hardcore fans prefer this early demo version, which was never released but has been widely bootlegged over the years. Always the perfectionist, Prince recorded many alternate versions of the track: "This is What it Sounds Like When I Torture Pigeons" turned into "The Sound of Pigeons Screaming" which became "When Pigeons Scream" which was eventually changed to "When Pigeons Cry". Though all of these permutations had a certain charm, Prince was never satisfied with the track. He was just like his mother that way.

It would be months before Prince experienced the creative breakthrough that facilitated the song's completion. This epiphany occured on a Tuesday night, when Prince was watching a PBS nature documentary about "Urban Wildlife". While viewing this program, Prince learned an astonishing fact: pigeons and doves are actually the exact same species. It's hard to believe: Doves are pure symbols of love while pigeons are revolting spreaders of filth. Yet they are very same animal. "There's got to be a metaphor in there somewhere," Prince probably thought as he rushed to the studio... where he banged out the vocal track for "When Doves Cry" in only one take! The rest is pop history.

Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Posted by Joey at May 19, 2006 06:35 AM

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