Prince wrote this song for his movie Purple Rain. In the film, the song plays under a montage after his character loses his girl (Apollonia) to his rival (Morris - Morris Day of The Time). We see Prince riding his motorcycle along with shots of intimate moments with Apollonia. In the movie, Prince has a difficult relationship with his father, who beats his mom. Scenes of his father come in on the lyrics where Prince calls him "demanding."
The film is semi-autobiographical, but how much is based on real life remains a mystery, as Prince rarely gave interviews and didn't talk about his personal life. In the movie, the song expresses his fear of becoming like his parents. When the doves cry, that's his musical refuge - the barrage of keyboards in the chorus represents the doves crying.
Besides writing and composing the track, Prince played all the instruments on the song.
There is no bass on this song. Prince took out the bass track at the last minute to get a different sound, though he hated to see it go.
"Sometimes your brain kind of splits in two - your ego tells you one thing, and the rest of you says something else. You have to go with what you know is right," he told Bass Player magazine.
In the US, this was the #1 song of 1984. It topped the charts for five weeks over the summer, and kept Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark" at #2, preventing The Boss from ever having a #1 hit.
Springsteen was a huge fan of Prince. "Whenever I would catch one of his shows, I would always leave humbled," he said in dedicating his April 23, 2016 concert to the recently deceased superstar.
The novelty song "Disco Duck" by Rick Dees & His Cast of Idiots hit #1 in 1976, but "duck" does not refer to a specific species.
Prince used his trusty LM-1 drum machine (now on display at Paisley Park) on this track to create the unique percussion. Introduced in 1980 by Roger Linn, the LM-1 was the first programmable drum machine that sampled real drums.
To make the sound, Prince used a recording of a cross-stick snare drum, where you hold the tip onto the drum head and slap the stick against the rim of the drum. He then tuned it down an octave to give it more of a knocking sound, and ran it through a guitar processor.
In addition to his talents on guitar, keyboards and a number of other instruments, Prince is acknowledged as one of the greatest drum machine programmers of his era.
Peggy McCreary, Prince's engineer on this song, told Billboard about the day it was recorded and the singer's confidence that it would become a hit: "[Prince] took the bass out and he said, 'There's nobody that's going to have the guts to do this.' And he was smiling from ear to ear. He felt this was the best and he knew he had a hit song... so he decided to do something really daring. That's what Prince was all about."
McCreary also recalled Prince's exhausting recording process: "He would run through [a song] with just a piano and a vocal. And sometimes he'd do the drums and then the bass... The room was always set up and you had to be ready to do whatever he felt like doing. It was real spontaneous. You had to be there with him, which was the hard part and the exciting part. But when you're exhausted, it's hard to be excited. It was the longest I ever worked with anybody in my life. I worked around the clock, 24 hours. He said sometimes the only reason he went home was so I could sleep."
A version of this is sung by the choir in the 1996 film Romeo and Juliet. The movie was directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge), and starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.
Suggestion credit: john - Cheshire, England
Although there is no bass in this song and the percussion part is played entirely by drum machine, Prince's drummer and bassist from his band The Revolution still appear in the video, playing along (silently) on their instruments.
Suggestion credit: Robert - Berkeley, CA
Prince's drummer, Bobby Z, though the drum machine used on this track would put him out of a job, but Prince had a special interface designed for him so he could play this song and other Purple Rain tracks live using the machine. It is likely the first instance of a Linn drum machine being used in a live environment.
In 1997 Ginuwine released his remake of this song on his Ginuwine... The Bachelor album, adding some new beats to the sound. His version hit #10 in the UK. It was not, however, a hit with Prince. The singer encouraged people to make their own music instead of covering someone else's songs, and he took offense to Ginuwine messing with the lyrics.
"I was just busting on him to bust him, but I was a little serious: Have some respect, man. If anyone tried to cover 'Respect,' by Aretha? I would shoot them myself!" Prince told Entertainment Weekly.
Patti Smith recorded this for her 2002 retrospective album, Land 1975-2002. Her version was featured in the 2003 film Lost in Translation, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. Other notable covers are from Razorlight and Damien Rice.
Prince's Paisley Park complex where he lived in Minneapolis was shrouded in secrecy, but visitors reported that he kept doves, and that they could get quite loud. Entertainment Weekly reporter Leah Greenblatt wrote: "Yes, he keeps doves. Yes, they cry."
Degrassi: The Next Generation, which had a long tradition of naming episodes after '80s and '90s hits, used this song for a child abuse-themed episode involving Craig Manning (Jake Epstein) and his dad (Hugh Dillon) in 2002.
After Prince changed his name to a symbol in 1993, a guitar maker named Ferdinand Pickett claimed that he designed a guitar based on that symbol, and that Prince stole the idea for his custom guitars. Pickett sued Prince in 1994, and the case dragged out until 1999, when it was finally dismissed. In the ruling, the judge had a little fun with it, invoking this song in the opinion:
"In a case that has spanned five years, two judges, numerous counsel, and lengthy discovery proceedings; has spawned multiple motions and published orders; and has at last teetered to the brink of trial, the parties debate over the use of the Symbol that has come to identify Defendant, the Artist formerly known as Prince. Indeed, Defendant may as well have had this protracted litigation in mind when he lyrically asked: "Why do we scream at each other. This is what it sounds like. When doves cry."
MC Hammer sampled this on his 1990 song "Pray," which was his last hit before dropping the "MC" and piling up mounds of debt as his lifestyle could not keep up with his cash flow.
Prince's bass player Brown Mark had no problem with being unemployed on this song. "When Doves Cry was a Prince solo track," he told Uncut. "He let me hear it because he and I had been bumping heads, and he didn't want me to think he took the bass out as an insult! He explained that when he was writing it, he put a bass line on but then took it out and liked the feel. I thought it was phenomenal."
Xochi from OaklandWhen Doves Cry is NOT his musical refuge. This was a long ass article with truths but not about the song. He wrote it while he was seeking refuge from his parents arguments and fights. Sam from Nawlins, got it.
Kim from Sparks, NvI really love this song I seem to relate to it. Prince is a great singer and the music to the song is incredible.
Megan from Stevenson, AlDANG! This is a GREAT song! Gahhh...Prince can do nothing wrong! Makes me wanna sing along EVERYTIME!
Barry from Sauquoit, NyPrince had help keeping Bruce from reaching #1; "The Reflex" by Duran Duran also topped the chart above "Dancing in the Dark" while it was struck at #2 for four weeks...
Kane from Wytheville, Vajoe buden also redid for "when thugs cry" which is about raising his son
Sam from New Orleans, LaWhen Doves Cry is not about doves actually crying tears; it is a metaphor of the sound of two people screaming at each other. Ever noticed two people arguing from afar and all you can hear is screaming? Or have you ever seen a flock of birds flying and all of them are making that 'caw caw' sound that's so annoying? That's the feeling or rather sound he was trying to make a comparison to. The lyrics says "Why do we scream at each other? This is what it sounds like when doves cry."
Ma_cherie from Little Rock, ArInteresting thoughts, Geo from MA.
Marc from London, ChinaI think the 'no bass' thing may turn out to be an urban myth. Listen carefully and you can hear a sort of acoustic sounding bass throughout the track.
David from Youngstown, OhDimitri, That is an hysterical comment about tear ducts. Great sense of humor!
Elisa from Decatur, AlTo Eddie in Cleveland, Ohio, the movie never says if his father died or not, it just shows him in the bed with a bandage around his head with his Mother crying over him.
Geo from Worcester, Mathe way i see it, the concept of making a dove cry is similar to the concept "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (from the novel "To Kill A Mockingbird") -- this being that mockingbird's don't hurt anything, therefore it's a sin to kill one. similarly, it's a terrible thing to make doves, who are all about peace, cry. Prince seems to be refering to himself as a dove (all about peace and love, and not harming anything). this is the most obvious in the line "don't make me chase you/ even doves have pride". the chorus seems to be saying (to a lover, perhaps?) essentially "why are we fighting like this when all i want is love and peace? our fighting is one of the worst things in the world to me, i feel like it's similar to if a dove could cry" just a couple thoughts
Erin from Vancouver, CanadaThis song is so ironic, doves are a symbol of peace, happiness and joy. For a dove to cry would mean that things are in a terrible state. The song is about a relationship that didn't work out, a relationship similar to his parents relationship. He is comparing himself and his lover to his parents. Its also about being abandoned, and left alone in the world.
Eddie from Cleveland, OhThe title of the song "When Doves Cry" is symbolic. When somebody dreams of a dove crying, it means that your father is going to die. In the movie "Purple Rain," The Kid's father kills himself, hence the title of the song.
Dimitri from Oklahoma, KsPretty stupid song. I've never heard doves cry? Birds dont have tear ducts? randomest song title ever.
Jolene from Melbourne, AustraliaWow, can't believe he wrote it in 2 hours. I always took this song to be about being abandoned "how can you just leave me standing, alone in a world thats so cold."
Kenny from Toronto, CanadaA Canadian rock band called The Pursuit of Happiness covered this song for their 2005 greatest hits disc. Ironically the band started up in the eighties around the same time the original was released.
Ken from Louisville, KyThe story is that the director of "Purple Rain" decided that a song was needed for the domestic abuse scene and asked Prince to come up with one (all other songs in the movie were already written and recorded). Prince wrote and recorded "When Doves Cry" in a less than two hours, entirely by himself. This was the only song on the soundtrack to be credited to "Prince" instead of "Prince and the Revolution"
Aj from Cleveland, GaMC Hammer did this too... weird.
Stephanie from Glen Rock, PaThe winner of the first Australian Idol competition, Guy Sebastian, included a cover of this on his debut album.
John from Lawrenceville, GaThis song was also used in the movie "Romeo and Juliet".