“Sometimes It Snows In April” – Parade (1986)

The twelfth and final track from the Parade album. This is Prince’s eighth album and the last one to share a credit with the Revolution (the last one to be released anyway). Parade was released on 31 March 1986 by Warner Brothers and Paisley Park; less than a year (again) since the release of Around the World in a Day. The album is subtitled “Music from the Motion Picture Under The Cherry Moon(and the name of the movie’s underlined – that’s clever). So right there, you know there’s more to this record than meets the eye. It’s a soundtrack (yay!). The movie, Under the Cherry Moon, came out on 4 July 1986. For those paying attention that’s three months after the album was released. So Prince fams had twelve whole weeks to imagine just what kind of movie accompanied the sounds they’d been listening to. Wondering what kind of awesome stage production would accompany this black and white record. But if folks were expecting another Purple Rain, they were sadly disappointed. No band, no live stage performances, no uplifting ending. The plot (if you can call it that) revolves around a sexy piano player (and his brother/cousin/lover) who tries to swindle a young virginal heiress but ends up falling in love with her and they make love under stars (he takes her cherry under the moon – super clever, that one). It was a completely different type of film altogether; a black and white “French” movie that is part drama, part romance and part screwball comedy (or trying to be). But nevertheless, an award winning picture. It won five times at the Golden Raspberry Awards for, Worst Picture (a tie with Howard the Duck), Worst Actor (Prince), Worst Supporting Actor (Jerome Benton), Worst Director (Prince), and Worst Original Song (“Love or Money”). Kristin Scott Thomas was also nominated for Worst Supporting Actress and Worst New Star, and Becky Johnston got a nomination for Worst Screenplay (it really is an honour just to get nominated).[1] Whatever the vision for the picture was, it got lost somewhere along the way. It’s a strange little movie that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It could have been a half decent sexy comedy/buddy movie if the script and the director were a little better but as it is we have a film that’s basically an excuse for Prince to jam his music into another film; albeit with some difficulty. The sound mixing in this movie makes the songs really stand out from the rest of the audio. It’s kind of like when you’re watching your favourite TV show and the volume is set to just the right level for the scene where the moustachioed villain and the poorly groomed hero are trading barbs over a glass of Chablis, then a commercial comes on and blows your speakers. That’s what the songs in this movie feel like to me. A commercial, jammed into a failed attempt at entertainment.

The movie was a commercial flop but the album didn’t do too badly (number 1 in the Netherlands baby!). The Parade album sounds almost “European”, or what an American might believe “European” sounds like. There’s even an accordion in there (funky squeeze box!). With this record Prince is continuing with his musical experiment. He’s still trying new things and pushing the boundaries of what people perceive “Prince music” to be. Six out of the twelve tracks on the album are under three minutes long so even the structure of the album is a kind of a departure from what has come before, with the black and white album cover (and movie) standing in stark contrast to Around the World in a Day, Purple Rain and 1999. This album moves away from a lot of the guitar driven songs of the past whilst putting more focus on the piano. There’s even an instrumental track on here (lyrics are so passé).  Parade also has a significant contribution from Clare Fischer, and his orchestration can be heard all over this record.

The album version of “Sometimes It Snows In April” features the triple threat of Prince, Wendy and Lisa. “The three of us had kind of a love affair. And when we wrote that song… it was just the three of us sitting together in a room.”[2] Clare Fischer and his orchestra did contribute music for this song but Prince preferred the “demo” version. When you listen to the album version, you can almost imagine where the orchestra would fit in. With only guitar, piano and vocals on the track there is a lot of space that could have been filled with orchestration (or anything really). But the space is really one of the things that makes this song what it is. The sounds of fingers moving across the guitar strings and what sounds like grandma’s kitchen chair creaking in the background add to the ambience of the song. The initial recording for this song was done at Sunset Sound in Hollywood (you may have heard of it, it’s in Hollywood)[3] on 21 April 1985 (the day before Around the World in a Day was released). Clare & the Gang recorded their bits sometime later in 1985.

The “Tracy” character closes the album with this sad song, and he opens the album with the exuberant “Christopher Tracy’s Parade”. The two bookends help tie the album back into the movie with what seems like a purpose built song (or two) about the protagonist. But “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” in its original form was “Wendy’s Parade”; an existing song that was changed and adapted to fit into the movie. I’m going to go out on a crazy limb here and assume that the same is true for “Sometimes It Snows In April”. I’ve read that a version of this song (a zygote of a song if you will) was played live a year before the album came out and that another name was used. Which could have been a cover up in order to not leak anything about the movie but I think it’s reasonable to assume that the songs on the album weren’t specifically written to be in a movie. Like most of Purple Rain, the songs existed and then a movie came along for them to be added to. And pretty much any two syllable name could fit here – Tracy, Jesse, Jimmy, Henry, Billy, Johnny, Wendy, Lisa, etc. so let’s not belabour the point (letitgo dudes).

 

The song opens with some nice piano and guitar picking and strumming, with one of the girls singing the “oohs and ahs” (Wendy?). Then Prince comes in with some of his vocal accompaniment. At one point he even sounds like he’s imitating a trumpet. As though he’d originally planned to use a trumpet and was just putting a marker in the song for the trumpet player to hit later. The first part of the song is essentially setting the scene and developing the atmosphere for the proper part of the song which kicks in at the 75 second mark with the main melody. After “Anotherloverholenyohead” you need a buffer before getting to “Sometimes It Snows In April” and this opening sets the mood for the finale. You need those 75 seconds to get used to the fact that this is the end of the album. The party’s over. Come down off the piano.

 

Tracy died soon after a long fought civil war,
Just after I’d wiped away his last tear
I guess he’s better off than he was before,
A whole lot better off than the fools he left here
I used to cry for Tracy because he was my only friend
Those kind of cars don’t pass you every day
I used to cry for Tracy because I wanted to see him again,
But sometimes sometimes life ain’t always the way

 

If you hadn’t figured it out by the sad intro music, the lyrics let you know, straight from the start, that this is a sad song. The protagonist is already dead (just like the movie – coincidence?). I’ve heard of some Prince fams who skip this song whenever they play the album. Not because they dislike it but because the sadness is so overwhelming that they can’t stand to hear it. I can’t say I’ve ever done that but I can completely understand the sentiment. There’s some debate about whether this song is sung from the perspective of the character Tricky from Under the Cherry Moon or if it’s from Mary’s perspective (the Virgin Mary – it just gets cleverer and cleverer). But I say, why choose? It works equally well from both perspectives. They both clearly loved Tracy and debates about the sexuality of the characters don’t really have any bearing on the actual point of the song. So what if Tricky liked dropping rose petals into Tracy’s bath? It doesn’t make his loss any less real or painful. The song works from any perspective really, even ones not related to the movie. Imagine it’s 1986 and your listening to this song for the first time. It’s a requiem and a love song, sung by a man about another man. A song about a man who has died from some sort of “internal” struggle. If, for example, you were a gay man in 1986 and heard this song I imagine it would almost certainly become heavy with meaning (don’t make me spell it out kids, you can figure it out). And that’s part of the beauty of this song, it’s non-specificity makes it appealing to a broad cross section of listeners; all with their own “Tracy” to mourn. It’s specific and detailed enough to convey the emotion and heartache the narrator is feeling but still general enough to be relatable. Our narrator is letting us know that, in death, Tracy is better off than when he was alive. He’s in a better world. Away from all us fools. The narrator “used to cry” but now he’s all cried out. He wanted to see Tracy again but now it seems he’s accepted that “life isn’t always the way”. So from the opening we understand that Tracy was someone important to the narrator (friend, husband, lover, etc) but some time has passed since he died so our narrator is able to be a little more reflective about it and even a little accepting of it. Tracy being “better off” is clearly a reference to some sort of afterlife but the religious implications aren’t heavy handed or too specific so focus remains on the feeling of loss and emptiness that the narrator is recounting. It’s a little like the song “Another Lonely Christmas” where the narrator is looking back at the life of the subject. Here we also get to look back at the grief of the narrator at the point where he felt the greatest loss. He used to cry. But he doesn’t so much anymore. He wanted (in the past) to see Tracy again but maybe not so much anymore. He’s moved on but the memory is still there. The way the narrator frames the memory, the bad things happening in the verse are all happening to the narrator not to Tracy. Tracy is “better off” but the narrator is crying and wanting to see him. It’s the narrator who suffers. The message is, when someone you love dies, it’s the people they leave behind that suffer the most. Whatever else happens to the deceased, they at least no longer have to suffer anything in this life (not even taxes).

 

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish life was never ending,
And all good things, they say, never last

 

Depending on where and how you live, snow in April can be a nice reminder of the fun you had over winter and it can bring back happy memories, or it can mean death and suffering; the portent of hard times ahead. All the spring flowers and new growth dies under the late snow fall and any lambs or calves or whatever that are born outdoors will die in the freezing temperatures. As pretty as the snow may be to us, April snow is a death sentence to all the young, bright and beautiful things that come into bloom in the springtime. Just like Tracy, they may get a brief go at life but they can’t overcome the fate that nature has bestowed upon them.

 

Springtime was always my favorite time of year,
A time for lovers holding hands in the rain
Now springtime only reminds me of Tracy’s tears
Always cry for love, never cry for pain
He used to say so strong unafraid to die
Unafraid of the death that left me hypnotized
No, staring at his picture I realized
No one could cry the way my Tracy cried

 

Rain in the springtime is a good thing. Combined with some sunshine it brings new life and new love into the world. I’m sure it’s a lot of people’s favourite time of year but you can tell by the way his voice stumbles when our narrator says the word “year” that it’s no longer a happy time for him. It reminds him of holding hands with Tracy in the rain. This verse builds the story of Tracy for us and how the narrator saw him; a hero who was unafraid of death (the death that left our narrator numb) and whose tears seem to be something special. They’re the product of love, not pain (which means their chemical composition is different). But when it rains it reminds the narrator of Tracy’s tears. So the rain ultimately reminds him of love. The love he shared with Tracy.

 

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad
Sometimes, sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
And all good things, they say, never last

 

The chorus is an emotional mix of grief, wishing things were different, and accepting that they can’t be. There’s a sense of inevitability in the chorus and recognition that our wishes are no match for the inevitably of life’s events and the forces of nature. The narrator repeats the word “sometimes”, over and over. Not all the time, only “sometimes”. Like most of us, he’s able to move on from Tracy’s death and function as a human being. It doesn’t always snow in April. Life does end, for all the living no matter what our dreams and wishes are. But sometimes the dream, the memory, the snow; they come back unbidden to remind us that things don’t last.

 

I often dream of heaven and I know that Tracy’s there
I know that he has found another friend
Maybe he’s found the answer to all the April snow
Maybe one day I’ll see my Tracy again

 

There’s a sad hopefulness to this verse. The narrator believes that his dreams are real and that Tracy is alright. He “knows” this as a certainty. But when it comes to the question of whether he’ll get to see him again then it’s a “maybe”. Tracy is clearly his idol and could do no wrong so he’s certainly pure enough to make it to heaven with his “friend” (Jesus maybe?). But our narrator? That’s a different story. Whatever sins the narrator may have committed or not, he clearly is putting himself on a moral level below Tracy. He’s not worthy.

 

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
But all good things, they say, never last

 

All good things they say, never last
And love, it isn’t love until it’s past

 

If you listen to the record closely (or at all) then you know the last word in this song is not “past”, it’s “had”. I’ve left it here as it appears on Metro Lyrics because it appears this way in a lot of places, even “official” ones (and I wanted to talk about it). It’s clear that although “past” rhymes with “last” and would be better fitting in terms of a rhyming scheme I think using the word “had” conveys a totally different (and more appropriate) meaning. If you’re saying that “love, it isn’t love until it’s past”, what you’re actually saying is that love isn’t real (love isn’t love) until it’s over. Which is clearly a false statement about how love works in the world and not what the narrator is talking about. But saying “love, isn’t love until it’s had” tells us a different story. Love only becomes real when you feel it. When you feel it for someone so much that you wish life was never ending. Love isn’t an abstraction, it only exists when you “have” it. To quote John Mayer “love ain’t a thing, love is a verb”.

 

This is a love song; a love song for a dead man. A song that succeeds where the movie fails in telling a love story about a protagonist that we know from the outset is no longer with us. Unlike the movie, there’s no attempt at comedy here and Prince isn’t the hero/sacrifice. This song is a memory that our narrator is sharing with us for the love that he lost. From that perspective it’s something that we can all relate to, sometimes.

 

 

Running time: 6:49

 

 

References:

Parade (released 1986)

Around the World in a Day (released 1985)

Purple Rain (released 1984)

Born and Raised by John Mayer (released 2012)

The Peach & Black Podcast

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

Metro Lyrics

Prince In Print

Internet Movie Database

Prince.org

 

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7th_Golden_Raspberry_Awards

[2] http://www.playbsides.com/?p=881

[3] Ripping off Matthew Wrather again – www.overthinkingit.com

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