In the summer of 1984, I was employed as clerk/bag security schmoe at the Copley Square location of Strawberries Records and Tapes, the New England chain store owned by Morris Levy (who may or may not have been the inspiration for “The Sopranos” Herman “Hesh” Rabkin). This was a pretty wild time for the music business with a plethora of blockbuster albums by veteran acts competing for shelf space. In the wake of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, industry expectations were sky-high for The Jacksons’ ‘Victory’, to say nothing of Bruce Springsteen’s hotly anticipated ‘Born In The U.S.A.’. But both would ultimately be overshadowed (in the aisles of that Strawberries, anyway) by Prince’s 6th album, ‘Purple Rain’.
The store’s buyer loaded up on ‘Victory’ LP’s to an insane degree. THOUSANDS of the fuckers, overstock crammed into every available corner of the store’s back rooms and behind countertops. As you may or may not remember, the album was poorly received, the subsequent stadium tour (co-promoted by New England Patriots exec/heir Chuck Sullivan) bombed and well, the staff of Strawberries had boxes of ‘Victory’ hanging over their shoulders all summer long.
‘Born In The U.S.A.’, was of course, another story. Huge critical acclaim, immensely popular videos (even if the Boss was pissing on the flag, see above), and most importatly, the store had enough stock to satisfy demand, but just barely.
‘Purple Rain’, however is where things got crazy. The film wouldn’t open until late July but the album dropped in June, weeks after “When Does Cry” had pretty much blown everyone away. Despite the fact we had real-live-human beings walking into the store several times a day asking when ‘Purple Rain’ would be out (amongst them, the J.Geils Band’s Peter Wolf, who lived across the street) our store’s manager, for reasons known only to herself, determined that Prince Rogers Nelson was some product of hype and a couple hundred copies of the year’s most eagerly awaited album would be enough.
We blasted thru the available stock within a couple of hours of the doors being unlocked. Customers were outraged, apoplectic that the record they already knew would be the soundtrack to their summer wasn’t available.
An edict came down to tell aggrieved consumers that while we were out of stock on ‘Purple Rain’, we could, however, furnish them with copies of Newcleus’ ‘Jam On Revenge’, which just so happened to be released by the Morris Levy-owned Sunnyview Records.
This suggestion did not sit well with inconvenienced Prince fans. I’d previously not been cursed at in the store before, save for the time Monoman came in to yell at me about a middling review for The Lyres’ ‘On Fyre’ in Matter Magazine (“you should be in prison,” Jeff said…and he was right!). Let’s just say this was my one and only experience being on the retailer end of the Great American Bait & Switch and either I wasn’t very good at it…or Newcleus were way, way out of their league. Maybe a little of both.
So there you go. The music business when it still existed. Needless to say, ‘Purple Rain’ was great, some of us saw the movie twenty times or more and that was the summer Prince went from merely being super popular to the sort of megastardom that caused geniune panic & anxiety in Copley Square.