Prince’s “When Doves Cry” Meaning

Almost directly from the title (When Doves Cry), the listener can tell that this is a song which is dependent on symbolism. And many attempts have been made to decipher that which is contained therein.

The premise of the track, as made evident upon its release as part of Prince’s 1984 hit movie Purple Rain, is a troubled romance the singer is in. So that much is certain. What rather seems to be the issue of debate is what the titular phrase actually means. For instance, some have interpreted these ‘crying doves’ to be a metaphor for mourning doves, thus alluding to the idea that it is centered on Prince’s love for his partner and optimism for the relationship. However, such does not seem to be the case. And why? We say this because at the end of the third verse Prince refers to himself as one of the titular “doves”. Moreover during the outro, he tells his partner “don’t cry”, also insinuating that she is one of the doves. And the idea he is putting forth is just as would be generally concluded from the title and theme of the song, which is that this particular relationship has him (and his partner) emotionally upset.

The beginning of the track starts out as a love song alright, with Prince celebrating the romance that he and the addressee are engaged in. However, by the onset of the chorus we see that she has “(left him) standing alone in a world that’s so cold”, basically meaning that she dumped him. And from an emotional perspective he questions how she was able to do so.

Then he isolates some possible causes of this matter, such as he being ‘too bold like his father’, or perhaps her ‘never being satisfied like his mother’. In other words, the beef between the singer and his lover makes him recount similar issues he witnessed his parents go through, which is an idea that’s by the visuals associated with this song.

Lyrics of "When Doves Cry"

What “When Doves Cry” apparently means

So in summation, “When Doves Cry” is a track in which Prince is primarily expressing dissatisfaction for the relationship he is currently in. But he desires to make things better between him and his partner.  And the general consensus is that it is based on the real-life romance he was engaged in at the time with a singer named Susan Moonsie. Prince and Susan he dated from 1980 to 1985. Thus the idea he is basically putting forth is that via discontent in their romance, the two of them are in emotional turmoil.

Secondly he relates what they are going through to what his parents experienced. It should be noted that Purple Rain is known to be semi-autobiographical in nature. Thus it has been theorized that Prince’s parents may have quarreled a lot in real life. However, contrary to such an image, they are said to have been quite supportive of his music career (both his mom and dad were actually musicians). Moreover, Prince was infamously reclusive when it came to giving interviews and details about his private life, so we don’t know if the lyrics pointing to such an idea are actually factually-based.

Conclusively, in terms of its meaning, “When Doves Cry” is simply a song based on the singer having potentially relationship-ending beef with the woman he loves and the logical grief they are experiencing as a result. However, it uses heavy-handed metaphors and imagery to transform such a straightforward narrative into a classic hit song.

Facts about “When Doves Cry”

  • This song prevented Bruce Springsteen’s highest-charting Billboard hit, “Dancing in the Dark”, from hitting the number 1 spot in the United States. However, that has not prevented the Boss from being an outspoken fan of Prince. In fact after Prince passed away in 2016, Springsteen dedicated a concert to him.
  • “When Doves Cry” is famous for being devoid of a bass line.  There was one originally, which Prince later removed as he wanted to go against convention and was already confident that the track would become a hit.
  • Prince played every single instrument on this classic hit. Yet on the music video, which he also directed, he still featured his band, The Revolution.
  • It is also said that he wrote, recorded and produced the song within a timeframe of 24 hours. He did so at the behest of Albert Magnoli, the director of Prince’s classic 1994 film “Purple Rain”. “When Doves Cry” was created specifically to be used during a montage in the middle of that movie.
  • In fact Warner Bros. Records released “When Doves Cry” as the lead single from Prince’s “Purple Rain” album, which served as the soundtrack to the movie, on 16 May 1984.
  • And this track, which Prince once again wrote in a single day (along with another) went on to become, according to Billboard, the top song of 1984. This is one of the reasons why people always considered Prince to be a musical genius.
  • In real life, Prince really kept real doves which “cry”, as in make a lot of noise, at his home in Paisley Park.

 Success of “When Doves Cry” outside America

“When Doves Cry” also topped the charts in Canada and Australia. Also, it broke the top 10 in the following places:

  • Belgium
  • Ireland
  • The Netherlands
  • New Zealand

Even more importantly, it peaked at number 4 on the UK Singles Chart.

More Accolades

This track has also made an appearance on a number of ‘all-time greatest songs’ lists. For instance, Rolling Stone placed it all the way at number 52 on the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, a list they compiled in 2011.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame included it on their famous list of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”.

Notable Covers

1990s R&B singer Ginuwine covered “When Doves Cry” in 1997, which proved to be a modest hit.  However, Prince was not thrilled with this, stating that he ‘bust on’ Ginuwine, as he believes that artists should produce original music instead of covering others’ material.

Actor/singer Quindon Tarver also covered “When Doves Cry”. That version appeared on the 1996 Leonardo DiCaprio film titled Romeo + Juliet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like...