This was a song commissioned to fit the breakup montage in Purple Rain, as any relationship movie worth its salt featured back in time. The lyrics are as semi-autobiographical as the movie, and they give possible glimpses of the influence of Prince's parents on his life: An overbearing father, an unsatisfied mother. They produced an overbearing, perfectionist son.
For what was a standard genre scene, Prince wrote one of his most inventive songs. Since it was composed and recorded in a pinch after all other Purple Rain songs were complete, Prince performed all the parts on the song himself, like he did for his entire first album. On that first album, he recorded full funk and disco arrangements, but for "When Doves Cry," he went modern and minimalist, using just drum machine, keyboard, voice, and some super-ambitious guitar playing. The mixture sounds like zero songs that came before it.
It seems obvious now in highlight, but a song with nothing but singing over drums and no bass just screams "second act finale in an '80s relationship movie." Give Prince credit for knowing the down and distance and calling the perfect play for the situation. Within those limitations, he made a lasting masterpiece. He let "When Doves Cry" make a play. He was the best quarterback in Purple of the '80s.