Retroactive Review: Around the World in a Day (1985)

Rather than fast track a sequel1, why not throw the audience a swerve with your artistic sensibilities? Around the World in a Day doesn’t even try to properly succeed Purple Rain, and it’s better off because of that fact. Released rather surprisingly on April 22nd, 1985, the album hit the #1 spot on Billboard’s Top 200, achieving a platinum certification in July of that year. Immediately, success was evident, but critical reception was mixed, and the luster surrounding this album has faded over time. Even then, the product saw diminishing returns, as the album petered out quickly after it hit the two million records sold mark, which is what albums needed to sell to achieve platinum status back then anyway. Yeah, not quite the commercial performance one was expecting from one of mainstream pop’s most legendary performers, especially while he was still reveling in the aftermath of his magnum opus.

I’m unable to label the record as impotent however, as “Raspberry Beret” was the number two single on Billboard when it was released nearly a month after the album, and many of the songs on this album were premiered on the second half of The Purple Rain Tour; a five-month, nationwide tour that expanded his audience. The true downfall of this record is that its genesis is conjoined to the birth of one of the most popular and well-received albums of all time. “Pop Life” was the first song recorded for this project, on February 19th, 1984, at Sunset Sounds; almost two weeks before “When Doves Cry,” and the latter made it to Purple Rain. Nobody could’ve known all this at the time of course, but it does lead me to believe Prince meant what he said during a 1998 interview on BET with Larry Graham2 when he claimed,

When I was doing the Purple Rain Tour, I had a lot of, people, who I knew I’d never see again at the concerts just screaming in places they thought they were supposed to scream.

The lyrics on the song reflect this same mood, as the attitude he presents in that video is indicative to the lament on fame; all written and tracked simultaneously with the last few songs of his biggest commercial success. It’s brilliant, likely incidental, but it doesn’t make it any less ironic. It’s the perfect summation of this record really; ironic. Nobody was expecting a big hippie retreat3.

Given we now know he was determined to further broaden his audience in ’83, it seems only natural that in early ’84, on the verge of transcendence, he stays true to himself and begins to push his art in another direction. It’s an established trait of his by now, as he already ditched the safe, cute lover boy image for a cross-dressing sexual punk, and then crafted all that into one of the largest selling albums of all time with a mythos expanding film to boot. The arc was complete; time to start doing weird shit.

In May of ’84, Prince rented a different warehouse from the St. Louis Park Warehouse featured in the Purple Rain film. Located in Eden Prairie, MN, it was quickly converted into a recording/rehearsal studio for the band. They had to practice for the upcoming tour, but that didn’t stop them from recording new material, as they tracked “America” on July 29th, 1984 at this location. Most of the album was recorded in this fashion, during preparations for undergoing the biggest tour of these artists careers. Must’ve been hell knowing most of audience would leave them behind.

A month prior, David Coleman, Lisa’s brother, had tracked a song titled “Around the World in a Day,” gifting it to Prince as a birthday present. I’m unsure how much knowledge David had of the situation, but his demoed track went over well with what Prince had begun to envision for his next record. After holding onto the demo for two months, Prince reworked some lyrics, and much of the arrangement, with The Revolution at Flying Cloud Drive Warehouse. Much care was obviously taken with the title track, as the mixing was handled a month later on September 16th, 1984, four days after the strings were overdubbed on “Paisley Park,” which had been initially tracked, largely unassisted by Prince, on September 10th, 1984.

Unlike its predecessor, a majority of the songs here are band performances, but it’s still only a little over half the album. The Revolution, while helping add color to tracks, were not Prince’s musical equals, at least, in his mind. Everything is credited as Prince and the Revolution, but when you take a glance at the credits, the only co-writers on this album are David Coleman, who never received another writing credit from Prince, and John L. Nelson, Prince’s father. Auteurs are often criticized, but when on a streak, you shut up and follow the lead.

“Raspberry Beret” was recorded earlier that month, on the seventh of September, after hanging around since April 27th, 1982; during recordings for 1999. Choosing correctly to hold off releasing that song until a better time, a more suitable placement presented itself when compiling the track list for this LP. The smokey, metallic-tinted neon club environment of 1999 didn’t mesh with the ’60s-styled, upbeat storytelling on this track, but when you’re traveling around the world in a day, you need that youthful optimism to help you see it through. The strings were dubbed on September 13th, a day after the string section on “Paisley Park,” three days before he would continue to alter the mix on the title track.

Wrapping up the third quarter of 1984, Prince and The Revolution had their sights set ahead towards the oncoming tour. However, there was still much work to be done, and Prince saw to it that this peculiar project be finished by the end of the year. Familiar with working on the road, Prince set roots in Minnesota, pushing his band to their brink in order to keep them at their peak. Everything was falling into place, and Prince was determined to stay a step ahead, which is why before the fourth quarter of 1984 began, he quickly tracked a solo cut titled “Tamborine” on September 27th. October was four days away and everyone needed to be at their best.

Naturally then, he took a plane to Sunset Sounds to record “Condition of the Heart,” setting the tone for the more introspective, personal tracks that would be recorded shortly after. This left The Revolution alone to rehearse back at Flying Cloud Drive Warehouse, or Paisley Park, as it was labeled in the gatefold4. He’d later have the warehouse razed in the Spring of 1985, as plans for construction of the original Paisley Park Studios, but they ended up not using the site, and later ended on a lot in Chanhassen, MN that stands to this very day. It was while Prince was in L.A. that he finished mixing on “Paisley Park,” on October 11th; a day after finishing the entire two-day tracking and mixing process for “Condition of the Heart,” where I suspect he began connecting his abstract ideas into a personal statement.

Invigorated, he rushed back to Minnesota, tinkering with the final mix of “Around the World in a Day” once more, on October 14th. 17 days later, on Halloween, the band recorded a basic tracking for the song “The Ladder,” at St. Paul Civic Center Arena; a fitting hymn on their last day of rehearsals to all the hard work they had achieved and were still waiting to undergo. The next day, only three days away from the opening show of The Purple Rain Tour, Prince worked on the overdubs and mixing for the track. Two days of rest ensued, and the band was in Detroit, MI on November 4th, 1984, kicking off the extensive, 98-show tour that lasted 155 days; until April 7th, 1985.

Rather than quit while he was ahead, Prince had the band try out a faster, even bluesier version of “Temptation,” during soundcheck at Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, OH on December 6th, 1984. Although Prince liked what was recorded, it was scrapped, and a private session with saxophonist Eddie M. and engineer David Leonard the next day at Capitol Studios resulted in most of what we hear on the album. The next show was scheduled for December 9th in Rosemomt, IL, so Prince flew back to the Midwest, continuing a string of shows in the area until Christmas Eve, where after completing a matinee show in St. Paul, MN, he parked the recording bus he rented in the driveway of his Kiowa Trail Home Studio, which he had emptied of everything since he was moving out of the house that upcoming January; symbolizing the end of a creative high point in Prince’s career. Spending the entire day parked in front of an empty house, he worked on the final mixing of “The Ladder,” and the God dialogue portion of “Temptation,” using what precious free time he did have working on the finishing touches to a new album. I don’t think there’s a better way to summarize his work ethic.

Why the critical backlash then? Of course it’s gotten more respect as time passes, but even then, how much really? Seemingly remembered as “the one with ‘Raspberry Beret,'” Around the World in a Day has the unfortunate distinction of being the follow-up to Purple Rain. It’s been hammered home already, and it’s a point I’ve echoed in this very write-up, but it’s an unfortunate fact. Living up to the hype of previous records is tough, and when there’s no immediate stand-outs like on Purple Rain, save for the lead single that was released three weeks after the album in an artistic statement by Prince, well, you get the results and reviews this thing got. Who knew the swimming pool of critics could be so shallow?

The ethereal treatment begins on the initial needle drop, as a foreign, Middle Eastern influence provides the backdrop to “Around the World in a Day,” and right away you feel like the boy holding the ballon sticker on the cover; floating in awe over majestic, royal palaces. The drumming on the first two tracks bleed over into each other; heavier, more on-the-nose and reverb-friendly than ever before on a Prince record. On Around the World in a Day, specifically its title track, the light vocals from 1999 are back, but they now hover like a hot-weather balloon with much more natural-sounding timbre in them. The backup vocals from The Revolution are subdued, always aiding in making the record more homely; inviting. Only by traveling and exploring was Prince able to dream of Paisley Park, which is of course the titular studio the song is based on, even though in the actual song, it’s much more of a feeling than an actual place. Simply by speaking it into existence, Prince proved enough of that optimistic spirit that “Paisley Park” the track, Paisley Park the idea, and eventually Paisley Park Studios all consisted of; getting you anywhere you needed to go.

The slower, stronger snares have a myriad of foreign drum fills behind them in the opening tracks that, along with the upbeat exotic instrumentation, create a very idealized vision of harmony. Due to the anti-drug stance Prince had, the psychedelic influence becomes more subtext than anything; allowing The Revolution to do what they do best and use that influence to add color to the Prince palette. It’s as if you’re walking towards heaven on Earth, and then suddenly, everything stops, and the piano keys start shimmering, and you’re walking through the Garden of Eden as “Condition of the Heart” begins its gradual ascent to the most beautiful of endings; Prince hitting glorious high notes over a dramatic, sparse piano ballad.

The arrangement of these first three tracks is fairly similar to the construction of side one of Purple Rain. “Condition of the Heart” is the emotional anchor for side one just as “The Beautiful Ones” was on its predecessor. Whereas he wanted his love to choose him in “The Beautiful Ones,” “Condition of the Heart” employs empathetic storytelling; showing how, in private, even The Purple One’s emotions can become tampered when his affections are not returned. It’s more than an infatuation when you’re blinded by the daisies in someone’s yard, that’s a more personable feature you only discover once you’ve spent some time with said person.

Once the introspection is complete, nostalgia can begin. “Raspberry Beret” was the big smash hit everyone remembers, and why the fuck not? The chorus is perhaps the catchiest one he ever committed to record, and the instrumentation is the perfect blend between his newfound psychedelic influence and the Minneapolis Sound. The only downside to this song is its popularity, as diehards never want to mingle or share tastes with newcomers or the general public, but, let’s be honest here, this song is fucking fantastic. The story is simple, as a younger man, Prince used to work for racist ass Mr. McGee in a five-and-dime store, regularly bored out of his mind, when a beautiful, slightly moronic woman walks into his store; they end up fucking in a barn after a romantic getaway on his motorcycle5. The weather in the song grows more intense the closer they get to climax, and even though they’ve since parted ways, it does end with him saying,

They say the first time ain’t the greatest/ But I tell ya, if I had the chance to do it all again/ I wouldn’t change a stroke, ’cause baby I’m the most/ With a girl as fine as she was then

Which is, most importantly, how nostalgia really works. There must be some kind of filter in the compartment responsible for the average person being incapable of reflecting negatively on the fun times of their youth; explaining why he states “Doing something close to nothing, but different than the day before,” during the opening verse, effectively admitting his story is romanticized, but not exaggerated. All the old-timers in your life have stories, and when you’re trying to relax and have a good time, those stories are meant to entertain you; possibly even give you something to consider. On track four, after all the travel and introspection, Prince makes it ok to just chill out.

Which makes it kind of baffling as to why “Tamborine” made the cut. Perhaps he wanted to make a connection to the “lonely musician” line on “Condition of the Heart,” but this ode to joyless devotion to an instrument that I had no idea Prince was even fond of does the record no favors. There’s several references to the idea of the singer as a lonely, traveling musician, which I interpreted as Prince describing how nonsensical the entire gig can get, but vague associations to trampolines has always stumped me. Longtime fans will just laugh it off; attributing it to his odd sense of humor, but my gut tells me stunts like this is what helped drive away some of that mainstream audience. It also, more importantly, underscores the importance of The Revolution, as the weakest track on the entire album is a Prince solo cut with no input from the band, obviously suffering as a result. Considering the overall flaccid instrumentation, it makes sense to try and use some of his better shrieks to save a boring song, but is anyone actually ever fooled by Groucho glasses? It’s not really surprising to me then when my best friend’s initial reaction to the side ender was,

Not one of his better ones.

If the question is then, is side one any good, the answer must be an enthusiastic yes. “Raspberry Beret” is the obvious hit, while “Condition of the Heart” emboldens the themes and emotions tying the entire concept together. Only “Tamborine” disappoints, and I’m sure the song will have plenty of defenders aiding in the resuscitation of its reputation.

Losing the plot is a common complaint against auteurs, but where he ends the last side with a quirky bow, The Revolution assist in flinging the curtains open to kick off side two with the distorted frenzy. “America,” a desolate commentary on the bloodthirsty nature of war, is targeted at, obviously by the title, the U.S.A., who by this time had actually began attempting to strengthen ties with the-then General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Michael Gorbachev. Nevertheless, the song ratchets the paranoia of a militarized country; nuking foreign pests before ultimately receiving our own comeuppance. It truly is some bleak shit, but the raucous punch delivered from The Revolution that is the amped up instrumentation makes it worth the listen.

Nothing made, Jimmy proud/Now Jimmy lives in a mushroom cloud

That’s what ends the third verse; what immediately precedes a wailing plea to his country that makes up the chorus. It’s a powerful jam, and I’d be remiss to mention the 21 minute extended cut of this track that was released on a 12″ single. It’s the last real shot of adrenaline to the album, as the remainder of this side returns to the floating balloon feeling, as if we landed in Minnesota briefly and continued back on our journey.

As far as laments of fame go, it doesn’t get much better than Bowie’s “Fame” from 1975, but “Pop Life” communicates the message well. The relaxed instrumentation and pretty piano translate into a memorable listening experience. It’s not often The Purple One gives us a piano ballad, but I think he tickles the ivories rather well, using a higher key to dance around with a serene three-chord structure that, like most Prince compositions, swells to the higher chords of the scale.

What you puttin’ in your nose/Is that where all your money goes?

Some perceived this line as a shot at Morris Day, whose wild personality went hand-in-hand with drug use and a party lifestyle, especially in the decade famous for excess. Celebrity drama is never as entertaining as the hype around the situation, but Morris leaving The Time shortly after the release of the Purple Rain film was a sign of change, and it was coming regardless of how Prince felt about it. Whether or not the line is aimed at the once competitive collaborator, it still hammers the point home of celebrities normalizing drug abuse. Holding onto your convictions is a strong belief of Prince’s, and choosing to keep himself away from such indulgences is what actually made his art unique, as he never had to bend to another’s will, or follow any crowd; in this song, he tells you to do the same, just in your own walk of life. Everybody can’t be on top.

Spoken word is nothing new to Prince, in fact, he’s proved he’s anything if not versatile by now, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone to see him finally take that leap of faith he had been hinting at on tracks for years then on “The Ladder,” a powerful hymn of faith, devotion and spirituality. Biblical imagery immediately springs to the mind when listening to the heavy gospel snares clank down for five-and-a-half minutes against a cavernous, ambient vocal backdrop. In keeping with the spiritual and philosophical nature of the record, and this side in particular, Prince goes all out in reciting the tale of a king who ruled over a land filled with sin, loved by a woman named Electra6, and despite all his riches, he remained in constant search of a peaceful afterlife. The beginning of religious, moral Prince began on this record, which as noted in the above research, is tied to the recordings of Purple Rain, simultaneously capping off and beginning another, more experimental era of his career. The past two years had been transformative, culminating and encapsulated in the final moments of this record.

As “The Ladder” swells in grandiose fashion for nearly its entire duration, Prince brilliantly squeals and howls on the back end, leading into the rocking descent of “Temptation,” where the horns are slick and sexy. Showing off his entire range, Prince cuts loose, crafting himself a hell of a rocker, and then provides the vocals necessary to sign this entire project off. The “God monologue” feels more like a diatribe against the very kind of behavior he seemed to promote or even partake in on records such as Dirty Mind.

Oh silly man, that’s not how it works/You have to want it for the right reasons

I do/You don’t, now die

It’s ridiculous when said out loud, and every time the deep voice commands him to die, I still often chuckle to myself. I ultimately believe in the horror of his situation however, as when he screams and follows it up with a sincere “sorry,” before ultimately stating,

I understand now, love is more important than sex.

I’m presented with a realistic shift in character that I can believe, and actually be proud of. How often does that happen in other albums from pop artists? Not many musicians are confident enough to allow their mythos to spill into a project, but ask that you judge each of their journeys, or albums, as something separate from one overarching experience that is their career.

How does Around the World in a Day hold up then? Each side is a different outlook on the world, with side one being more magical and whimsical, where side two is more of an audio baptism. Separately, they are incredibly strong, but together, I think the average person may have a hard time appreciating the two sides of self-discovery as one piece of music, demonstrated by the reception Around the World in a Day has received in the long run. If you’ve followed along with my writings at all you’d know I am above following others’ opinions however, as I would recommend this album to anyone, primarily those interested in the psychedelic sounds of the ’60s and want to hear how Prince maybe would’ve approached the decade. Diehards already love the record, but to the casuals, don’t be afraid, for Paisley Park will always be in your heart. Give it another listen.

Editor’s Notes

  1. Here’s to looking at you, DC Extended (Cinematic?) Universe.
  2. 16:07
  3. “You know how easy it would have been to open Around the World in a Day with the guitar solo that’s on the end of “Let’s Go Crazy”? You know how easy it would have been to just put it in a different key? That would have shut everyone up who said the album wasn’t half as powerful.”
  4. It’s criminal that it took seven albums for this man to finally get a fucking gatefold.
  5. The original script to Purple Rain was darker, and featured a sex scene between Prince and Apollonia in a barn.
  6. I’m certain this is where he later got the name for Carmen Electra.

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