Around the World In A Day was a major departure in sound from Purple Rain. If this album is known for two things, that fact is one (the other is a certain song about a fruit colored clothing accessory). For anyone who wonders “why?” I will attempt to provide some context as to the timing of its creation and what Prince had put into this project.
Prince wrote and recorded most of the Purple Rain soundtrack throughout the summer and early fall of 1983, then filmed the accompanying movie that same fall into early winter. The entire second half of 1983 was dedicated to creating that particular piece of art. The Purple Rain album and movie were then released in the summer of 1984, which Prince had to know would require a very long promotional period. Even he couldn’t have predicted just how successful it would be, however. Its enormous and worldwide success dragged out the release of five singles, the Purple Rain concert tour, not to mention that various movie premiere’s, all the industry parties, and awards shows that lasted well into 1985. When I watch Prince perform songs from the soundtrack at the ’85 Grammys or American Music Award shows, I think to myself that he HAD to be so tired of playing the same songs that he had written a year and a half ago time and time again. I imagine he was aching to show off new material, material he created during the lull before the Purple Rain release and tour started.
Prince was never one to sit idly by during his album release cycles so he spent much of the spring & summer of 1984 creating his next musical statement. Taking influences from his bandmates, The Revolution (e.g Wendy & Lisa and their respective siblings), or relatively new collaborators such as Sheila E. and Eric Leeds. These musicians opened Prince up to new sounds and new artists that he either wasn’t privy to before or didn’t have an interest in. After this period of exposure, Prince began dabbling in psychedelic, world beat, and classic rock sounds in order to create something that wouldn’t sound anything like Purple Rain. That album was clearly going to be much too big to try and top so why set yourself up for failure? Prince made the album he wanted to make regardless of fan or record label expectations. Did it resonate? The answer to that question depends on your perspective.
From a numbers standpoint, Around the World In A Day sold well, surpassing 2 million sold in the U.S. and 7 million worldwide. Compared to Purple Rain’s massive numbers, 13 million sold in the U.S. and 25 million worldwide, ATWIAD was only modestly successful. The fact that the overall sound of the album was so different from previous albums, it was jarring for some Prince fans, and this is where he lost many of them. Looking back on the album 33 years later, does the music stand up? Was ATWIAD a forward thinking record and was seen as a disappointment only because of the impossible expectations it followed?
“Open your heart, open your mind. The train is leaving all day.”
The album kicks off with the title track, “Around the World In A Day“, which sets the tone for the album through its use of strings, finger cymbals, darbuka (an Arabic drum), and a multitude of backing vocalists. The song was a certainly a family affair as it features co-writing credit to Prince’s father, John L. Nelson. Also sticking with the theme of family, the song features vocals and instrumentation from the aforementioned siblings to Wendy (Jonathan & Susannah) and Lisa (David). It’s certainly a song with a lot of interesting ideas but it seems slight in some ways and maybe not completely fleshed out.
“Taking a lifetime lease on Paisley Park.”
The next track on the album is “Paisley Park“, where Prince implores us to join him in a place in our hearts where we can be at inner peace in spite of any societal ills and personal pains endured. The lyrics touch on various character’s personal strife that brings them to a place where forgiveness and acceptance is a coping mechanism. Prince liked the idea of “Paisley Park” being in your heart so much that he soon would build and name his home studio/compound after this song’s title as a permanent reminder. In spite of the song only being released as a single in the UK, it was played on US radio, or at least the US radio station I listened to as a kid. The psychedelic nature of the song’s lyrics and sound might be jarring for some but in retrospect, this song is excellent.
The next track, “Condition of the Heart” is a substantial ballad that takes its sweet time (a couple of minutes) before Prince’s vocals even begin. It’s a sweet yet melancholy piano ballad built around the narrative of unrequited love. The song unfolds very slowly, maybe too slowly for casual listening but certainly rewards your patience by the end. The songs ending proves to everyone paying attention that Prince could do “heartbreak” better than anyone out there. “There was a girl in Paris whom he sent a letter 2 hoping she would answer back. She never answered back and now he’s got a condition of the heart.”
“The rain sounds so cool when it hits the barn roof. And the horses wonder who you are.”
Fourth on the track listing from side 1 is the one song that everybody knows from this album, “Raspberry Beret“. Another narrative driven song where a minimum wage slacker finds love and barn sex with a gorgeous, fashion forward but none-too-bright girl. Sadly, warmer temperatures may hurt her long term appeal once the titular beret is discarded. Yeah, this is perfect pop song with memorable and sing-along lyrics, a driving drum beat and funky guitars. Prince’s singing is, as always, effortless and full of range with his trademark squeals and screams peppered in. “Raspberry Beret” is many Prince fan’s favorite song and for good reason.
“I don’t care for one night stands, with trolley cars that juggle seventeen. I just want to settle down and play around my baby’s tamborine.”
Side 1 of ATWIAD ends with the upbeat and ultra-funky “Tamborine“. I believe the intentional misspelling of the musical instrument was meant to stress that (once again) Prince isn’t really talking about an actual tambourine, but instead something much more…personal. It’s a short, somewhat slight song from a lyrical standpoint but it’s certainly memorable for its double entendres, funky pacing and glorious Prince wails.
“They made him pledge allegiance. He said it wasn’t cool. Nothing made Jimmy proud. Now Jimmy lives on a mushroom cloud.”
Side 2 kicks off with the fast paced “America” in which “America the Beautiful” is repurposed as a snapshot of 80s life in the United States complete with more cold war nuclear annihilation fears as well as the subject of poverty as a point of discussion. So does this make it an anti-American song? Nah, I don’t believe that’s exactly what Prince intended but I do believe he wanted to make sure that all of us that live in this country understand while it is a dream for some, there are enough people out there living in an America that isn’t all apple pies and fireworks.
“Life it ain’t real funky, unless its got that pop.”
Prince implores all of us to stop worrying about finances, illicit vices (“what you putting in your nose?”) & other first world problems to enjoy a simpler, funky life set to a funky, funky bass line in “Pop Life.” Many have wondered if this song is directed at anyone in particular (Morris Day? Vanity? Boy George?) but I don’t believe there have been any definitive answers provided…just more questions, which isn’t unusual for Prince songs. Prince adds a couple of odd breakdowns where the song dissolved into a cacophony of undistinguishable voices, reminding me a little of “Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”. Just to prove how big a star Prince was in 1985, this song reached the top 10 without a music video attached, which was tough to do in the 80s.
“Everybody’s looking for the ladder. Everybody wants salvation of the soul. The steps you take are no easy road. But the reward is great for those who want to go.”
Prince again enlists his father to co-write the spiritual and meditative “The Ladder“. A song about finding salvation through whatever means available. The song succeeds in its lofty aspirations thanks to added saxophone from Eddie M and a chorus of background singers. Some may dismiss the song as slow and preachy but the music lends itself to the common theme and its gospel tinges fit for an already ambitious reaching album.
Prince closes ATWIAD with “Temptation“, where he attempts to apologize to God for obsessing about sexual temptation throughout his life and career. He is essentially attempting to atone for R-rated songs such as “Head”, “Jack U Off”, “Lady Cab Driver”, “Erotic City”, “Darling Nikki”, et. al. As fans, we are left to wonder, why is he apologizing? These are some of the best compositions Prince has ever written! Does this mean Prince is swearing off songs that contain sexual themes? Nevertheless, God remains unconvinced that Prince is truly apologetic (good call, God) and he is punished accordingly. Prince’s final words may have led some fans to believe he would be going away for awhile, but they would be very, very wrong.
“I’m sorry, I’ll be good. This time, I promise. Love is more important than sex. Now I understand. I have to go now. I don’t know when I’ll return. Good-bye.”
Memory Bank Withdrawal
My personal collection of ATWIAD albums and singles. I have the re-released vinyl, an original cassette (from when I was a kid), plus 7″ & 12″ singles from the US releases of “Raspberry Beret”, “Pop Life” and “America”.
I will freely admit that I was underwhelmed by ATWIAD after its release. I was still riding that Purple high well into ’85 so my expectations for this album were unachievable. It didn’t help that the lead single, “Raspberry Beret” also set the bar for the entire album very high. The song and the music video were everywhere and it felt like this was going to be another home-run/slam dunk/touchdown (insert additional sports metaphor here) for our Purple Hero. Then the “hits” stopped.
The singles I heard beyond “Raspberry Beret”, such as “Pop Life” & “Paisley Park” (I never heard “America” on the radio and never saw the video on MTV) appealed to me but the Prince’s presence was missed. There was no music video for “Pop Life” and the “Paisley Park” video, which I rarely saw, featured a bunch of kids on a playground instead of Prince & the Revolution. To top it off, the rest of the album felt a bit like an afterthought when I first heard it. Where were the rock guitars and huge riffs? Where was the swagger? Of course, expecting Around the World in a Day to be Purple Rain 2.0 was unrealistic and ultimately my problem, not Prince’s. Purposely avoiding a copy of that formula was the smartest thing Prince could have done at the time.
By not trying to recreate the zeitgeist of Purple Rain and following his creative muse instead, Prince ensured the music within would be his vision and not based on fan or record label expectations. I’ve grown to appreciate Around the World In A Day for its statements on life, religion, politics and for Prince’s reaches into genres and sounds he hadn’t attempted before. Sure, he could have made another funk/rock/synth masterpiece, but while that may have been what we as fans thought we wanted from him in 1985, I think this album was necessary in order to keep Prince’s creative juices flowing and allowed him to continue to evolve. ATWIAD can be an odd, uneven listen at times but it has still earned its place as a significant musical stance in the long career of a man not willing to stand still.
My order of preference of Around the World In A Day tracks from most favorite to least favorite with my personal ratings next to them.
- Paisley Park 5/5
- Condition of the Heart 5/5
- Raspberry Beret 5/5
- Pop Life 5/5
- America 4.5/5
- The Ladder 4.5/5
- Tamborine 4/5
- Temptation 4/5
- Around the World In a Day 3.5/5
Overall Score: 4.5/5