Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Prince - Around the World in a Day

Today (April 22nd) marks the thirtieth anniversary of Around the World in a Day, the seventh studio album from Prince and the third to cover credit his band the Revolution (Wendy Melvoin on guitars and backing vocals, Lisa Coleman on keyboards and backing vocals, Dr. Fink on keyboards, Brown Mark on bass, and Bobby Z. on percussion).

The multi-Platinum seller reached number 16 in Canada and New Zealand, number 12 in Australia, number 10 in Germany and Norway, number 8 in Switzerland, number 7 in Austria, and number 5 in the Netherlands and the UK. Here in the US, it spent forty weeks on the Billboard Album chart that included three weeks at the number 1 spot; it also rose to number 4 on the Billboard R&B chart.

Side one opens with the title track. "Around the World in a Day" opens with a trippy Eastern sound which tied in with album's eclectic cover art. The lyrical message is focused on looking for enlighten and understanding, not through chemical means but through compassion and love.

"Paisley Park", an International only single, went to number 40 in the Netherlands, number 38 in Australia, number 26 in New Zealand, number 18 in the UK and number 11 in Ireland. The song shares a name with Prince's newly completed recording facility in Chanhassen, Minnesota, and this album was the first recorded there. I like the bounce of the beat on this tune about finding one's sanctuary and solitude (both mental and physical). I like to listen to this one when I am looking for a calming, soothing influence; the way the music flows does exactly that for me.

"Condition of the Heart" opens with Prince at the piano, accompanied by some sorrowful synths in the background. It is a really beautiful instrumental opening to a very intimate, emotional number about broken hearts. I turned to this song a few times myself in the 80's when I was feeling overwhelmed by relationships that had ended. Even today, thirty years later, I still tear up slightly when I listen to it.

The first single from the album was "Raspberry Beret". It hit number 35 in Germany, number 25 in the UK, number 24 in Ireland, number 23 in the Netherlands, number 13 in Australia, number 8 in Canada, number 4 on the US Billboard Dance chart, number 3 on the US Billboard R&B chart, and number 2 in New Zealand and on the US Billboard Hot 100. This pop number about a guy who seduces a co-worker on a rainy day has a good, bouncy beat that often could be heard at parties and the dance floors during my sophomore and junior years of college. When I was working my co-op job in New Jersey during the summer and fall of 1985, I picked up a copy of this song's sheet music and painstakingly entered into a MIDI music program on my Commodore-64 just for fun.

It would not be a Prince album without a song about sex so that is where the next track comes in. "Tamborine" has a raw, grinding rhythm to it that reflects the song's lyrics about masturbating to thoughts of a lovely young woman.

Side two begins with "America"; as a US only single it staggered at number 46 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 35 on the Billboard R&B chart. The twelve-inch version of the song is a roaring twenty-one minute long jam session that shows what a tight, well-oiled musical machine Prince had put together with the Revolution. The political anthem opens with a stuttering turntable as if the record has a hard time getting started. But once it does, it does not stop. Prince peppers the chorus with a hard-rocking guitar version of rhythm from the 1910 patriotic hymn "America the Beautiful".

"Pop Life", the second single, went to number 67 in Australia, number 65 in Germany, number 60 in the UK, number 44 in New Zealand, number 29 in Ireland, number 8 on the US Billboard R&B chart, number 7 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and number 5 on the US Billboard Dance chart. Sheila E. provided the steady, hypnotic drum beats here.

"The Ladder" is the first of two tracks on the album that featured Eddie M on saxophone. This one has a gospel element to it as it tells a spiritual tale of sin and redemption. It is very much akin to "Purple Rain" from the previous album but in a much tighter package. I especially like the backing chorus of Wendy, Lisa, Susannah Melvoin (Wendy's sister) and Taja Sevelle.

The album closes with "Temptation", a perfect counter-balance to the previous track. "The Ladder" was meant to raise you up with its soaring sound. "Temptation" pulls you down with its gritty guitar grinds and seductively sauntering rhythm. At over eight minutes in length, the listener needs a cleansing shower after this steamy, salacious song. I am sure Prince made a conscious effort on the ordering here, to end the album not on the logical "high note" but on this more grounding, rocking one. The message, to me, is that temptations are the things most of us can relate to and are what we have to deal with more often in our lives. Towards the end of the song, Prince does answer to a higher power (as portrayed by the 'other voice') for his actions. He learns the lesson that love is more important than sex.

The B-sides of the singles from this album are also worth noting. Originally only found on vinyl, they were later released on CD via The Hits / The B-sides collection.

"She's Always In My Hair" was the B-side to "Raspberry Beret". The song is said to be about the relationship between Prince and his protege and backup singer Jill Jones.

"The B-side to "Pop Life" was "Hello". Its lyrics are a response to the media's criticism directed towards Prince for not participating in the recording of the "We Are the World" single after the 1985 Grammy Awards show. It also points out that there was just as much hunger and poverty here in the United States as there was over in Africa.

"Girl" was the B-side to "America". This one opens with a very stripped down first verse, musically; I like the minimal elements of it.

I owned a copy of Around the World in A Day on vinyl back in the day, purchased just as soon as it hit my local record store. By this point, I was already a huge Prince fan and would eagerly devour any new offerings by the man. The album came out over three weeks prior to any single releases, so my first exposure to the record was as a whole unit. Being so different from his earlier works, I was blown away by this new experience. Over the years, I have probably listened to it many dozens of times so I know every little nuance and note intimately. This album really showed me that Prince had so many facets to his musical catalog; it was a gateway to the future. Naturally, I also bought a copy of this one on CD in the early 90's.

For more from Prince, click here.


HERC said...

Thirty years already?
On Earth Day, no less!

You and I feel similarly about the album but we differ somewhat in our opinions and appreciation of individual tracks though "Paisley Park" is my favorite track.

My brief ATWIAD album buying story can be found HERE

It was five years later before it came out on CD I believe. Mine was that crazy tri-fold longbox with disc itself in soft paper sack tucked into cardboard album cover. It is only CD longbox I still have.

Now it has been more than a year since Prince and WB made up with promise of a Purple Rain special edition on the way. And still bupkus. An SE of AWTWIAD could be cool with the B-sides, extended mixes and songs for aother artists of the era.

What doesn't get discussed much is how good ATWIAD sounds on CD, especially compared to Prince's earlier albums. ATWIAD has a wider dynamic range, with lively, bright highs and deep hard-hitting tight bass rather than the muddy thuds found on his previous compact discs with their original vinyl counterparts sounding only marginally better.

Martin Maenza said...

Rather ironic that today is Earth Day too.