Okay, imagine you’re Prince.1 You just released an album that is that rarest of all creative projects, an artistic and a commercial triumph. You’d want to milk that for as long as possible, I suspect, and who could blame you? Yeah, I made Purple Rain. That was me. Now, write me another check and let’s talk about merchandising options.
In the modern landscape, that’s certainly what would happen. The label would go all-Adele and launch a two or three year campaign, milking Purple Rain for six or seven singles, an eighteen-month tour, and maybe a primetime special. (Cute Katie Couric: “How are you so good?”) Instead, a mere ten months later, Prince released the wonderfully odd Around the World in a Day. It’s often called “the psychedelic record,” and the man himself said he didn’t mind that description, because he thought of that era as “the only period in recent history that delivered songs and colors. Led Zeppelin, for example, would make you feel differently on each song.”2 This was one I had not listened to, start to finish, in a few years; it holds up better than it had in my memory, while also being even odder than I remembered.
Around opens with what feel like the most classically “psychedelic” songs—those first two tracks, combined with the trippy, Prince-less cover, might be the biggest reasons the whole album got that label. The title song opens the record, and while teenage Pete was confused by it on first listen, he grew to love it. And now, listening in sequence, I can fully appreciate how lovably weird it would have seen at the time, with finger cymbals and unusual instruments, and that odd “Say papa, I think I wanna dance” outburst makes me very happy. Even better, though, is “Paisley Park,” which is a multi-layered cake of wonderful melodies. Each verse delivers new bits of ear candy (Guitar Prince fans, you will be happy many times, especially if you listen closely), and Prince’s voice seems determined to reveal a new approach for its line. His spooky, Bowie-like(maybe?) phrasing of the line “Come to the park and play with us” in the last verse may be my current favorite part of the song. Well, that, and/or the keyboard bobbing along just out of time for all five minutes.
Side One holds up quite well, actually. After the psychedelic opening there’s “Condition of the Heart,” a barely-staying together ballad, “Raspberry Beret” (which is perhaps his best pop song, ever?), and then the oddball “Tamborine.”3 Even as a drummer I’m not sure I needed to playing tamborine use as a metaphor for masturbation (never mind without spelling it without the u), but his drumming is divine, and, as is the case in many songs on the album, he’s not afraid to push his vocal in every direction he can—sometimes all at once.
Around follows the same five songs/Side One, four songs/Side Two format as Purple Rain, and it’s the second side that doesn’t hold up as well. “America” still rips in a satisfying fashion, and “Pop Life” is the second perfect pop song on the album, but “The Ladder” and “Temptation” add up to fourteen minutes, and neither one has aged especially well.4 They do represent Prince’s classic Yin (God!) and Yang (but also Sex!), but neither is a classic in this categories. Let’s be honest: Prince talking his way through lines like, “Once upon a time in the land of Sinaplenty” is not his best look.5 It’s this slight stumble at the end that keeps the record from reaching the heights of the previous two, but those were some Everest-like heights, to be sure. And listening to 1999, Purple Rain, and Around the World in a Day, in sequence reveals just how expansive and ambitious he had become.
So, if we end the way we began, pretending to be Prince, working on our jump shot for a bit now that the new record is done, we once again again have to ask: what’s next?
1 Come on, admit it: anyone reading this blog has probably done so. Many times. Or maybe I’m just speaking out anyone writing this blog.
2 Prince minimized PR for this one, but did give a few interviews. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/prince-talks-the-silence-is-broken-58812/
3 I mean, I could write a whole entry just on “Raspberry Beret,” which is, I repeat, perfect. I love Pop Prince, and often wish he had dashed off more of these.
4 The video this time is a live version of “America” that is even better than the album version, if only for the added bonus of watching Prince play the drums.
5 I’ll never forget being the only in the theater when Graffiti Bridge began, Prince’s somber voice over a dark screen: “Are there really angels, or are they just in our minds? It all comes out in the wash… in time.” Uh oh, I thought.