When Around the World in a Day was first released in 1985, the music biz was not set up for a binge-watching generation of media consumers. They took their damn time, hyping a record for months before it came out, and teasing us with a single that got played on the radio for six long weeks before we could get the new album or CD.
Prince had just come off Purple Rain, the album, the movie, the tour, the four top-10 singles including two #1s. With Purple Rain, he established himself as one of the great pop stars of the era who could run with Michael Jackson, Madonna and Phil Collins. He filled the airwaves and our Walkmans with catchy, funky-ass grooves we adored.
Then came the interminable wait for him to get off the road, recover, make a record, and for the music-biz hype machine to reload. After what seemed like an eternity — we were all dying for new Prince to drop — came “Raspberry Beret.” Wow! Its unforgettable chorus framed a coy-yet-self-effacing tale (“Built as she was, she had the nerve to ask me if I planned to do her any harm”) about that quirky girl who walked in through the out door.
As a teenager, I could relate. I wasn’t working in a five-and-dime store like the narrator, but I was working in a small-town mom-and-pop grocery store. Close enough. During the summer, I’d see dozens of her kind, tanned and bored, coming in for a bag of chips. Or sodas. Or smokes.
We had to wait six weeks for the album to come out after this tantalizing foretaste of the followup to Purple Rain. We were almost crazy with anticipation of its release, ready to throw down with more Minneapolis synth-funk pop and get the party going again.
When Around the World In a Day finally came out, much to the distress of those of us looking for more upbeat danceable pop tunes like “Take Me With U” or “Let’s Go Crazy,” were instead served a weird set of quasi-psychedelic hippie shit, capped with the awkward free-jazz devil-and-angel romp of “Temptation” that ends with Prince being sent to hell to pay for all his pervy fantasies. Clearly, “Raspberry Beret” was the best of the lot, and it was all downhill from there. It was a drag. A disappointment. A weird left turn from 1999 and Purple Rain. A sometimes difficult listen.
That was then. Recently I’ve revisited Around the World in a Day, listening over and over, on the phones, in the car, on the turntable, wherever.
I’d kept it around over the years, even picking up a vinyl copy on one of my record-store sojourns, but never really revisited it much over the decades. Turns out this record I’d chalked up as an experiment gone bad is, in hindsight, pretty fantastic.
But enough of my story. This post is all about why you should get into this record if it somehow escaped your collection. Or, if you’re a longtime Prince fan but haven’t picked it up in awhile, why it’s worth revisiting, particularly on vinyl:
- The Revolution’s still at their peak. Prince fans know each of his bands have their charms, but there’s nothing like your first. Wendy and Lisa are here, doing their semi-disengaged-yet-cool Wendy and Lisa things, especially on “Pop Life.” They worked in perfect deadpan contrast to Prince’s whirling dervish.
- Sheila E’s here, too, on “Pop Life.” Any record with Wendy and Lisa and Sheila E on drums qualifies as peak Prince, period.
- “America.” Definitely a precursor to the song “Sign o’The Times,” Prince’s USA hasn’t changed much, as we will hear politicians in this election year talk about the same problems he sang about 35 years ago. Like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” it’s an anti-anthem whose groove totally would have fit on 1999. Don’t let today’s self-described patriots in on the joke.
- It gave rise to the legend of Paisley Park. Little did we know at the time that the peaceful refuge Prince sings about in this song would become his brand, his home, his studio, and ultimately, where he passed away a victim of the drug culture against which he railed in several songs.
- It was a wireframe for Sign o’The Times. Sign was a masterpiece. The half-formed characters here led to, for example, more fully developed ones such as Cynthia Rose in “Starfish and Coffee.” You can hear in songs like “Tambourine” the beginnings of Sign’s legendary genderfluid Camille alter ego.
- Speaking of “Tambourine”: That bass groove is straight out of the James Brown playbook. Oh my gosh it is fun-ky.
- “The Ladder.” This at first may have seemed like a cheap remake of the song “Purple Rain,” a throwaway aimed at the pop charts. Now with the perspective of Prince’s whole catalog, we can see it clearly bridged the song “Purple Rain” and “The Cross,” Prince’s slow-burning signature song from Sign. He got there from here.
- The psychedelia kinda grows on you. In 1985, the flutes, Mellotron-esque synth effects, Indian drone of the title cut, tambourines, and the finger cymbals were so passé that we held our noses. Fairlight synthesizer post-disco, Depeche Mode and stripped-down stuff like INXS’s Kick were hot at the time; Around the World in a Day made us groan. But Prince got the last laugh: this record aged a lot better than the aforementioned pillars of 1980s radio and video.
- He gets his Jimi Hendrix on. Prince was part Jimi Hendrix at times, part James Brown at others. While listening to “Temptation,” just focus your concentration on just the guitars. Amazing work.
- It sounds better on vinyl. Vinyl isn’t always better for 1980s records. Sometimes, they sound thin, probably because digital was coming in and LP mastering was an afterthought. That, and the vinyl was thin junk. This one, however, sounds great. At least my pressing does, played on my vinyl-attuned rig.
- The record jacket is amazing. I never got this on vinyl until a few years ago; I’d had it on cassette and CD before. The trippy Jim Warren gatefold art inside and out is fantastic, and the record label (pictured above), when spinning, is a trip unto itself.