35 Years Ago: Prince Confounds With Trippy ‘Around the World in a Day’
Some wondered why Prince returned so quickly with a studio follow up to Purple Rain. The answers were actually right there in the songs.
Released just two weeks after the tour for its predecessor ended, Around the World in a Day included revealing meditations on the dangers of success, on fears and guilt, and the desire to escape.
"Everybody can't be on top," Prince said with bitter irony on the Top 10 hit "Pop Life," then took a moment during "Condition of the Heart" to note "that sometimes money buys you everything, and nothing." He was left to hope for a nirvana-like getaway to "Paisley Park" ("admission is easy," Prince sings, "just say U believe."), while wondering about the fate of a royal "who didn't deserve 2 B" in "The Ladder."
Looking back, this was never going to be another Purple Rain. Mostly, because Prince didn't want it to be. Instead, Around the World in Day arrived on April 22, 1985 as a kind of trippy antidote to his biggest success.
"More than anything else, I try not to repeat myself," Prince told Rolling Stone in 1985. "I think that's the problem with the music industry today. When a person does get a hit, they try to do it again the same way. ... But I always try to do something different and conquer new ground."
Prince completed Around the World in Day on Christmas Eve 1984, working through scattered sessions that actually began before Purple Rain's release in June of the same year. "I didn't wait to see what would happen with Purple Rain," Prince added. "That's why the two albums sound completely different."
Listen to Prince Perform 'Pop Life'
No one at Warner Bros. knew he'd already moved on, though it had quickly become clear to members of Prince's band, the Revolution. "Before we even hit the first show on the tour," Bobby Z told Yahoo in 2017, "he was already bored with Purple Rain."
Prince's ideas for a follow up coalesced around a track co-written by David Coleman and Jonathan Melvoin, brothers of Prince bandmates Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin. "Around the World in a Day" gave the album a title track, but more than that, it framed the project's hallucinogenic Magical Mystery Tour-esque feel.
Wendy and Lisa initially brought a demo of the song to Prince. "We listened to it in the car, then we ran into rehearsal and made Prince come out to the car and said, 'You have to hear this.'" Melvoin told Yahoo. "The chorus was there."
David Coleman ended up earned a co-writing credit on the completed version, which began with a mystical flute as Prince asked his fans to "open your heart, open your mind." It was about as far away from the heavy-metal R&B of "Let's Go Crazy" as Prince could go, and Around the World in a Day was only just getting started.
"Prince was really taken with David at the time," Lisa Coleman told the Star-Tribune in 2017. "My brother was very schooled in Arabic and Middle Eastern music. ... David's groove brought out Prince's favorite thing — funky. He thought Middle Eastern music was very sexy."
Watch Prince Perform 'Raspberry Beret'
Prince was still working with the Revolution – they appear on six of the album's nine tracks – but he also completed some songs all alone (including "Condition of the Heart" and "Tamborine"), while initiating what would become a rapid expansion of outside collaborators: Drummer Sheila E. sits in on "Pop Life," and saxophonist Eddie M appears on "The Ladder" and "Temptation."
Nothing was off the table. "I sorta had an f-you attitude – meaning that I was making something for myself and my fans," Prince told a Detroit DJ back then. "And the people who supported me through the years, I wanted to give them something – and it was like my mental letter. And those people are the ones who wrote me back, telling me that they felt what I was feeling."
He paired these often dark thoughts with layered, whimsical sounds and brightly hued images that brought to mind the best of psychedelia. ("I don't mind that," Prince told Rolling Stone, "because that was the only period in recent history that delivered songs and colors.") Still, he pushed back when people tried to link Around the World in a Day too closely with the Beatles: "The influence wasn't the Beatles. They were great for what they did, but I don't know how that would hang today."
Prince remained his own man. In keeping, he initially refused to follow typical promotional pathways, including issuing an advance single, filming videos and undertaking media avails.
"I don't go into the studio just to make a hit; that would be too easy," Prince told Ebony in 1986. "There are a lot of people who do that just to make a payment on that Cadillac. I just never really look at it like that."
Watch Prince Perform 'Around the World in a Day'
He later relented, making a suitably kaleidoscopic clip for the No. 2 Billboard smash "Raspberry Beret," but the larger point was clear: Prince had reached a pinnacle of success, and he now intended to leverage this vista to do something completely new.
Coupled with a growing tendency to produce more than the market could bear, Prince ran off droves of his newfound fans: He sold roughly 11 million fewer copies of Around the World in a Day than he had for Purple Rain, and never crossed the triple-platinum sales mark again.
"I think if it was given the proper timing ... but it just didn't come out of the gate right," Bobby Z told Yahoo. "He really thought that people would be done with Purple Rain. As we know now, they're not done with Purple Rain. [Laughs.] He was just moving so fast, it was like 'next, next, next.' But Purple Rain is something people wanted to examine for centuries. He wasn't very good at looking back."
In a larger sense, Prince was already setting a template for his future splits with the Revolution and then Warner Bros. Still, he remained typically unapologetic.
"I don't want to make an album like the earlier ones," Prince told Rolling Stone. "Wouldn't it be cool to be able to put your albums back to back and not get bored, you dig?"