- An outstanding copy of the album, with both sides rating a solid Double Plus (A++) for sound – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
- Clean and clear and open are nice qualities, but rich and full are harder to come by on this record – but here they are!
- “It wasn’t remotely a sequel to Purple Rain. On first listen, it was instantly clear that the album was a dramatic left-turn, with none of the flashy guitar and few of the pop hooks. The sound was bright and sweet, as opposed to low-end raunch. If Prince had streamlined and rocked up his approach for global domination, now he was creating something more intimate, cerebral, and challenging… a brave and deeply personal project, exploring sounds and ideas that were almost shocking coming from a pop icon at his peak.”
The best copies sound pretty much the way the best copies of most Classic Rock records sound: tonally correct, rich, clear, sweet, smooth, open, present, lively, big, spacious, Tubey Magical, with breathy vocals and little to no spit, grit, grain or grunge.
That’s the sound of analog, and the best copies of this title have that sound.
What to Listen For (WTLF)
Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we heard them all.
What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes even as late as 1985
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments (and effects!) having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
- No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above
Standard Operating Procedures
What are the criteria by which a record like this should be judged? Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings: energy, vocal presence, frequency extension (on both ends), transparency, harmonic textures (freedom from smear is key), rhythmic drive, tonal correctness, fullness, richness, and so on down through the list.
When we can get all, or most all, of the qualities above to come together on any given side we provisionally award it a grade of “contender.” Once we’ve been through all our copies on one side we then play the best of the best against each other and arrive at a winner for that side. Repeat the process for the other side and the shootout is officially over. All that’s left is to see how the sides matched up.
It may not be rocket science, but it is a science of a kind, one with strict protocols that we’ve developed over the course of many years to ensure that the results we arrive at are as accurate as we can make them.
Around The World In A Day
Condition Of The Heart
Prince had been to the mountaintop, and he didn’t like what he saw. He had spent a full year fine-tuning his sound, his band, his look, and his story for Purple Rain, with the explicit goal of conquering the world. And it had worked perfectly—repositioning himself as a badass guitar hero and fronting a band which included multiple genders and races had opened up new audiences for him, and made him the biggest rock star in the universe.
But as soon as he reached that peak, that rarefied altitude so few artists get to see, Prince realized what being a superstar required. He knew that to meet the demand for his music, to feed the beast of the celebrity he had attained, he would be expected to keep pushing Purple Rain for all it was worth—to tour the U.S., then go to Europe, maybe to Australia, then back for a bigger U.S. victory lap. But Prince was too restless for that. And so he did the only thing he always knew how to do: He made more music, which sounded different from anything he had done or anything his new fans might have expected.
Around the World in a Day was completed on Christmas Eve of 1984 and released in April 1985, just two weeks after the final date on the Purple Rain tour—which Prince cut short abruptly, after just six months. His breakthrough album was still riding high on the charts.
He had quietly been working on the new album in scattered sessions that had actually started prior to Purple Rain’s release, without the knowledge of his label, Warner Bros.; even members of his band, the Revolution, didn’t know that a new project was underway, much less completed. “I wasn’t totally aware that he had been tracking that album,” said keyboardist Matt Fink. “I was not involved in it…I was okay with it, but at the same time, you always want to be in there if you can.”
The most noticeable thing about Around the World in a Day was what it wasn’t: It wasn’t remotely a sequel to Purple Rain. On first listen, it was instantly clear that the album was a dramatic left-turn, with none of the flashy guitar and few of the pop hooks. The sound was bright and sweet, as opposed to low-end raunch. If Prince had streamlined and rocked up his approach for global domination, now he was creating something more intimate, cerebral, and challenging.
Though Around the World was released with no radio single or advance promotion—“This has got to be the easiest album I’ve ever worked on,” Warner Bros. creative marketing chief Jeff Ayeroff said—the first taste for most listeners wasn’t too shocking. The irresistibly playful “Raspberry Beret” was in fact the most pure pop Prince had ever delivered. (I clearly remember hearing him play the song alone at the piano during the Purple Rain show I attended that spring, and the crowd went nuts, singing along by the second chorus.)
But “Raspberry Beret” was actually a song he had written a few years earlier, and was a bit of an outlier on the album. The real linchpin for the project was a demo that Revolution members Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman brought him, a track that had been recorded by their respective brothers, David Coleman and Jonathan Melvoin. It was a shimmery, winding instrumental with flutes and strings reminiscent of the Beatles circa Magical Mystery Tour. Prince loved its sound and feel, and he began to build the album around the psychedelic sensibility of this song, which would ultimately give the album its title.
The album cover—a painting depicting the Revolution in a trippy, candy-colored landscape—clearly evoked Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The first sounds you heard backed up this reference; the record kicked off with a keening Middle Eastern flute, and Prince’s first line is “Open your heart, open your mind.” This vision of a mystical journey for which “laughter is all you pay” was followed by “Paisley Park,” a depiction of Prince’s dream world (and, for those paying attention, the name of his new label imprint, for which Around the World was the first release) where “admission is easy/ Just say U believe,” and whose inhabitants feel only “profound inner peace.”
At the time, this utopian hippie bliss was the most obvious element of Around the World in a Day. “Prince goes psychedelic” was the common hot take, with all of the naïve optimism that implied. Several of the songs opened with fairy-tale introductions—“Once upon a time in the land of Sinaplenty” or “There was a girl in Paris.” Over time, though, what emerged was a much darker undertone running through the album. Even “Paisley Park” included a betrayed wife whose husband died “without knowing forgiveness” and a man crying as his house is condemned.
Over a loosely thudding drum sound, “Pop Life” (the album’s other Top 10 hit) was a skeptical meditation on the trappings of success, the lure of drugs and anti-intellectualism. “Everybody can’t be on top,” Prince sang with a hint of a sneer, “But life it ain’t real funky, unless it’s got that pop.” It was the moment that first articulated the creative tension that would play out over the rest of his career; was Prince more naturally a stadium-filling superstar or was he really the world’s biggest cult artist, with a dedicated following ready to follow him down which musical path he chose?
The album’s most conventional-sounding rock song was in some ways the oddest of all—was “America” a patriotic anthem without irony, an anti-communist manifesto written at the height of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America,” or a savage attack on that mentality? Prince sang about a girl “making minimum wage/ Living in a one-room jungle monkey cage…she may not be in the black/ But she’s happy she ain’t in the red.” Tougher to interpret than “Born in the USA,” the song also allowed Prince to indulge his fantasies of nuclear apocalypse that went back to “1999” and “Ronnie, Talk to Russia.”
Some of the most striking moments on Around the World were the most compositionally experimental. The jittery, sexually-charged funk of “Tamborine” never fully coheres into a complete song, stretching the tension almost unbearably thin. “Condition of the Heart,” its jazz chords unfolding over an impossibly slow tempo as Prince maintains an inhuman falsetto, is as delicate as a spider’s web, threatening to fall apart at any moment.
As the album nears its conclusion, things get genuinely mystifying, and we get the clearest sense of the issues Prince was grappling with in the aftermath of Purple Rain. “The Ladder” is a bewildering parable of a king “who didn’t deserve 2 B,” and who embarks on a spiritual quest. The reward he (and we all) receive for “looking for the ladder,” Prince sings, building up his testifying vocal screams over slow-swinging, traditional gospel chords, is that “a feeling of self-worth will caress U/ The size of the whole wide world will decrease.”
There’s a remarkable co-writing credit on this curious epic, as well as on the title cut—John L. Nelson, Prince’s father, whose conflict with his son was spun into the fictional emotional center of the Purple Rain movie. A jazz pianist, Nelson even attended Prince’s initial presentation of the album at the Warner Bros. offices, clad in a caftan. What could it possibly mean that this father-son reconciliation and collaboration resulted in such dense, almost coded lyrics, with such a desperate yearning for salvation?
The final track on Around the World took things even farther. At some of the Purple Rain shows, Prince stopped the music to engage in actual on-stage conversations with God. Unlike his R&B sex symbol predecessors like Al Green and Marvin Gaye, Prince had never seemed tortured by the relationship between sex and faith; rather than defining physical love as sin, he had embraced sex as an earthly manifestation of the divine spirit. But clearly there was some new guilt pulling at him, some reaction to his success or his lifestyle, and it is documented on the eight-minute-plus “Temptation.”
Reeling off spiky, fuzzed-out guitar licks, Prince practically drools his expressions of desire; “Working my body with a hot flash of animal lust,” he squeals, shrieks, leers. Eddie M.’s saxophone gives the song an almost comic burlesque strut as Prince works himself into a sexual frenzy. Until another voice comes down from the heavens: “Oh, silly man, that’s not how it works/ You have 2 want her 4 the right reasons/”I do!”/ U don’t, now die!”
Prince ends the album having learned his lesson—that “love is more important than sex”—and by saying goodbye to his audience. “I have 2 go now,” he whispers, “I don’t know when I’ll return.” And indeed, just a few weeks before the release of Around the World in a Day, Prince announced his “retirement” from live performance; it may have been sincere at the time, but it was barely a year later when he was back on tour, this time for the Parade album.
With the momentum of Purple Rain behind it—or, more precisely, with the momentum still going full tilt—Around the World sold over two million copies; no Prince record would ever be as commercially successful in his lifetime. But the album didn’t capture the public imagination to anywhere near the degree that Purple Rain had. If anything, its lilting textures and cryptic lyrics served to confuse a large portion of the fans attracted by the girls-and-guitars spirit of the motorcycle riding, Jimi Hendrix-meets-James Brown image the movie had cultivated. Which, of course, seemed to be his intention, his only possible way out of competing with a world-changing, life-changing phenomenon.
But it’s unfair to only consider the album as a defensive maneuver or a strategy to keep his future options open. It was also a brave and deeply personal project, exploring sounds and ideas that were almost shocking coming from a pop icon at his peak. “I sorta had an f-you attitude,” Prince told legendary Detroit DJ the Electrifying Mojo about his mood while recording Around the World in a Day, “meaning that I was making something for myself and my fans. 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.”
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