Daily Prince 5/26/20: The Ladder

Around the World in a Day is a fascinating album.  If you didn’t know Prince and someone just said, “Hey, this is a cool album.  You should check it out,” you’d probably listen and think, “Wow, that’s a really eclectic album.  Creative.  I like it.”  Now, take a time machine to 1985 when it was released.  10 months after the release of Purple Rain, a magnum opus which had sold over nine million albums already at that point.  Less than three years after the release of funky raunchfest 1999, which had sold over two million albums.  Around the World in a Day was viewed as a disappointment.

Prince was so tired of performing the songs from Purple Rain he was aching to go in a new direction.  Revolution keyboardist Lisa Coleman and guitarist Wendy Melvoin, as well as Lisa’s brother David and Wendy’s twin sister Susannah (Prince’s girlfriend for a while in the mid-80’s) were introducing Prince to a lot of different music.  I have repeatedly heard that Around the World… was recorded at a time when Prince was listening to the Beatles, specifically Sgt. Pepper.

While everyone was expecting a monstrous follow-up to Purple Rain what they received was an intentional curveball.  Prince was never one to dwell on a sound for too long.  He completely changed his sound.  “Raspberry Beret” was the lead single, another smash hit and one of Prince’s most beloved songs.  Beyond that, the album was not chock full of radio-ready hits like Purple Rain and 1999.

One song that would’ve never fit on his previous albums’s was “The Ladder,” co-written by Prince’s father, John Nelson.  It sounds like a power ballad with a slow drum beat and most of the heavy lifting instrumentally being done by strings and a saxophone.  Prince sings lead vocals, but the angelic choir of Wendy, Lisa, Susannah, and Taja Sevelle is every bit as important, if not more.  The song is about people searching for salvation.  One of the first – if not the first – overtly religious/spiritual songs in the Prince catalog.

Before I finish, here’s the first half of the opening verse from “The Ladder:”

Once upon a time in the land of Sin-aplenty
There lived a king who didn’t deserve to be
He knew not where he came from
Nor where he was going
He never once said thank you, never please

I don’t really have more to say about that.  Just reminded me of someone.

“The Ladder” has a message that carries more significance for others than it does for me.  I personally find the song repetitive and boring.  There’s a lot to love on Around the World in a Day despite people’s disappointment with it in 1985.  “The Ladder” just doesn’t do it for me.  Prince has done much better work on the topic of God and salvation.  I give it 2 out of 5 stars.

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