When trying to decide which song to dive into after such a long hiatus I tossed around half a dozen or so tracks. Do I choose the last song from the last album as a kind of requiem or should I focus on something that might help heal the emotional scars? In the end I went back to my original list of song suggestions from back before Prince died and I realised that any song I chose would bring sufficient emotional baggage with it, given the circumstances, so there was no need to try and doing anything special for my “comeback.” So what made me choose this one from the list? Well late last year I asked a friend to suggest a few songs to help me focus my efforts and next to each suggestion he made a few notes about why he liked the song and why I should add it to my list. Next to “Condition Of The Heart” he’d simply written “because beauty.” When I read those words I realised that was the answer. Not just the answer to which song to write about next but also the answer to why I was such a Prince fan. Why we all are. The answer to why we really do anything worthwhile in this life at all. Because beauty.
“Condition of the Heart” is the third track from Prince’s seventh album, Around the World in a Day. I’ve written about this album before (see the entry on “Temptation”) so I’ll try not to get repetitive. The follow up from his biggest album ever and he didn’t even wait a year before releasing it. Think about that for a second. After the biggest success of his life, he didn’t sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labour. He just kept working. This album was recorded between January and December 1984 for the most part. For those of you keeping score, this was the same year that Purple Rain was released (25 June for the album and 27 July for the movie). This means that during shooting of the movie, promotion, meetings, rehearsals, etc., he still found time to record a double platinum album. For comparison, consider that after Michael Jackson released Thriller in 1982 he didn’t put out a new record until 1987’s Bad. That being said, Prince and the band were always busy writing and recording during this era of his career. So much so that it really is no surprise that he had enough great material to put out an album. The real question is why do it so quickly and why this album. Of all the albums that he could have released after Purple Rain with the multitude of songs that we know he had ready to go. Why did he choose these songs?
The songs on Around The World In A Day are quite a departure from Prince’s previous albums. Most hardcore fans will have great praise for this record as his “psychedelic” attempt at consolidating his work as an artist and his rejection of the pop star career path and record label intervention (get behind me Warner Brothers!). If you’re reading this blog, chances are you like the album a lot. But to your more casual Prince fan, this album ain’t that hot. Sure it’s got “Raspberry Beret” on it but most of it is weird and “experimental”. Around The World In A Day is clearly a statement by Prince and not just your everyday regular ol’ LP. The fact that there was no lead single and that it was released so soon after the last record says a lot. If Purple Rain was a record label’s dream, this record must have been a nightmare. The fact that it sold as well as it did suggests that the heat from Purple Rain hadn’t dissipated and that there was in fact a market for this type of record. At least amongst Prince fans.
“Condition Of The Heart” is one of those songs that you could argue was more on the experimental side. Coming in at 6:46mins, the first two and a half minutes are all instrumental with the first two minutes sounding like they are part of a movie score. The first sound you hear is some sort of deep bass drum evoking a pacing heartbeat before the ethereal piano and “fairy” keyboard sounds float in. Although stylistically different to the main part, the intro sets the tone for the whole song and eases you into what’s to come. To my ear the introduction to this song sounds like a butterfly floating from flower to flower in search of a mate. In my mind’s eye it’s almost Disney-esque in the way it flows from scene to scene.
Picture if you will an animated anthropomorphised purple butterfly that looks somewhat like our Prince, floating and flitting from flower to flower presented in a style somewhere between Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and Fantasia. Being a Prince song the flowers and plants in the meadow look, unsurprisingly, like naked women. He flits and floats and fleetly flees and flies across the screen checking out all the female butterflies that he comes across and falling for each one in turn. But they all fly past him or ignore his attempts at courtship. At about the fifty second mark of the song the music drops out and this is when he sees her. They lock eyes. She turns away shyly. He approaches cautiously. They smile at each other. He whispers in her ear. She giggles. They hold hands. Then finally they move in for a passionate embrace as they envelope each other with their wings and get to work on making little baby caterpillars. The act is symbolized by the “crash” in the music we hear at the 1:35min mark. After this the music settles back down and becomes steadier. It doesn’t have that flitting feeling that we heard at the beginning. Now, basking in the afterglow, it sounds somehow calmer and more relaxed as it transitions to the song proper and we hear the actual melody that will carry us the rest of the way.
There was a girl in Paris
Whom he sent a letter 2
Hoping she would answer back
Now wasn’t that a foolhardy
Notion on the part of a
Sometimes lonely musician
Acting out a whim is only good
4 a condition of the heart
Is this the first time he’s used “whom” in a song? Perhaps the only time? I’m struggling to think of any others. It’s always stood out for me as an unusual turn of phrase. He’s definitely trying to sound fancy, although I think he may actually be using it correctly (grammarians sound off!). But who’s the girl? It seems clear that Prince is referring to himself as the “sometimes lonely musician” but who is he writing to? Loneliness is a fairly common theme in through a lot of Prince’s music. It highlights the emotional isolation that can come from the level of fame that he had achieved in his career at this point. Lonely but not alone. And only “sometimes.” So there must be times when he isn’t lonely. When he’s with his lover perhaps? I love the way that he pauses in the middle of “foolhardy.” He clearly knows that he was a fool for sending this girl a letter but he sent it anyway, even though he had a fair idea that she wouldn’t respond to his “whim.” A whim that only works to give him a “condition of the heart”.
There was a dame from London
Who insisted that he love her
Then left him 4 a real prince
From Arabia, now isn’t that
A shame that sometimes money
Buys U everything and nothing
Love, it only seems 2 buy a
Terminal condition of the heart
Could we be talking about an actual “Dame” in this verse? I would imagine there would be a fair few of them in London. This one seems to be quite the force of nature. It’s not that he fell for her; she actually forced him into it. Dame or not, it would seem that this girl has a thing for princes; with a preference for the rich Arabian kind over the musical Minnesotan kind. Just how much of this song is autobiographical? The “real prince” reference implies that he’s the “not real prince.” He may have money now after his Purple Rain pay day, but that’s all a façade really. His name is as far as his “prince-ness” goes. He reinforces the idea by saying that “sometimes money buys U everything and nothing.” To me this is one of the best pieces of wordsmithing in all of Prince’s catalogue. So much meaning is conveyed in just seven words that you could write an entire book analysing their meaning. But I’ll just say that this line cuts deep and speaks to the reason why this album was released the way it was. Off the back of his Purple Rain success and the massive pay day that this brought, he still had the awareness to see that the extra money and fame wouldn’t automatically lead to him finding love or continuing to be a creative artist. Our narrator realises that money won’t buy love (but it can help with the search). Money can purchase most tangible things in life but if you are looking for something more emotional or philosophical it isn’t always that helpful and can even be a detriment to your cause.
But what of love? Our narrator is now onto the second course of his trans-continental love story; first Paris and now London. And according to him love, it seems, is deadly. His “condition of the heart” is akin to a broken heart. A condition bought by love. Love is a disease. An affliction. A cancer. A detriment to a happy life. Although it seems in this verse that it is lost love that is the culprit. To love and to lose, this is the terminal condition. But what happens when you love and you win?
Thinking about U driving me crazy
My friends all say it’s just a phase, but ooh-ooh
Every day is a yellow day
I’m blinded by the daisies in your yard
Our singer goes from telling a story in the third person in the verses to making his confession in the first person in the choruses. He’s talking directly to the object of his affection (and the audience) trying to convince her (and us) that his love is real. Not some school boy crush. This is not a lost love. Not a whim. This is in the here and now, hence the first person narrative. The earlier stories were all history. But what exactly does he mean by “yellow day?” Is this a good thing? Like a happy yellow face on a button you pin to your backpack. Or is it supposed to symbolize the dark side of the colour yellow – cowardice and betrayal. Given the obvious juxtaposition of the historical and negative verses with the more positive choruses I would hazard a guess that Prince’s “yellow day” is a happy, bright, sun-shiny day. He’s in love and she drives him crazy. He’s blinded by his love.
There was a woman from the ghetto
Who made funny faces just like
Clara Bow, how was I 2 know
That she would wear the same
Cologne as U and giggle the same
Giggle that U do?
Whenever I would act a fool, the fool
With a condition of the heart
Clara Bow – what a deep cut. Clara was an actress and super star of the silent movie era who personified “the Roaring Twenties and is described as its leading sex symbol.” Referred to as the “flapper-par-excellence’ or “the Royal Canadian Mounted Police of sex, who always gets her man,” she became known as the “It Girl” after starring in the movie It. A role which helped solidify her super stardom. I find it interesting that Prince chose to reference a silent movie sex symbol. The original “It Girl.” But what is “It” I hear you ask? Well the novella upon which the movie was based was written by Elinor Glyn and she describes it thus:
‘It’ is that quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force. With “It” you win all men if you are a woman – and all women if you are a man. “It” can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction.
Now whether intended or not, this sounds like Prince referencing himself. He was the “It” guy of his era. Pop star, movie star, sex symbol. He was “It.” He’s also been known to make the odd funny face or two. Could Prince’s “woman from the ghetto” be a masked reference to himself? Notice how in the earlier verses he mentions the cities of Paris and London specifically but here he uses the more general term “ghetto.” Could that mean New York or Chicago or Minneapolis (or any other major city in the world)? Clara was from Brooklyn which, to my admittedly limited understanding, is occasionally referred to as a “ghetto.” And if you’ve ever seen Clara on film you’ll know what the funny face reference was all about. Without a word (silent movies are a bitch that way) she could get across exactly what she was meaning and you’d know it. But Prince doesn’t just compare her to Clara Bow. He also compares the “ghetto” woman’s giggle and her scent to the object of his affection; his beautiful butterfly.
A butterfly that wears cologne apparently, not perfume. Even though perfume would fit the lyric, it seems an odd choice to use the word cologne. If memory serves he’s used the word “cologne” a few times over the years when referring to a woman’s scent. This seems odd when the general convention is that women wear perfume and men wear cologne. However, it turns out that terms “cologne (or eau de cologne)” and “perfume” have more technical definitions and aren’t necessarily gender specific. It turns out that “cologne” is composed of only about 2-4% of perfume oils in alcohol and water lasting for about 2 hours when applied. Whereas “perfume” is up around 20-30% and can last up to 24 hours.
I’ve read that Prince used to smell like lavender so it seems he did wear some sort of “cologne.” And he likely did “giggle” from time to time as well. We know he had a sense of humour. If this verse is actually about Prince himself then it seems he is trying to show his love that they have these things in common at least (cologne and giggling). That they have similar tastes and enjoy the same type of humour; they can laugh at the same things and shop in the same stores. Alternatively, if this about another woman then he’s making the comparison between the new girl and the old girl. She was almost like you, he’s saying, but not quite. The butterfly has flown from Paris to London and to the ghetto but he doesn’t settle until he finds her. His one and only.
Thinking about U driving me crazy
My friends all say it’s just a phase, but ooh-ooh
Every single day is a yellow day
I’m blinded by the daisies in your yard
Back to the first person narrative – this is what’s happening now. His history may have brought him here, which is why it is important enough to spend three verses on. But the chorus is what is happening now. The bright yellow day full of happiness and joy. Even the daises are so happy they’re blinding. “The daisy is known for being the fifth most popular flower in the world because the bloom comes in a variety of different colors and is appropriate for a number of occasions. In addition to loyalty and love, the daisy symbolizes innocence, cheerfulness and purity. A cheerful bouquet of the flowers is often gifted to brighten the day of someone who is ill.” And Prince is ill. He has a condition of the heart. But he’s blinded by her loyalty and love and innocence so his condition is not such a bad thing.
There was a girl (There was a girl in Paris)
Whom he sent a letter to… (Whom he sent a letter 2)
(Hoping she would answer back)
She never answered back and now (wasn’t that a foolhardy)
He’s got a condition of the heart. (notion …)
In the last line he drops all pretense and uses his natural speaking voice. In the movie of this song, this is where our hero looks straight at the camera and admits to us, his love and himself that this is the real deal. This is the real me telling it straight. I’ve got a condition of the heart and I’m in love. Everything that came before is merely prologue to this moment. The way the verses take a roll call of our protagonist’s past paramours is reminiscent of “5 Women” in that the catalogue of lovers is used as a counterpoint to the one true love that’s driving him crazy. Where in “5 Women” his true love has left him, here his love is still around. They may not be a couple just yet but she is definitely in his heart. The song starts to fade out and the last thing we hear is the faint sound of that drum from the start of the song (turn up your volume if you can’t hear it); only now the rhythm has slowed. Acknowledging that our butterfly has found his mate and his panicked search for love is over. His heart beats with a calmness and assurance that only comes to those know love.
Is this another song about Susannah? It seems like it’s about the right time for them to be courting or starting to anyway. Maybe she was just coming into his radar. The references to “real prince” and “sometimes lonely musician” practically confirm that Prince is singing about himself or at least inserting himself into this tale and being the only musician on this track means that there’s little chance of anyone else’s point of view coming into play. Whether or not the rest is a fictional story doesn’t really diminish the impact of the song. Yes, a lot of this song is about describing lost love but the whole point is that those stories are all history now. Because life isn’t about dwelling on the past. Because love is about being in the here and now. Because beauty.
Running time: 6:46
Around The World In A Day (released 1985)
Purple Rain (released 1984)
Old Friends For Sale (released 1999)
The Peach & Black Podcast
Prince in Print
Gilda’s Blue Book of the Screen.
 Thanks Tombstoneshoes!