In 1985, Prince pledged allegiance to “America,” while fretting about Commies & nuclear war

By on October 2, 2017

A little over thirty-one years ago, viewers of “Night Flight” sent postcards to our offices in NYC, telling us which artists’ videos they’d like to see aired in our next “Viewers Choice” episode.

This particular episode aired on September 20, 1986, and you can now watch it streaming over on Night Flight Plus!

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For one of those requests, Night Flight aired the live concert video for His Purple Majesty‘s frenetic funk-rock jam “America,” the sixth track (and fourth and final single) from Prince’s seventh album, Around the World in a Day, released on April 22, 1985.

The video was filmed on October 27, 1985 — during a break in the filming of Prince’s movie Under the Cherry Moon — at the Théâtre de Verdure, an outdoor ampitheatre on the Promenade de Anglais in Nice, France.

Read more about Prince and “America” below.

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During the first three months of 1985, Prince had been given an Oscar and three Grammys, for Best Rock Performance (“Purple Rain”), Best Motion Picture Score, and Best R&B Song for Chaka Khan’s recording of his “I Feel For You.”

Purple Rain‘s success had been so incredible that he’d pretty much decided to avoid trying to follow it up with something similar.

Prince’s patriotic “America” was penned by Prince — with help from Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman of the Revolution — and recorded in July of ’84 at his studio “The Warehouse” on Flying Cloud Drive in St. Louis Park, Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

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Around that same time, you’ll recall, the Summer Olympics were being held in Los Angeles, and the Soviet Union bloc countries had boycotted the games, a move angering a lot of American musicians — like Sammy Hagar — who had taken it personally, hoping to see the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. competing against eachother.

The “America” single — released over a year later on October 2, 1985 — arrived in the era of “trickle-down” Reaganomics, HIV/AIDS, and the so-called “War on Drugs.”

The 3:40 single was edited down from an incredible 21-minute-plus freakout jam version, which was released as a 12-inch single (trade ads referred to the long version as “terrifying”).

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Lyrically, Prince — as he would frequently in the 1980s — seemed to still be fretting that then-President Ronald Reagan was going to get the U.S. involved in a nuclear war (in 1981, he’d pleaded, “Ronnie, talk to Russia before it’s too late”).

The song’s chorus quoted in verbatim from “America the Beautiful,” but also chiefly concerned the rampant spread of Communism, (“Communism is just a word / But let the government turn over, it’ll be the only word that’s heard”) among other topics.

In a later verse, Prince hilariously sings about the importance of education, and pride in America, and how the lack of both could have dire consequences:

“Jimmy Nothing never went 2 school/They made him pledge allegiance, he said it wasn’t cool/Nothin’ made Jimmy proud, now Jimmy’s livin’ on a mushroom cloud.”

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Critic Robert Palmer, reviewing Around the World in a Day for the New York Times wrote:

“‘America,’ the song that begins the album’s second side, is brisk, driving and decidedly urban; like a 60’s protest song, it addresses an idealized spirit of ‘America’ and demands that it ‘keep the children free.’ But just as the psychedelic-style songs on Side One are notably free of drug references, Side Two’s ‘America’ might be termed a patriotic protest song. No draft cards are being burned here. In fact, one of the song’s capsule character sketches seems to suggest that those who reject patriotism and dabble in nihilism may get their just rewards in a nuclear cataclysm.”

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Months later, while he was filming Under the Cherry Moon in France, Prince decided to stage an invite-only video shoot for “America” at the Théâtre de Verdure.

Local radio station Radio de la Côte offered up 2,000 free tickets to Prince fans.

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Immediately after performing the track twice for the cameras, Prince — who changed clothes in between — and the Revolution performed a 90-minute concert, playing some of his best-loved songs, including “Little Red Corvette” and “Purple Rain.”

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Prince then sat among the fans and answered questions for twenty-five minutes for an MTV interview.

He had recently broken his self-imposed silence to chat with Rolling Stone, and agreed to MTV’s request for a sit-down chat so quickly that the cable network weren’t able to get a reporter to France to do it.

Steve Fargnoli — who, along with Robert Cavallo and Joseph Ruffalo, had managed his career since 1979 — agreed to ask Prince the provocative questions that MTV had provided, like wanting to know what how he felt about “selling out to a white audience” with Purple Rain, noting that some critics had called the album “sexist.”

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MTV’s televised interview — his first since appearing on TV’s “American Bandstand” in 1980 — was a little strange, and it was obvious Prince was uncomfortable talking about himself and his music.

MTV edited the interview down to just eighteen minutes before it aired for the first time on November 15, 1985; the full interview — Fargnoli’s voice was replaced by Wendy Melvoin’s — was later offered to other broadcasters.

MTV would also air an entire segment devoted to the song “America,” but only members of the Revolution would talk to MTV about it (Prince declined to participate).

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“America” reached #46 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, and #35 on Billboard‘s Hot Black Singles Chart.

The cover art for the single sleeve was an enlarged detail from the cover artwork that artist Doug Henders painted for Around The World In A Day.

If you have any special requests about what you’d like to see more of on Night Flight Plus, feel free to drop us a line by e-mail or just leave us a comment below, or over on our NF Facebook page!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.