"This isn't music...this is a trip!" chants a voice throughout a remix of Prince's "Alphabet Street." That phrase may best describe Prince's mid-80s output, when he explored psychedelia through albums such as Around the World in a Day and Parade. Taking cues from George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Prince sought to fuse the Summer of Love with funk and just a touch of rock. He may have largely moved on from that era, but these experiments have withstood the test of time. One such example is 1986's "Mountains," a track off the Under the Cherry Moon soundtrack (released as Parade) that stands as a "shoulda been" bigger hit.
Under the Cherry Moon, Prince's second film and directorial debut, flopped both critically and commercially. Not surprisingly, the music fared much better, with Prince scoring a huge hit with "Kiss." Longtime collaborators and Revolution members Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman (who also recorded under the moniker Wendy and Lisa) reportedly wrote the music for "Mountains," while Prince composed the lyrics. Released as a single on May 7, 1986, the track represents the only Parade song featuring the entire Revolution backing band. Despite a trippy video, "Mountains" found its audience primarily in clubs; outside of the dance realm, the song peaked at 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 15 on the R&B charts.
Several elements make "Mountains" a memorable track. The electronic drums with the slightly off-kilter rhythm is a key element of a Prince song; when the percussion kicks in, one can immediately identify the artist. He also breaks out his falsetto, used to such great effect on "Kiss," and at times wails, growls, and otherwise showcases his multilayered voice. The words touch on a familiar Prince theme--spirituality--but this time does not mix in sexual imagery. Instead, he delivers an uplifting message, that seemingly impassable obstacles are "mountains" that we can easily conquer with love and hope.
Channeling James Brown in his sharp vocal punctuations, Prince acknowledges the world's ongoing struggles:
Once upon a time in a haystack of despair
Happiness sometimes hard to find, yeah
Africa divided, hijack in the air
It's enough to make you want to lose your mind
Then he delivers the optimistic chorus, equating these issues with imposing mountains.
I say it's only mountains, and the sea
Love will conquer if you just believe
It's only mountains and the sea
There's nothing greater, you and me
In other words, the abstract can overcome the physical. We can tackle hurdles through ideas and emotion, which the physical cannot contain. Through these words, Prince again proves himself a master at addressing complicated topics in an accessible--and melodic--way.
While the single version of "Mountains" delights, try to find the 12" edition that extends the song over ten minutes. Hearing Prince interact with the band, calling out various members for solos, lends a unique perspective into his relationship with his musicians. Anyone who doubts the Revolution's playing ability should closely listen to the 12" version, as their various instrumental solos elevate "Mountains" to another musical level.