Hey, everyone! I’m still working on “Take Me with U,” which I’m afraid is not quite ready for prime time yet. So, I thought I’d share another thing I’ve been working on instead. It’s been a while since I cross-posted one of the podcast episodes I do with my sister as Dystopian Dance Party, mostly because it’s been a while since we’ve done anything Prince-related; but this month, our spinoff podcast about (mostly) rock biographies is taking on Morris Day’s On Time: A Princely Life in Funk. Please be aware that this side project is what I actually do for fun, so it’s a lot less polished and “serious” than what I do here; it’s also a good deal more irreverent. In other words, it isn’t for everyone, and I’m okay with that. But if you’re truly starved for some Zach Content (TM), this should hopefully tide you over for a few more days. Thanks for your patience, and for real, I’ll see you soon.
As I’ve alluded a few times recently, the last couple of weeks have been pretty hectic in my neck of the woods; but I still had to make the time to participate in this month’s #PrinceTwitterThread series on 1995’s The Gold Experience. I know I remain, somewhat unfashionably, an ’80s Prince guy, but The Gold Experience is one of my faves from the ’90s and “Endorphinmachine” is an absolute banger. Check out the thread below, and be sure to also make your voice heard on the poll I posted pitting the raw original mix against the clunktastic album version. Also, stay tuned to @PrinceThread on Twitter; the series just got started, and is going all the way through the Record Store Day release of The Gold Experience on Saturday the 18th!
Already? Are you kidding me? Even more than usual, this anniversary really snuck up on me, and, fair warning, you’ve caught me in a philosophical mood. So let’s get the cold, factual analysis out of the way first.
I’m actually pleasantly surprised to look back at my progress since our last anniversary post: a total of 15 proper song posts to last year’s 12, plus one bonus post on “Hot Summer.” Technically, that’s only about half my pure output from 2020-2021; but it was more focused on the actual “mission” of this project, which was my main goal. I’m happy to say that I finished two “chapters” this year:
I also technically doubled my podcast output from the previous year–which is, to be fair, slightly less impressive when you consider that last year I only managed one:
40 Years of The Time: A Conversation with Darling Nisi and Harold Pride
All the Critics Love U: A Conversation with Jack Riedy, Author of Electric Word Life
Okay, now here comes the philosophical part, so feel free to check out. Every year, I say that I’m no longer sweating my progress (or lack thereof), and every year I (mostly) mean it; but I’d also be lying if I said that I don’t occasionally feel like a funky Sisyphus rolling a (purple) rock up the hill. No sane person commits to writing an extensive mini-essay about every Prince song ever released (and some not released); if 2016 me had had the foresight to think through the scope beyond, “well, Chris O’Leary did Bowie in about seven years, so I should be able to do Prince in 10, right?”, we would not be having this conversation today. For better or worse, I made the decision to launch this blog with my signature cocktail of impulsiveness, all-or-nothing thinking, and complete disregard for quaint notions like “practicality” and “audience.”
Put in those terms, D / M / S / R has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. The audience I’ve built here is the largest and most dedicated of any project I’ve ever done. I’ve made friends from around the world I never would have met otherwise. I’m pretty sure Jill Jones liked one of my tweets. I’m living the dream! But as I look forward to a third year stranded in the Purple Rain era (“Baby I’m a Star” was published in July 2020!), it can be hard to remember that.
I don’t bring all this up to throw myself a pity party, or even to fish for validation, but just for the sake of transparency. I also want to share my intended path forward. The obvious answer is “pick up the pace,” and I really am trying to do just that. But I’m also highly resistant to the mindset that quality critical writing is just “content” that can be manufactured and pushed out on a rigid schedule. To set some internal goals for myself, I’ve looked ahead and determined that if I put out roughly one song post every two weeks, I’ll be finished with Purple Rain by the end of March. The specific song order is still subject to change, but as a bonus, my projected schedule also has me posting “Another Lonely Christmas” in mid-December, and you know I can’t resist a good holiday tie-in. Can I make this happen? Frankly, I have no idea! But I’m going to try.
Here’s the thing, though: I’m still spending almost three years on the Purple Rain era alone–and that’s being generous and counting Around the World in a Day as its own “era.” At this rate, Sign “O” the Times could easily be a five-year project. In my first year-in-review post five years ago(!), I jokingly projected an end date of 2036. I think it’s time to formally say that that is an optimistic estimate. And obviously, in a project of this scope, there’s always the danger that I might never finish at all; sometimes I feel a little like Sufjan Stevens, “promising” 50 concept albums about each of the U.S. states and then throwing in the towel after two.
I know a lot of people would tell me, yes, you dumbass, of course you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Just pack it in and write a fucking book. Or at least adjust your scope! Literally no one asked you to do this! And I’m not gonna lie, those thoughts have crossed my mind, many times, in the last few years. But whenever I think about changing course, it feels like a defeat. Part of what attracts me to this project is its sheer, absurd scope. Lots of folks, talented ones, have done amazing, ambitious, discography-spanning Prince projects; but no one else is arrogant or self-destructive enough to do this. If I wanted to do something reasonable and achievable, I would have shopped some sample chapters to an agent. Or learned to code.
In conclusion, here is my promise: I’m going to keep doing this until I no longer have the passion for it, whether that’s tomorrow (don’t worry, it won’t be tomorrow), in 2036, or on my deathbed. I will keep experimenting and trying to find a pace that is sustainable, but won’t lead to me spending a full decade on Emancipation. I will, at minimum, get us out of fucking Purple Rain as fast as I possibly can. And I hope that you’ll keep reading. In the weeks and months to come, I will be putting out some fun stuff, including a new, hopefully low-effort idea that should (fingers crossed) breathe some life into my Patreon offerings. Moments of self-doubt aside, I’m feeling inspired and grateful to be part of such a warm, gracious, and generous community. Thanks for reading, and see you soon!
At the beginning of 1984, Prince had a lot of proverbial balls in the air: not only his big-screen debut and accompanying album, but also spinoff projects by the Time, Apollonia 6, Jill Jones, and, soon, Sheila E. Most artists would consider this more than enough to juggle; Prince, however, was not most artists. On January 20, the day after completing the Time’s Ice Cream Castle, he was already at work on a new song for yet another protégée, Scots pop-rock belter Sheena Easton.
Can you believe that the last time we had a proper album roundup it was for 1999, way back in March of 2020? On second thought, don’t answer that. I know my snail’s pace as a writer is a recurring theme in these updates, and at this point, I’m not even apologizing for it; you know what you signed up for. Still, it feels good to have another milestone in the rearview mirror, even if there’s still an awful lot of road ahead of us.
It may or may not have been evident from my individual posts, but Ice Cream Castle is an album I’m pretty ambivalent about; it has some undeniably classic tracks, to be sure, but it’s a clear step down from the highs of What Time is It? (though, to be fair, what isn’t?). With this in mind, to the Time diehards who will likely quibble with the song rankings below, I apologize in advance:
6. “Chili Sauce” I mean, no surprises here. Contrary to whatever reputation I might have acquired, I actually have a pretty high tolerance for Morris Day’s schtick; but this track pushes that tolerance to the limits, spreading an amusing monologue from the Purple Rain movie impossibly thin over damn near six minutes. Throw in Prince’s Mickey Rooney-caliber “Chinese waiter” voice, and you’ve got a strong contender for the worst Time track ever. But you know what? I still don’t skip this song when I play the album; I guess Novi Novog’s viola solo is just that bewitching.
5. “My Drawers” Now here’s where I might catch some flack. This isn’t a bad song by any means; after the two movie numbers, it’s arguably the album’s strongest contender for a “classic” Time track. But the formula is starting to get stale, and who wants stale drawers?
4. “Ice Cream Castles” The definition of “points for effort.” I would never try to argue that “Ice Cream Castles” is a more quintessential Time song than “My Drawers”; but three albums in and with half of the original lineup scattered to the four winds, I guess I’m more intrigued by their missed potential for experimentation. Imagine a whole album of the Time trying to sound like the Fixx; it may not have been great, but it would have been a hell of a lot more interesting than “The Oak Tree”!
3. “The Bird” Speaking of “The Oak Tree,” here’s Morris and company making it preemptively obsolete, and almost blowing the Revolution off the stage to boot. As iconic as this performance is, however, the main thing it does for me is remind me what a drag it is that we never got an official Time live album. Even on their last legs as a group, with permanently crippled morale, they still tear the roof off the sucker; but there are probably 10 other songs I’d rather have heard them play while they were at the peak of their powers.
2. “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come” My obligatory dark horse pick. We all know how I feel about Time ballads not called “Gigolos Get Lonely Too,” but this one took me by surprise with the sheer pleasure of hearing Prince and Jesse groove together on the instrumental. If we didn’t also have to hear Morris simulating orgasm, this may have even ended up as my favorite cut on the album… but, well, you can’t always get what you want.
1. “Jungle Love” Look, I can’t always be an iconoclast. I’m a simple man at heart, which means that when this comes on in the grocery store, I’m doing the dance in my spirit if not in my body. The Time may have been on life support when they put out “Jungle Love”; but what better way to go out?
A little quick math, before we go: I averaged 1,703 words per song on my Ice Cream Castle posts, which means at the very least that I had more to say about this album than either What Time is It? (1,377 words average) or The Time (a mere 833 words average). Will I break this record with Pandemonium? We’ll find out, eventually; but for now, it’s back to the Purple Rain-era ephemera with a track I, at least, have been looking forward to for a while. Yes, I’m obviously talking about “Sugar Walls.” Until then, adieu!