(Featured Image: The Time’s track list, a scant six songs of disparate provenance; © Warner Bros.)
In the spring of 1981, with Morris Day as lead singer and the majority of Flyte Tyme in tow, work on the album that would become the Time’s self-titled debut began in earnest. The sessions at Prince’s Kiowa Trail home studio were “quick and dirty,” according to engineer Don Batts. “The whole album went fast and it was produced at a minimal cost,” he told the fanzine Uptown. “I even remember using used tape” (Nilsen 1999 85).
Some of the quickness and dirtiness of The Time is evident in its track list, a scant six songs of disparate provenance. André Cymone had been involved early in the process: “I was trying to put some other groups together,” he said to Uptown. “Just trying to make some money… I saw [Prince] turning down productions, offers from Diana Ross and some other people, this is like good money, and I’m going, ‘Wait a minute, man. Let’s just do some of this. Let’s put together a group’” (Nilsen 1999 84). As we’ve seen, however, relations between Prince and André were quickly deteriorating, and this project was no exception. “All of a sudden, Prince decided he wanted everything his way,” Cymone recalled. “All the songs would go to his publishing company, and he wanted this and that. I was sick of doing everything that way. He didn’t want my name to be mentioned, he wanted me to use a fictitious name. I wanted to get credit for what I was doing” (85).
In Cymone’s absence, Prince pulled material from his own growing backlog of songs: including “Oh, Baby,” a ballad originally recorded during the sessions for his second album in 1979. Prince’s version still hasn’t seen the light of day, but considering that it didn’t make the cut even against a B-tier ballad like “With You,” it’s unlikely that we were missing much. In the hands of “the Time”–at this point just Morris on drums and vocals, Prince on everything else–“Oh, Baby” is merely pleasant: a muted, languorous slow jam, a little like “When We’re Dancing Close and Slow,” except without that song’s genuinely erotic ache.
Morris does a serviceable job singing karaoke over Prince’s guide vocals–which are, as on the rest of The Time, clearly audible–and the spoken-word sections offer a glimpse of his emerging persona’s cartoon-pimp rap. The main thing Day brings to the table, however, is a grating, cajoling tone to his seduction. It’s hard to imagine Prince, even in 1979, singing lyrics like “You ain’t got nowhere to go / You might as well stop being so cool”–mainly because it’s hard to imagine him having to be this pushy in the bedroom. As for Morris, by minute four of his strained pleas for the woman to “break down,” one begins to suspect she’ll throw him some pussy just for a moment’s peace.
Still, somebody must have liked “Oh, Baby,” because it was released again a full three years later, as the B-side to the Time’s 1984 hit “Jungle Love.” It was, if anything, even more underwhelming in this context. Juxtaposed against one of the group’s trademark songs, with Morris at peak outrageousness and actual Time guitarist Jesse Johnson playing on the track, “Oh, Baby” sounds like a faint sketch for a musical concept that hadn’t yet found its footing–exactly what it was, in other words. But for all that, it still isn’t the worst ballad on the album. That dubious honor goes to the song we’ll discuss next week.