(Featured Image: Morris Day with unidentified vocal coach, circa 1981; photo stolen from prince.org.)

One of the most fascinating things about the 1981 debut album by the Time is the way that, if you listen to the tracks in a certain order, you can practically hear the band’s classic sound take shape in real time. As we established in the last post, however, “Oh, Baby” was not an example of that classic sound. Morris Day, the group’s drummer turned lead singer, was still tentative in the role, his voice too strained to sell a seductive ballad.

Girl,” the second and (blessedly) only other ballad on The Time, is not an improvement–if anything, it’s worse. Morris sounds whiny and adenoidal, like a teenage boy whose voice is in the middle of changing. Prince’s backing vocals–even more audible here than on the rest of the album–hit a piercing, dog-whistle tone in the chorus that cuts through the rest of the mix like a knife, and only gets more annoying the more you turn down the volume. Morris, meanwhile, just gets louder: as on “Oh, Baby,” he starts the song at a whimper and ends at a bellow. The whole thing feels like bad karaoke, an impression that is only enhanced by the bland, lifeless arrangement. It’s the weakest Prince song since “With You,” but without even that track’s competent performance.

morris-jesse
The Nerve that could have been: Morris and Jesse Johnson, circa 1982; photo stolen from prince.org.

There was at least one interesting thing about “Girl,” however, which had to do with the Time’s soon-to-be-guitarist, Jesse Johnson. A transplant from Rock Island, Illinois, Johnson showed up in Minneapolis in early 1981–mainly, he told Wax Poetics in 2012, because he didn’t have enough bus fare to make it to Los Angeles. Johnson played briefly with Enterprize while Day was still the drummer, and even asked to audition to replace André Cymone as the bassist in Prince’s group. Instead, Prince invited him to the group’s March 9 performance at Sam’s. After the show, Johnson tried to bond with Prince over what he assumed was a mutual appreciation for Jimi Hendrix. “Prince answered, ‘I never watch him,’” he recalled. “Morris stood behind him gesturing for me to shut up, but instead, I said, ‘You lying motherfucker.’ Prince stared at me for a few seconds and then fell on the floor laughing” (Gonzales 38).

Johnson’s chutzpah was enough to get him hired on the spot for Prince’s new side project–but, as Johnson tells it, that side project was not “the Time” as we know it. “At first it was going to be me and Morris calling ourselves the Nerve, and we were going to be the Black version of Hall & Oates,” he claimed (Gonzales 38). I bring all of this up because, if I were a gambling man, I would bet real money that “Girl” was originally intended for the Nerve. With its prominent harmony vocals, the song was clearly meant for two; it even sounds a bit like a lower-energy, less soulful version of Hall and Oates’ 1976 hit “She’s Gone.”

girl-1981
© Warner Bros.

Just like “Oh, Baby,” however, whatever else I might think about “Girl,” clearly somebody had to like it: it was released as the third single from The Time in April of 1982, stalling at Number 45 on the R&B charts (hey, I said some body, not many bodies). These days, it’s an eminently forgettable part of both the Time’s and Prince’s canon: once Prince had released his far-superior 1985 B-side, it wouldn’t even go down in history as the best Prince song with the title “Girl.” When I remember it at all, it’s from the summer when I bought The Time on CD and had it in my car stereo; somehow, every time I started the car, “Girl” happened to be playing, usually at the precise moment when Morris and Prince lurched into the most grating part of the chorus. The fact that I never frisbeed the CD out of my car window is a testament to my saintlike patience.

Fortunately, with two of the worst tracks from The Time out of the way, next post’s material will be much easier on the ears–and my writeup will be much easier on the song. If you’re concerned that I’m starting to go too negative, I promise, I really like the Time. I’m just pretty sure I would have fucking hated the Nerve.

“Girl (1981)” Amazon / Spotify

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Girl (1981)

  1. Thanks for this. It’s clear that I like this song a lot more than you. I have to agree though, that it is not the world’s most amazing song, as it sounds like it came straight from Eddie Murphy’s “Sexual Chocolate” band. Still, it works better for me than other The Time ballads (with the exception, of course, of If The Kid Can’t Make You Come) and even the ballads on Prince’s Prince, Dirty Mind and Controversy albums. (unless you count Annie Christian as a ballad, and yes, I just cannot like Do Me Baby, as much as I’ve tried)

    Prince was clearly learning to write genre songs and this is an example of a fairly standard song, where it seems he’s trying to emulate more than create. That doesn’t mean as much a failure of a song as it seems you think!

    The Nerve project might have been quite interesting to me, I guess. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OMG the Sexual Chocolate comparison is so on point. But thank you for your perspective because I know this song has fans–and it’s so funny that I love Prince’s ballads from Dirty Mind and Controversy but hate this. There really is no objective consensus in the Prince community, I love it.

      Like

  2. Hey everybody has to start out somewhere, even our beloved PRN did not start our fully formed. Loved the story about JJ and P, seems like P was always using his secret little internal testing mechanisms to try to figure out who was the real deal. Wonder if this process was still working for him in later years. Peace and love….and oh yeah, every guitar player (worth his or her salt) adores Hendrix lol

    Liked by 1 person

      1. But then again Hendrix did his “apprenticeship” with the Isley Brothers… this is kinda of like “chicken or egg” and it’s all interconnected! peace love…and soul

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s