As of this writing, there is no public record of the order in which the songs on the Time’s first album were recorded (fingers crossed that Duane Tudahl can scare up some details when he gets around to writing his book on the 1981-82 studio sessions). It’s generally agreed, however, that the song Prince used to get Warner Bros. interested in the project was the one that became its lead single and opening track: “Get It Up.”
As a proof of concept for the Time project, “Get It Up” makes a lot of sense. It is, first of all, familiar territory. According to Bobby Z, the song came out of Prince’s jams with his touring band, and it shows: more than any other song on The Time, “Get It Up” sounds like the missing link between Dirty Mind and Controversy (Nilsen 1999 86). The brittle New Wave funk arrangement and wheedling Oberheim synthesizer, played once again by guest soloist Matt Fink, bear Prince’s immediately identifiable fingerprints–that, and the fact that his backing vocals are clearly audible throughout the track.
What sets “Get It Up” apart from Prince’s own music at the time is, for one thing, its loose and improvisatory nature. At just over nine minutes, it’s the longest song we’ve discussed by some margin. And where Prince’s extended jams on earlier tracks like “Just as Long as We’re Together” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover” had been mostly mannered and controlled, indebted to the clean, interlocking grooves of disco, here he cuts loose with a fiery, Eddie Hazel-esque guitar solo that occupies much of the song’s second third.
“Get It Up” is also, for lack of a better word, “Blacker” than the majority of Prince’s early-’80s output. While funk had always been a key component of his sound, both For You and Prince had presented more polished, reserved takes on the genre, while Dirty Mind mixed it up more overtly with punk and New Wave. Here, for the first time on record, was Prince playing funk in the raw, “uncut” style of Parliament and Funkadelic–or, for that matter, his former onstage rival Rick James. It probably doesn’t hurt that the drums on the track were played by Morris Day, who conjures up a deeper groove on the instrument than either Prince or his regular stage drummer Bobby Z.
The Blackness of “Get It Up” was key to Prince’s strategy for the Time. Marylou Badeaux, then a marketing executive in Warner’s “Black Music” division, later recalled the project as “a way for him to continue in the rock genre and continue experimenting” with his own releases, while still being able to “give Warners the funky thing, to shut them up” (Nilsen 1999 84). The gambit worked–possibly a little too well. Upon its release as a single in June of 1981–with songwriting and co-production credited to the same mysterious “Jamie Starr” who had purportedly engineered Dirty Mind–“Get It Up” reached Number 6 on Billboard’s Hot Soul singles and Number 16 on the Disco Top 80: significantly outperforming Prince’s last single, “Dirty Mind,” and nearly matching the success of “Uptown.” Therein lies the risk of placating R&B audiences and market forces with a side project of funky, uncomplicated party music; if you aren’t careful, the funky, uncomplicated party music will start outselling your own.
But at this early juncture, at least, Prince was clearly having fun. “Get It Up” is as much a highlight of Prince’s oeuvre as the Time’s, for many reasons: the back-and-forth between his guitar and Fink’s synth; the murky funk of his and Morris’ rhythm section; the backing vocals by Sue Ann Carwell, cheekily credited as “Various Girlfriends”; the lyrics that are just raunchy enough–until, of course, the “fuck you all night” chant, handily located well after the fade on the single version. In many ways, “Get It Up” is the dance-floor groove Dirty Mind, for all its merits, was missing. Its presence is key to the impression of The Time as, in the words of biographer Dave Hill, “a record the small-town Prince would have put his own name to, if he’d decided to be ‘black’” (Hill 104).
We’ll be back next week with another highlight from The Time, which takes another step away from Prince’s established sound and toward the nascent band’s own musical identity. Until then…