The sole ballad recorded for the Time’s third album, “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come” is also a rare example of a “proper” song seemingly inspired by a comedic sketch, rather than the other way around. According to sessionographer Duane Tudahl, basic tracking for “Kid” (then titled “If the Boy Can’t Make You Come”) began on Saturday, April 16, 1983: two days into the laborious Sunset Sound sessions that also produced the extended skit “Chili Sauce.” That track featured Time frontman Morris Day subjecting his date to a series of 17 propositions, the last and most successful of which was, “Baby, if the kid can’t make you come, nobody can.” “Kid,” then, picks up where “Chili Sauce” left off–right down to the return appearance of actress Sharon Hughes as the aforementioned date, who finally gets to show off the full extent of her breathy moaning chops here.
Indeed, “Chili Sauce” and “Kid” may have been originally conceived as part of a larger story. As Tudahl notes, the bulk of both songs’ dialogue was recorded in a 17-hour session that began at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 17, and ended at 10:00 the following morning; this same session also included dialogue for “My Summertime Thang” and “Chocolate,” with Prince reprising his “Chili Sauce” role as a rude waiter/maître d’. Had the latter two made the cut, these four tracks could have comprised a suite filling up a full vinyl side of the final album; in the end, though, “Chili Sauce” would close Side One, with “Kid” picking up on the “Other Side” after a brief intermission in the form of “Jungle Love.”
Like “Chili Sauce,” the story ain’t exactly Shakespeare. When we rejoin our romantic leads, the action has moved from the restaurant back to Day’s “crib” (we never do find out if he was telling the truth about the brass waterbed, but Hughes doesn’t seem to have any complaints). Over a suitably seductive backdrop of plucked bass strings and tickled electric piano keys, he implores her to “come a little closer,” and proceeds to croon: “Darlin’, I want you so bad, I can almost taste the smell of your skin / And honey, I’d be so sad, if you didn’t break down and let me in.”
On its surface, “Kid” is a bog-standard slow jam–which still puts it firmly at second place among Time ballads, right behind “Gigolos Get Lonely Too.” But where the song shines is in the intricate details of the performance, including some of the finest interplay captured on record between Prince and his regular sparring partner, guitarist Jesse Johnson. The two axemen trade licks–Prince on bass, Johnson on rhythm guitar–that build gradually to match the heat of Day’s and Hughes’ simulated passion. Eventually, another layer of Johnson’s guitar comes in with a bluesy, slow-burning solo, lending the song a Bobby Womack-esque Southern soul feel. Not to be outdone, Prince also takes a solo, his thumping bass adding funk and friction to the track’s (literal) climax.
If you can track it down, the unedited nine-minute version of “Kid” is recommended listening: not only because it avoids the awkward crossfades that plague the album cut (Prince having apparently decided once again that his side project didn’t warrant the talents of Dave the Blade), but also because the chemistry between Johnson and Prince is just that good. In fact, “Kid” afforded even more opportunities for the pair to gel than one might expect. As Johnson shared on his Facebook page in 2014, he’s also the one playing drums on the track: “Morris[,] who is a very, very gifted drummer… sat down to play… but he kept speeding up,” he wrote. Then, “Prince tried it, [and] he kept speeding up too!” Their solution to this problem was a little on the eccentric side: Prince and Johnson (both “real amateurs… when it came to drinking”) had a glass of wine each to loosen up, and then the latter got behind the drums (Johnson March 21).
This “brilliant idea” (Johnson’s words, not mine) didn’t end up solving much of anything: “Kid” still speeds up significantly, a flaw made more noticeable by the aforementioned crossfades on the album edit. For my money, though, such a “flaw” only adds to the track’s verisimilitude, dramatizing as it does the organic (/orgasmic) rhythms of a sexual encounter from prelude to completion. The accelerating tempo, gradually intensifying arrangement, and insistent hook–complete with breathy, uncredited backing vocals by Jill Jones–all contribute to the song’s unmistakably erotic pull.
So sumptuous is “Kid” on a purely musical level that its more front-and-center narrative elements feel crass and unsophisticated by comparison. Day’s antics with Hughes are, at best, mildly amusing. He coaxes her out of her blouse and plays a game of “this little hook” with her bra; he asks her what time it is and gets the groan-inducing response of “titty time”; he says “what’s my name” mid-coitus and is backed into a corner when she turns the tables on him (“It’s ‘Baby,’ ain’t it?”). We even, uh, “get” to find out what the “Morris Day” character sounds like when he ejaculates (the answer: distressingly similar to the squawking laugh he debuted on “The Walk”). A few of these lines, like the dialogue from “Chili Sauce,” show up in the draft screenplay for Purple Rain: including one, unintentionally hilarious instance where writer/director Albert Magnoli mistranscribes “titty time” as “tea time.” It’s probably for the best, however, that Magnoli didn’t even attempt to dramatize the skit’s weirdest moment, in which Day has Hughes recite the pledge of allegiance while he brings her to orgasm.
Still, the awkwardness of “Kid”’s relationship with Purple Rain lives on. By the time the film made it from page to screen, Prince’s character would famously be renamed “the Kid”: a real-life nickname bestowed on him by either former guitarist Dez Dickerson or managers Cavallo, Ruffalo, and Fargnoli, depending on whom one asks. This change, combined with Ice Cream Castle’s status as a quasi-tie-in to the movie, has left generations of listeners quite reasonably wondering why Day spends seven and a half minutes extolling the sexual prowess of his onscreen rival. He isn’t, of course; use of “the Kid” as a slangy first-person pronoun predates Purple Rain. But, as Tudahl suggests, Prince wasn’t above taking advantage of the confusion as a practical joke.
Whether intended as such or not, “Kid” was yet another means for Prince to flex his authority over his protégés. As Day reflected in his recent memoir, the credits for Ice Cream Castle “read ‘produced by “Morris Day and the Starr [Company],” and although Morris Day had lots of input, wrote a lot of the songs, and sang all the leads, the Starr sat in the driver’s seat” (Day 94). In the case of “Kid,” the titular character “was obviously the Starr, who was obviously Prince boasting about his orgasm-producing expertise. I stood in as his alter ego, a role I both relished and resented” (95).
It wasn’t a role he would be playing for much longer–at least, not on Prince’s terms. On April 19, 1983–the day before completing final overdubs on “Kid”–Prince dismissed keyboard player Jimmy Jam and bassist Terry Lewis from the Time. By the release of Ice Cream Castle in July 1984, the group would effectively cease to exist; a year later, Day would seize control of the formula and persona Prince had created for him and ride them back into the charts as a solo artist. The Kid, “the Starr,” whatever you wanted to call him, could make a lot of people do a lot of things; but even as he approached the peak of his commercial powers, the limitations of his power over others were already becoming evident.
(Since this is the second post in a row where I’ve used one of his images, I wanted to shout out the late Charles Chamblis, whose photography documenting Black life in the Twin Cities during the 1970s and ’80s has been a constant source of visual inspiration for this blog. You can find–and purchase!–this post’s featured image, along with previous featured images from my posts on “D.M.S.R.” and “Chili Sauce,” at the Minnesota Historical Society website.)