The widening gulf between Prince and Morris Day only continued to grow during shooting for Purple Rain–a kind of accidental method acting technique for two old friends cast as bitter rivals. “Prince and I didn’t have to re-create the competitive fire between us,” Day writes in his 2019 memoir. “It was boiling hot. Even when he saw that he needed my humor for the film to work, he stayed on my ass for being a minute late. In one instance when I came on set behind schedule he was beside himself. He actually shoved me. I was about to lay him out when [Time drummer] Jellybean [Johnson] grabbed me just as [bodyguard] Big Chick [Huntsberry] grabbed Prince. The last thing this picture needed was two stars with black eyes” (Day 88).
While it may sound grandiose for Day to describe himself and Prince as equal “stars” of the film, he kind of has a point. Upon Purple Rain’s release in mid-1984, the critical buzz was that Day had stolen the show: The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael, for example, touted him as a “full-fledged young comedian” who “suggests a Richard Pryor without the genius and the complications” (Kael 1984). As a matter of fact, he did have at least some of the complications: In his memoir, Day credits a non-negligible part of his performance to his mounting cocaine addiction. “I’m not advocating drug use for singers or actors,” he writes. “That shit will kill you–and it damn near killed me. But I do have to report that in that dead of winter in 1983, I used my altered state to slip into a role that was both me and not me” (Day 88).
If Day’s “altered state” had a positive effect on his acting, however, it was decidedly less of a boon for his productivity in the studio. Prince reconvened the Time–or what was left of it–in January of 1984 to finish the band’s third album at Sunset Sound. According to Bill Jackson, the assistant engineer on the sessions, the frontman was present for the songwriting process, but only in the most literal sense of the word. For the song that became “My Drawers,” Jackson told sessionographer Duane Tudahl, Prince sent Morris to the control room with a notepad to write some lyrics while he worked on overdubs. “We’d be working for about fifteen or twenty minutes and then we’d stop the tape and Prince would say, ‘Morris, what ya got there?’ and there wouldn’t be anything on the pad,” he recalled. “Work a little bit more… and he’d look down there and say, ‘Morris, what ya got? Got anything?’ Nothing. And this went on for about an hour and a half. Maybe two hours. He didn’t write a word. And Prince was putting the rest of the song together” (Tudahl 2018 227).
Luckily, at this point Prince was such an old hand at writing for the Time that he could effectively do it in his sleep. As Jackson tells the story, “he went over there and got the pen and pad out of Morris’s hand and he sat over on the couch and quickly just wrote down the lyrics like he was writing down a grocery list, and about fifteen minutes later he was done” (Tudahl 2018 227). It would be unfair (if not entirely inaccurate) to say that his flippant attitude shows: “My Drawers” is an absolute blast of a funk-rock jam, but its lyrics ain’t exactly Joni Mitchell. Rather, they’re a gloss of the “Morris Day” character’s established pet themes: his “clout” in the club and the bedroom, and his mastery as “number-one body-rocker” of a woman who will “make your insides shout.” If the whole thing smacks of sexism–staking a claim on a human being, while reducing her to her undergarments–well, at least he isn’t throwing the poor lady in a dumpster (this time).
Anyway, who listens to “My Drawers” for the lyrics? The song is a Minneapolis Sound confection par excellence, with a lilting lead synth line and a smoking-hot guitar solo that, for once, may have been actually played by the Time’s Jesse Johnson–though, for the record, Jackson remembered Prince playing it on his Hohner “Madcat” Telecaster, with a “rack of Boss pedals… to get that squeezey-swirly sound” (Tudahl 2018 227). Another nice touch: the call-and-response gang vocals with a multi-tracked Jill Jones, who helps dilute the testosterone overload of the rest of the track. Jones recalled recording her vocals while standing around the mic with Day, changing her voice on each track “to make it sound like [I was] all different people” (229).
Had the Time deigned to stay together, it isn’t hard to imagine “My Drawers” being a sizable R&B hit for them in 1984 or 1985; certainly, it sounds more like the crop of jheri-curled Prince pretenders who flooded the airwaves during the Purple Rain era than most actual Prince songs. As it is, however, it was merely an unusually catchy album track, and later, the B-side for the single release of “The Bird.” More than half a year before Morris Day’s big-screen debut, his band was already on life support; and he and his co-star only had one more chance to resuscitate.
(A quick note on streaming links, for those who care: You may notice that I’m not linking to Spotify in this post. This is a conscious decision, similar to my decision a year or so ago to no longer use Amazon links, which I made based on a growing sense of unease with Spotify’s business practices. One could argue–and not even be wrong–that TIDAL, which I do still link to, isn’t much better; indeed, one could argue with moral authority that any form of participation in a capitalist system is inherently compromised. I should also note that I don’t expect my dinky little blog’s “boycott” of Spotify to amount to a proverbial hill of beans in the scheme of things. I should also also note that I still have a personal Spotify account, and if you do as well, I obviously don’t think any less of you as a person. This is just my mostly symbolic attempt to do what feels right to me at this moment with the humble platform I have. And, while I’ve never been one to model my decisions after Prince’s, I do like the fact that the two platforms I’m currently using to link his music are ones which we know he supported in his lifetime. If you’re all-in on Spotify and this is an inconvenience to you, my sincere apologies. I hope that we can continue to connect on what’s important–the music–regardless of the platform we use to listen to it.)
Electric Fetus / TIDAL