July 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of the self-titled debut album by the Time; so, I decided to commemorate the occasion by bringing back Darling Nisi and Harold Pride for one of our trademark track-by-track deep dives. As always, the conversation left me thinking about the album in new ways: from KaNisa’s interpretation of it as Prince’s tribute to the funk music of his youth, to Harold’s insight on its significance to the development of electronic dance music. I remain grateful to be able to talk about music with these two brilliant people.
Last time, I promised I’d have another podcast episode ready in less than the almost two-year gap between our Prince (1979) and Dirty Mind episodes; and, technically, I did make good on that promise, since it’s “only” been 10 months since Dirty Mind last September. But for real, I’ll be back much sooner this time–like, probably around this time next month. So, if you haven’t already, subscribe to Dance / Music / Sex / Romance on your podcast provider of choice; and, if the spirit moves you, you can even leave a review! You’ll be hearing from me again very soon.
With Albert Magnoli on board as director, preparations for Prince’s film debut finally began in earnest. The artist’s new rehearsal space on Highway 7 in St. Louis Park, Minnesota became the epicenter for a “flurry of activity from morning ’til night,” recalled Brenda Bennett of side project Vanity 6 (Bellaire 2015). Along with a stage setup and recording console, “the Warehouse” also included a small wardrobe department for Vaughn Terry and Louis Wells: costume designers, best known for their work with Earth, Wind & Fire, who had joined the Prince camp during the 1999 tour and would be instrumental in crafting his iconic Purple Rain-era look.
Soon, Terry and Wells would be joined by another familiar face: tour manager Alan Leeds, whose capable handling of the inter- and intra-band tensions during the latter months of the 1999 tour led to his being rehired to help coordinate the film’s production. “I got a call from [manager Steve] Fargnoli sometime in July, offering me the gig to come to Minneapolis,” Leeds told journalist Alan Light. “And I said, ‘Well, what’s the gig? Are you going back on the road?’ ‘Not right away. We’re going to make a movie first.’ I go, ‘Okay, you need me to come there because you’re making a movie? First of all, I don’t believe you’re making a movie. Second, why do you need me to make a movie? I don’t make movies.’ He said, ‘We got three bands: we got Prince and his guys that you tour managed, we got Morris [Day] and the Time, we got Vanity 6. They’re all in the movie. Everybody’s taking acting lessons, everybody’s taking dance lessons, and everybody’s rehearsing new music. We need an off-road road manager to coordinate all this stuff.’ ‘Okay, Steven–you’re really making a movie? Get the fuck outta here!’” (Light 82-83).
Leeds wasn’t the only one surprised by the sudden increase in scale. As keyboardist Lisa Coleman recalled, “For the longest time, we would talk about [the film] like, ‘We’re gonna make the best cult movie, it’s gonna be cool, we’re just gonna put it out there and see who responds to it.’ Then Al Magnoli came and actually kind of connected with Prince, and Al was the one who was like, ‘If we’re gonna make a movie, why don’t we make it a hit movie? It seems like we’ve got all the parts here. Let’s not just make some artsy movie, just for fun. What do we have to lose?’” (Light 91).
In aiming for a “hit,” however, Prince faced the inevitable temptation to sand away some of his rougher edges. Guitarist Wendy Melvoin, who had been a fan before she joined Prince’s band, recalled being disappointed by the new material at rehearsal: “The songs weren’t as funky to me,” she told Light. “They were pop songs; they were definitely watered down.” Coleman remembered Prince himself poking fun at his newfound populist tendencies: “He would imitate an old granny, like, ‘You could make Granny dance to this one,’ but then I think he was just like, ‘We’re leaning it too far to the granny; we still need danger’” (Light 77).
“Dearly belov’ed We are gathered here today To get through this thing called life…”
Draft screenplay for Purple Rain by Albert Magnoli, 1983
William Blinn submitted two drafts of Dreams–the working title for Prince’s feature film debut–in May of 1983. There wouldn’t be a third: Blinn’s main gig as Executive Producer of the Fame TV series had been renewed, and he no longer had time to spare. Still, Prince’s management deemed the script good enough to shop: Bob Cavallo recalled thinking, “It’s a little TV, it’s a little square… but it’s a good idea, and I figured the director will rewrite it anyway” (Light 67).
But therein lay the rub: even with a screenplay in hand, Cavallo still couldn’t find a director. After a few dead ends, an industry contact recommended he see an early cut of Reckless: a steamy youth drama by first-time director James Foley about a romance between a motorcycle-riding rebel (Aidan Quinn) and a cheerleader from the other side of the tracks (Daryl Hannah). “I go to screen this movie and I’m the only one in the theater,” Cavallo recalled to journalist Alan Light. “I see it, I walk out, and a young man comes up to me and says, ‘What did you think?’ I said, ‘Well, I thought it was pretty good, and that’s really all I thought. I thought the editing was good.’ He’s like, ‘Really? Good. I did that’” (Light 67).
I think it’s obvious from the conversation that we all had a great time (and if you’re looking for an extra great time, try taking a drink every time De Angela–whose favorite Time album is famously Pandemonium–pops into the live stream to interject). It was extremely flattering to be asked to share the “stage” with folks as knowledgeable about the Time and their place in the R&B scene as Ivan and Ricky, and KaNisa did a stellar job as always moderating. Can’t wait to do this again next year!
It’s been a much shorter time than usual since the last roundup post; I won’t pat myself on the back too hard, though, because this one has been a long time coming. Fortunately, the Time’s second album happens to be my favorite of their slender catalogue by a long shot: the perfect crystallization of the project’s lean, mean brand of Minneapolis funk, before the battle of wills between Prince and his reluctant protégés scuttled the whole enterprise. Here’s how I rank the tracks:
6. “Onedayi’mgonnabesomebody” A trifle best remembered for its closing “We Don’t Like New Wave” chant (a raspberry blown in the direction of André Cymone), this nevertheless stands as proof that the Time were getting better: I’d take it over the worst of their first album any day.
5. “I Don’t Wanna Leave You” My brain tends to lump together this one and “Oneday,” its fellow side-closer and filler track. But “I Don’t Wanna Leave You” actually gets stuck in my head once in a while, so it gets the edge.
4. “The Walk” Deservedly considered a signature Time track, this still feels to me like a better comedy sketch than a song. As a comedy sketch, though, it’s the album’s–and the Time’s–peak.
3. “Wild and Loose” Yeah, the jailbait-baiting lyrics are icky, but that jackhammer of a rhythm guitar part gets me every time.
2. “777-9311” I’ll admit, this one dropped a bit in my esteem when I realized Prince had less to do with the drum programming than I originally thought. Still, props to Jellybean for actually figuring out how to play the damn thing.
1. “Gigolos Get Lonely Too” Listening to the Time’s first album, who would have guessed that the best track on their second album would be a ballad? Certainly not me, and yet here we are. If you’re not sold, check out Prince’s original vocal track on this year’s Originals compilation and become a convert.
For those keeping track, my What Time is It? posts averaged 1,377 words: about 40% more than I wrote for The Time, which is fair, because What Time is It? is just about a 40% better album.
A few quick updates before I sign off for the week: if you’re a Patreon supporter at the $5 level or above (or are willing to become one in the next couple of days), you can vote on the next song I cover. We’re still in a dead lock between “Horny Toad” and “Purple Music”–if no one breaks the tie by, say, Monday, I’ll have to break it myself. Also, as I noted yesterday, patrons can expect a review of Morris Day’s new autobiography sometime early-ish next week. And then, of course, we have The Beautiful Ones to look forward to in the next few weeks as well. There have certainly been worse times to be an amateur Prince scholar!