Hi, everyone! As promised/threatened a few times recently, I’ve been doing some thinking about how to improve my Patreon content, and this is my first solution: A monthly video update where I can communicate with you all a little more informally than through the standard blog posts and podcasts. As I say in the video, this is an experiment, and I’m open to your feedback. If you don’t care for it, I’m happy to go back to the drawing board; but if you do like this, I’ll plan on it becoming a regular thing. Please let me know what you think–and, if you’re a patron, watch out for an audio version on the private podcast feed!
Can you believe that the last time we had a proper album roundup it was for 1999, way back in March of 2020? On second thought, don’t answer that. I know my snail’s pace as a writer is a recurring theme in these updates, and at this point, I’m not even apologizing for it; you know what you signed up for. Still, it feels good to have another milestone in the rearview mirror, even if there’s still an awful lot of road ahead of us.
It may or may not have been evident from my individual posts, but Ice Cream Castle is an album I’m pretty ambivalent about; it has some undeniably classic tracks, to be sure, but it’s a clear step down from the highs of What Time is It? (though, to be fair, what isn’t?). With this in mind, to the Time diehards who will likely quibble with the song rankings below, I apologize in advance:
6. “Chili Sauce” I mean, no surprises here. Contrary to whatever reputation I might have acquired, I actually have a pretty high tolerance for Morris Day’s schtick; but this track pushes that tolerance to the limits, spreading an amusing monologue from the Purple Rain movie impossibly thin over damn near six minutes. Throw in Prince’s Mickey Rooney-caliber “Chinese waiter” voice, and you’ve got a strong contender for the worst Time track ever. But you know what? I still don’t skip this song when I play the album; I guess Novi Novog’s viola solo is just that bewitching.
5. “My Drawers” Now here’s where I might catch some flack. This isn’t a bad song by any means; after the two movie numbers, it’s arguably the album’s strongest contender for a “classic” Time track. But the formula is starting to get stale, and who wants stale drawers?
4. “Ice Cream Castles” The definition of “points for effort.” I would never try to argue that “Ice Cream Castles” is a more quintessential Time song than “My Drawers”; but three albums in and with half of the original lineup scattered to the four winds, I guess I’m more intrigued by their missed potential for experimentation. Imagine a whole album of the Time trying to sound like the Fixx; it may not have been great, but it would have been a hell of a lot more interesting than “The Oak Tree”!
3. “The Bird” Speaking of “The Oak Tree,” here’s Morris and company making it preemptively obsolete, and almost blowing the Revolution off the stage to boot. As iconic as this performance is, however, the main thing it does for me is remind me what a drag it is that we never got an official Time live album. Even on their last legs as a group, with permanently crippled morale, they still tear the roof off the sucker; but there are probably 10 other songs I’d rather have heard them play while they were at the peak of their powers.
2. “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come” My obligatory dark horse pick. We all know how I feel about Time ballads not called “Gigolos Get Lonely Too,” but this one took me by surprise with the sheer pleasure of hearing Prince and Jesse groove together on the instrumental. If we didn’t also have to hear Morris simulating orgasm, this may have even ended up as my favorite cut on the album… but, well, you can’t always get what you want.
1. “Jungle Love” Look, I can’t always be an iconoclast. I’m a simple man at heart, which means that when this comes on in the grocery store, I’m doing the dance in my spirit if not in my body. The Time may have been on life support when they put out “Jungle Love”; but what better way to go out?
A little quick math, before we go: I averaged 1,703 words per song on my Ice Cream Castle posts, which means at the very least that I had more to say about this album than either What Time is It? (1,377 words average) or The Time (a mere 833 words average). Will I break this record with Pandemonium? We’ll find out, eventually; but for now, it’s back to the Purple Rain-era ephemera with a track I, at least, have been looking forward to for a while. Yes, I’m obviously talking about “Sugar Walls.” Until then, adieu!
After the completion of “My Drawers” on January 12, 1984, the Time had five new songs in the can–enough to form the core of their third album. But they were still missing the pièce de résistance. For this, Prince turned once again to a half-finished song by Jesse Johnson: a funky jam called “Old and Ignant” which the guitarist had demoed with singer Morris Day. “Prince kept telling me[,] ‘It’s so cool how you played the bass on the AND instead of the 1,’” Johnson shared on Facebook in 2014. “[G]reat compliment[,] even though at that time I didn’t know what he was talking about” (Johnson March 21).
Principal photography for Purple Rain was scheduled to begin on November 1, 1983, but it actually got started a day early: To take advantage of the beautiful fall weather in Minneapolis, Prince’s manager-turned-producer Bob Cavallo rented a helicopter for aerial shots of the star and his leading lady riding his soon-to-be-iconic 1981 Honda CM400A Hondamatic. “We spent the day shooting the shit out of the motorcycle,” director Albert Magnoli recalled (Light 2014 113). Everything was going so smoothly, in fact, that one could hardly tell the original lead actress had left the production in the lurch.
As we’ve seen, relations between Prince and Vanity had been in choppy waters since at least the 1999 tour. By the time Magnoli met the aspiring actress in early August, “It was obvious there was a strain, that her agent was putting doubt in her,” the director observed. “She’s looking at the next door, but she’s not sure she wants to go through” (Light 2014 106). Vanity remained attached to the project for at least the rest of the month; she’s in Magnoli’s draft screenplay, dated August 29. But sometime in September, the other shoe finally dropped: Martin Scorsese had approached her with an offer to play Mary Magdalene in his adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ. Magnoli was upfront with her: “‘This is my first picture. It’s a musical. Martin Scorsese? Okay, I don’t want to steer you wrong here, but gee whiz, that’s a great opportunity,’” he recounted. Less than two days later, “she was out” (Tudahl 2018 131).
In the months since Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were dismissed from the Time, the group’s morale had reached an all-time low. Singer Morris Day, in particular, was all but fully checked out: “When we started switching musicians,” he later recalled, “it wasn’t my favorite band anymore” (Tudahl 2018 72). Only the promise of a costarring role in Prince’s upcoming film kept him from leaving the camp entirely–that and, he admits in his 2019 memoir, a burgeoning cocaine habit (Day 83).
The powder keg was primed in the summer of 1983, when Day and the rest of the movie’s principal cast were enrolled in mandatory acting lessons with coach Don Amendolia. “He had these exercises,” Day writes. “Pretend you’re a weeping willow tree. Pretend you’re a butterfly lost in the forest. Well, I didn’t wanna be no weeping willow tree. I didn’t wanna be no butterfly lost in the forest. I thought that was some dumb shit and said so.” Eventually, Day’s “cutting up” got back to Prince, who “said this was some serious business and I better not fuck it up or I’d be out on my ass… He’d banish me from his empire” (Day 86).