Well, another month has come and gone, so I’m back with another Patreon video update! August wasn’t as eventful a month for me as July, but I still have some extended thoughts on my last two posts on “Manic Monday” and “Ooo She She Wa Wa,” as well as an updated timeline for the next few months and (despite my stated intention to keep my mouth shut) some very off-the-cuff thoughts about the incoming Prince Estate. If there’s anything you’d like me to address next month, just let me know–otherwise, thanks for watching, and I’ll see you again soon!
Like its predecessor Vanity 6, the Apollonia 6 album was something of a community effort, with contributions from Prince’s touring bandmates and others from his circle. One of the most notable new additions to that circle was percussionist Sheila Escovedo, better known as “Sheila E.”
Sheila had actually been on Prince’s radar–and he on hers–for years before they ever set foot in the studio together. Her father, Mexican American percussionist Pete Escovedo, first told her about the “young kid… playing all the instruments and producing and writing by himself” in 1977, while he was recording with Santana and Prince was working on his debut album at the Record Plant in Sausalito. The following year, she told Billboard’s Jem Aswad. “I walked into a record store and saw a poster of him and was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s beautiful’” (Aswad “Sheila” 2016).
With his own album and the Time’s both more or less finished–emphasis, in the former case, on “more or less”–Prince finally turned his full attention to Apollonia 6 in early February 1984. The two songs he’d completed for the project to date, “Sex Shooter” and (soon to be reclaimed) “Take Me with U,” had focused on the group’s frontwoman and namesake, with some difficulty. Luckily, there were two other members to write for–one of whom could actually sing!
By mid-July of 1982, Prince had completed work on the album that would become 1999, with just one significant exception: “1999,” the song, was nowhere to be seen. When Prince played a rough mix of the album for his manager Bob Cavallo that month, he got a cooler reception than he anticipated.
“‘This is a great album, but we don’t have a first single,’” Cavallo recalled telling Prince. “‘We have singles that’ll be hits, but we don’t have a thematic, important thing that can be embraced by everybody, different countries, et cetera.’” In response, Prince “cursed me, and he went away–but he didn’t force me to put it out. Two weeks later, he came back and he played ‘1999,’ and that became the title of the album” (Light 43).
The Time’s What Time is It?, was released on August 25, 1982–just two weeks after the self-titled debut by Vanity 6. It easily outperformed both Vanity 6 and the Time’s own debut, and effectively tied with Prince’s Controversy: peaking at Number 26 on the Billboard 200 and Number 2 on the Black Albums (recently renamed from “Soul”) chart.
Despite their success–or, more likely, because of it–Prince was determined to keep the spinoff group in their place. Studio tech Don Batts recalled him showing up to one of the band’s rehearsals with a rough mix of the finished record: “He threw the cassette at [guitarist] Jesse [Johnson] and said, ‘Hey man, you play really good on your album,’” Batts told biographer Per Nilsen. “That kind of comment, it was like saying, ‘Hey puppets!’” (Nilsen 1999 108).
More than anything, though, Prince kept his grip on the Time’s strings by saving their best material for himself. It’s hard to hear What Time is It?’s underwhelming closing track, “I Don’t Wanna Leave You,” without imagining a stronger alternative in its place: something that would end the album with a bang, rather than a whimper. Something, that is, like “International Lover,” which Prince had originally conceived for his side project back in January before poaching it for the finale of his own forthcoming album.