Production on Purple Rain officially wrapped in late December 1983; but as the film’s chief composer as well as its star, Prince remained on call through the post-production phase. Just about a month after the end of shooting, his services were once again required: Director Albert Magnoli wanted a song for the sequence where the Kid and Apollonia ride through rural Henderson, Minnesota on his motorcycle. So, at Sunset Sound on January 22, 1984, Prince started work on “Take Me with U.”
At the beginning of 1984, Prince had a lot of proverbial balls in the air: not only his big-screen debut and accompanying album, but also spinoff projects by the Time, Apollonia 6, Jill Jones, and, soon, Sheila E. Most artists would consider this more than enough to juggle; Prince, however, was not most artists. On January 20, the day after completing the Time’s Ice Cream Castle, he was already at work on a new song for yet another protégée, Scots pop-rock belter Sheena Easton.
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!
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 2014 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’” (Light 2014 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 2014 77).
It’s a well-known fact that when Prince gave songs to other artists, he would cut his own recordings with guide vocals–not “demos” in the traditional sense so much as complete alternate takes, with production values in many cases equal to the versions that saw release. Almost as well-known, at least among bootleg enthusiasts, is the fact that Prince’s versions of these songs tended to be better than the “covers.” That makes the latest posthumous release by Warner Bros. Records and the Prince Estate, Originals, something of a no-brainer: here are 15 songs we already know and (mostly) love, preserved as they might have been had Prince decided to keep them for himself.