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Podcast The Time, 1981

Podcast: 40 Years of The Time – A Conversation with Darling Nisi and Harold Pride

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.

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Purple Rain, 1984

Darling Nikki

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).

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Ephemera, 1983

Vibrator

After returning to Minnesota from Los Angeles at the end of April 1983, Prince continued work on a prospective second album for Vanity 6. On Saturday, April 30, he cut the initial basic tracks for “Sex Shooter” and “Promise to be True,” both of which would be reworked extensively before eventually seeing release (or, in the later case, not seeing it). The following day, he revisited “No Call U”–a holdover from the 1999 sessions of the previous year–and recorded a new song called “Moral Majority.”

The latter, named after the notorious Christian Right movement led by televangelist Jerry Falwell, is described by sessionographer Duane Tudahl as “a synth-based track about nonconformity with lines like[,] ‘don’t want to be like anyone, I want them all to stare.’” While not in circulation, it reportedly features a gang vocal recorded by Vanity, Brenda Bennett, Susan Moonsie, manager Jamie Shoop, and Brenda’s husband Roy, while crammed into the bathroom of Prince’s Chanhassen home. “I remember… sitting on the handle of the toilet, right in the middle of the session,” Roy recalled to Tudahl. “It gave away where we were” (Tudahl 2018 81).

Later that month, Prince would record two other potential Vanity 6 tracks containing a similar cocktail of topical vulgarity. “G-Spot,” later recorded by backing singer Jill Jones for her 1987 solo album, was inspired by the so-called “Gräfenberg spot”: a (likely apocryphal) erogenous zone of the vagina that had captured the popular imagination through the 1982 bestseller The G Spot and Other Recent Discoveries About Human Sexuality. Meanwhile, “Vibrator” commemorated a popular sex toy during a watershed year in its own journey to the American mainstream.

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Ice Cream Castle, 1984

Chili Sauce

It’s tempting to assume that the filler tracks Prince penned for the Time–of which there was at least one on every album–were dashed off quickly, without the level of care and attention he reserved for his own music. But, while that may have been the case sometimes (looking at you, clumsy edit at the end of “I Don’t Wanna Leave You”), it wasn’t always. See, for example, “Chili Sauce”: my personal vote for the most egregious filler in the group’s discography, and yet also the subject of a staggering five nights of sessions at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles.

According to Duane Tudahl’s essential studio chronicle, Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984, Prince started work on the unnamed instrumental that would become “Chili Sauce” at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 14, 1983, after completing a mix for the ill-fated “My Summertime Thang.” He began with a sleek, sinuous Linn LM-1 pattern, reminiscent of the one he’d used on “Electric Intercourse” in January–or, for that matter, the one he would later use on “The Beautiful Ones” in September. From there, he layered on more tracks, before ultimately deciding that the song needed live strings–a sound that had been absent from his discography since “Baby” on his 1978 debut album.

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Ephemera, 1983

Katrina’s Paper Dolls

A little over a year after their first meeting in January 1982, Prince and Denise Matthews (better known as Vanity) had cultivated an image as pop music’s sexiest power couple: the royal bride and groom of his imminent purple reign. Early in 1983, the pair posed for fashion photographer Richard Avedon in a shot that would make the cover of Rolling Stone that April. Looking like mirror reflections–or incestuous twins–they fixed the camera with identical, kohl-blackened stares: she embracing him from behind, two fingers tucked suggestively down the front of his jeans. In the coming months, Prince would plan to take their relationship to an even larger venue, slating Vanity to play the leading lady in his forthcoming motion picture debut.

But there was trouble in paradise. The strong-willed couple clashed frequently–not least because Prince insisted on seeing other women at the same time as Matthews, including her Vanity 6 bandmate Susan Moonsie and his backing singer Jill Jones. A song inspired by their relationship from around this time, “Wonderful Ass,” pokes fun at the disconnect between their undeniable sexual chemistry and their equally undeniable emotional incompatibility: “My sensibilities you aggravate,” Prince croons, but “you got a wonderful ass.” Another, “Strange Relationship,” opts for a more trenchant self-critique: “Baby, I Just Can’t Stand 2 See U Happy / More Than That[,] I Hate 2 See U Sad.”

Jones, who shared a dressing room with Vanity 6 during the 1999 tour, recalled Prince giving a cassette tape with both songs on it to Matthews: “She’d play it before the show while me, Susan, and all of us [were] getting dressed,” she told sessionographer Duane Tudahl. “It wasn’t discreet.” Prince and Vanity, she added, actually did have a “Strange Relationship”: “It was really true that he didn’t want to see her happy and he didn’t want to see her sad. Because she started dating other people… and he got pissed. She was like, ‘I’m moving away from him. Fuck him. I’m really famous. People love me.’ So she was getting something and that was the only thing he had to yank her back in” (Tudahl 2018 40).