Most stories about Prince’s recording process have the same basic structure: A musical genius walks into the studio with an idea, works on it for the next 12-18 hours, then walks out with a finished track–which, more often than not, turns out to be a masterpiece. But they can’t all be winners, even for Prince. Sometimes, when “a song started to come together and he was getting more ideas, it was like his mood would be a little lighter, because he was happy with it,” longtime Sunset Sound engineer Peggy McCreary told sessionographer Duane Tudahl. But other times, “if it just wasn’t inspiring him enough to go further–if it didn’t move him–he would stop” (Tudahl 2019 28).
Last Friday, July 10, was the 30th anniversary of the Time’s fourth and (technically) final album, Pandemonium; so, to mark the occasion, the fantastic De Angela Duff has shared the Pandemonium roundtable from last month’s DM40GB30 symposium with myself, Darling Nisi, and Ivan Orr and Ricky Wyatt of the Grown Folks Music podcast.
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!
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.
The first four tracks recorded for the Time’s second album were all good to great: “The Walk,” “Gigolos Get Lonely Too,” “Wild and Loose,” and “777-9311,” each a highlight of the group’s overall catalogue. So, to truly live up to the legacy of their 1981 debut, they were long overdue for some filler. Recorded around the same time as “777-9311” in late Spring 1982, “Onedayi’mgonnabesomebody” was exactly that: a slight, palate-cleansing trifle to fill out the first side of the album.
But it isn’t just its throwaway nature that makes this track feel like a callback to the early days of the Time. It’s also the sound: retro rock’n’roll with a dash of New Wave kitsch, not dissimilar from one of Prince’s formative influences for the group, the BusBoys–and, of course, more than a little reminiscent of his own contemporary material. In particular, “Oneday”’s squiggly main synth line recalls “Horny Toad”–another song recorded around the same time and later released as the B-side for “Delirious”–with all of the rough edges and, frankly, most of the appeal buffed away.