After last week’s Prince binge on The Second Disc, it was inevitable that we’d double back to some of The Purple One’s best side projects. One of those great ensembles is The Time, arguably the funkiest band to come out of Minneapolis in the 1980s and a criminally underrated side-project to this day.
The Time was basically Prince’s rearranged version of a similarly named local funk outfit, Flyte Tyme. That band was led by vocalist Alexander O’Neal and featured among its ranks keyboardists Monte Moir and James Harris III, bassist Terry Lewis and drummer Garry “Jellybean” Johnson. Prince intended to use these five with a new guitarist, Jesse Johnson (no relation), but O’Neal asked for too much money and was replaced by a longtime friend and collaborator of Prince’s named Morris Day. Day had drummed in one of Prince’s earliest bands, Grand Central, and was leading another local band named Enterprise. While in that band, he wrote a tune for Prince called “Partyup” that was recorded for Dirty Mind in 1980.
With Day, Jesse, Jellybean, Monte Moir and the inseparable duo of Jimmy Jam (as Harris called himself) and Terry Lewis, the musical ensemble was complete – but one more member was added to the mix. Lewis’ half-brother, a concert promoter named Jerome Benton, was to become a major fixture of The Time’s live sets, hyping the crowd and developing a mock-foil persona for Morris Day’s outsized personality. At an early show, Day famously boasted of his looks and requested that someone bring him a mirror; Benton responded by tearing a bathroom mirror off the wall and bringing it to the stage.
And that music…well, that’s an odd situation. Keep on after the jump.The Time were a crack musical unit, specializing in extended jams that sounded like synth-heavy James Brown tracks. They all had chops, and continuously proved it on the road. But in the studio was another story; almost all of The Time’s discography featured the influence of producer Jamie Starr, which was another pseudonym for Prince himself. The Purple One played all the instruments and guided Morris to replicate Prince’s own guide vocals. While the albums rarely lack energy, the specter of Prince’s influence hangs over all of them.
Those first two records – The Time (1981) and What Time is It? (1982) are interesting in that they are really rawer and more embryonic than most of Prince’s catalogue. That doesn’t make them non-commercial, exactly, but none of these written works could fit on a Prince LP, and that’s what makes them really interesting. The Time’s fullest musical persona – Morris’ swagger, the squawking laugh, the callouts for solos – only starts to gel on the second album, but both of them are tight, spare endeavors that, with a little bit of remastering, will easily be the soundtrack to any catalogue fan’s house party.
And there’d be no better time to revisit The Time’s catalogue; the band have recently reconvened for a tour and forthcoming new album, and mentioned to Billboard their desire to go back to those old records for reissue purposes. Were your humble correspondent in charge of such a project, the track lists for those first two albums would look something like this.
The Time, The Time (Warner Bros. BSK 3598, 1981)
- Get It Up – 9:05
- Girl – 5:34
- After Hi-School – 4:20
- Cool – 10:06
- Oh, Baby – 4:57
- The Stick – 8:23
- Get It Up (Single Edit) – 3:01 (single A-side – Warner Bros. WBS 49774, 1981)
- Cool (Single Edit) – 3:12 (single A-side – Warner Bros. WBS 49884, 1981)
- Girl (Single Edit) – 3:40 (single A-side – Warner Bros. WBS 50029, 1981)
The Time, What Time is It? (Warner Bros. 1-23701, 1982)
- Wild and Loose – 7:32
- 777-9311 – 7:57
- Onedayi’mgonnabesomebody – 2:27
- The Walk – 9:30
- Gigolos Get Lonely Too – 4:40
- I Don’t Wanna Leave You – 6:30
- 777-9311 (Single Edit) – 3:28 (single A-side – Warner Bros. 7-29952, 1982)
- Grace – 2:37 (B-side to “777-9311” – Warner Bros. 7-29952, 1982)
- The Walk (Single Edit) – 3:24 (single A-side – Warner Bros. 7-29856, 1982)
- Gigolos Get Lonely Too (Single Edit) – 4:42 (single A-side – Warner Bros 7-29764, 1982)
Part II will pick up on Friday with the fall and rise of The Time. Stay tuned!