Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we focus on notable albums and the reissues they could someday see. On the 30th anniversary of the first album by one of Prince’s most notable associated acts, we picture a release that’s never happened: a career-spanning compilation for The Time.
Thirty years ago, a major musical milestone occurred: Prince started transforming from a freaky, funk-rock gem of the Minneapolis music scene into an all-consuming musical entity. The conduit through which Prince started splitting his atoms was The Time, a solid, seven-piece funk outfit whose self-titled debut album, produced by Prince, was released on this day in 1981.
Prince has had plenty of run-ins with protegees and other artists who’ve used his talents for hit-making gold. But the first and arguably best was The Time. While they may have sounded like Prince’s demos on record, the group made their work their own, with a trademark swagger, idiosyncratic style and rock-solid live performances that resonated far beyond the group’s appearance in Purple Rain.
Adjust your watches (yeeeeeessss!) and meet us at the jump in 16 for a brief history of The Time, and a discussion of a musical product that’s long eluded them: a greatest hits package.
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.
The Time were a crack musical unit, specializing in extended jams that sounded like synth-heavy James Brown tracks. (If Prince invented the Minneapolis sound, it’s arguable that The Time crystallized it into what it’s seen as today.) 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 still hold up as the soundtrack to any music geek’s house party.
The disparity between The Time’s albums and their live performances was growing, though, as Prince gained more exposure outside the black music scene. The Time were a much-anticipated feature of Prince’s Triple Threat Tour in 1983 (at some shows, their sets were reportedly better received than Prince’s), but backstage they felt they weren’t getting the credit they deserved, not only for their own set, but playing backup for fellow support act/protegees Vanity 6 from behind a curtain.
Things got especially bad when keyboardist and bassist Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were fired for missing a gig after producing for some other artists. Fellow keyboardist Monte Moir left to join the duo’s fledgling Flyte Tyme Productions, and The Time were now reinforced by a handful of glorified session players (including St. Paul Peterson, who’d later lead The Family under Prince’s guidance).
What happened next was pretty strange: The Time were given a plum position as the rival band in Prince’s Purple Rain project. They fulfilled the role admirably thanks to a pair of hit singles, “Jungle Love” and “The Bird.” But by the time the resultant album, 1984′s Ice Cream Castle, was released, the band was all but broken up. Day and guitarist Jesse Johnson pursued solo careers, Jerome Benton and Peterson would continue in Prince’s camp, and Jam and Lewis would create a production empire build off their killer, neo-Prince-esque production for Janet Jackson, the latest breakout star in Michael’s family.
By the end of the ’80s, Prince was looking to resurrect The Time again, recruiting Morris and Jerome for a new LP to be titled Corporate World. Warner Bros. stepped in and requested that the entire ensemble reunite, which they did. Unfortunately, that reunion involved featured roles in the disastrous Graffiti Bridge, which featured some Corporate World tracks. But the band cut another LP, Pandemonium, in 1990 – and that yielded them their biggest hit, the funk-by-way-of-New-Jack “Jerk Out.” The original group disbanded shortly after a promotional tour, with Day, Benton, and a rotating cast of originals and replacements serving as “Morris Day and The Time.” (Morris’ 2004 effort, It’s About Time, featured a handful of live cuts with said ensemble, which also notably cameoed in the film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.)
Their story isn’t over, though; the original members came back yet again to play with Rihanna at the Grammy Awards in 2008, and have sporadically played since. With any luck, fans will finally get to hear a new album by the group, which was purportedly forthcoming by the end of 2010.
Last year, after a fruitful week of Prince features, we did a two-part Reissue Theory devoted to The Time, imagining a complete remastering of all four of their albums with bonus tracks (and in the case of Pandemonium, the lost Corporate World sessions getting an official release). What we did not mention was, in all the history of the band, there’s never been a single disc compilation to sum up the group, from “Get It Up” to “Jungle Love” to “Jerk Out.” Doing so could certainly clear the vaults of at least all the band’s single mixes and edits, not to mention the two non-LP B-sides released in the band’s lifetime (and perhaps a track or two from Corporate World thrown in as a teaser for more catalogue action).
Wouldn’t now seem like a good time to add this to the incredibly small pile of Prince-related catalogue material?
All-Time Greatest (Warner Bros./Rhino)
- Get It Up (Single Edit) – 3:01
- Cool (Single Edit) – 3:12
- Girl (Single Edit) – 3:40
- 777-9311 (Single Edit) – 3:28
- Grace – 2:37
- The Walk (Single Edit) – 3:24
- Gigolos Get Lonely Too (Single Edit) – 4:42
- Ice Cream Castles (Single Edit) – 3:37
- Tricky – 3:12
- Jungle Love (Single Edit) – 3:24
- The Bird (Single Edit) – 3:41
- Jerk Out (Edit) – 3:54
- Chocolate (7″ Remix) – 4:23
- Murph Drag
Original versions of Tracks 1-3 from The Time (Warner Bros., 1981)
- Track 1 was single A-side – Warner Bros. WBS 49774, 1981
- Track 2 was single A-side – Warner Bros. WBS 49884, 1981
- Track 3 was single A-side – Warner Bros. WBS 50029, 1981
Original versions of Tracks 4 and 6-7 from What Time is It? (Warner Bros., 1982)
- Track 4 was single A-side – Warner Bros. 7-29952, 1982
- Track 6 was single A-side – Warner Bros. 7-29856, 1982
- Track 7 was single A-side – Warner Bros 7-29764, 1982
Track 5 was the B-side to “777-9311″ – Warner Bros. 7-29952, 1982
Original versions of Tracks 8 and 10-11 from Ice Cream Castle (Warner Bros., 1984)
- Track 8 was single A-side – Warner Bros. 7-29247, 1984
- Track 10 was single A-side – Warner Bros. 7-29181, 1984
- Track 11 was single A-side – Warner Bros. 7-29094, 1984
Track 9 was the B-side to “Ice Cream Castles” – Warner Bros. 7-29247, 1984
Original versions of Tracks 12-13 from Pandemonium (Paisley Park, 1990)
- Track 12 was single A-side – Paisley Park 7-19750, 1990
- Track 13 was single A-side – Paisley Park 7-19759, 1990
Track 14 recorded in 1988, previously unreleased