All of you Prince fan’s out there should remember the following introduction to their new song “The Bird” that lead singer Morris Day of The Kid’s rivals The Time in the classic movie Purple Rain:
“Hold on, hold on, why y’all beatin’ on shit, what’s that mean?
Hold up, do y’all wanna learn a new dance?
Are you qualified to learn one? That’s what I thought
Who can dance out there? Okay, we gonna try a new dance
And if I don’t see everybody doin’ it, I don’t wanna see you no more
Jellybean, are we ready? y’all better do this one
What time is it? Alright, y’all got 10 seconds
To get to the dance floor and whawk!”
By the moment Purple Rain introduced Prince-proteges The Time to the masses, that band had become a shadow of the touring machine that pushed Prince and the Revolution each and every night during the 1999 tour. As that tour was winding up, and The Time was developing into the latest funk band dynamos, members of The Time were being pursued by other early Eighties R&B artists to “spice up” their sounds. When Prince caught wind that keyboardist Jimmy Jam, bassist Terry Lewis and keyboardist Monte Moir were producing R&B band S.O.S. Band’s latest album, the Purple One fired those three. As we know now, in short time Jam and Lewis would become the hottest producing duo on the planet, while Moir discovered artists and directed them to the aforementioned producers. Those guys were able to take the Minneapolis Sound beyond Prince recording studio Paisley Park.
Originally, the idea of The Time was Prince’s. He wanted to set himself up to some kind Svengali to a group of artists for whom he could anonymously write, produce and even play the music that an artist could add their vocals to. Then, Prince could hire some musicians to play the songs as opening acts on his tour. The first group he did this for was The Time. Prince desperately wanted to place his long-time friend Morris Day in front of a hot funk band. What Prince did not anticipate was that the band would develop a chemistry that transcended his vision. Prince had the band “record” two albums that a man by the name of Jamie Starr, Prince’s first pseudonym, produced. The first album was self-titled and released in 1981 that ended up being as commercially successful as Prince’s latest album at the time, Dirty Mind.
But, it was the “band’s” second album that established The Time as true “artists”. The album was What Time Is It? and was lead by the singles “The Walk” and “777-9311”. Then, just as the band was gelling into artists in their own right, Prince fired three of the band members in order to show who was the boss.
Yet, by the time Purple Rain was released in the summer of 1984, an audience had developed in support of The Time that their 1984 album Ice Cream Castles became a big seller, with a couple of Top 40 songs, “Jungle Love” and “The Bird”. Then, lead singer Morris Day and his assistant Jerome Benton became break-out actors from the movie, especially Day. As tensions developed between long-time friends Prince and Day, Day left The Time to strike out on his own to middling success.
As Prince’s music became more sophisticated, he had smaller roles for the members of The Time that stuck around. Singer and keyboardist “St.” Paul Peterson, drummer Jellybean Johnson and background vocalist and percussionist Benton were regrouped by Prince into another band called The Family, which included saxophonist Alan Leeds and singer (and Prince girlfriend) and Revolution guitarist’s sister Susannah Melvoin. The Family played a more sophisticated sounding European-influenced funk sound. Most significantly, The Family were the first to record the Prince song “Nothing Compares 2 U”, which became a huge hit for Sinead O’Connor.
Then, in 1990, word came out of Minneapolis that the great band The Time were reuniting. Their album, on which Prince played a minimal role, was titled Pandemonium and was a big hit on its own. The original band even had their own Top 20 hit called “Jerk Out”. But, just as the momentum was gathering steam for The Time, Prince pulled the plug on the big Graffiti Bridge tour. Once again, the original line-up of The Time was left hanging.
Finally, in 2011, that original line-up of the classic Time wanted to reunited. This time, however, Prince would not let them tour under the name The Time. Instead, the band recorded an album, Condensate, and toured under the name The Original 7ven. Ironically, if Morris Day wants to tour with a band, he is allowed to call it “Morris Day and the Time.” But, if that once hot touring band of original members want to create new music and tour, they get the privilege of using a totally different new, such as The Original 7ven.
Let me say that The Time really does deserve a re-evaluation. Yes, initially, they were Prince’s puppets, but quickly they were forged into a gold-standard band through constant touring. As the group began splintering, we got to witness Jam, Lewis & Moir become highly regard record producers (just ask Janet Jackson what Jam and Lewis did for her career!). Morris Day went solo and scored his own hits. Guitarist Jesse Johnson recorded his own brand of rock/funk music and even had a hit song called “Crazay” that he cut with funk pioneer Sylvester Stone of Sly and the Family Stone. Then, when the band reunited in 1990, people were excited to hear what they could do together and were rewarded with a hit album and a hit song. How many bands can brag about such an influence upon rock music?
Whenever I am feeling a little down, I pop in The Time’s What Time Is It? or “The Bird”, and my day begins to brighten. The Time were a very talented band who transcended their boss Prince. This is a great band that deserves re-evaluation of their place in the history of rock music. Just like they said at the end of “The Bird”,
“It’s the last call for alcohol
If you ain’t got what you want
You got to get the hell outta here!”