Back in 1985, Prince ruled the rock and pop culture world. It had been something of a whirlwind during the previous three years. Toward the end of 1982, Prince released his 1999 album which caught the fancy of the world at the same time during which Michael Jackson’s vision of a unity of races would occur in the aftermath of his world-shaking Thriller album. Together, Prince and Michael signified a changing of the guard in the music world. This was now a brave new world, ready for Generation X to begin its grapple with society. And these two African-American musicians were breaking down racial barriers with their musics blending of pop, R&B, rock, funk, jazz and any other form of music into something completely new and exciting. Where the two men diverged was in their lyrical content and musicianship. Where Micheal stuck to the PG-world of lyrical content while using some of the finest musicians available to him in the world to bring his songs to life, Prince was totally self-contained, crude and blunt. In other words, Michael was safe, while Prince was dangerous. Totally ironic when thinking about how their adult lives developed in the aftermath of their isolating mega-celebrity.
So, in 1985, with Prince being the restless musical soul that we learnt over the next few years that he was, he was attempting to expand upon Rick James’ vision of expanding his musical empire beyond just his music. Prior to this year, Prince had written and performed the music for a funk band that would become he alter-ego to be called The Time. This funk band would be the purely black side of his personality and would be fronted by his good friend Morris Day. Prince then surrounded Day with the best musicians around Minneapolis, Prince’s hometown, that were not part of Prince’s band, The Revolution. In addition to Day, Prince added a keyboardist by the name of Jimmy Jam and a bassist Terry Lewis. Those two would go on to spread the “Minneapolis Sound” beyond the state of Minnesota as they helped Prince define the sound of the Eighties as they produced, among other, Janet Jackson and The Human League. When you read the notes on The Time’s first two albums, you will not find any reference to Prince, but you will see that the albums were “Written, Performed and Produced by Jamie Starr,” a pseudonym used by Prince.
After the release of The Time’s second album, What Time Is It? in 1982, Prince put together a girl group trio headed by his then-girlfriend Vanity, which he dubbed Vanity 6. This group’s eponymous debut album was released during that pivot year of 1982, making a total of three highly successful albums that Prince had created in one year. Then the three bands went out on tour and killed audiences everywhere.
Then the defections started, just as Prince was prepping for the release of all thing surrounding Purple Rain. Jam and Lewis were fired for doing production work on the side while on tour. And, Vanity left the fold to go solo on Motown. The Time easily replaced their fired duo, but second keyboardist Monte Moir left to work with Jam and Lewis. Still, new hires kept The Time afloat. Replacing Vanity, Prince’s love interest in the movie Purple Rain was much more daunting. He settled upon Apollonia, who looked fantastic but just could not sing. So, instead of giving the renamed Apollonia 6 great material, Prince gave that batch of music for his newest love interest, Sheila E., which ended up on her 1984 debut album The Glamorous Life. So, in 1984, Prince had released a movie and album of the same name, an album by The Time, one by the newly refurbished Apollonia 6 (with Revolution bandmates Wendy and Lisa’s vocals doubling around Apollonia’s to cover her singing shortcomings), and the aforementioned Sheila E. album.
But, the ever-restless yet creative soul that Prince was, he decided that his new girlfriend, Susannah Melvoin, Revolution guitarist Wendy Melvoin’s twin sister, needed a band. So, in lieu of marriage, Susannah was put into a band with saxophonist Eric Leeds and former members of now defunct Time: drummer Jellybean Johnson, Day’s former sideman Jerome Benton and keyboardist/vocalist Paul “St. Paul” Peterson. The quintet was filled out with musicians from the world of Prince, in addition, of course, the man himself. Prince dubbed this band The Family.
Unfortunately, The Family could only hold things together for one album, an eponymous-titled debut. On this obscure album, which, for some reason, I purchased shortly after it arrived in the record stores while I was still in Medical Technology School. I was NOT ready at all for the sounds that came from this album. It was full of sophisticated R&B, steeped in a Prince-ly state of jazz that was like nothing I had heard before. However, it did prepare me for Prince’s 1986 masterpiece of sophisticated funk, Parade.
Ironically, over the years, The Family has been the peripheral Prince album that has aged the best. I am very comfortable with its sound, as it is no longer the jarring musical change of direction that it was in 1985. It’s mix of soft funk and jazz progressions totally paved the way for D’Angelo’s last album, the sound of the last couple of albums by Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé last two masterpieces, Kamasi Washington’s brilliant jazz forays, the music of the great Thundercat, among so many others today. But, we are talking about an album for 1985. That was 33 years ago!
At the time, The Family was so far ahead of things that the album barely registered a blip on the charts. However, “The Screams of Passion” did peak in the Top 20 of the R&B Chart of Billboard magazine. Additionally, this album is notable for it containing the first commercially released version of one of Prince’s most famous compositions, “Nothing Compares 2 U.” This was the song that Sinead O’Connor had heard and influenced her to record her stripped down version that became a world-wide hit in 1990. Until just within the past six months, The Family’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” was believed to have been the original recording of the song. However, archivists cataloging music found in the late artists’ infamous Vault discovered the original demo of the song that Prince record back during the creation of the Purple Rain album. Imagine that: arguably Prince’s greatest composition was thrown aside for something “greater.” The newly discovered version is floating around the internet right now and can be downloaded from iTunes. Plus, you can order a picture disc seven-inch single from the official Prince website. Still, The Family will continue to remain of Prince collectors’ “Holy Grails,” if for nothing else but that great song.
Like I said, The Family only stuck around for one album, then everyone split. However, in 2011, four-fifths of The Family, minus Jerome who rejoined the original members of The Time under the new name The Original 7even, got back together under the name of Fdeluxe. Under their new name, the band have continued their original sound and have released three independent studio albums, along with an EP and a live album. All of Fdeluxe’s albums can be found as electronic downloads on bandcamp.com.
So, matter whether they go by the Prince-owned name of The Family or the recently rechristened moniker Fdeluxe, you are hearing a band that was at one time thirty years ahead of musical trends. So, now that the music world has caught up, maybe this quartet can find some success. They were much more than five pretty faces.