There’s not much of note new in stores this week, so I’ve decided to suspend the “New Release of the Week” column until next week, when (hopefully) there’ll be some good stuff to write about. Meanwhile, what say we jump into the wayback machine and soak up some great 80s music, huh? Last time we did some time traveling, we visited the auxiliary Jackson family members and checked out their jams. Today, we move north to Minneapolis, where a little man in purple lorded over the music scene with music that bridged the gap between funk and rock. His name? Prince Rogers Nelson. His music during the decade? (Almost) flawless, From 1980 (“Dirty Mind”) to 1988 (“Lovesexy”), not only did Prince go on one of the longest (if not THE longest) classic album-making streak of any musician ever, but he also introduced us to many, many proteges. The average person wouldn’t be blamed for thinking there was something in the water back in Minneapolis. Here are some of the highlights.
Prince’s first venture into the word of music overlord-dom resulted in The Time. They wore zoot suits, they were choreographed to the letter, and they had a deliriously campy frontman named Morris (or Mo-is!!). Widely regarded as one of the best live bands of their era, The Time were unfortunately not allowed to play barely anything on the first three albums they recorded. So, essentially, when you’re listening to a Time album, you’re listening to a Prince album with Morris Day on vocals (and in some cases, you can even still hear Prince’s scratch vocals). Of course, the band was far from untalented, as later solo success would show.
Here you’ll find a TV clip of them performing “777-9311”. As someone with a pretty decent amount of rhythm, I still can’t figure out how people stay on beat for this song. This is what funk is all about.
After The Time splintered, frontman Morris Day had success as a singer and an actor, Bassist Terry Lewis and keyboardist Jimmy Jam went on to become one of the most successful production teams in history (taking Time members Jellybean Johnson and Monte Moir along for the ride on occasion) and guitarist Jesse Johnson stayed closest to the Prince sound, forming his own band (Jesse Johnson’s Revue) and releasing a couple of well-received albums, including a self-titled one in 1985. Our own David Middleton discussed Johnson in his “45 Revolutions” column last week, here’s a clip of his 1985 synth-pop hit “I Want My Girl”.
Even Jesse got into the protege act, signing Ta Mara & the Seen, who had one hit single with 1986’s “Everybody Dance”.
Did you know that “Kiss” was originally not supposed to be recorded by Prince & The Revolution? Prince recorded it for his latest proteges at the time, a band discovered by his bassist, Brown Mark, called Mazarati. After hearing Mazarati’s version of the song, Prince realized he was giving away a gem and took the song back. That song could have made the band’s career (although I doubt it, how many people would have given it a fair hearing? And isn’t “Kiss” too spare to be performed by a full band?), but instead they wound up hitting on a minor level with a song called “100 MPH”. Visually, this is where Motley Crue and Ratt meet Prince & the Revolution. Turn your head away from the funky groove and, yeah, these folks look pretty silly.
Of course, Prince had an eye for the fairer sex, with the most successful of his female proteges being Vanity 6. Led by a former soft porn actress named Denise Matthews (who Prince allegedly originally wanted to re-christen “Vagina”), the trio only recorded a self-titled record in 1982, but that album is a funk (and a camp) classic. Here’s the video for “Drive Me Wild”. Since splitting the music business in the early Nineties (after a couple of solo albums and movies, including “Action Jackson”), Vanity has been vocal about her drug abuse and the basic hell she was living in during that era. She is now a born-again Christian.
Finally, let’s leave with the most talented of all the femme Prince proteges, his faithful sidewomen Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman. With him through “1999”, “Purple Rain”, “Around the World in a Day” and “Parade”, they were present for Prince’s most musically fertile period before taking off on their own. Although their musical career never actually caught fire, they continue to make interesting music, and compose and perform on records for everyone and their mother, as well as producing the background music for some of your favorite TV shows.
Hopefully this column has satisfied your funk quotient for the day. Now go forth and multiply, or something like that.