In March 2009, Prince launched his new website in conjunction with a limited release 3CD set. The physical package bundled two new Prince Cds, LotusFlow3r and MPLSound, along with a third CD (Elixer), by protégée Bria Valente. I thought, “It’s been a long time since Prince went the mentor route.” There was a glimpse of it in 2006 with Tamar, but it was short lived.
This prompted me to compile a list of albums by Prince Associates. Here were the ground rules.
First, albums that were clearly “Prince side projects” were excluded. Albums by the N.P.G. and the jazz fusion ensemble Madhouse wouldn’t work, although I think there might be a case to be made for the first N.P.G. record. But—oh, well.
Second, the albums had to be from artists who weren’t famous independently of Prince. So, take the Prince-produced Chaka Khan album Come 2 My House. That album’s not going to fly on this list because Chaka Khan was already a megastar before she got into the studio with Prince. Actually, she was already a big deal when she remade Prince’s “I Feel for You” in the ‘80s. The idea is that the artists in this lists are known because of their association with Prince. This put me in a tough spot with one artist that I did include (you’ll see), as well as a band I didn’t include (The Bangles, since they scored a hit with Prince’s “Manic Monday”). I concluded that having a song written for you by Prince wasn’t enough. You have to be purified in the waters of Lake Menatanka, or at least know what that means.
Third, the accomplishments of the artist could sway the position of the album on the overall list. That is, the artist’s album might not be all that great, but the impact of the album, or a song on the album, could make the whole thing noteworthy.
Here we go:
1. The Time: Ice Cream Castle (1984)
The top honor in the pantheon of Prince associates goes to The Time. Their lineup was action packed with freakishly funky musicians: Morris Day, Jellybean Johnson, Monte Moir, Jesse Johnson, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and Jerome Benton. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis ended up leaving the group, although you’ll hear the people who aren’t obsessed with Prince saying they “got fired” on Prince’s recommendation. Mark Cardenas, St. Paul Peterson, and Jerry Hubbard joined later. With and without Jam and Lewis, The Time remains the funkiest and tightest of the purple bunch, and nothing showcases this better than Ice Cream Castle.
Ice Cream Castle is to The Time what Purple Rain is to Prince: a streamlined, consciously commercial version of the band’s Minneapolis flow. It seems calculated to fit the themes of the Purple Rain movie, where The Time’s all-the-way-bold attitude and slick presentation would contrast the Revolution’s icier slice of Baroque pop. The Time dressed in suits and acted like “playas”. The Revolution dressed like extras from the movie Amadeus and acted the way “serious musicians” are supposed to. The song “Chili Sauce”, a conversation between Morris and his love interest, echoes the scene in Purple Rain when Morris is doing his best to impress the lovely Apollonia.
In the film, Morris’s version of himself is loud, boisterous, and ambitious, although he does have a compassionate side, compared to Prince’s quiet, brooding, and pouting character known simply as “Kid”. Morris is a playboy, a cad, and sometimes a clown—a true foil to the Kid’s maelstrom of possessiveness, seclusion, and violence at the hands of a tormented father. Onstage and in the film, Jerome Benton plays the foil to the foil (Morris), a sidekick and companion, happy to dance, do background vocals, and fetch mirrors so Morris can check himself out and what not.
Prince’s music with Revolution ain’t really that funky. Sorry. It’s really damn good, yes, but not as funk-filled as The Time’s output. Before Ice Cream Castle, the band’s debut gave us powerhouse jams like “Get It Up”, “Cool”, and “The Stick”. The follow-up, What Time Is It?, featured “777-9311” and “The Walk”. Ice Cream Castle didn’t stretch the jams out as long as “Cool” or “The Walk”. Its longest jam is the “brand new dance” song called “The Bird” (seven minutes, 40 seconds). Also, unlike the Time’s first two efforts, Ice Cream Castle hasn’t been reduced to a Prince (under the moniker “Jamie Starr”) production, with The Time mouthing his words and playing his chords. The Time had more input on this record.
As fun and carefree as The Time can be, there’s no denying the title track’s depth and potent imagery (“We’re all ice cream castles in the summer time”) in its take on interracial romance and the fleeting nature of life as a whole. The Time also specializes in the risqué (“My Drawers”, “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come”).
Although Prince has shown his sense of humor, the dude can be a bit dramatic and intense. Grab Ice Cream Castle for relief. Since their last album, 1990’s Pandemonium there’s been talk to a reunion. We’ll see about that.
// Notes from the Road
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