4. Rosie Gaines: Closer Than Close (1995) & 5. The Family: The Family (1985)
Prince & Rosie
Speaking of artists who were active before hooking up with Prince, Rosie Gaines is a sensational vocalist. R&B and reggae flavor hit the spot on Closer Than Close, Rosie’s release after her stint as a member of Prince’s multi-roster band The New Power Generation (The NPG). While I have never liked the name “The New Power Generation”, or even felt comfortable saying the band name within earshot of others, Rose’s presence soothed the dramatic change in the dynamics of Prince’s musical approach in the early ‘90s. Basically, he started to get wild with rap, which usually isn’t his best look.
Rosie’s hefty vocals made Prince’s Diamonds & Pearls a bit more interesting. Hey, if Prince’s only concern was counterbalancing the clunky rhymes of NPG rapper Tony M., then using Rosie’s vocal ability was an awesome strategy for achieving that end. Rosie, on “Push”, showed she could rap batter than Tony M. and Prince combined, and she added a little spice to the title track and the single “Gett Off”. I haven’t been able to wrap my head around the fact that a guy like Prince, who normally displays so much rhythm and such a keen sense of timing, can end up “rapping” without a clue as to where the beat is. Truly bizarre.
As released, Closer Than Close features two Prince co-writes—“I Want U” and “My Tender Heart”. The first would make a pretty bold pickup line, despite what the lyrics say about being afraid that the object of the singer’s desire will leave the singer blue. There are two permutations of “I Want U”, an “Earth Mama Version” that samples music and vocals from Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues”, and then a “Purple Version”, heralded by Prince’s patented “1999”-sounding synthesizers.
Elsewhere, Rosie pays tribute to Bob Marley (“Concrete Jungle”, “Turn Your Lights Down Low”) and also gets political (“December 25th”). Mainly, though, she’s into her significant other, gauging their readiness for love, searching for intimacy, and occasionally fearing the worst. When it comes to the fear of the latter, Rosie goes for the part of the throat that makes you feel like you’re on the verge of tears. On “I Almost Lost You”, she dreams the unthinkable and drags her lines out until there’s nothing left but a chilling, goose pimple-inducing solitude. Warm or chilling, however, Rosie Gaines’s voice makes you want to cuddle up with somebody in front of a fireplace.
Since I mentioned her voice next to Prince’s, I’d be crazy not to say something about their best collaborative effort—their live version of the Prince-penned “Nothing Compares 2 U” which was previously a hit for Sinead O’Connor but recorded prior to that by The Family.
5. The Family: The Family (1985)
Speaking of The Family, their 1985 self-titled LP is really good. On a good day, it might jump ahead of Sheila and Rosie to sit comfortably at number three behind my darlings Wendy & Lisa.
The Family was formed in the aftermath of The Time’s breakup and Morris Day’s decision to go solo. The group consisted of St. Paul Peterson, Wendy Melvoin’s twin sister Susannah, Jellybean Johnson, Eric Leeds, and Jerome Benton. The album itself is, as a whole, quite a cohesive effort, with Peterson actually sounding kind of Princely at times, and a little like Robbie Nevil (of “C’est La Vie” fame) at others. Susannah took the sweet side of the vocal seesaw.
I honestly never cared much for “Nothing Compares 2 U” until Prince reclaimed it with Rosie Gaines, but The Family’s version is a neat surprise if you haven’t already heard it and still associate the song with Sinead. The rest of the album, in my opinion, is better. Songs like “Screams of Passion”, “High Fashion”, and “Mutiny” rank pretty high on my funk-o-meter.
As a matter of fact, The Family’s album would make a decent Prince album. If you could heard Prince’s version of these songs (and I’m not admitting that I’ve heard them or that they even exist, okay?), then you might imagine the result being like a neat bridge between Prince’s Around the World in a Day and Parade albums. If you listen closely, you can hear Prince’s vocals in the background of these songs.
The Family has a reunion album in the works. Now that might end up being one of the biggest musical comebacks of all time.