With ‘Get It Up,’ Prince Introduces the World to the Time
OK, MPLS Sound scholars, Prince, Matt Fink, Morris Day and Lisa Coleman once put out a secret album – what was it? Hint: Prince and/or Dez Dickerson wrote the six tracks – and it was a gold-seller. The clock is ticking … The album was called The Time.
While it’s hard to imagine a time when Prince wasn’t a superstar, it’s equally difficult to imagine a time when the swaggering Day, front man for the band called the Time, was just a “runner," a man on Prince’s staff who fetched sandwiches and coffee for the band. But this was 1981, the year MTV launched and a few years before “Little Red Corvette” and “1999” went into constant rotation and broke Prince as a mainstream pop artist.
As Prince, his managers, publicist and label plotted his international pop overthrow, they were very careful to not pigeonhole Prince as solely an R&B artist, which could have meant isolation in the Soul/R&B sections of the record aisle, radio dial and Billboard charts. Artists like Michael Jackson and Rick James had crossed over; Prince wanted to as well.
But still, he had that funk boiling up within him. And while Prince’s public persona was mysterious, cool and detached, in person, he was a prankster, and an ambitious one at that. With Warner Brothers already showing hesitation to release music at the pace he desired, all roads led Prince releasing new music under a pseudonym.
The Time sessions began with Prince and his relatively new keyboardist, Lisa Coleman, who was living with him at the time. Coleman discussed her involvement with Matt Thorne in his book, Prince: The Man and His Music. “My room was upstairs, so he would just call me down. ‘Lisa, would you help me do this string part? What about these lyrics? Can you finish this verse?’ He involved me. I punched him in when he was playing drums, whatever it was.”
As the project took shape, Prince began to build a band that could bring the songs to life on stage. Flyte Tyme was a local band that pre-dated Prince’s own career. Lead singer Cynthia Johnson would go on to have a worldwide smash with Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown." Prince recruited Jimmy Jam and Monte Moir on keyboards, bassist Terry Lewis, and drummer Jellybean Johnson. Jessie Johnson was added on guitar. Cynthia Johnson’s replacement in Flyte Time, Alexander O’Neal, was pegged to be the lead singer of Prince’s project, but parted ways after an early disagreement with Prince. Day, a childhood friend of Prince’s, made Prince a deal he couldn’t refuse to land the gig.
Day and Prince were born six months apart and were close friends. As Prince’s star rose, Day auditioned to be Prince’s drummer. While Day probably had better chops, Prince went with Bobby "Bobby Z." Rivkin, partially to add some racial diversity to the group. Day opened up about the deal to Per Nilsen in the book Dancemusicsexromance: “Prince and I started hanging out a lot and he told me that I could use his studio. One of the songs that I cut was a groove that ended up being ‘Partyup’. Prince said, ‘You know, I like that song, I want it. Do you want me to give you cash for it, $10,000, or help you get a record deal?”’
With O’Neil out of the picture, Morris made his move, and the rest is history. “Partyup” wound up on Prince’s Dirty Mind. In return, “Get It Up” became the first track on the Time’s self-titled debut album. The relatively straightforward funk jam is more than nine minutes long, cut down by a third for the radio version released as a single. The album would go on to outsell Prince’s Dirty Mind that year.
The band, while absent on the record, became such a ferocious live act, especially with Jerome Benton serving as a comic foil to Day, that Prince began to fear his opening act on tour would upstage the main attraction. Tensions grew to a boil when Prince and his band egged the Time during their set on the Controversy tour closer in Cincinnati.
While the bands' rivalry inspired much of the drama in the film Purple Rain, by the time filming came around in 1983, Jam, Lewis and Moir had parted ways with the Time, replaced by Mark Cardenas and Paul Peterson on keys, and Jerry Hubbard on bass. It wouldn’t be until the band’s third album, Ice Cream Castle, that this lineup of the band actually appeared on a Time record, and only for one track, “The Bird,” recorded live at First Avenue.
The original band reunited and appeared on Prince’s Graffiti Bridge soundtrack and Pandemonium, the first true experience of the Time on a full-length album. A subsequent full-band album, Condensate, was released under the moniker Original 7ven in 2011.
These days, Day tours with a mixture of other musicians as “Morris Day and the Time." Jam and Lewis went onto bigger things as the production masterminds behind Janet Jackson’s biggest albums. Moir was also successful in songwriting and production. Jesse Johnson’s Revue (featuring Cardenas and Hubbard) had a modestly successful debut album and contributed marquee songs to the Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club soundtracks. Peterson and Benton spent time in another Prince project, the Family, before Benton’s on-screen performance as Prince’s sidekick in Under the Cherry Moon. Earlier this year, the original line-up performed a two-song set in the Prince tribute segment of the Grammy Awards.
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