One of my favorite R&B bands from back in the day was The Time. They embodied everything that I liked about the Minneapolis sound, but added humor to the mix with easily accessible funk that made even the most adamant wallflower want to dance.
Being the wallflower that I was, I never danced, mostly because I had no cool to dance no rhythm or coordination – unlike The Time whose members could sing, play instruments during a show and keep in step all at the same time. It was that kind of multi-tasking that made them a favorite to see live (although I was too young for that, I had to hear it from my older brother back then).
I remember playing the LP just before catching the bus for school. It was my first album introduction to the Minneapolis sound. The Times upbeat funk always put me in the best of moods and would do so for the next three albums.
Many fans would consider The Time, Prince’s first by product his best. Born out of a contractual agreement with Warner Brothers, at allowed Prince the ability to pimp new talent for the label (all under his wing of course), The Time became a kind of alter ego whose sound seemed to be set somewhere during the Princes late raunchy period (Dirty Mind-1980/Controversy 1981), complete with that era’s rock and new wave elements in place.
The band was made up of handpick players from Flyte Time, a earlier band that inspired the new ensemble’s name. Many of the members including Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Jessie Johnson would go on to successful solo careers later. After a disagreement with Alexander O’Neal, Morris Day would get the job as lead singer. But for the recording of their debut album, none of the band was allowed to play in the studio, except for Day who sang.
Prince under the pseudonym Jamie Starr produced and played nearly every instrument, leading one to wonder if he lacked faith in the band he hand picked. Besides being a one man band, the Purple One could be heard singing backup on many songs. He did allow members of his own band (Lisa Coleman, Dex Dickerson and Dr. Fink) to make contributions during the recording process.
Only Morris Day, whose voice leads all of the album’s six tracks, was the only member of The Time who was actually present during the recording sessions.
While The Time is best categorized as Prince, Parliament or James Brown influenced funk, they contained many elements of new wave. Songs like ‘After High School’ contain the simple Casio keyboard-like sound of early new wave, while the ballad ‘Girl’ would become a classic example of Morris Day as a sweet talking romancer/womanizer.
Humor was also an underlining current in many Time songs, but raw funk was the band’s calling card. The interplay between Jerome Benton and Morris Day’s antics provided concerts with comic drama. The Time’s songs were mostly about crazy girl chasing scenarios , but humor softened the explicit nature of what could have been as provocative as anything on Dirty Mind or Controversy.
The Time’s signature sound however would be established with songs like ‘Get It Up ‘ and ‘Cool’, all top 10 R&B singles that combined the humor element with seriously catchy and foot moving funk.
If there was any doubt about the band’s ability to play, to see them live would erase all doubt. Like anyone associated with Prince’s touring ensemble, The Time could play for hours while keeping in step with fancy dance moves.
It was that kind of energy on The Time would eventually see the band’s profile raise to top 40 pop status with their role in Purple Rain just a few years later.