1985 was an explosive year for the Minneapolis sound (the R&B one), with Prince, The Time and Shelia E. all releasing albums that year. While new subscribers to the purple style were popping up all over the place, one in particular struck me as the most interesting and often overlooked one.
The Family came out of the growing pains of the Time. A mass exodus of members left Morris Day and Co. to start their own version of essentially what sounded like The Time, but with more adventurous musical aspirations. The line up consisted of St. Paul, Susanna Melvoin, Jerome Benton. The fourth member, David Z is credited with Prince as producer one of the year’s most interesting R&B albums, The Family’s selt titled debut.
While there were a string of interesting songs, “The Screams of Passion”, with it’s surreal pajamas on the beach video is perhaps the most well known, or it was initially. It was easily was one of the best mid tempo funk songs that year if not of all time. A version of the song “Nothing Compares 2 U” was first recorded by the Family, was made famous years later as a single for Sinéad O’Connor.
There was more than enough to distinguish the album than just that one or two songs. Many of the musical experiments Prince used on B-side singles would be fleshed out into full songs like the interesting reverse melody funk of “River Run Dry”. Prince’s infatuation with jazz fusion meshed with more the traditional funk on “High Fashion” . The inclusion of jazzy elements were subtle and were more in line with the brassy accents The Time was know for.
Prince had given The Family it’s own distinctive twist on the Minneapolis sound, even if his influence was overbearing. It was rather clear that he was pulling all the strings anyway. In an attempt to make it less obvious, Prince gave individual members writing credits on some songs, but he of course wrote them or fleshed them out shortly after recording Around the World in a Day.
The lush arrangements compliments of a full string section, gave The Family’s sound a bit more weight than the typical Prince protegee of the moment. Elegant, sexy and suave best describes how the Family combined the best of The Time’s funkiness with the progressive impulses of Prince.
Unfortunately the experiment fell apart almost as soon as it got off the ground as Prince in his infinite wisdom decided to disband the group and focus his attentions on some other new musical playthings. St. Paul would go off on a solo bent while other members would find places in various musical ventures within the Pasily Park universe.
Today The Family is one of those nearly impossible to find recordings on CD. If you’re lucky you might come across an LP, but the album has been out of print sense the late ’80s making it all the more difficult to find. More recently the Family reunited, but due to Prince insistence that they not use the name The Family, they now go under the name fDeluxe.