The Time (1981)

What time is it? It’s time for a quick review of The Time’s self-titled debut album from 1981. The album was officially produced by Morris Day and Jamie Starr, one of Prince’s many alter-egos when writing or producing music for other artists. It was also composed and written primarily by Prince, with additional writing contributions from Morris Day and pre-Revolution band members Dez Dickerson and Lisa Coleman.

The Time circa 1981.

The Time was the first group that Prince put together as part of his Warner Bros. contract that allowed him to create side projects and this album was an early non-Prince entry into the Minneapolis sound cannon. The band was formed using long-time friends of Prince that he grew up with and played music with before he got his record deal. These side projects allowed Prince to explore other creative avenues, work out musical ideas, and ultimately become an extension of his own work that might not fit in with the already drafted “Prince” persona. The Time ultimately became the most well-known and successful side project Prince was ever associated with thanks to hits like “Jungle Love” and co-starring features for band members Morris Day and Jerome Benton in the hit film Purple Rain. The band became a household name by 1984 as a result.

The members of The Time may have changed throughout the band’s career due to various reasons. Still, when their debut was recorded in 1981, the members were Morris Day on lead vocals, Terry Lewis on bass, Jellybean Johnson on drums, Monte Moir on keyboards, Jesse Johnson on lead guitar, and Jimmy Jam on keyboards. It is widely assumed that Prince wrote most of the songs on this album, but it wasn’t officially documented in the album liner notes (naturally). The songs on this release are an integral part of what became the “Minneapolis sound,” a mixture of dance, R&B, rock, and funk that helped identify what was soon to become a musical movement.

Prince and Morris Day during happier times.

The Time kicks off with the album’s lead single, “Get It Up.” The song jumps right into the sort of keyboard licks that are instantly recognizable as affiliated with Prince. Instead of traditional guitar hooks, the keyboard riff on this track provides the same effect. It’s something to groove to and makes the song stand out. There is an actual guitar solo later in the song that absolutely shreds, by the way. “Get It Up’s” lyrics are sexually charged and innuendo-filled, another staple in the early Prince years. The song is funky and a clear highlight of the album. You can hear Prince in the background towards the end of the song singing, “get it up, get it up, I’ll fuck you all night,” and Dr. Fink from Prince’s band also provides uncredited keyboard playing. Sure it’s long and raunchy, yet it’s still a perfect example of the sound that would come to define the early 80s.

The next track on side 1 is the ballad, “Girl,” which sounds more like a traditional R&B song. Morris Day’s vocals shine here and offer a nice change of pace after the funky raunch of “Get It Up.” Day laments the loss of his titular girl and how broken he is after she leaves him. Overall, “Girl” is an excellent ballad that earned its spot as the album’s third and final single.

The next track, “After Hi School,” has a bouncy new wave sound to it, which makes sense as it was written by Dez Dickerson, who was known to have a more rock and new wave approach to songwriting. In the song, Day rails against a high school dropout who has no ambition or job prospects. An odd lyrical content choice following the adult themes of “Give It Up” and “Girl” but a fun track to close out side one.

The album returns to its funky keyboard-driven sounds for side two lead-off track, “Cool.” This was another single that made some waves on the R&B charts in 1981. Mining lyrical content that would become a Time staple, Day brags about how fly and cool he is as well as being the definition of a ladies’ man. Day used this persona to comedic effect for the Purple Rain film, but the genesis can be found right here on “Cool.” This track is also the first time we hear Day call out, “What time is it?” It won’t be the last either. Like “Give It Up,” “Cool” stretches on for 10 minutes, but there are enough musical breakdowns and change-ups to keep the song interesting long after it should have gotten old. This is the strongest song on the album, in my opinion.

Like side one, the long, funky first track on the side is followed by a slow ballad. On side two, this track is “Oh, Baby.” Another standard ballad where Day seduces his lover and pleads for her to take off her clothes slowly by the window and join him in bed. Consider this a less musically interesting “Do Me, Baby” that Prince released that same year on his own album, Controversy.

The album closes with another funk jam, “The Stick.” I bet you can’t guess what the sexual innuendo is with the lines “Girl, you come too quick. I’d rather work my stick.” Both Prince and Lisa Coleman are heard as backing vocalists throughout the chorus and bridges, and Lisa is given credit (post-release) as a co-writer on this track. “The Stick” is the first time Day yells out, “Somebody bring me a mirror!” It was likely during a live performance of this track where then roadie (and brother of bassist Terry Lewis) Jerome Benton provided a mirror for Day to primp to for the very first time. A shtick that served the duo well and ultimately provided Benton a permanent place in The Time moving forward.

The Time is a must-own album for fans of the Minneapolis sound, Prince, or just funk music in general. Prince and The Time knock it out of the park for this debut, and while it won’t be on many best of the decade lists, it stands as a strong debut for a band with even better songs to come.

My order of preference of The Time tracks from most favorite to least favorite with personal ratings next to them.

  1. Cool 5/5
  2. Get It Up 5/5
  3. The Stick 4/5
  4. Girl 3/5
  5. Oh, Baby 3/5
  6. After Hi School 2.5/5

Overall Score: 4/5

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