By the time Ice Cream Castle was released in the summer of 1984, life as a member of The Time was a complicated mess. Their first incarnation, now known as the Original 7ven, was no more and the second incarnation, the version of The Time shown in the Purple Rain movie, had just basically broken up. Founding members Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and Monte Moir were no longer in the group. Morris Day & Jesse Johnson were feuding with Prince over money and respect. Jerome Benton and Jellybean Johnson had been recruited to participate in Prince’s next project, The Family. As for the new members that had been added to The Time after Jam, Lewis and Moir’s exits? One, Paul Peterson, would be added to the family, both literally as a member of The Family, and metaphorically, as being hand-selected by Prince to be the band’s lead singer. As for the others, Mark Cardenas & Jerry Hubbard (replacing short-lived member Rocky Harris)? They’d go on to assist Jesse Johnson in his solo career.
Despite all of this transition, The Time still had an album to promote. The Purple Rain film had just been released and The Time’s popularity on cross-over radio and MTV (read: white) was never greater than it was at that moment. “Jungle Love” and “The Bird”, both tracks found on Ice Cream Castle, could be heard in the film and as a result, the album saw sales figure success. Despite the fact that it had been heard by movie-going audiences in the summer of ’84, “Jungle Love” wouldn’t be released as an official single until that December. This was a full 6 months after the release of Ice Cream Castle and the Purple Rain film. By comparison, Prince & the Revolution had already released four singles from that soundtrack album by then. Ultimately, the late single release for “Jungle Love” made no difference in the grand scheme of things since Purple Rain was still a huge pop culture phenomenon into early ’85 thanks to end-of-the-year award shows and the Purple Rain tour going full force.
“Promotion” of Ice Cream Castle basically amounted to the production of a couple of music videos for MTV while Morris Day hit the talk show circuit. He was primarily there to promote Purple Rain as one of the stars of the film, less so as the leader of a band that just released a new album. Purple Rain was an inescapable tornado pushing everyone associated with it towards stardom. Morris Day, and to a lesser extent, The Time, were no exceptions. Existing fans of The Time were happy to have new music to purchase, even if the band was not all that happy to promote it. The addition of any new fans they picked up along the way thanks to their appearance as The Kid’s First Avenue foils certainly helped the album achieve platinum status. But how does the music on Ice Cream Castle stand up against previous recordings, The Time and What Time Is It?
The album’s opening song and first released single is the title track, “Ice Cream Castles”. It starts off with a children’s tune, similar to the pied piper ice cream truck sounds emanating from city streets in the summer or maybe more accurately, a jack-in-the-box or music box. It then bursts into a more traditional groove with keyboards, instead of bass guitar, as the primary driver of the funk. As with all songs on the album, “Ice Cream Castles” was written and performed primarily by Prince but with input from Morris Day and Jesse Johnson on guitar. The song is a standout ode to interracial relationships and equality for all. The use of an organ towards the end of the song adds a nice, rarely used touch in a funk song. The song’s title is based on a lyric to one of Joni Mitchell’s songs, which as its been well documented, was one of Prince’s favorite artists. It’s a natural and organic inspirational moment and an overall strong opener.
“My Drawers” is the second track on the album with a more aggressive upbeat musical style than the title track. The lyrics to “My Drawers” paint Day in a possessive & cocksure light, claiming he’s “the number one body rocker”. He takes his girl out, flaunting her looks, her sex appeal, only to taunt the jealous guys with their jaws on the floor that “she’s mine, all mine”. It’s a funky song with a silly title (makes me think he’s talking about his own underwear for some reason) and a memorable synth hook. Solid track.
Unfortunately the last song on side A, “Chili Sauce” is a 5 minute and 45-second skit where Morris Day, the pimp, takes a woman out to dinner and proceeds to spout off dialogue in a similar vein to his character from Purple Rain (which came first, the song or the script?) in an effort to impress-intimidate-disgust her and the listener. The song is mildly misogynistic, as Day’s entire pimp persona gets tired in a way that it didn’t for me in the film. Maybe you have to be in the right mood for this song to be amusing or listenable, but for me, it comes off very childish and a waste of run time on an already short album.
Side B kicks off with the classic jam, “Jungle Love”, which is easily The Time’s most well-known song. It’s funky. It’s fun. It has a simple chant that everyone recognizes from The Wizard of Oz. It (sort of) comes complete with a dance that you can mimic. A dance that is not quite as memorable as “The Bird” but just as fun nonetheless. A song that is listed as one of the best songs of the decade. A song that really needs no introduction or further discussion. If you’re reading this blog, you already know all about “Jungle Love” and either loves it or you’re wrong.
The next track on the album, “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come” takes the slightest of puns from the title track and proceeds to confuse the hell out of listeners like me, who naturally assumed the “The Kid” being referred to was the character Prince played in the film. I guess Morris Day is also “The Kid”, on this album at least, as this song is all about how Morris Day, as The Kid, is going to make his woman come and if he can’t do it, no one can. It’s a lover-man slow jam in the same vein as “International Lover” on Prince’s 1999 album, but without the wit. We do get some female orgasm sounds towards the end for what that’s worth. So I am to assume that The Kid CAN make you come?
The album closes with the funky dance track, “The Bird”. Otherwise known as “the other song The Time performs during Purple Rain“. “The Bird” is also known as the song where Morris Day and The Time flap their arms around on stage like, well, birds I guess. It’s another crowd-pleaser, similar to “Jungle Love” in that regard and an overall really fun and funky track. One of the best on the album and a great album closer overall.
Ice Cream Castles (4/5)
My Drawers (4/5)
Chili Sauce (2/5)
Jungle Love (5/5)
If the Kid Can’t Make You Come (3.5/5)
The Bird (5/5)
Ice Cream Castle is not my favorite Time album. That honor still goes to What Time Is It? However, I do enjoy this record more than their self-titled debut or Pandemonium. I think the album’s highlights are stronger than any of the top songs on those two previously mentioned records and while I don’t love “Chili Sauce”, its inclusion doesn’t detract from the fact that the rest of the record is quite excellent.
The album may have been released at a period in the band’s life when nearly everyone associated with the original seven was breaking away from the Prince camp. There were several faces on the Ice Cream Castle album cover that wasn’t recognizable unless you were able to pause your VHS copy of Purple Rain so you could squint to see who was on stage besides Morris and Jerome. Nevertheless, the album was created with a lot of attention from Prince and The Time in order to provide an excellent companion piece to the Purple Rain film. This was supposed to be the album that propelled The Time into the same stratosphere being occupied by Prince and the Revolution but alas, it was very short-lived. Only a year later, Morris Day and Jesse Johnson will have released solo albums, and Paul, Jerome, and Jellybean would release an album under The Family moniker. The Time was fun, funky & tight as always but their time had (temporarily) run out.