Jill Jones, or JJ, as she was referred to in Prince’s 1999 album credits (“1999”, “Lady Cab Driver”), is sort of known in the Prince Fam-Community as his secret weapon during the 1980s. Jill entered the Prince camp shortly after they met on the Dirty Mind tour when she was singing back-up for Teena Marie (Prince’s opening act). Side note, look for Jill’s name in the credits while she was still a teenager, as co-writer of songs with Teena on her Lady-T and It Must Be Magic albums from the early ’80s. By 1982, she was officially a part of the team, living in Minnesota and participating, credited and uncredited, on various recordings Prince was working on for his 1999 album and Vanity 6’s debut.
You probably first saw her as the cool blonde with sunglasses singing alongside Lisa Coleman in the “1999” video, then as the platinum-blonde waitress/coat check/talent scout/Apollonia-name-questioner and Kid admirer working at First Ave in the Purple Rain film. However, if you were simply a casual Prince fan, you might not understand what Jill’s fundamental role in the camp truly was. She was often an uncredited background vocalist asked to help improve the sound of some less capable singers Prince may have been working with at the time. Additionally, and the equally important role she appeared to play was Prince bullshit-caller. Both are unofficial titles, to say the least, but I think reasonably accurate from what I’ve read, heard, and witnessed in interviews with Jill.
The purpose of this post isn’t to rehash old biographies on Jill and Prince’s relationship from 1981-1990, but to celebrate her one and only Paisley Park release, the self-titled Jill Jones album, released May 19, 1987. A long-gestating recording took place between 1982-1986; Jill Jones is a culmination of sounds from various eras, intended to sound cohesive (it mostly succeeds in this regard).
Intro (Baby You’re a Trip) – The album opens with the swelling strings from the incomparable Clare Fischer, whose contributions we’ll hear throughout the album, along with Jill declaring “you’re a trip and a half” before her booming vocals follow.
Mia Bocca – The intro and strings blend nicely into the more modern (for the ’80s, that is) sounding “Mia Bocca,” or “My Mouth” in English. Prince’s trademark Minneapolis-sounding percussion and synth lines immediately inform the listener that this is a Paisley Park release. The song is believed to date back to 1983 thanks to its appearance on early drafts of Prince’s version of Purple Rain screenplay, then known as Dreams. Instead, you could hear elements of this song in Prince’s second movie, 1986’s Under the Cherry Moon. It was the album’s lead single but unfortunately didn’t make much of a splash on the pop charts with the exception of Italy (#6 on pop chart). It’s an upbeat, fun song, albeit a bit strange one with its Italian chorus. 4/5
G-Spot – Horns plus horny equal this risqué track dating back to the Vanity 6 days, at one point considered for their unreleased second album. Prince also juggled this track as one he would sing in the movie Purple Rain but was ultimately replaced by “Darling Nikki” as the movie’s shocking sex-drenched funk jam. Jill cleverly spells out F-I-N-A-L-L-Y to help us understand the sexual frustrations she’s been harboring for apparently much too long. Inexplicably, not because of quality but because of content, released as the album’s second single, this one also didn’t hit home with listeners. Regardless, it’s another banger. 4.5/5
Violet Blue – After some acapella harmonies, the mid-tempo drum track kicks in. It has a New Jack swing feel, which gives away that it was one of the newer tracks recorded for the album. Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss’s horns again set this song apart from contemporary R&B-Pop artists at the time. Jill sings about being mesmerized by a man with violet-blue, even though he’s not the one she’s supposed to be paying attention to. 4/5
With You – Prince asked Jill to record a cover of one of his more traditional ballads from his self-titled second album, so she obliged. I would have preferred another original track, like the B-side, “77 Bleeker Street,” but this is the track we got to close out Side A. It’s okay, but I think even Jill would admit there were better options out there. Notable for its contributions from Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens. 2.5/5
All Day, All Night – This song was debuted by Prince and the Revolution during Prince’s June 7, 1984 birthday concert at First Ave, but it was not known to have been recorded in the studio by Prince and The Revolution. Prince re-worked in 1985, and Jill added her vocals in 1986 behind The Revolution’s music. Upbeat and energetic, this is one of my favorite songs on the album thanks to its synth heavy Purple Rain era feel, and I love both the live Prince and The Revolution version and Jill’s officially go-for-broke vocal take. 5/5
For Love – That heavy horn-filled sound returns on this slinky and sexy mid-tempo track. It brings a sophisticated sound to a fun yet sophisticated album, something that couldn’t really be said about Vanity 6’s record. The song includes participation from members of The Family (Prince’s side project after The Time imploded) and dates back to 1985, while the band was still together and in the beginning stages of promotion for their debut. It was the album’s third and final single. 3.5/5
My Man – Yet another track that dates back to 1985, it’s an up-tempo ode to a fine man (the finest of his mama’s children) who seems to have a wandering eye. By all accounts, this appears to be a Prince-Jill only composition and performance – no outside musicians or collaborators. The swirling guitar sounds fantastic, and even if you can’t get down with Jill’s over-willingness to put up with foolishness, it’s a hard song to deny the pleasures of. 3.5/5
Baby, You’re a Trip – Possibly the oldest song to make the final album configuration, this song has roots that go as far back as July of 1982. Prince’s exceptional, but not necessarily better, guide-vocal version found its way onto 2019’s posthumous Originals release. A song that shows off Jill’s singing chops possibly more than any other song on the album, “Baby, You’re a Trip,” has become a fan favorite thanks to the vocal acrobatics she exhibits throughout. I love how the song ends on an acapella note, similar to how this song was introduced on Side-A’s “Intro.” An impressive musical achievement and a fitting album closure. 5/5
Prince’s songwriting combined with Jill’s powerful vocals should have been a sure-fire smash hit similar to Sheila E’s first two solo albums. But alas, it wasn’t. Jill Jones was a commercial failure in the United States, and with little to no promotion here, it was doomed from the get-go. It’s really a shame to look back on the sheer talent Jill possesses that somehow couldn’t translate to album sales or radio and MTV play. The entertainment industry is a tough gig, and many times, talent alone isn’t enough to succeed. Even attaching yourself to one of the most talented musicians in the world wasn’t enough in this case. Sadly, the Jill Jones album remains out of print and off streaming sites (for now). That doesn’t mean it should be ignored or forgotten. It’s strong through and through, with the weakest link being a cover of a Prince song from 1979! There are still ways to find this album, either unofficially on YouTube or purchasing physical copies on Discogs or eBay. It’s worth it, and maybe someday we’ll be treated to a proper re-release sponsored by the Prince Estate, as it was a Paisley Park label release, after all.