Looking back at The Time’s complicated classic and its history in the Prince multiverse
Whenever I think of The Time, the first album that ALWAYS comes to mind is 1990’s Pandemonium.
Not 1982’s What Time Is It? Not their 1981 eponymous debut. Not Ice Cream Castle, co-released with the blockbuster film, Purple Rain in 1984, but Pandemonium, released on 10 July 1990. Yes! Pandemonium. Why? The Sequencing. The Humor. The Groove.
Pandemonium‘s power is in the stitching of its songs and skits into a sequenced, cohesive whole, despite its complicated compilation history. The project is a perfect blend of old and new. Roughly half of Pandemonium is mostly reappropriated songs from an abandoned 1989 album project, Corporate World, by The Time, or more accurately Prince and Morris Day, and songs from Prince’s vault, combined with new productions by members of The Time, the dynamic duo Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, as well as Jesse Johnson.
AUDIO: The Time “Corporate World” (1989 version)
By 1990, every single member of The Time was a super producer in their own right. Coupled with their mastery of The Time’s sound by playing the tracks live that Prince penned for them up until this point better than any record, many critics would say that a co-produced album by members of The Time and Prince would be a win-win.
If you remove the five skits, the remaining ten songs are a perfect amalgamation of contribution. The Time penned four (really five, long story). Prince penned the other five. Three tracks from Corporate World appear on Pandemonium, “Donald Trump (Black Version),” “Data Bank” and “My Summertime Thang” and four other tracks, “Love Machine,” “Shake!,” “The Latest Fashion” and “Release It,” end up on the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack, Prince’s twelfth album, released around the same time as Pandemonium on 21 August 1990 in the USA. Two other tracks were chosen from Prince’s vault, “Jerk Out,” initially tracked in 1981 and “Chocolate,” tracked in 1983. At one point, “Jerk Out” was considered for Mazarati’s self-titled debut, released in 1986, on Prince’s record label, Paisley Park. Luckily for us, the music gods intervened, and the song ended up on the right project. To round out the album, Jesse penned two guitar-heavy tracks, “Blondie” and “Skillet,” in line with “My Drawers” composed by Prince for the album Ice Cream Castle, The Time’s third and preceding album with the massive singles, “Jungle Love” and “The Bird,” both featured in the film, Purple Rain. Coincidently, “My Drawers” was included as the b-side of “Chocolate,” the second single from Pandemonium.
The intentional sequencing of skits and songs, woven together, is one reason the project sounds like an album, as opposed to a collection of songs. Pandemonium’s sonic textures are quilted together to create a potent concoction. Another reason is the cooking theme, peppered throughout the album as a delightful vehicle for The Time’s signature humor. The album cover and singles’ art, as well as the “Chocolate” video and The Time’s “Shake!” performance in the Graffiti Bridge film, also use the cooking theme. The big bottle of “Crisca,” a play on words for Crisco liquid shortening, hanging above or on The Time’s performance stage is lowbrow but decadent fun. The cooking theme even continues in the liner notes, “Mixed in The Skillet for more sizzle, pure hiss and true distortion,” and within the CD booklet, as well, with the fork and knife icons, signaling line breaks within the lyrics.
Segueing the songs together, the three skits that stand out are “Sexy Socalities,” “Yount,” and “Cooking Class.” With “Cooking Class” being the most relevant to the cooking theme and the most hilarious transition from skit to song (“Skillet”) with a collective chant by The Time, “We don’t need no microwave!” Traditionally, I’m not a fan of segues or skits. I find the NPG Operator segues on Prince’s The Gold Experience truly annoying. I’ve always either skipped them or removed them entirely when creating a playlist for the album. In contrast, these three skits are critical to the flow and concept of Pandemonium.
Also, “Cooking Class” is the best side two opener of any vinyl release, ever. The sounds of the sizzling cast-iron skillet palpably remind me of my Southern upbringing. “Cooking Class” is also filled with the call and response routine that makes the Morris Day and Jerome Benton partnership so wonderful, “Gimme a little bit of that pepper. Pepper! Gimme a little bit of that salt. Salt!” And hearing Prince in one of his amusing voices try to interrupt Morris Day (“Yeah. Ok. Mr. Day! Mr. Day! Can I ask you…”) only to be cut off or ignored, never fails to elicit uncontrollable laughter.
On the opening track of Pandemonium, “Dreamland,” the music box theme continues, albeit with dissonance, from the opening and closing of The Time’s previous album, Ice Cream Castle. Perhaps, signaling the fun is over, but not the music. Nevertheless, I always skip this opening skit, as it goes on for far too long. I love launching into the title track “Pandemonium,” whenever I give the album a spin to commence the groove, immediately.
For a scorching, groove-oriented album such as Pandemonium, the first song should pack a punch. “Pandemonium” is no exception. The counterpoint of the words, “Shake!” with “Go Morris! Go Morris!” around 1:43 in juxtaposition with the rhythm guitar is the sweet spot. There’s nothing like it. When you’re in the pocket you’re in the pocket, and you can stay there forever. The groove is a powerful drug. As in “Cooking Class,” The Time’s signature call and response is also prevalent here, “America, I’m back. Back. The Aristocratic Black. Black.”
When it comes to The Time’s musical catalog, the groove is a critical component. James Brown is the undisputable godfather of the groove. The members of The Time are definitely among his direct descendants. The three signature grooves from the album are “Jerk Out,” “Chocolate,” and the title track. The basic tracking of “Jerk Out,” created by Prince but ultimately sweetened by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for the album, was Pandemonium’s first single, released on 28 June 1990 in the USA.
This was, ultimately, the best strategic decision for the album, as it became The Time’s biggest selling single, certified Gold (500,000 copies) by The Recording Industry Association of America® (RIAA) in Sep 1990. The second single, “Chocolate,” released on 1 October 1990, does not veer from the pocket of the groove. To see an incendiary version of this song, search YouTube for The Time’s “Chocolate” performance on Arsenio Hall. At a higher BPM, this live performance is the definitive version of the track, proving further how The Time could take Prince’s compositions and elevate them to even higher levels. The Time as a live unit is ultimately hard to beat.
VIDEO: The Time perform “Chocolate” on the Arsenio Hall Show 1990
Randomly, the chorus of “Chocolate” will pop up in my head on any random day. The background vocals, provided by Wendy Melvoin & Lisa Coleman of The Revolution, alongside the unparalleled Jill Jones, contribute to the song’s infectiousness. Wendy Melvoin’s guitar solo remains from the original demo, even though Jesse Johnson could have easily replaced it with his guitar virtuoso. The modulated and pitched, “Minneapolis Sound”-style, horn lines are iconic to The Time’s sound. The classic lines spoken by Prince as waiter cum food auctioneer, “Mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffin’, green beans, chitlins’, canned sweet potatoes, black..black-eyed peas, grits, cabbages… ” is a memorable moment in the track. The song also contains another classic line that is cited often by fans, “18 jumbo shrimp.” There are many more incredible moments in this track, too numerous to name.
The length of “Chocolate” at 7:31 is reminiscent of the first three albums by The Time, which only contained six songs each. I mourned the six-song configuration when Pandemonium was initially released. If you want a classic, tailored, six-song version of Pandemonium, I recommend a playlist of the title track, “Jerk Out,” “Chocolate,” “Skillet,” “It’s Your World,” and “My Summertime Thang.” However, I would also add some skits back in. The three skits mentioned above, “Sexy Socialites,” “Yount,” and “Cooking Class,” would help season the list. With the skits, this custom version of Pandemonium comes in at 39 minutes, roughly the same time as What Time Is It? (38:36) and Ice Cream Castle (38:16).
“Chocolate” alone is evidence that a second volume of Prince’s Originals (2019) is necessary. The fifteen-track album contained original versions of songs he gave to other artists. The album contained two songs released by The Time, “Jungle Love” from Ice Cream Castle and “Gigolos Get Lonely Too” from What Time Is It? However, deluxe versions of The Time albums (alongside a select few other Prince-produced projects, such as Vanity 6 and the self-titled debut by Jill Jones) would be even better than an Originals series. These deluxe versions could contain the original versions by Prince, alongside live footage of The Time, which is sorely missing from the 1999 Super Deluxe box set, released last year.
“Jerk Out” and “Chocolate” were both solid singles. However, the third single was not from Pandemonium, but from the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack, instead, stunting Pandemonium‘s undeniable momentum. “Shake!” by The Time was the fifth and final single released on 8 January 1991 from the soundtrack.
VIDEO: Morris Day & The Time “Shake!” performance from Graffiti Bridge
Pandemonium had several songs that could have been chosen as the third single from The Time. The obvious choice would have been “Pandemonium,” which was considered as the second single, but “Chocolate” prevailed. Perhaps, Prince did not want to release a track that was not recorded in the usual Time fashion, by him and Morris Day in the studio together, as the track was written by Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and Jesse Johnson. Prince’s contributions to the track are disputable. According to princevault.com, “Prince was missing from the track’s initial copyright submission, but was added on a revised submission in June 1992.”
Let’s talk about some of the other songs on the album. “It’s Your World,” while attributed to Prince, sounds more like Jam & Lewis with their signature keyboard sounds. I wonder if Prince was intentionally trying to replicate that or if Jam & Lewis added some of their own “chili sauce.” The prerequisite slow song for an album by The Time has always been hit or miss, except for “Gigolos Get Lonely Too.” However, I prefer “Sometimes I Get Lonely,” which is NOT a Prince-penned, nor produced, ballad over “Donald Trump (Black Version),” penned and produced by Prince. A proper discussion about the evolution of “Data Bank” would require another article altogether. To quickly get to the heart of the matter, I’ll confess that I prefer The Time’s version of “Data Bank” over Prince’s original version from 1986. With the original, I get straight-up James Brown vibes. Many diehard fans love this version, but I never liked it when Prince directly referenced JB. If I want to listen to James Brown, I’ll listen to James Brown. I’m also probably the only Prince fam on the planet who loves the version of “We Can Funk” with George Clinton on the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack as opposed to “We Can Fu•k,” released on Purple Rain Deluxe (2017), but I digress.
“My Summertime Thang” requires its own paragraph, if not its own article, as well. First, the song contains a continuation of the cooking theme. However, more notably, “My Summertime Thang” was performed live at the Bonnaroo 2012 Superjam. Notable, not because of D’Angelo’s first U.S. concert appearance in almost twelve years, but because longtime Prince saxophonist Eric Leeds, and more importantly, Jesse Johnson, who was in D’Angelo’s band for the Second Coming tour, were both on stage together. There are more levels to this, but we won’t go there. Suffice it to say, I’m still salty that Jesse, a member of The Time, playing a song by The Time, didn’t get a guitar solo during “My Summertime Thang,” as far as I can tell from the footage on YouTube. The song is further complicated by having its music reused for “The Latest Fashion” on the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack, credited to “The Time with Prince,” a first publicly. “The Latest Fashion” is a head-scratcher in more ways than one. On Corporate World, the tune had different music. Think about that for a moment.
Even though longstanding Prince critic Jon Bream touted in the 20 August 1990 issue of Minneapolis’ Star Tribune that the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack was Prince’s “top winner” since 1984 and was “crowded with potential hit singles,” Pandemonium is a much stronger album than the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack. Pandemonium has withstood the test of time, while some tracks on the soundtrack have not. “Joy In Repetition” and “The Question of U,” two of Prince’s masterpieces on the soundtrack are exceptions. The promise of Graffiti Bridge being an authentic soundtrack, unlike the Purple Rain album, ultimately fails, despite a stellar line up of songs from not only Prince and The Time, but also Mavis Staples (“Melody Cool”), Tevin Campbell (“Round and Round”) and George Clinton (“We Can Funk.”).
VIDEO: The Time “Jerk Out”
Overall, the stronger tracks by The Time appeared on Pandemonium as opposed to Graffiti Bridge. There is a part of me who wishes that the soundtrack contained some of these tracks and, as a result, the film, particularly “Jerk Out.” While the music for “Jerk Out” is heard briefly in the Graffiti Bridge film, having the song as one of the key performances by The Time in the film would have been incendiary. Instead, we get a performance of “Shake!” which doesn’t fit in The Time’s catalogue, at all, in my humble opinion. In the article cited earlier, Jon Bream wrote that The Time’s ‘”Shake’ has a classic rock ‘n’ roll feel, albeit with modern electronic instruments; it evokes the B-52’s “Love Shack.”‘ I wonder if Bream’s unusually positive praise influenced “Shake!” as a single. Probably not, as the song was one of the featured performances in the film. I’m still dumbfounded after all these years about why, though. However, Pandemonium is near perfect and removing key songs would lessen the impact of the whole.
Pandemonium is an album that has never left my constant rotation. Even though The Time did not reunite for very long, this time around, and they wouldn’t get back together until Condensate in 2011 as the Original 7ven (because Prince wouldn’t let them use The Time name), I am grateful this project saw the light of day, unlike Corporate World. The album could have had legs if The Time would have toured for it. Many fans would have clamored to see the Original 7ven perform at this time and even now. Perennially, The Time will always be a band to witness live.
The album begins essentially with the way it ends with Morris’ sighing, “Oh, Lawd!” It’s a nice bookend to a project that surpassed the holy trinity of albums by The Time. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was excited to see the original members back in pure form and FINALLY being able to showcase their talents on an official release.