20 Defining ‘Minneapolis Sound’ Jams That Weren’t by Prince
He dominated the ’80s and ’90s as pop’s greatest influencer.
Prince Rogers Nelson left us way too early nearly 17 months ago, but his vast body of work and the Minneapolis sound he inspired plays on. An unmistakable blend of dance, music, sex, romance, the sound of Minneapolis, Prince’s hometown, was to the ’80s what the sound of Detroit (Motown) was to the ’60s and what the sound of Philadelphia (Philly soul) was to the ’70s.
If it weren’t for Prince, St. Paul’s twin city probably still would be best known as the Minnesota setting of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In addition to all the ’80s and ’90s pop standards credited to Prince, Prince and the Revolution, Prince and the New Power Generation, “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” and the unpronounceable “Love Symbol,” His Purple Highness wrote, produced, and/or helped shape singles and album tracks by a number of established acts, including Celine Dion, Chaka Khan, Cyndi Lauper, Kate Bush, Madonna, Mavis Staples, No Doubt, Patti LaBelle, Sheena Easton, Sinéad O’Connor, Stevie Nicks, and TLC.
In 1981, he put together the group The Time, which enjoyed hits concurrently with Prince and his ’80s band The Revolution. The Time eventually would spin-off several hitmakers: Morris Day, Jesse Johnson, and, most successfully, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The duo’s production and songwriting skills helped the Minneapolis sound put its bold-print stamp on the musical map and also boosted Janet Jackson to superstar status.
So, in a sense, Michael’s baby sister owes her massive career to Prince’s knack for finding talent and then firing it. (According to legend, he sacked Jam and Lewis after they missed a Time gig to produce The S.O.S. Band.)
Jam and Lewis’s string of hits is as impressive as Prince’s (Why have they yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?), but the Minneapolis sound wasn’t just about its three MVPs. Here are 20 of the best by some of the rest.
“Ice Cream Castles” The Time (1984)
My love for this Prince off-shoot band actually predates the first blush of my 1999-inspired Prince appreciation, blooming with The Time’s 1981 R&B hit “Cool.” It was the second of the group’s five Top 10 R&B hits between 1981 and 1990.
The title song, opening track, and first single from The Time’s 1984 album, Ice Cream Castle (just one “castle”), co-written by Morris Day and Prince (under the pseudonym Jamie Starr) and also produced by the latter, missed the R&B top ten by just one notch, but it presaged the band’s crossover era. It soon would be overshadowed on the charts by “Jungle Love” and “The Bird,” but for me, “Ice Cream Castles” was the first defining Minneapolis-sound song that wasn’t by Prince.
“Pretty Mess” Vanity (1985)
The late Denise Katrina Matthews (aka Vanity) was best known as the vocalist and focal point for the Prince-launched girl-group trio Vanity 6, whose “Nasty Girl” went Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot Black Singles chart and in the UK in 1982. Despite the notoriety of that hit, Vanity’s 1984 solo single for Motown, written and co-produced by the singer with no input from Prince, might be the nastiest thing I remember hearing in the ’80s — and I still love every filthy second of it!
“Can You Help Me” Jesse Johnson’s Revue (1985)
Johnson was the guitarist for The Time and the member who went on to the biggest and best things as a performer (five Top 10 hits on Billboard’s R&B singles chart between 1985 and 1988). Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Johnson and his compact string of R&B hits from being more or less forgotten today.
“The Screams of Passion” The Family (1985)
After that Meg Ryan scene in When Harry Met Sally…, this may have been the biggest orgasm of the decade! The band’s one and only album, 1985’s The Family, was co-produced by Prince and included an early version of the Prince composition “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which would make Sinéad O’Connor a massive one-hit wonder via a decidedly un-Prince-ly cover five years later.
“Everybody Dance” Ta Mara and the Seen (1985)
Jesse Johnson strikes again. As producer of Ta Mara and the Seen’s debut album, he helped them score a number 24 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 that also climbed to number three on the R&B chart. The Minneapolis quintet’s awkward moniker didn’t scream “Long career!”, but its biggest hit sounds mid-’80s-specific and kind of timeless at the same time.
“A Love Bizarre” Sheila E. (1985)
The song is a duet with Prince (which he co-wrote and co-produced with Sheila), but it’s credited solely to the drummer and singer. Sadly, she’s perhaps best known as the “one-hit wonder” singer of “A Glamorous Life,” although this far superior single made it all the way to number 11.
“Still a Thrill” Jody Watley (1987)
As far as I know, Watley never had anything to do with Prince, but her second solo single was co-produced by André Cymone, who was once Prince’s bassist, and Prince’s sometimes musical cohort David Z, whose brother Bobby Z was the drummer in The Revolution. It remains Jody’s finest moment.
“Sticky Wicked” Chaka Khan (1988)
Before The Bangles and Sinéad O’Connor went top three with songs written by Prince (“Manic Monday” and “Nothing Compared 2 U,” respectively) and before Meli’sa Morgan topped Billboard’s R&B singles chart with his “Do Me Baby,” Chaka Khan earned the hugest hit of her career (number three, matching the Hot 100 peak of Rufus’ Stevie Wonder composition “Tell Me Something Good”) with the Prince-penned “I Feel for You” in 1984 (which, incidentally, featured Wonder on harmonica).
Four years later, Khan and Prince united for two tracks on her ck album, including this merger of funk and jazz and the equally killer ballad “Eternity.”
“101” Sheena Easton (1989)
“Sugar Walls” (a Top 10 Hot 100 single produced by Alexander Nevermind, aka Prince), “U Got the Look” (Easton’s number-two duet with Prince), and “The Arms of Orion” (their Batman soundtrack duet, a third Top 40 collaboration) were all bigger hits. Still, Easton’s haunting/defiant/tear-jerking vocals on this shamefully overlooked 1989 single, written by Joey Coco (aka Prince) and produced by Prince under his own name, make this their best joint effort.
“On the Way Up” Elisa Fiorillo (1990)
In the mid-’80s when they both were cementing their superstardom, I thought a Madonna/Prince collaboration would have sounded a lot like this — only without the new-jack trappings. When the two did get together for “Love Song,” their duet on Madonna’s 1989 Like a Prayer album, it felt more like Madonna singing with Prince on a song he had written for Vanity 6.
Fiorillo, as it turns out, had pretty solid connections to both. She was the vocalist on “Who Found Who” by Jellybean Benitez, Madonna’s onetime producer and boyfriend. She also sang back-up on several late-’80s/early ’90s Prince albums. He returned the favor by teaming up with David Z to produce her 1990 LP I Am, which included this number 27 Hot 100 hit.
“Elephant Box” and “Heaven Must Be Near” Ingrid Chavez (1991)
Not just another pretty face or the leading lady in Prince’s 1990 film Graffiti Bridge, Chavez co-wrote Madonna’s 1990 number-one hit “Justify My Love” with Lenny Kravitz. Then she collaborated with Prince for five songs on her debut album May 19, 1992, including this spoken-word jam and the similarly hypnotic, trippy, and unsung (figuratively and literally) “Heaven Must Be Near,” both of which deserved to have been just as big as “Justify My Love.”
“I Hear Your Voice” Patti LaBelle (1991)
A vast improvement over 1989’s “Yo Mister,” a Top 10 R&B hit from LaBelle’s Be Yourself album that was notable mostly because nobody ever expected to find Patti and Prince in the same room, much less on the same single. But this 1991 Burnin’ track made me wish they had recorded an entire album together.
“Why Should I Love You?” Kate Bush (1993)
Like “Love Song” with Madonna, this sounds more like a Prince song than one by the superstar with whom he collaborated on it. Intriguingly, though, it was written and produced solely by Bush, with Prince providing guitar, bass, keyboards, and backing vocals, as well as arranging the track. So despite the Prince-ness of it all, it’s Bush’s joint in more than name only, and one of the greatest, most daring musical moves in a career full of them.
“Stand Back” Stevie Nicks (1983) Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” inspired its melody, and he played synthesizer on it.
“The Dance Electric” Andre Cymone (1985) Prince’s former bass guitarist scored a R&B Top 10 all on his own mid-decade.
“I’m the One Who Loves You” Ready for the World (1985) They were from Flint, Michigan, and they had absolutely nothing to do with Prince, but Ready for the World rocked a Minneapolis-esque sound so hard that everyone thought their number-one hit “Oh Sheila” had to be about Sheila E. It wasn’t, and this B-side to that single out-funks the hits for which they’re best known (“Oh Sheila,” “Digital Display,” “Love You Down,” and “My Girly”).
“Fishnet” Morris Day (1988)The Time frontman rocked it solo, all the way to the top of the R&B singles chart and number 23 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
“Are You My Baby?” Wendy & Lisa (1989) After steering right of the Minneapolis sound for their mainstream-y 1987 debut single “Waterfall” (not to be confused with TLC’s “Waterfalls”), the former Revolution duo revisited the style of their ex-boss on this psychedelic-soul jam that’s reminiscent of Sign o’ the Times/Lovesexy-era Prince.
“Martika’s Kitchen” Martika (1991) “Love Thy Will Be Done,” co-written and produced by Prince, went Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100, but the title cut from Martika’s second album, written and produced by Prince, was the tastiest concoction of their four-song collaboration.