While there were collaborators, be it Andre Cymone, Morris Day, Jesse Johnson, Wendy & Lisa or David Z., its obvious it was all about Princes vision as he became an aural Howard Roark constructing his own rhythmic fountainhead. After the chart success of side-projects that Prince often created under the monikers Jamie Starr, as well as the mega-blast that was Purple Rain, his royalness was granted the keys to the kingdom from Warner Brothers in the form of a state-of-the-art studio in his hometown of Minneapolis and a record label; both were named Paisley Park.
Prince explained the concept of the label to Rolling Stone, Paisley Park is an alternative, he said. Im not saying its greater or better. Its just something else. From 1985 until its demise in 1994, when Prince started writing slave on his face as he fought to be released from his contract, Paisley Park seemed to cater mostly to the lavender-loving fans that couldnt get enough of the maestros sound.
Much like yesteryear teenyboppers whod buy every Motown release even if they had never heard it, Prince fans were willing to unconditionally pluck down their bucks for his psychedelic graffiti logo on the albums back covers. However, unlike the legendary quality control that Berry Gordy put into place as a part of his creative assembly-line, at Paisley Park the albums werent always so perfect.
While I still occasionally listen to my original cassette of The Family (their Screams of Passion was one of the best ballads of the decade) while wishing someone would burn me a copy of the first Madhouse album 8, I can assure you that even the most devoted fanatic wont be replaying their dusty copy of Carmen Electra or Ingrid Chavez discs anytime soon. Of course, there were a few dudes on the Paisley Park, from the flamboyantly funky and fly Mazarati as well as the sax-playing Eric Leeds, whose horn laced so many of Princes projects, many began to see the label as the most expensive Svengali singles bar in the country.
In 1990, Spin magazine described the music that Prince was doing for artists like Taja Sevelle and Jill Jones as machine-tooled bubble-funk for women everyone assumed he was nailing. According to some reports, Warner Brothers, who Prince accused of not being supportive in terms of marketing and promotion of Paisley product, felt the same way. In 1994, Warner Brothers pulled the plug and a few years later, Prince too ran away from what he perceived as a corporate plantation to much greener creative pastures. Since that time, all of the Paisley Park albums, excluding Princes own albums, have been out of print.
While I cant speak for all of the Prince fans on the planet, Ive longed for the day when Warner Brothers announces that they are reissuing the discs or putting out a massive box-set of the Paisley Park material. For me, as with many old school fans, the most notable release on the label was the self-titled debut album recorded by Jill Jones.
Best known as the attractive waitress Prince kept dissing in Purple Rain, the Ohio native was discovered by Prince when she was a 17-year-old back-up singer for white chocolate singer Teena Marie, who was like a sister to her. Jones was supplying backgrounds for the Prince camp since the early days. Serving as background singer on the brilliant 1999 album, she soon became Princes own Darlene Love as he juggled productions for his pop posse. Still, it wasnt until sitting in the audience on opening day of Purple Rain that I actually saw Jill Jones for the first time.
While The Kid was busy chasing around the scantily clad Apollonia throughout the imaginary cyberfunk landscape that was Purple Rain, cutie-pie Jill was on the sidelines, her presence, which reminded me of the sweet dejected dames in noir flicks, was overshadowed by the other woman. According to Alan Lights must-read Lets Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain, the role was supposed to be bigger and include a song (Wednesday), but was cut down considerably in the final script.
Unfortunately, Jones screen drama foreshadowed her career at Paisley Park as Prince laced his genius on others projects while literally pushing her into the background. If the man-wonder wouldve released Jills album after Purple Rain, it wouldve been a smash. But, instead he was off sculpting Sheena Eastons sweet Sugar Walls, helping his old buddy Andre Cymone dig The Dance Electric and making the scene with The Bangles for the Manic Monday sessions. Since most of Princes history is a mystery, there are more than a few stories circulating about his relationship with Jill Jones. While engineer Susan Rodgers has maintained that Jones was in love with Prince, in a 1987 Ebony magazine feature Princes Women, Jones clarified that Ive never been his girlfriend. Were basically really good friends. Later, shed confess that working with the genius was filled with many trials and tribulations.
Regardless of what their relationship mightve been back then, the vibrant energy that went into the making of Jill Jones still sounds fresh twenty-eight years later. That is, if you can find the damn thing. While Ive heard of collectors paying obscene amounts for it on eBay, periodically some brave soul posts the entire joint on YouTube, where, of course, it doesnt stay up for long. By the time Jill Jones was finally released, many record buyers, excluding the most hardcore fans, had grown bored with the computer blues soundscapes characterized by synthesizers and Linn drums that dominated the Minneapolis sound.
It was a real ace album, but the timing was way off, Jones told a reporter. Or, as the old man says at the end of Mia Bocca, the opening track, Hey baby, they just aint ready for you yet. Unlike Vanity, whose voice was sexy, but kept the listener at a distance, Jones projected warmth that made you want to come closer. Of course, she too was hot, but in a different way, much like all the sexy-smart girls Ive known all my life, she was genuine. As writer David Hill wrote in his tome of the period Prince: A Pop Life, Jill Jones is the Prince protégé who sounds most thoroughly like herself.
Released during Princes love affair with Nice, France, where he shot Under the Cherry Moon and fell in love with all things French; the charming cover design of Jill Jones, with its pink tint reminded me of something that Godard or Truffaut mightve used in the 60s to advertise their latest new wave feature. The album is a wonderful fusion of pop/soul and funk/rock that includes the eternal steamed heat of the lush ballad Violet Blue to the hypersexual erotic energy of G-Spot, the second single, and All Day, All Night.
The third single For Love is cool, but All Day, All Night is so wild you just got to love it as the guitars go berserk and the vocals roar. Collaborating with co-producer David Z., orchestra conductor Clare Fischer, drummer Jellybean Johnson and saxophonist Eric Leeds, the self-proclaimed skinny motherfucker with the high voice produced another classic. Except by the time Jill Jones was released, no one was really checking for it. With the record consumers having moved on to the next hotness, Jill Jones was left in the cold when neither the album nor any of the three singles charted in the states.
Having bought this on vinyl when it was originally released, I still find it to be funky fresh and one can hear its influence in the work of TLC-era Dallas Austin tracks as well as the fem-friendly production of Rodney Jerkins. In the canon of Paisley Park artists, Jill Jones was the best.
Check out this amazing LP in its entirety below: