Revisiting the Top 5 Paisley Park Albums, Beyond Prince’s Own by Miles Marshall Lewis

Paisley Park Records Top 5 Albums

Revisiting the Top 5 Paisley Park Albums, Beyond Prince’s Own
by Miles Marshall Lewis

Curtis Mayfield founded his own Curtom Records in 1968. The Beatles founded Apple Records the same year, when Steve Jobs was just 13. Sly Stone started Stone Flower in 1970, etc., etc. So on April 22, 1985, when Prince and the Revolution’s Around the World in a Day ushered in the Warner Bros. Records-distributed vanity label Paisley Park Records, there was an air of inevitability about it. Consider too that albums by The Time, Vanity 6 and Apollonia 6 all came stamped as products of The Starr Company (the nonexistent enterprise of the nonexistent Jamie Starr, Prince’s early ’80s pseudonym) and the certainty of Prince’s own official imprint was written in the Starrs.

Roll call: The Family. Madhouse. Jill Jones. Sheila EGood Question. The Three O’Clock. T.C. Ellis. Dale Bozzio. Eric Leeds. The Time. Ingrid Chavez. Carmen Electra. Mavis Staples. George Clinton. Taja Sevelle. Mazarati. Tony LeMans. Japan even got two Kahoru Kohiruimaki albums (our loss). From 1985 to 1993, not one of these artists’ albums even went platinum. But unlike Michael Jackson’s MJJ Music label or even Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ Flyte Tyme Records, the Paisley Park stable was interesting.

Inside Paisley Park

The late Tony LeMans’ “Higher Than High,” Ingrid Chavez’s “Hippy Blood,” Taja Sevelle’s “Love Is Contagious,” George Clinton with Public Enemy on “Tweakin’”—there were many gems, even when things weren’t secretly produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince (the overwhelming majority of it wasn’t.) Excepting the founder’s own albums, the following is a top-five breakdown of the best long players of Paisley Park Records. Rhino Entertainment, are you listening?

5. The Time – Pandemonium

The Time - Pandemonium on Paisley Park Records

For a very, very brief moment in 1990, it looked like Graffiti Bridge might turn out to be a Purple Rain sequel to contend with. While hardly “When Doves Cry” worthy, Prince had a moment with his experimental, inventive lead single, “Thieves in the Temple” (has he had a harmonica solo since?) And unbelievably, The Time was back, original line-up and all. “Jerk Out” was an exciting throwback funk number plopped squarely in the middle of the reigning new jack swing and gangsta MCs of the era. We all wondered what was next.

Well, Graffiti Bridge disappointed (to be kind) and Pandemonium went gold and then fizzled. Dusted off from the Prince vaults, the second single “Chocolate” could have scored big even five years earlier, but not so much when Babyface productions ruled BET and Yo! MTV Raps was dominant. “Donald Trump (Black Version)” doesn’t quite measure up to The Time’s greatest ballads (“Oh, Baby,” “Girl,” “Gigolos Get Lonely Too”), but guitarist Jesse Johnson lights into “Blondie” like it’s the group’s very own “Bambi.” Many parts of Pandemonium lived up to the legacy of The Time and What Time Is It?, a last hurrah for one of the tightest funk outfits of all time. And if you’ve heard Condensate, The Time’s 2011 “The Original 7ven” album, yes, Pandemonium is indeed the last hurrah.

BUY The Time – Pandemonium

4. Sheila E. – Romance 1600

Sheila E. - In Romance 1600 on Paisley Park Records

“A Love Bizarre” became an instant omnipresent radio staple—both R&B and pop—from its November 1985 debut onward, a bookend to Prince and Sheila E.’s other duet “Erotic City” the previous year. But first came “Sister Fate” and its video, where the drummer slash Prince paramour played coy with her relationship status to His Purple Majesty. She also took the occasion to debut an Amadeus-inspired, French Renaissance look full of lace and ruffles. Romance 1600 came in August, followed by Sheila E.’s role in hip-hop’s cinematic classic Krush Groove that October (one of her small handful of Hollywood turns), then “A Love Bizarre.”

Sheila’s first album, 1984’s The Glamorous Life, is a Starr Company classic in its own right. But where Paisley Park Records is concerned, Romance 1600 proves the value of Prince’s whole label venture. Had Warner Bros. been braver, “Dear Michaelangelo” and “Toy Box” could have been singles. “Bedtime Story” is a ballad on par with The Glamorous Life’s “Next Time Wipe the Lipstick Off Your Collar,” a bluesy slow jam that might make you believe Sheila E. can actually sing.

Prince wrote, produced and played on nearly everything on here, save the rapid-fire instrumental “Merci for the Speed of a Mad Clown in Summer.” In an ’80s era when even Prince throwaway material was fodder for top 10 hits (“A Love Bizarre” reached number two on the Billboard R&B chart), Romance 1600 was among the best of the best.

BUY Sheila E. – Romance 1600

Related Articles