Wednesday, February 25, 2015

10 Great '80s Minneapolis-Sound Songs That Weren't by Prince

Nearly one year after his death, Casey Kasem continues to change my life. His January 18, 1986 American Top 40 countdown recently reminded me that Minneapolis pop-soul in the '80s wasn't just about Prince, though much of it was somehow connected to him. They didn't call him His Purple Majesty (or His Royal Badness) for nothing, you know. Here is some of the best of the rest.

"Ice Cream Castles" The Time...My love for this Prince off-shoot band actually predates the first blush of my 1999-inspired Prince appreciation. Though it bloomed with The Time's 1982 R&B hit "Cool," the title song from the group's 1984 album, an opening track that would be overshadowed by the crossover hits "Jungle Love" and "The Bird," might be, for me, the first definitive non-Prince Minneapolis-sound song.

"Pretty Mess" Vanity...From the former "Nasty Girl" Vanity 6 frontwoman and quite possibly the nastiest thing I remember hearing in the '80s -- and I loved every filthy second of it!

"Can You Help Me" Jesse Johnson...He was the member of The Time who went on to the biggest and best things as a performer, but unfortunately, that didn't stop Jesse and his compact string of R&B hits from being more or less forgotten today.

"The Screams of Passion" The Family...After that Meg Ryan scene in When Harry Met Sally..., the biggest orgasm of the decade!

"Everybody Dance" Ta Mara and the Seen...Once completely forgotten, now permanently etched in my memory (and in heavy rotation on my iPod), thanks to its No. 24 peak position on Casey Kasem's aforementioned January 18, 1986 countdown.

"A Love Bizarre" Sheila E....Prince appeared on this track (which was perched at No. 31 for the American Top 40 week ending January 18, 1986), but it's credited solely to Sheila. 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 No. 11.

"Still a Thrill" Jody Watley ...As far as I know, Jody never had anything to do with Prince, but her second solo single was co-produced by Andre Cymone, who was once Prince's bassist, and David Z, whose brother Bobby was a drummer in The Revolution. It remains Jody's finest moment.

"Fake" Alexander O'Neal..."Can I get some 'Nasty'" bass?" I love the opening line's homage to Janet Jackson's "Nasty," also produced by ex-The Time members Jimmy "Jam" Harris and Terry Lewis. They produced all of the Janet's '80s hits that mattered as well as The Human League's "Human," but for me, this was their first pop-soul masterpiece.

"101" Sheena Easton..."Sugar Walls" (produced by Alexander Nevermind, aka Prince), "U Got the Look" (Sheena's Top 2 duet with Prince), and "The Arms of Orion" (their Batman soundtrack duet) were all bigger hits, but Sheena'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.

"Love Song" Madonna and Prince...OK, so it wasn't not by Prince, but since it appeared on Madonna's 1989 Like a Prayer album, it's technically a Madonna song. The dual meaning of the closing line, "This is not a love song that I want to sing," still makes me green with literary envy.

3 Honourable '90s Mentions

"Martika's Kitchen" Martika..."Love...Thy Will Be Done" was their Top 10 collaboration from Martika's album No. 2, but the title track was really the ripest fruit of their joint labour.

"I Hear Your Voice" Patti LaBelle...A vast improvement over 1989's "Yo Mister," which 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'd record an entire album together.

"Why Can't I Love You?" Kate Bush...Released on Kate's 1993 The Red Shoes album, this cut was criticized by one reviewer for not being "Kate Bush." I saw where he was coming from, but that's precisely what made it such a great, daring musical move.

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