Besides being an overall bad-ass, another thing Prince is well-known for is his stable of side projects.The desire to be known as a developer of talent in addition to being known as a talent himself ran strong in the little guy, and Prince started spitting out proteges almost as soon as he became a hit artist. Some of the artists went on to create great music (if not have lengthy careers), while other artists came and went in the blink of an eye.
I’m not gonna go into every single side project and/or artist Prince worked with. However, I figure I’ll take a quick look at some of the highlights and also put together a list of the 25 best songs that Prince either wrote or performed for other artists, or was created by one of his side projects (in which case, it means that Prince probably wrote and produced it, even if the songwriter’s credits say differently.)
The Time- Prince’s first official side project was allegedly created around childhood friend Morris Day after Prince bought 1980’s “Partyup” from him. Surrounding Morris with the best musicians from the Minneapolis funk scene and giving Morris a preening image, The Time recorded three successful albums before splitting in 1984. The band members spent the next several years being successful on their own before splitting in 1990. Day recorded three moderately successful solo albums and scored a #1 R&B hit with “Fishnet”, guitarist Jesse Johnson also had a handful of hits and scored his own side project with Ta Mara and the Seen. Meanwhile, keyboardist Jimmy Jam and bassist Terry Lewis went on to become one of the most successful and influential production teams in history-working with The S.O.S. Band, Cheryl Lynn, The Human League, Gladys Knight, George Michael, MC Lyte, Big Daddy Kane, Boyz II Men, New Edition, Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. I could (and will) do a list of the 25 or 50 greatest Jam/Lewis songs of all time.
The Time was also known as a killer live band, and it speaks a lot to their talent that members of the band wound up being almost as influential as the artist that “found” them. Reportedly working on a reunion album to be released in 2011, The Time’s still bringing the funk hard as they move into their fifties.
Vanity/Appolonia 6– Prince met Canadian actress Denise Matthews at an American Music Awards ceremony and was instantly smitten. Pairing her with ex-girlfriend Susan Moonsie and the wife of his road manager (Brenda Bennett), Prince initially re-named Denise “Vagina”. After she blanched, the name was changed to Vanity. The trio’s self-titled debut, released in late 1982, is an underrated funk/rock classic. The first single, “Nasty Girl”, hit #1 on Billboard’s dance chart and should have been a huge pop hit (Top 40 radio was definitely not ready for lyrics requesting size requirements in a man back in 1982.) Vanity 6’s album eventually went Gold, but Vanity’s ego and drug problem led her to leave the group while “Purple Rain” was being filled. She was eventually replaced by actress Patricia Kotero, who was dubbed Appolonia. Songs that were recorded for A6’s debut album were eventually scrapped and either released by Prince (“17 Days”) or given away to other artists (“Manic Monday”), leaving the trio with not-so-great material for what ended up being their debut album. “Sex Shooter” was a minor hit and the album flopped. The group split soon after. Apollonia briefly appeared on the TV show “Falcon Crest” and then slid into obscurity, while Susan and Brenda left the business altogether. Meanwhile, Vanity scored a handful of minor hits as a Motown artist, but found more success as an actress, appearing in the hit films “The Last Dragon” and “Action Jackson”. Vanity is most remembered, however, as a drug addict. She was engaged to Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx when he “died” in the late Eighties, and ran into health problems, including kidney failure. Eventually, Vanity reverted to her given name, and became a born-again Christian. She’s renounced her Vanity performer, and it’s likely that we’ll never see her adopt that persona again.
Sheila E.– The most musically talented Prince protege, Sheila Escovedo is an amazing drummer, not surprising considering her bloodline. Her dad is percussionist Pete Escovedo, her uncle is Santana member Coke Escovedo, and her godfather was the late Tito Puente. Signed to Warner Bros., Sheila recorded four albums from 1984-1990. Prince was involved heavily in the first two albums, which contained the pop hits “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre”. Her later two Warner albums had a handful of minor hits, but were not as successful. Sheila remains an in-demand musician, and still records pop/gospel albums on occasion.
Revolution/Prince band side projects- Before The Revolution was “The Revolution”, they were just “Prince’s band”, and members of the band had ideas to do their own thing almost from the band’s inception. Bass player Andre Cymone grew up with Prince and the two lived together for most of their teenage years. Cymone left the band in 1981, tired of playing second banana, and signed with Columbia Records. He recorded three unsuccessful albums, with only one Top 00 R&B hit, “The Dance Electric”, which was written by…Prince. He found much more success as a producer, cultivating hits for artists like Adam Ant and Jody Watley, who later became his wife (and then ex-wife). Another early band member who went on to solo glory before Prince became a supernova was guitarist Dez Dickerson. Dez (probably best known for serving as Prince’s foil in 1983’s “Little Red Corvette” video) left the band in 1983, made a cameo in “Purple Rain”. Dez became successful in the contemporary Christian market, making his own albums and also running a label at one point.
The most commercially and critically well-received Revolution members not named Prince were guitarist Wendy Melvoin and keyboardist Lisa Coleman. After The Revolution split in 1986, the duo signed to Columbia Records (did every Prince associate jump ship to Columbia?) and recorded several (very good) albums. Their most recent effort was 2008’s White Flags of Winter Chimneys. Wendy and Lisa (who were romantically involved for most of their careers but split several years ago) became celebrated musicians on their own, working with the likes of Seal and Meshell Ndegeocello. They’ve also scored many movies and television shows, and received an Emmy for their work on the show Nurse Jackie. Wendy’s brother Jonathan and sister Susannah were also accomplished musicians, with Susannah eventually serving as Prince’s girlfriend (inspiring many of the songs on Sign o’ the Times), and co-fronting yet another Prince side-project, The Family. Also containing Paul Petersen and former Time members Jellybean Johnson and Jerome Benton, The Family had an R&B smash with “The Screams of Passion” and recorded the original version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” (which later became a career song for Sinead O’ Connor) before imploding just a year after they began. Reunion rumors have been floating around for a few years now, but a second album has yet to materialize.
Other Revolution members scored success as well. Auxiliary saxophonist Eric Leeds made several albums for Paisley Park in a smooth jazz mode, while bass player Brown Mark (AKA Mark Brown) scored mild success as a producer and solo artist. He discovered a band called Mazarati, who recorded one album and provided an interesting piece of Prince trivia. “Kiss” was originally given to Mazarati by Prince, who then re-listened to the song and took it back. Mazarati stood to the side and watched it become one of Prince’s biggest hits. Tough break.
Prince was also an instrumental (pun intended) part of a jazz-fusion group called Madhouse. Leeds and Sheila E. also contributed to the band’s two albums in the late Eighties. Also at the end of the decade, Prince became more involved as a writer and producer for outside artists. He signed Mavis Staples and George Clinton to his label, Paisley Park. He also wrote and produced for artists such as Patti LaBelle, Monie Love (ruining her career in the process), Tevin Campbell, El DeBarge, Howard Hewett and Celine Dion (whose “With This Tear” is one of her most amazing vocal performances).
We can’t forget Jill Jones. Prince originally discovered Jones while she was singing backup for Teena Marie on tour. She eventually became an auxiliary member of the Revolution (she appears draped over Wendy in the “1999” video) and went on to release a severely underrated album of her own in 1987.
Since the mid-Nineties (and coinciding with the dissolution of Paisley Park in 1994), Prince hasn’t been as active as a talent scout, mostly working on projects for ex-wives (Mayte’s Child of the Sun was released overseas) and girlfriends (Bria Valente’s Elixir was smartly packaged as a part of Prince’s Lotusflow3r package). Many feel as though Prince shortchanged himself by focusing on mentoring “artists” of questionable merit (Carmen Electra, anyone), but he’s still put together quite a legacy of work that wasn’t released under his name. Here’s a 25-song playlist (that I couldn’t leave at 25 and had to increase to 40) that features some of the best work recorded either by Prince proteges or were written by Prince specifically for other artists. A couple of songs were included that feature uncredited instrumental contributions from Prince, as well.
1) “Get it Up” (written and largely performed by Prince, released by The Time)
2) “Cool” (co-written and largely performed by Prince, released by The Time)
3) “777-9311” (written and largely performed by Prince, released by The Time)
4) “Gigolos Get Lonely Too” (written by Prince, recorded by The Time)
5) “I Don’t Wanna Leave You” (written by Prince, recorded by The Time)
6) “Nasty Girl” (written by Prince, recorded by Vanity 6)
7) “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)” (written by Prince and featuring him on vocals, recorded by Vanity 6)
8) “Stand Back” (co-composed anonymously by Prince and recorded by Stevie Nicks. He also plays keyboards on the song)
9) “Ice Cream Castles” (co-written by Prince, recorded by The Time)
10) “My Drawers” (written by Prince, recorded by The Time)
11) “The Glamorous Life” (written by Prince, recorded by Sheila E.)
12) “Sex Shooter” (written by Prince, recorded by Apollonia 6)
13) “Sugar Walls” (written by Prince, recorded by Sheena Easton)
14) “100 MPH” (co-written by Prince, recorded by Mazarati)
15) “The Dance Electric” (written by Prince, recorded by Andre Cymone)
16) “A Love Bizarre” (written by Prince, recorded by Sheila E.)
17) “Sister Fate” (written by Prince, recorded by Sheila E.)
18) “I Want My Girl” (recorded by Jesse Johnson’s Revue)
19) “The Screams of Passion” (written by Prince, recorded by The Family)
20) “Nothing Compares 2 U” (written by Prince, recorded by The Family)
21) “Manic Monday” (written by Prince-originally for Apollonia 6-recorded by The Bangles)
22) “The Life” (recorded by Wendy & Lisa)
23) “Waterfall” (recorded by Wendy & Lisa)
24) “Under the Influence” (recorded by Vanity)
25) “Six” by Madhouse (co-written and mostly performed by Prince, released by Madhouse)
26) “Baby Go-Go” (written by Prince, recorded by Nona Hendryx)
27) “All Day, All Night” (written by Prince, recorded by Jill Jones)
28) “Yo Mister” (written by Prince, recorded by Patti LaBelle)
29) “Fishnet” (performed by Morris Day, written and produced by Jam and Lewis)
30) “Keep it Together” (performed by Madonna, Prince allegedly plays guitar on the track)
31) “Release It” (co-written by Prince, recorded by The Time)
32) “Love…Thy Will Be Done” (written by Prince and featuring him on vocals, recorded by Martika)
33) “Tip o’ My Tongue” (co-written by Prince, recorded by El DeBarge)
34) “With This Tear” (written by Prince, recorded by Celine Dion)
35) “Shhh…” (written by Prince, recorded by Tevin Campbell)
36) “Paris 1798430” (written by Prince, recorded by Tevin Campbell)
37) “If I Love U 2nite” (written by Prince, recorded by Mayte)
38) “I Remember U” (co-written by Prince, performed by Chaka Khan)
39) “Waiting Room” (co-written by Prince and featuring him on vocals, recorded by No Doubt)
40) “Star *69 (P.S. with Love)” (features Prince on vocals and possibly keyboards, recorded by Common)
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