Last year, I joined Popdose‘s Jeff Giles and Robert Cass for a column called “‘Face Time,” in which we discussed essential (and some non-essential) cuts in the catalog of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, one of the most prolific singer/songwriters of the ’80s and ’90s. ‘Face and his partner Antonio “L.A.” Reid were one of the big 3 production teams that ruled pop and R&B during that era. There was also Teddy Riley and his New Jack Swing camp, and perhaps most notably, Minneapolis’s James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Lewis. The former members of Prince offshoot band The Time turned out to be legends in their own right, composing and producing hits for a who’s-who of the music industry and proving to be as (if not more) influential than their purple-clad benefactor.
So in 2014, the three of us (and two new team members, fellow Popdose editor/Popblerd podcast co-host Michael Parr, along with badass co-conspirator Dr. Zack) are back to talk all things Flyte Tyme.
Now, can I get some nasty bass?
Alexander O’ Neal-“Fake” (Buy on Amazon mp3)
Written & Produced by Jam & Lewis/From Hearsay (1987)
MJ: First observation (and most obvious one): Jimmy & Terry wanted to give Alex a pop smash badly enough that they ripped off the musical bed of one of their own creations (“Nasty”) for this. Not the first time they did it, not the last time they did it, and not even a bad thing that they did it, because…
Second observation: This song is slammin’. If you put this and “Nasty” head to head, I’m honestly not sure which is the better song.
Also, if this song was released today, womens’ groups would be up in arms.
JG*: Not only did they rip themselves off, they did it when “Nasty” was still fresh in everyone’s minds — “Fake” was released in the summer of 1987, and was succeeded at the top of Billboard’s Hot Black Singles chart (#thasracist) by Janet’s “The Pleasure Principle.” Wikipedia says “Fake” was recorded in June of ’87, but I wonder if that’s really accurate. I’d be interested to know a little more about how these two songs really came together — if Jam & Lewis always intended to produce an answer track for “Nasty,” or if, as Mike says, they just took what seemed like an obvious opportunity to piggyback O’Neal onto an earlier hit.
Either way, I guess it worked. I had no idea this was O’Neal’s biggest single. Seems a little sad to me, in a way, that he’d achieve his biggest success with an echo of someone else’s hit, but I suppose the answer song is a rich tradition in its own right. I think it’s probably also worth noting that this arrangement popped up yet again in 1997, when Jam & Lewis lifted a bit for a segment of Patti LaBelle
‘s “When You Talk About Love
” (which wouldn’t exist without Al Green’s “Love and Happiness,” so…interpolation is where it’s at, I guess).
Z: I know I’m about to lose my Minneapolis Sound card here, but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard this song before. I know his debut (and “Innocent”) very well; if I have heard “Fake” before, it’s gotten buried in the recesses of my pop memory. Which makes it all the more surprising to me that this was his biggest hit. I was definitely pop conscious enough at the time that I feel like I should have come across this song on MTV at least.
MJ: Think it might have been a “record company needs an obvious hit single” gambit?
JG: As in “Jam & Lewis give a nod to answer-song tradition by devouring the still-fresh carcass of one of their recent hits, and when the label hears it, they decide that’s the obvious single”? Seems totally plausible to me.
MJ: I’m thinking it may have happened in reverse.
They heard the album, decided there wasn’t a big pop or dance single on it (which, as good as “Hearsay” is, is probably true) and sent Alex, Jam and Lewis back into the studio to write an obvious hit?
Regardless of how it was inspired, “Fake” is a fucking jam. And also fits nicely into the narrative thread that the “Hearsay” album follows.
MP: Quoting your own jam isn’t all that foreign, even today (see: Beyoncé’s “Halo,” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone”; both written by Ryan Tedder), but it still feels “cheap” to the average listener. From a practical perspective, every artist does this, albeit not always so noticeably. Mike it right, though: this is a jam. Hell, this whole record is.
Sucks that Alexander didn’t build on this success.
MP: Consider this, though: what if it wasn’t really his success to capitalize on. Jam and Lewis–and on this record, basically, The Time–feel like the driving force, with O’Neal providing the voice. I’m not implying that he isn’t a super talented cat, because I know he is, but Alexander O’Neal without Jam & Lewis is like Harold Melvin without the Blue Notes.
MJ: Points for the Snoop reference.
Z: This is perhaps the greatest example of O’Neal giving Prince a “fuck you” and trying to out-Morris Morris Day. To that end, I actually hear “Fishnet” (1987) here as much as “Nasty,” right down to the smooth talkin’ intro and the patented Jam/Lewis synth accents.
MJ: Remember that Alexander was the original lead singer of The Time, so yeah, there might’ve been some F.U. involved. That said, “Fishnet” was a Jam/Lewis production that came out maybe three months after “Fake.” I think I just invalidated my own argument.
: Were details on the Prince split ever detailed? My guess is that he refused to be Prince’s
bitch. But I can’t help but wonder what an O’Neal-fronted Time would have sounded like.
MJ: Not really. There’s two theories about why Alexander didn’t make the cut:
1) Alexander asked for too much money.
2) Prince found Alexander “too black.”
Either is plausible, I suppose. And maybe (most likely?) it’s a combination of both.
With Alexander in front instead of Morris, they would’ve lost some of the camp fun factor they had, but they might also have been extra funky and blown Prince clear off the stage more often than not. Alexander had some lungs on him, man.
Z: Yeah, I mean I love Morris Day, but it’s all about the image/performance; O’Neal definitely has a higher level of vocal talent.
The theory of an Alexander O’Neal-fronted Time being ‘extra funky and blow[ing] Prince clear off the stage” is an interesting one, especially given that this was often the case when on the Triple Threat tour in 1982-1983, when the Time (with Jam and Lewis still in tow) opened for the Revolution and upstaged them more often than not.
MJ: Anything else we’d like to add to this conversation?
*JG: Jeff Giles, not Johnny Gill. My, my, my!!!