Essentially a side project for Prince in the wake of his tour with Rick James in support of Dirty Mind (1980), the Time made their self-titled album debut in 1981, a few months before the release of Controversy. The band's lineup is listed as Morris Day (vocals), Jesse Johnson (guitar), Terry Lewis (bass), Jimmy Jam (keyboards), Monte Moir (keyboards), and Jellybean Johnson (drums) -- all from the same Minneapolis music scene as Prince -- though reportedly all the music heard on The Time was performed by Prince with the exception of the vocals and a couple synthesizer solos. Moreover, Prince wrote all but one of the songs. None of this information is evident in the liner notes, however (at least not on the initial edition), as the only sign of Prince's involvement is a production credit for Jamie Starr, one of his pseudonyms. The origin of the Time -- and subsequently Vanity 6 -- came about because Prince was a prolific artist and his record label, Warner Brothers, recognizing this, gave him its contractual blessing to create side projects. This worked out well for Prince since he was able to release music in addition to his proper solo recordings, and he would have himself an opening band for his tours. The Time may have not written or performed the music on their self-titled debut, but they were fully capable of performing it live on-stage as Prince's opening act. Far from a bunch of stage actors, the Time was actually a talented bunch: Morris Day would prove himself a charismatic frontman and had previously co-written "Partyup" for Dirty Mind; Jesse Johnson would develop as a virtuosic guitarist; and most accomplished of all, Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam would become a first-rate production duo, helming Janet Jackson's Control in 1986, among many other projects. As for the album itself, The Time is short on material, featuring only six songs, a couple of them quite slight, but there are a few truly fantastic songs here on a par with Prince's best work of the era, namely "Get It Up," "Cool," and "The Stick," all extended synth-funk jams in the eight-to-ten-minute range. Successive albums by the Time would be more typical of the band itself, yet The Time is no less noteworthy for the lack of the band's involvement; in fact, this debut release is especially noteworthy for Prince fans enamored of his Dirty Mind-era output, for the music here feels like a session of outtakes as sung by Morris Day.
The only problem with the Time's first album is that it isn't really the Time. Sure, that's Morris Day singing. Who else could it be? The music, however, is provided by Prince. Back in 1981, Prince was a superstar waiting to happen. So you have Day's swagger and sexual come-ons ("Oh Baby"--actually, every track here!) and Prince making the whole shebang sound like a more psychedelic Ohio Players. No small compliment, that, although soon after this came out, the real Time formed and became the Twin City's all-time best R&B group. Which is why What Time Is It?
is really the Time's classic debut. --Bill Holdship