30 Years Ago: Prince Adds His Touch to the Family’s Debut Album
The Family was perhaps the least successful, but arguably most interesting of the many side projects Prince undertook in the early '80s.
Musically, the band's debut album was a stylistic bridge between Prince’s psych-pop experiment Around the World in a Day and the transcontinental jazz-funk of Parade. Due in part to a glut of Prince product in the marketplace, and due in part to the fact that the band split up in short order, the album sank without a trace shortly following its release on Aug. 19, 1985. In a strange twist of fate, one of its album cuts would become a worldwide smash five years later -- for another artist named Sinead O'Connor.
The seeds of the Family were sown from the remnants of the Time. When that band imploded shortly after releasing their third album, Ice Cream Castle, Prince decided to form a new band around three of its members: drummer Jellybean Johnson, keyboardist Paul Peterson and Morris Day’s sidekick-valet Jerome Benton. Prince also recruited vocalist Susannah Melvoin, the twin sister of Revolution guitarist Wendy (and Prince’s girlfriend at the time) as well as horn player Eric Leeds. Styled in neo-Edwardian duds, the Family was Prince’s attempt to, as the story goes, “get some of that Duran Duran money."
The Family doesn’t sound much like Duran Duran's Rio or Seven and the Ragged Tiger, so it’s probably safe to say that Duran Duran wasn’t an exact style guide. Written, composed and performed almost entirely by Prince, the music has tinges of pop and funk but has an even stronger jazz influence. The Family’s album marks the first time Prince worked intimately with horn players, and Leeds is the one instrumentalist in the group given free reign throughout the album. His sizzling sax playing is a highlight of the extended funk jam “Mutiny,” as well as the album’s two instrumentals “Yes” and “Susannah’s Pajamas.”
The only thing approximating a hit single to emanate from the Family’s album was the quirky dance tune “The Screams of Passion.” Featuring flirty vocal interplay between Paul and Susannah and an ethereal string section conducted by the legendary Clare Fischer (who’d go on to work with Prince for the next two decades), the song cracked the top 10 of the Billboard R&B charts, but didn’t make a lot of noise on the pop charts.
A ballad buried on side two, “Nothing Compares 2 U,” would go on to become a Grammy-winning smash in 1990 when reinterpreted by Irish firebrand Sinead O’ Connor. Prince clearly earmarked “Nothing” as a special song: although fond of assigning composing credits to the various musicians fronting his side projects, “Nothing Compares 2 U” is listed on the record as being written by Prince.
The Family didn’t even make it through the first year of existence before Peterson bolted. Prince then disbanded the outfit, slotting all the remaining members save Johnson into an expanded version of the Revolution. Nearly a quarter century later, the band reunited and released Gaslight under the name fDeluxe in 2009.
Watch the Family's "The Screams of Passion" Video
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