Much like the subjects of my guest post from last week, Jill Jones is a somewhat lesser-known figure in the Prince protégé pantheon. Whether you know her by name or not, though, you’ve definitely heard her sing: Jill’s is the first voice on Prince’s 1982 crossover smash “1999.” And, again like the Family, her self-titled 1987 album on Paisley Park is required listening for anyone with a taste for “purple music” from the latter half of the decade.
Though she only released one album under Prince’s tutelage, Jill Jones spent a surprisingly long time in his camp. The pair first met in early 1980, when both were on tour with Rick James–Prince as the opening act, Jones as a backing singer for Teena Marie. By 1982 she had graduated to singing with Prince, making memorable appearances alongside Lisa Coleman in the music videos for the 1999 album (I believe I’ve said elsewhere on the Internet that the sight of Jill pouting in her police hat and camisole was at least 70% responsible for my sexual awakening as a preteen), and was one of his handful of off-and-on girlfriends. Her solo career was supposed to take off in 1984, when Prince wrote a song for her to sing in his breakout feature film Purple Rain; it ended up on the cutting room floor, however, along with the majority of the rest of her scenes.
It was only after another three years of waiting that Jill finally got her time in the sun. Released in May 1987, Jill Jones was comprised largely of re-recorded versions of some of Prince’s best outtakes. “G-Spot” was originally intended for Vanity 6; “All Day, All Night” used a live backing track recorded in 1984 by the Revolution; “Baby, You’re a Trip” dated all the way back to the 1999 sessions, as did lead single “Mia Bocca.” But with its lush string arrangement by Clare Fischer–another Family connection–“Mia Bocca” is really the closing bookend to Prince’s glamorous Under the Cherry Moon era, and it’s a hell of a way to go out. Even on its own, it’s worth the album’s price of admission.
Or at least, that’s what I think; but it seems the record-buying public didn’t agree, as Jill Jones failed to chart on the Billboard Top 100 for Pop, Black, and Dance music. Jones stuck around Paisley Park for a few more years, recording some tracks for an abortive second album with Prince and appearing in 1990’s Graffiti Bridge film. Perhaps understandably, that was the last time they worked together. After spending most of the ’90s struggling to make a name for herself, Jill released a second solo album in 2001, then retired from the music industry. Earlier this year, however, she emerged from her long hiatus with another, dance-flavored album called I Am (presumably, we can expect her fourth record sometime around 2030).
Like many of Prince’s spinoff records from the late ’80s, Jill Jones is unfortunately difficult to get a hold of these days; it is, however, available on YouTube, and until such time as an official reissue occurs, that’s where I recommend checking it out. Jill Jones’ album may have been a victim of Paisley Park’s financial decline–and Jones herself a victim of Prince’s caprice when it comes to his side projects– but for fans of Prince and the Minneapolis Sound in general, it’s a buried gem.
Next weekend, we’ll pick up where Jill and Prince left off with the multiple protégés of 1990’s Graffiti Bridge. In the meantime, as always, keep it tuned to Andresmusictalk, and check out my other stuff on Dystopian Dance Party and dance / music / sex / romance.