Though they were assembled by Prince in the early '80s, Minneapolis funk collective The Time were a band all their own, and sought to prove it wherever possible. In 1985, they finally released a single to do just that - the only problem was, it would be their last for many years.
"The Bird" was a standout track from The Time's third album, 1984's Ice Cream Castle. Written in the style of old-school dance crazes, guitarist Jesse Johnson is said to have come up with the idea while Prince was touring behind 1999. That infamous "Triple Threat" tour featured The Time not only as one of the opening acts but the backing band to the other opener, Prince's girl group Vanity 6. Prince and The Time were very competitive on the road, and the Purple One was a notorious taskmaster. Tensions came to a head not long after the tour, when keyboardist Jimmy Jam and bassist Terry Lewis were sacked after missing a show while trying to fly to a gig after a recording session. (That session resulted in The S.O.S. Band's "Just Be Good to Me," and established Jam and Lewis as one of the biggest production duos of the '80s and beyond.)
By the time Prince positioned The Time as his official "rivals" in the film Purple Rain, the line-up had changed considerably. Original frontman Morris Day, his sidekick/dancer Jerome Benton, guitarist Jesse Johnson and drummer Jellybean Johnson remained, while Jam, Lewis and keyboardist Monte Moir were replaced by keyboardists St. Paul Peterson and Mark Cardenas and bassist Jerry Hubbard. As usual, the tracks on Ice Cream Castle - including the band's first pop hit "Jungle Love" - were mostly written and recorded by Prince, with Day and Johnson adding parts in the studio.
But "The Bird" was different. Prince ended up scrapping a studio version in favor of a live take recorded in 1983 at Minneapolis club First Avenue, where much of Purple Rain was filmed. This marked the first time that the live iteration of the band could be heard on record, highlighting Day's humorous dance commands. You hear the same version in the final film, just before Prince and The Revolution blow the crowd away with another mostly-live recording: the song "Purple Rain."
"The Bird" became The Time's second pop crossover hit, reaching No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100. But the group didn't get a chance to capitalize on its success. By then, Day and Jesse Johnson had begun solo careers, with Jesse plucking Cardenas and Hubbard for his own band. Prince folded the remaining members - Benton, Peterson and Jellybean Johnson - into a new project called The Family. Their sole self-titled album failed to make an impact on the charts, though the song "Nothing Compares 2 U" was later a chart-topper for Sinead O'Connor.
And before "Nothing Compares" had become a hit, The Time had come and gone once more: the original line-up briefly reunited in 1990 for the Purple Rain sequel Graffiti Bridge and released another album of their own, Pandemonium, which featured the group's biggest hit, "Jerk Out." Unsurprisingly, that song was also written by Prince.