Purple Women: Lessons In Sensual Anatomy & Music Industry Mayhem With Jill Jones

'Purple Women' is a limited tribute series honoring the women who made music and history with Prince during his lifetime. To follow this series and check out the who's who of women on the roster, be sure to visit the introductory page for further information.

It begins with the shivering swell of strings. The vocals soon slink into the fold, tinged with hymnal gospel tones, as it holy rolls in sensuous intent. Then, slicing into the warm interior of woodwinds comes scything percussion and rubberband snaps of bass, a lone trumpet begins to whine. What you hear are the beginning sounds of what is seven minutes and 21 seconds of sonic heaven. This heaven is "Mia Bocca" and it is fucking flawless.

"Mia Bocca", of course, wouldn't be flawless if it wasn't for Jill Jones.

Jill Jones, a talented singer and songwriter in her own right, was one of the brighter heavenly bodies that became ensnared in Prince's orbit during the 1980s, but whose glow (unfairly) dimmed out quicker than it should've. Before making our acquaintance with "Mia Bocca", she had waited in the purple wings for some time, as she met Prince in 1980 back when she was singing backup and writing material for Miss Ivory Queen of Soul herself, Teena Marie (Jill is responsible for co-writes on "Young Girl In Love" and "The Ballad Of Cradle Rob & Me").

When Jill moved to Minneapolis in 1982, she became an official part of the early inklings of the Revolution as she made memorable appearances in the iconic videos of "1999", "Little Red Corvette" and the lesser-seen "Automatic" as the elusive lingerie-clad 'lady cab driver', and as the waitress who questions the legitimacy of Apollonia Kotero's name in Purple Rain. Behind the scenes, her vocals went unaccredited on numerous associate projects such as albums for Vanity 6Apollonia 6, and Mazariti. It is also rumored that Jill was the inspiration behind "Raspberry Beret" b-side and fan favorite, "She's Always In My Hair".

At the time of her official coming out in 1987, Prince had had a near-perfect track record of formulating signature hits for others. The Bangles' "Manic Monday", Sheena Easton's "Sugar Walls", Vanity 6's "Nasty Girl", Sheila E.'s "The Glamorous Life" and "A Love Bizarre" --- all of these singles had not only become huge hits, but in turn, gave either fresh first impressions or career boosts to their respective performers. Even Chaka Khan's "I Feel For You" proved that when a moderate Prince album cut was re-worked, it too could climb to the top of the charts in a blaze of flourish.

Jill Jones' "Mia Bocca" (which is Italian for "my mouth"), while unconventional in the sense of mainstream fare, also had flourish. It was erotic and sophisticated, as it was playful and funky with its uniqueness resting in the stacked electronic-meets-symphonic soundbed that is blessed with the legendary Clare Fischer's remarkable orchestral work. Like its sweeping structure, the lyricals too unfurl at a dreamy, whimsical pace as Jill gets caught up in her own cinematic paradiso, referencing Federico Fellini at one point, and linguistically twisting her tongue to coo in English and Italian as she struggles to give into desire and kiss her star-crossed suitor ("I'll pretend I'm in a movie"), when she in reality "loves another".

Drama, drama, drama.

As much as this is a Prince production, one that was first derived in 1982 during the recording sessions that gave us "Little Red Corvette" and "1999", Jill proves she can also 'steal the show' as she embodies every inch of this passionate revelry, right up to its 'climatic' end where after the fanfare blast of horns, Jill is spent on the bocca-to-bocca contact, a few puffs of a lighted cigarette no doubt the next course of action.

"Mia Bocca" is seduction, plain and simple, but seduction and even an art house visual directed by the photography legend Jean-Baptise Mondino, couldn't sway a listening public, as the song failed to connect Stateside and failed to gift Jill Jones with the chart-topping success of her protege peers.
The 'wholesome' warpath of Tipper Gore may be somewhat to blame for "Mia Bocca" to be blasted into sheer obscurity, as Jill stated in an 2013 interview with Beautiful Nights Blog"Tipper Gore was on our ass. (MTV) banned my video. They would only play it in the middle of the night, at 3 am. She directly impacted my life, she actually did in a weird way."

As "Mia Bocca" was her first impression, its suppression on radio and MTV also effected the lukewarm attitude directed towards Jill's self-titled debut, which is arguably one of the best, and most artistically adventurous of the protege efforts. Unlike Taja Sevelle's debut's, Prince's handprints are all over Jill Jones' slinky n' jazzy production, and it benefited from his avant-garde forays into experimental jazz, an era where Prince was utilizing more live instrumentation and was even more daring and metaphorical than ever before.

Jill Jones is the sexiest of the protege albums. One listen to the ABCs of carnal pleasure that are flirtatiously proposed on sax-heavy "G-Spot" will make you blush a bit, but get highly aroused at the same time. It also genre-bends a lot, as most Prince albums tend to do, but there is a thread of thematic and rhythmic cohesion on Jill Jones, with Jill's captive personality taking center stage, not following orders.

Lots of the songs take on a free-form vibe, with songs like "For Love" taking on the guise of funky jam session or "All Day, All Night" being a frantic, fiery romp that picks up where the live version of "It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night" sweated, screamed, and sexed. But plenty of melodic moments are present and purr with sensuality like the jazz groove of "Violet Blue" and the horn-spackled blue light blusey of "Baby, You're A Trip", which revisits "Mia Bocca", musically and lyrically, wrapping the album up with some conceptual flair.

Though deliciously sound as Jill Jones was, the cultivation of it was a rough experience for Jones (she describes it as a "very long pregnancy"), and even worst, once the album was released, nobody knew what to do with it. As she told Beautiful Nights Blog:
I don't think everyone was ready for it. Radio wasn't looking for it. There's a rap convention in Atlanta that I went to and people came up to me saying "You're Black? I didn't know you were Black! I would've played your record." I just came back to Prince, like, "Should I just get a tan?" White people somehow knew I was Black and they said "I'm not playing that house Negro on the radio." The album was dead in the water.  
I think the album was a very intellectual album. We made a decision to take a lot of the poppy songs off. Once Clare Fisher puts the strings on it... I wanted to leave them on. That's where I sealed my fate to never have a hit record. 
Even Jill herself wasn't sure about the course of action towards her career, and in some ways felt as if Prince himself, didn't supply her with the surefire songs to propel her career. She doesn't hold back:
I opened for Jody Watley in LA and, seriously, the crowd just stood there whole time with their arms crossed. I was angry dancing. I was singing "G-Spot" and I was like "I'm not going to shake my ass." I know (on past tours) I would go out in my bra and panties, but, then I put on my trench coat and I'd leave. I just threw the mike down and walked off the stage. Prince came to me and said "Is that it, are you done?" Maybe he created the diva in me. 
(Prince) could have given me "The Glamorous Life". Sheila E. would come to the studio to play basketball and I did not know that the child was going in (to the studio) late at night and singing the songs.
As someone who spent her childhood with a Crayola marker in one hand crooning along to Mariah Carey songs, and from time to time dabbles in daydreams of headlining my own pyrotechnic spectacle of a concert tour, it's whenever I read about the music industry, its shaded corners and thorny practices, that I feel some relief that I took the practical route and picked up a pen and notebook instead. Of course, I have a singing voice that would make all types of flora and fauna wilt and decimate on site, but writing about the intricacies of music and its culture allows me to observe it from a safe and ample distance, understanding with every word I write that the music industry is one tough biscotti, where not everybody is meant to be a star, no matter what Sly said.

Even with the music and all of her magnetism, Jill Jones seemed to get a very raw deal in the end. After Jill Jones' promotional failure, and creative differences arose between Prince and Jill during recording sessions for a follow-up, Jill's contract with Paisley Park quietly expired in the early 1990s. Her story is quite the lesson to learn, if you so ever feel like diving into the feral wilderness that is fame and fortune, in that you'll realize that not everything in this life is guaranteed.

Still whatever were the mis-communications, disappointments, and missed chances, Jill Jones should be honored that the epicness of "Mia Bocca" and the classically provocative Jill Jones is hers to own. Cause nobody could make seven minutes and 21 seconds of heaven like this again:

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