Local Current Blog

UPDATED: Early Minneapolis recordings by Alexander O’Neal released, without star’s involvement

Alexander O'Neal in 2015. (Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)

Smooth soul singer Alexander O’Neal’s career has spanned over 40 years. Newly-released archival recordings shine a new light on the early career of an artist who became integral to the 1980s Minneapolis Sound.

Update 1/9: In a tweet, O’Neal revealed that the tracks were released without his involvement.

A Mississippi native, O’Neal had a Minnesota cousin who inspired him to move to the Gopher State in the 1970s. He became lead singer of Flyte Tyme, the band that evolved into The Time under Prince’s offstage leadership — but O’Neal parted ways with the group during that transition, unable to agree on finances with Prince and the rest of the group, who subsequently elevated drummer Morris Day to lead vocals.

O’Neal went on to have a successful solo career, recording much of his music in Minnesota and becoming a prime exemplar of what became known as “the Minneapolis Sound” — working with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, former Flyte Tyme bandmates who Prince ultimately fired from The Time. O’Neal released his first solo album Alexander O’Neal in 1985 and went on to release other studio albums that have included hits such as “Fake,” “If You Were Here Tonight,” and “Love Makes No Sense.”

Just this past December, O’Neal celebrated the 30th anniversary of his 1987 album Hearsay with a new series of recordings released as Hearsay 30. Perennially popular in Europe, O’Neal is now based in Manchester, England and was a recent contestant on Celebrity Big Brother

Now, O’Neal has released another new album that takes us back in time yet again: The Lost Tapes. In the early 1980s, O’Neal recorded songs with Chris Moon of MoonSound Studios in Minneapolis, who was also working with Prince. The recordings were never released until now.

The album’s ten songs aren’t as polished as O’Neal’s later efforts, but the soulful force of his distinctive voice still comes through. The music is characteristic of its era, with synth hooks that put a funky vibe on guitar-driven rock songs. Although the blend that would characterize the Minneapolis Sound hadn’t yet been perfected, it’s unmistakably present in these early documents of a local hero.