Prince starts his genius run with the fantastic Dirty Mind

Prince - Paradiso basement May 29th, 1981 (facebook.com)

Prince – Paradiso basement May 29th, 1981

When I brought it to the record company it shocked a lot of people. But they didn’t ask me to go back and change anything, and I’m real grateful. Anyway, I wasn’t being deliberately provocative. I was being deliberately me.

Prince, 1981

Introduction

After the cautious debut For You and the mega success of the subsequent second album Prince, Prince decided it was time to be himself. It was to be the start of an almost 10 year period of pure genius. The story of Dirty Mind.

This article has a sub article attached to it, titled Prince – Dirty Mind – Reviews, press & interviews.

Prince - Dirty Mind - Cover outtakes (npr.org)

Prince – Dirty Mind – Cover outtakes

Recordings

After the Rick James Fire It Up Tour ended on May 3rd, 1980, where Prince acted as a support act (also see the story on the album Prince), Prince set out to work on his next album. During May and June 1980 he recorded new songs in his own 16-track North Arm Drive Home Studio, at the house he rented from late 1979 until early 1981.

As Prince would put it later, he finally wanted to be himself. By and large the songs were recorded quickly, oftentimes in one session. Due to the use of the home studio and the quick way of working the songs had a demo like quality as opposed to the slick production of his previous record.

It wasn’t the only thing that differed from the preceding two albums. Prince had clearly been listening to new-wave music and it had inspired him. His guitar sound in particular was different and contained elements of the staccato guitar sound a lot of (primarily English) new-wave bands were using.

But there was more, the music was rawer and more rock oriented, without it actually being rock music. The mix of styles was sensational and highly distinctive. No other record sounded like the new music Prince was making.

Last but not least, the lyrics. They were in an entirely other world than the preceding lyrics. Earlier on the sexual innuendo seemed innocent enough, on Dirty Mind Prince went ‘all-the-way’. Oral sex, threesomes, incest, ejaculation.

The result was a highly unique piece of art, one that was guaranteed to get very little airplay on radio due to the lyrical content and almost impossible to categorize music (especially in the segregated radio scene in the US). Also, the sales numbers of the Prince album (over 1 million copies sold) would not be equaled (not by a long shot). Nonetheless, Warner Bros. agreed to release Dirty Mind. A remarkable decision, yet one that showed vision and faith. In the short term the album might not be too viable, but Prince was given time to present himself as a potential cross-over artist who had the potential to be a major influence on the music world in the 1980s.

Prince - Dirty Mind (rhino.com)

Prince – Dirty Mind

Dirty Mind

On October 8th, 1980, the third Prince studio album was released. The cover introduced the change in course perfectly. A black-white photo of Prince defiantly looking into the camera, dressed in a long overcoat and briefs. The coat dons a button containing the text “Rude Boy”, the same as the one that was worn all across England around that time by followers of the 2 Tone/ska-revival movement (the main exponents being bands like The Specials, Madness and The Beat). The back cover shows Prince in black garters, lying on a bed, in front of a wall filled with graffiti, making up the song titles. The cover alone is a declaration in itself.

Songs

The music fit the image perfectly. Bold, unique and comprehensive songs, signaling a 180 degree turn from the (innocent) Stevie Wonder-esque image Prince had, based on his first two albums. The songs sounded rawer, more direct, sexually explicit and possessed a strong individual character, without disregarding the group as a unit, even though that very same group was mainly there to serve the own self. Is there a more fitting introduction to the 1980s?

All songs written by Prince, unless stated otherwise. The album was produced by Jamie Starr, the first time Prince used this pseudonym.

Prince - Dirty Mind - Back cover (pitchfork.com)

Prince – Dirty Mind – Back cover

Dirty Mind

(written by Prince and Dr. Fink)

The album is opened by a four-on-the-floor disco beat, which is a statement. By that time, disco had become the music world’s garbage pit. No one wanted to be associated with it anymore and Prince opens his new album with it. The pulsating bass seems to point towards the Hi-NRG music that would dominate the charts a couple of years later. The hi-hat is quickly added to the music and seems to lag a bit behind the beat, just like the snare drum. The staccato guitar sound, mentioned above in this article, follows quickly.

A fantastic opener, that puts the listener on the wrong track, yet prepares him/her for things to come at the same time.

I may not be your kind of man
I may not be your style
But honey all I wanna do
Is just love you for a little while

Prince, 1980

Dirty Mind is the first song on a Prince album, on which writing credits are shared. Dr. Fink came up with the keyboard hook during rehearsals.

On November 26th, 1980, the song was released as the second single from the album.

When You Were Mine

One of the prize songs on this album and in Prince’s body of work. A great rock song with new-wave influences (it sound s bit like Elvis Costello’s year old album Armed Forces). The lyrics are in fact about a relationship that has already ended, where the lover loves his ex even more than at the time they were still together. And, was it a ménage-à-trois at times?

I never was the kind to make a fuss
When he was there
Sleeping in between the two of us

Prince, 1980

It’s one of his most covered songs. The song was released as a promo-only single at the end of 1980 in the US.

When You Were Mine is placed at position 24 in my Prince song top 50.

Do It All Night

Bravado and insecurity in one song. Great up-tempo song, with glorious background choirs, all performed by Prince. It’s still hard to wrap your head around the fact that this is all just Prince on his own, as the song really gives the impression that a live band is playing it in the studio.

Someone over there says
He wants to get to know you
I don’t care cuz I really wanna hold you
And I’m so scared that he might do something
To you that you like

Prince, 1980

Gotta Broken Heart Again

The first (and last) respite on the album. This short ballad shows Prince who feels abandoned and lonely. Nice moment of tranquility.

I’ve gotta broken heart again
Cuz I ain’t got no money to spend
You see I spend it all on long distance phone calls
Beggin her to please come home

Prince, 1980

Prince - Dirty Mind - The singles (princevault.com)

Prince – Dirty Mind – The singles

Uptown

(song built around a bass riff composed by André Cymone, which he wasn’t credited for).

A great pumping song, thematically linked to Paisley Park (coming off Around The World In A Day). The song is about a utopian place where homophobia, racism and misogyny are non-existent. Prince meets a biased lady, who accompanies him to Uptown. By the end of the songs she recognizes her own prejudices for what they are and is free.

Baby didn’t say too much, she said, “Are you gay?”
Kinda took me by suprise, I didn’t know what to do
I just looked her in her eyes and said, “No, are u?”

Said to myself, said
“She’s just a crazy, crazy, crazy little mixed up dame
She’s just a victim of society and all its games”

Now where I come from we don’t let society tell us how it’s supposed to be
Our clothes, our hair, we don’t care, it’s all about being there

As soon as we got there good times were rolling
White, Black, Puerto Rican
Everybody just a-freakin’

Prince, 1980

On September 10th, 1980, the song was released as the first song off the album.

The term “Uptown” references the popular district in the south west part of Minneapolis, Minnesota, centered around the Uptown Theater.

Head

Absolute prize song, explicit and extremely funky. The song is about a woman on her way to the altar (to be married), but chooses to go with Prince to have lots of (oral) sex. The stories about the shows where Prince yelled “Sing along! Head!” and the stupefaction of the crowd are legendary. An incredibly strong funk song and a prototype for the Minneapolis sound that would sweep the world a couple of years later (when Prince had already moved on and wanted to do other, more interesting things).

I remember when I met u, baby
U were on your way to be wed
U were such a sexy thing
I loved the way you walked
The things you said
And I was so nonchalant
I didn’t want you to be misled
But I’ve gotta have u, baby
I got to have you in my bed
And you said
“But I’m just a virgin and I’m on my way to be wed
But you’re such a hunk
So full of spunk
I’ll give you Head

Prince, 1980

The song contains spoken text by Lisa Coleman, new in Prince’s band. She replaced Gayle Chapman who didn’t want to do the lyrics and chose to leave the band.

Late 1980 the song was released as second singles (only in the Philippines).

Head is placed at position 5 in my Prince song top 50.

Sister

However, it could get even more explicit. This song only lasts 01:33 minutes, yet its impact was enormous. It tells the tale of incest. It remains unclear whether or not this is autobiographical or it was just meant as shock value. The fact is Prince can write and play punk as well.

My sister never made love to anyone else but me
She’s the reason for my, uh, sexuality
She showed me where it’s supposed to go
A blow job doesn’t mean blow
Incest is everything it’s said to be

Prince, 1980

Partyup

(written by Morris Day, but given to Prince in exchange for the formation of The Time)

Politics? Yes, politics. In part a reaction to the draft (which president Carter had recently reinstated).

How you gonna make me kill somebody I don’t even know

I don’t wanna die, I just wanna have a bloody good time

All lies / No truth / Is it fair to kill the youth?

You’re gonna have to fight your own damn war
Cuz we don’t wanna fight no more

Prince, 1980

Prince calls this song (and the album?) “revolutionary rock and roll”. And he’s right. A great song with great lyrics.

Prince - Dirty Mind band (pinterest.com)

Prince – Dirty Mind band

Contribution by others

All music and vocals performed by Prince, except:

  • Lisa Coleman – spoken text and background vocals on Head
  • Doctor Fink – synthesizer on Dirty Mind and Head

Extra songs

No B-sides were released on the singles off this album. However, on May 29th, 1981, the single Gotta Stop (Messin’ About) was released in the UK. Its B-sides were Uptown and Head. Gotta Stop (Messin’ About) is a rockabilly-like song, recorded during the Dirty Mind sessions, written and performed by Prince.

Prince - Dirty Mind band (pinterest.com)

Prince – Dirty Mind band

Press and reception

The album was unanimously lauded by the press. The album was hailed as a true revelation. Rightfully so, for there was no album that sounded like Dirty Mind. Of course, a lot of attention was given to the sexually explicit lyrics, but the music was heralded as unique, innovative and bold. Prince’s image was embraced, androgyny, tough and sensitive, manly but not macho, free of labels, free of conventions, music from the heart of a 22 year old boy from Minneapolis, who single handedly put together an important piece of art in his own studio. Even though the album lasts only 31 minutes, the impact on the music world and Prince’s career was huge. Also see Prince – Dirty Mind – Reviews, press & interviews.

Prince - Dirty Mind - Gold record (julienslive.com)

Prince – Dirty Mind – Gold record

Conclusion

It probably won’t come as a surpise that I hold this album in very high esteem. At the time it was an important album, although it wasn’t very successful. The album turned gold after Purple Rain broke all sales records and a lot of people went in search of older material.

Despite the lack of success, it did give Prince a sense of direction and freedom. That freedom to do whatever he wanted, instead of what is expected of him, wouldn’t leave Prince for the coming 10 years. Every next album was more varied, bolder, more genius and innovative. Prince was unleashed and from Controversy, 1999, Purple Rain, Around The World In A Day, Parade, Sign O’ The Times until Lovesexy he would release an inimitable series of superior albums. Dirty Mind was ‘just’ the start.

Dirty Mind Tour (princevault.com)

Dirty Mind Tour

Dirty Mind Tour

Following the release of the album the band went on tour in the US from December 4th to 20th, 1980, and from March 9th to April 6th, 1981. The tour also brought him to his home town Minneapolis, where he would play Sam’s for the first time, the venue that would soon be renamed to First Avenue. The band was made up of Prince, André Cymone (bass), Dez Dickerson (guitar), Dr. Fink (keyboards), Lisa Coleman (keyboards) en Bobby Z. (drums). The entire Dirty Mind album was played during the shows, supplemented with a number of songs of previous albums, like Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?, I Wanna Be Your Lover, Sexy Dancer and Still Waiting. At the beginning of 1981 Gotta Stop (Messin’ About) was added to the setlist. Prince performed in leg warmers, briefs and overcoat. During Head Prince took his time, treating his guitar as his lover. He licked, fucked and thrusted away. The audience was ecstatic.

Prince - Paradiso 05/29/1981 (billboard.com)

Prince – Paradiso 05/29/1981

Europe

On May 29th, June 2nd and 4th, 1981, Prince made his debut on European soil. He performed in Amsterdam, London and Paris. It would take more than 5 years for Prince to return to Europe. The European debut took place at the legendary Paradiso in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The show wasn’t sold out and the crowd reacted a bit indifferent, or embarrassed, to the heavily sexual show. But, the consensus was that this was something very special indeed and some major things could be expected from Prince.

Prince - New York / Paris - Bootleg (apoplife.nl)

Prince – New York / Paris – Bootleg

Reviews

The tour reviews were very positive. The level of what was offered was extremely high and many were convinced that they had witnessed a star in the making (also see Prince – Dirty Mind – Reviews, press & interviews).

Two complete concerts are in circulation on the illegal market. The shows of March 21st and June 4th, 1981, are available on video and audio. They are beautiful documents, showing just how good Prince and his band had become around this time. It was just the second tour, but the professionalism was impressive. The band was tight, well rehearsed and the show had a great flow.

Prince - Dirty Mind - Tour passes and buttons (rrauctions.com)

Prince – Dirty Mind – Tour passes and buttons

After Dirty Mind

Immediately after the European shows, André Cymone left and Prince started preparations for his next move: Controversy

In closing

What do you think of Dirty Mind? Also that good and/or important or is that an exaggeration? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Prince starts his genius run with the fantastic Dirty Mind. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

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