Retroactive Review: Dirty Mind (1980)

This perverted little masterpiece was the sudden culmination of several factors going on in Prince’s career and the state of pop music as a whole. Released on October 8th, 1980, it debuted at #63 on the Top 200 chart, peaking at a meager #43. It took nearly four years for it to achieve a certification, managing to go gold a week before the release of the Purple Rain film; coincidence? It was a critical darling, and helped expand his audience, but the lewd content hurt his chances for another platinum seller, which was fine with Prince regardless.

Honesty can be therapeutic as much as sexuality can be liberating, so our host quickly sets the mood with a stripped-down title track, featuring a pounding drum beat and accompanying synth vamp credited to his keyboardist, Dr. Fink. This makes him the first person to be rewarded with a musical credit on a Prince album (Andrè Cymone has uncredited vocal harmonies on Prince‘s “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” and Chris Moon was given co-writing credits on For You‘s “Soft and Wet”). The real star of the show is the lyrics, as that unmistakable falsetto finally begins to open up about what’s he really been thinking about behind this cute poppy facade; fucking.

It’s important to point out Dirty Mind was quickly recorded between May and June 1980 at Prince’s home in Orono, MN, where he briefly stayed from December 1979 until the following December. In the nearly-a-year from his self-titled record release to this one, Prince embarked on his first tour, The Prince Tour, a month after Prince was released, doing a few shows in the American Southwest before returning to Minnesota to find a place to stay. He was then able to attach his tour to The Rick James ’80 Tour, and began opening all the shows across the U.S. from December to May, oftentimes stealing the show from Rick and his band with his energetic rock star-like stage show approach, creating animosity between the two groups that was only intensified due to opposing ideologies between them.

All this really means is that as soon as Prince returned home, he went right back into album mode. Creating a makeshift studio in his house, he crafted eight songs that were grounded in raw, new wave funk; the foundation of what became dubbed the Minneapolis sound. Disco died at the tail end of the ’70s, and Prince was in danger, much like other black artists within the genre at the time, of being considered dated or played out. Funkadelic had already began experimenting with fusing new wave synths with their signature style a year prior, but the cracks in that empire had begun crumbling. It was time for the younger generation to step up, and among them was this sappy young lover from Minneapolis with a penchant for sexual flirtation. He sought to flip that image on its head. He’d already gotten buck on a winged white horse on the back cover of Prince and begged for love, but now he’s wearing thongs and tights, leg warmers, heels, and saying all kinds of nasty shit. Those primal screams that lead into the final chorus of the title track really highlight the unique ability of Prince where he was able to let the way he screamed reflect a mood incredibly well, and of course, his classic falsetto carries the needed intensity to bring the bare production to a surprising ejaculation of an ending.

“When You Were Mine” is a legendary fan favorite, describing the odd situations with an almost pathetic honesty in which a young man is hopelessly in love with an ex, even if when they were together she wasn’t an ideal lover. “I never was the kind to make a fuss, when he was there/sleeping in between the two of us,” he exclaims on one of the detailed verses, which already came after the opening verse where he states, “You let all my friends come over and meet/You were so strange, you didn’t have the decency to change the sheets.” Perhaps Prince just simply works on a different level, as on the very next song, “Do It All Night,” he’s right back at it with someone else; trying to get his dick wet. A particular line I’m fond of in the first verse is when he sings “And I’m so scared cause he might do something to you that you like,” as it kind of quantifies that anxious feeling of a lover possibly leaving. However, the only true ballad of the record, “Gotta Broken Heart Again,” closes out side one. It’s slightly misplaced amongst all the tracks about sex, but it’s a bluesy little tune that serves its purpose.

Side two is where pop and funk really fuse with new wave, as “Uptown,” the lead single, starts off with the imagery of a utopia that is quickly punctured by a woman asking him if he’s gay, leading to him coolly responding, “No, are you?” This, of course, ends up with Prince fucking her, but not until after she dances in the street for him. It sounds like heaven on Earth, but when you think about Prince being a part of a scene in Minneapolis, an area populated with other young musicians, “Uptown” becomes an anthem of sorts for the open-minded city dweller looking for some fun. “Uptown” was credited to Prince, but the heavy bass line was apparently created by Andrè Cymone, who left Prince’s band shortly after this album. If so, then it’s a shame this thumping bass line was never credited to the proper person, as it propels the song along, giving Prince room to let his falsetto fall into the groove. Although a major contributor was now gone, on “Head,” the next track, a key member of his later band, The Revolution, was introduced.

Needing a female to contribute sexy vocals to a song about Prince getting his dick sucked by a virgin bride-to-be, Lisa Coleman stepped up to fill the void left by Gayle Chapman, a female vocalist who left the band after objections to the song and album content for her own religious reasons. It’s not the most glamorous guest feature, but it’s a start, and Lisa stating how she “wants to get undressed” in her monotonous tone is unforgettable, and along with the synth solo, helps make this song a standout even amongst other Prince classics. Another standout is the following track “Sister,” if only because it’s not everyday one of the biggest pop stars in the world writes about incest.

There’s been many theories and much speculation done in the 37 years of this album’s existence, and no one is still sure if the opening line, “I was only 16 but I guess that’s no excuse/My sister was 32, lovely and loose,” is the truth, or tongue-in-cheek humor. It’s gone nearly as fast as it pops up, but he manages to cram an uncomfortable amount of sexual references into the short verses, a few choice selections being, “My sister never made love to anyone else but me/She’s the reason for my uh, sexuality,” “She don’t wear no underwear, she said it only gets in her hair/And it’s gotta funny way of stopping the juice,” and of course, “A blowjob doesn’t mean blow/Incest is everything it’s said to be,” which is just, filthy.

Although Prince grew to distance himself from this album due to his later beliefs, “Sister” remains as the only song from this album he didn’t play live past his ’80s heyday, save for “Do It All Night,” which was never played outside of The Dirty Mind Tour. Though I’m certain the gag is we’ll never know for sure what the truth is, maybe it’s for the best he left this one alone in the long run, giving the song a little more peculiarity in its unique position in his catalogue. After this foul interruption concealed as catchy new wave-y jangle, the album comes to a conclusion with a groove created by Morris Day.

When offered the choice between $10,000 or help in getting a record deal from Prince, Morris chose the deal, becoming a close associate of Prince’s, and getting his own band, The Time. On this album however, his contributions go uncredited, as Prince sticks a short synth segue before the song that’s been featured on every track on side two, in order to keep the record flowing tightly. Much like “Gotta Broken Heart Again,” Prince switches the topic up on the closer of this side, writing about his distaste for wars, which in his words, “is such a fucking bore.” Unlike “Gotta Broken Heart Again,” which does have its fans for its bluesy, acoustic-like arrangement, “Partyup” keeps the tempo, well, up, especially at the end when the groove remains but the song transforms into a ’60s-like chant; complete with stacked vocals from Prince where he chants “You’re gonna have to fight your own damn war/’Cause we don’t wanna fight no more.”

Whereas side one introduces the idea of Prince’s kinky side, and has him in a few odd situations, side two is where he unleashes, before he talks politics, almost for the sake of his character, but also because paying attention to the world around you is just as important as getting your rocks off. Most of the tracks here are rooted in funk, pop, and new wave, but come off as closer to pure new wave when compared to his later work, when he began mastering his sound, which actually helps aid this record’s cohesion.  The theme is simple, the music is fun, and the album is a perversely brisk 30 minutes. If that isn’t enough to sell you on this album’s greatness, then just remember, “Where I come from, we don’t let society tell us how it’s supposed to be.”

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