Why You Should Listen To: Prince’s “Dirty Mind”
October 17, 2018
Welcome to the weekly-series “Why You Should Listen to”, where we will discuss great albums worth every music lover’s attention. In today’s society, while we do have all the possible access to everything and anything on the Internet, it can often happen for us to miss some music we would love to hear. That’s why we will try to help you discover some awesome music in this series of articles. The focus will mostly be on studio albums, be it classics or underrated gems and records that have been forgotten by time. Our focus will also stretch out across the world, from the USA and UK to the African continent, Latin America and even the Balkans. Today, we are covering Prince’s legendary “Dirty Mind” album. Enjoy!
The transition from the 1970’s to the 1980’s was a truly interesting time for music. The 70’s were quite revolutionary in terms of how music was made and how it would sound years down the road. David Bowie recorded the legendary Berlin trilogy with Brian Eno, punk rock surfaced, Bob Marley popularized reggae overseas, Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder released the futuristic “I Feel Love and shook the music world to its core, while disco took over and ended up being harshly dismissed by the end of the decade. Rock bands went into interesting territory with the emerging "New Wave” sound, replacing hard rock anthems and psychedelia with sharp and jangly guitars that were played in a ska-style, static beats, dry and driving basslines, haunting synth lines and eccentric frontmen.
Some of the most iconic albums came out in that transitional year of 1980, some of them being Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light”, The Cure’s “Seventeen Seconds” and Peter Gabriel’s fourth self-titled record, which set the standard for the 80’s drum sound with the song “Intruder”. However, 1980 was the year another star entity was born, that new persona being Prince.
Prince started his career in 1978 at about 18 years of age in his hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was a small African-American teenager with an afro hairstyle and an affinity for making music. He caught the eye of the industry by showing off his incredible multi-instrumentalist skills. They allowed him full creative control and he ended up recording his debut record “For You” where he was the sole artist, allegedly recording 27 instruments on his own!
Despite all this, Prince’s debut did not catch on as was expected. Sure, he might have been impressive, but his songwriting did not give off anything unique. The only two remembered songs were the funky “Soft and Wet” and the Santana-inspired “I’m Yours”. Prince decided he needed a hit, and he recorded a self-titled record the following year. While he did score a hit with “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and a few other songs, it was still not quite where he wanted to be artistically. The songs sounded stuck in the disco era, and it was already 1979. Prince knew something had to change.
The next year, his third album dropped. This one, was quite different. It featured the ever-flamboyant Prince with shorter, permed hair wearing make-up. His only two clothing items were panties and a trenchcoat. It was unlike anything he had previously done, in terms of sound and presentation. There was something unique, provocative and sexy about this “new” Prince. What was even more intriguing besides the androgyny and excessive sexuality was the music on the album. “Dirty Mind” was the true birth of the legendary Prince we know and love today.
The album kept Prince’s funk and soul influences, but merged them with the new wave and synthpop of “white” bands, therefore uniting two unlikely factions and creating a killer sound that was quite singular for the time. This sound would quickly become known as the “Minneapolis sound”, with Prince as its progenitor and movement leader. The songs were far more sexual and raunchy, featuring lyrics about giving head, threesomes and even incest in the punk-influenced “Sister”.
The title track served as the opener, and it begins with a thumping kick drum and incredibly infectious synth riff. Prince delivers his signature falsetto in full force on the incredibly sexual theme of the song, singing lines such as “In my daddy’s car/It’s you I really wanna drive.” It featured a video of Prince performing with his band, featuring the likes of Dr. Fink and Dez Dickerson. This song is incredibly catchy due to its synth lines and vocal delivery. Prince introduces something new on this album also in terms of minimalism. While his previous albums featured his incredible instrumental prowess, this one turned it down from an 11 to a 5 and featured sparse guitar lines and occasional but short synth solos. This time, the sound, the song, and the concept took first priority.
The following track, which became a fan favorite, is the incredibly bittersweet “When You Were Mine”. It features such an infectious melody and Prince singing about his lover being with someone else. The lyrics talk about the oddity of this person and how Prince put up with them, even when they let another person join them in the bedroom. It’s quite a quirky song, that somehow makes you feel for him, despite maybe not ever finding yourself in a similar situation.
“Head” is also another memorable track, featuring funkier instrumentation and quite a strange, yet typically Prince, lyrical theme. According to the story of this song, he meets a virgin who was on her way to be wed but finds herself attracted to him. This “bride” is voiced by Lisa Coleman in the song and apparently wants to give Prince head, despite the fact that she was about to get married. Over the course of the track, she falls in love and runs away with him, marrying him instead.
Another key track is the song “Uptown”, that deals with some ever-present social issues. It’s a very melodic and funky track, with Prince singing about meeting a girl who asks him if he’s gay. He wittily replies “No, are you ?” and takes her uptown, where she will encounter the social outcasts and minorities, partying and having a good time despite the hate. It shows that he was well aware of what people thought of the LGBT and African-American populations and that all that hatred can only be deterred if one decides to join the party and have a good time with myriads of different people.
“Gotta Broken Heart Again” is a short 2-minute ballad about Prince being left by his girl in favor of his best friend and him being powerless and unable to heal his broken heart. “Do It All Night” and “Partyup” are two groove-filled tracks about, obviously, partying and making love all night. The former has nice, bouncy instrumentation and ties in perfectly with the theme of the entire record. The latter song, “Partyup” is a bit more on the interesting side. It’s chorus is mostly Prince chanting “Partyup/Got to partyup” and then ending it with the “You’re going to have to fight your own damn war/Because we don’t want to fight no more”-lines, showing that he was more than a horny young person, but that he was also aware of the prejudices and hatred between people in America. This track is also the closer of the album, which showed in which direction Prince would go a year later with his more politically-charged follow-up album.
Clocking in at about 30 minutes of runtime, Prince managed to bring a completely new sound, identity and aesthetic, merging male and female, rock and funk, white and black, gay and straight and everything else in between. While everyone mostly praises his fantastic “Purple Rain” album or “Sign O’ The Times”, it must not be forgotten where Prince’s singular style and charisma first originated in his discography and which of his albums set the standard for his future releases in that decade. A truly iconic and important album that everyone should definitely give a shot too.