“Whenever I’m around you, baby. I get a dirty mind.”
On one of the first lines from the first track off Prince’s third LP, Dirty Mind, Prince finally comes clean. He has thoughts of doing dirty, nasty things to you and he’s no longer using coy double entendres (“play in your river,” “…feel my love touching you”) to get his point across. For Christ’s sake, the album is called Dirty Mind, and Prince is wearing bikini briefs while the image of bedsprings looms in the background. This is NOT the safe, funky disco Prince Warner Brothers rolled out for his first two albums. This was Prince saying, “fuck it.” Or more accurately, “fuck you.”
So who exactly did Prince want to fuck on this 1980 release? The obvious and most frequent object of Prince’s unchecked lust would be women. Women are the primary subjects of the title track, “When You Were Mine,” “Do It All Night,” “Got a Broken Heart Again,” “Head,” and “Sister.” That’s six out of the album’s eight total songs. Even a song written about a neighborhood in Minneapolis (“Uptown”) that Prince felt represented sexual, racial and artistic freedom ends with him engaging in a sexual encounter that he describes as “the best I’d ever had.” Prince’s “fuck you” also extended to war-mongering politicians on the album’s closing track, “Party Up.” Instead of fighting in a war and killing people he didn’t even know, Prince just wanted to party. A theme he would revisit a couple of years later as the basis behind the end of the world, so let’s party and fuck jam, “1999.”
Women and the status quo weren’t the only things Prince wanted to fuck on Dirty Mind. He also wanted to fuck with your head. Why else would he write lyrics that implied he had an MFM three-way (“When You Were Mine”), got blowjobs from a virginal bride-to-be (“Head”), or was his own sister’s sex toy until she pimped him out (“Sister”)? Whether these songs were meant to shock or meant to titillate are irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that they did both but did so while mostly avoiding being crass and offensive. “When You Were Mine” is more a song about a boy so in love with a girl that he can’t get past the fact that it’s over and possibly never even began. “Head’s” virginal bride lyrics are sung in a low, almost robotic tone by keyboardist Lisa Coleman, who is the first person other than Prince to get an album vocal credit. The manner in which she delivers her lyrics can make them somewhat hard to hear and can be easily misunderstood. “Sister,” on the other hand, was often crass and likely offensive but only if you assume that the lyrics are autobiographical. Which I admit I did when I first heard this song over 20 years ago, as I imagine thousands of other listeners did as well in the pre-internet, pre-snopes.com age.
“She showed me where it’s supposed to go. A blowjob doesn’t mean blow. Incest is everything it’s said to be.”
Dirty Mind’s lack of studio polish compared to Prince’s first two releases set the entire album’s tone. Whether it was by design or by necessity (e.g., blown recording budgets), Prince created something that sounded raw and conspiratorial. The music was still funky and danceable, just like the previous albums, but the difference now was in the edge. There is very little about the music that implies crossover success was even considered during the creative process. Only two singles from the album, “Uptown” and “Dirty Mind,” were released in the United States, and neither cracked the Top 100 Pop charts. Once again, Prince’s chart success would mostly be relegated to the specialty lists such as the R&B and Dance charts, where these songs made minor dents. Despite lack of commercial success, praise was being heaped on the album in ways that For You and Prince were not. Rolling Stone magazine gave it a glowing 4.5-star review, and other music publications were equally impressed. Saturday Night Live took note of the critical success of “Dirty Mind” and booked Prince to perform on the February 21st, 1981, airing of the show. The full band of the era (Prince, Andre Cymone, Dez Dickerson, Matt Fink, Lisa Coleman, and Bobby Z) took the stage to perform “Party Up,” and Prince and his multi-racial/multi-gender band looked like impossibly cool & talented art-punk kids. Their performance of “Party Up” was such an energetic, funky middle finger to the establishment that immediately upon the song’s conclusion, the band ran off the stage, in unison, towards the crowd in the same manner that an anarchist gang might run from the cops after inciting a riot.
“You’re gonna have to fight your own damn war. ‘Cause we don’t wanna fight no more.”
The fact that Prince took this big of a creative leap from Prince, which was a fantastic funk/dance/R&B/pop album, in just one year also highlights the rapid maturation of his sound and style. More so than his first two LPs, Dirty Mind has aged exceptionally well. It’s a nearly perfect 30 minutes of lewd bliss & the prevailing themes of sexual freedom, unity, heartbreak & pacifism still feel relevant 40 years later—a timeless classic.
Memory Bank Withdrawal
My own vinyl copy of the Dirty Mind re-issue as well as the US 7″ singles for “Uptown” and “Dirty Mind.” I still have a CD copy (not pictured) of the album but no longer have my cassette copy.
I first heard Dirty Mind when I bought a used cassette copy in the 90s, but my first memory of the album goes back to the Purple Rain era when I was still relatively young. Of course, by this time, Prince was in the midst of his world domination phase, and all record stores were stocking copies of Prince’s previous work. It seems unlikely that Wal-Mart and Pamida, the two department stores in my small Wisconsin town that sold music, would have had copies of Dirty Mind before his crossover success. I browsed the Prince section at these stores to see what else he had made before 1999, and Dirty Mind stuck out like a sore thumb. As a 9 or 10-year-old at the time, I was intimidated by the cover art, which left me feeling a bit dirty and embarrassed for looking at it, so I passed on it. I imagine it was for the best as I probably wasn’t mature enough to listen to this album and get past its overtly sexual nature.
“When you were mine, you were all I ever wanted to do. Now I spend my time following him whenever he’s with you.”
5 reasons why Dirty Mind is a must own.
5. Prince’s most lyrically complex songs to date
4. The salaciousness of “Head” & “Sister”
3. The thumping metronome beat of “Dirty Mind” that rattles your entire body
2. The lyrical nuances & brilliant lines from “When You Were Mine”
1. The prevailing attitude of freedom throughout
My order of preference for Dirty Mind tracks from most favorite to least favorite with personal ratings next to them.
- When You Were Mine 5/5
- Dirty Mind 5/5
- Uptown 5/5
- Partyup 5/5
- Head 5/5
- Sister 5/5
- Do It All Night 4.5/5
- Gotta Broken Heart Again 4.5/5
Overall Score: 4.9/5
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