On Episode 25 of the Press Rewind – Prince Lyrics Podcast, the brave and noble Zachary Hoskins from the Dance/Music/Sex/Romance blog at PrinceSongs.org joins me again to talk about “Sister,” one of the most “WTF” tracks of Prince’s career. This controversial song can be found on Prince’s 3rd album, Dirty Mind.
“Oh, sister. Don’t put me on the street again.”
We’re here. One of the most talked-about and controversial songs of Prince’s entire career just so happens to be from his third album, Dirty Mind. Of course, the song I’m referring to is “Sister,” also known as the song where Prince talks about fucking his biological sister.
In a short, 90 minute burst of early ‘80s new wave punk, Prince goes total debauchery by spinning us a yarn about a teenager in a sexual relationship with a much older sibling (“my sister was 32, lovely and loose”). What this song manages to accomplish in only three short verses, a chorus, and an outro is extraordinary.
And what is that, exactly? For one, it establishes Prince as the bonafide sex fiend with an origin story worthy of a Marvel comic book character (thanks, Zach) that I believe the Dirty Mind album intended to portray him as. A teenager is sexually molested by his adult sister, and he sort of likes it, leading him down a path of sexually driven and explicit material that stands alone among ‘80s pop artists. However, Prince was clearly wasn’t aiming for the pop charts in 1980, based on this album’s sound and content.
Secondly, “Sister” does something else crucial for Prince at the time. It raises more questions than it answers. Was this an autobiographical account? Prince had an older half-sibling that could have been the song’s subject, so it’s possible. Was it simply a harrowing third-person account of sexual abuse sung in the first person in a sort of confessional booth manner as a way to tell a compelling story? Or was it merely a lark? A tall tale that was written to mess with the listener’s heads? Was Prince also saying that his sister was the reason for his bi-sexuality, in what was possibly a commonly misheard lyric? In 1980, no one really had a clue, but it sure caused a stir and called into question what exactly this Prince guy was up to. All press is good press, right?
It’s a fascinating song, sung and performed in an exciting way. Zachary Hoskins and I tackled the lyrics the best we could on this episode, and while I think we did a good job, there are certain angles we didn’t touch too heavily on, mainly because I never took this song seriously. I still don’t. However, if someone is listening to a song about an illegal sexual relationship while coming from a place of abuse or having experienced something similar in their lives, “Sister” could be a triggering song that doesn’t cause one to chuckle to themselves as it does for me.
There is no right way or wrong way to listen to or take a song that attempts to humor (“a blow job doesn’t mean blow”), stimulate (“she don’t wear no underwear”), and elicit compassion (“she took a whip to me until I shout”) all within one and a half minutes. You have a right to laugh. You have a right to shake your head in disgust. You have every right even to cry or be angry. Just don’t dismiss “Sister” as anything but brilliant.
The goal of each episode of Press Rewind is to:
- Take a track by track look at the lyrical content of Prince’s discography
- Discuss my own interpretation of each song’s lyrics along with any guest I may have
- If submitted, discuss listener’s interpretations of each song’s lyrics
Thank you for joining me on this journey through Prince’s catalog!