Despite a strong start on the East Coast, the Dirty Mind tour lost momentum in the Southern states. Dates in Charleston, Chattanooga, Nashville, Atlanta, and Memphis saw disappointing ticket sales, failing to attract the mainstream R&B audience who had seen Prince open for Rick James earlier in 1980. Only in Detroit–where he, astonishingly, nearly sold out the 12,000-seat Cobo Hall–was Prince building a substantial audience.
Meanwhile, according to drummer Bobby Z, the album sales just “kind of sat” (Nilsen 1999 74). The machinations of P.R. mastermind Howard Bloom, brought on by Prince’s management at the beginning of December, had not yet taken hold. After a final date at Chicago’s Uptown Theatre (no relation), the tour ground to a halt; for the third time in his brief career, Prince’s attempt to get out on the road had been vexed, and he was sent back to Minneapolis to lick his wounds.
After much delay, here is my conversation with Chris Aguilar-Garcia and Natalie Clifford, two presenters from this May’s interdisciplinary Prince conference at the University of Salford. Both Chris and Nat identify as queer, and both have interesting things to say about Prince’s legacy of “revolutionary queerness” and the space he created for less conventional expressions of gender and sexuality in the mainstream. If you liked the last episode with Snax, chances are you’ll like this one.
This is the part where I would normally say we’re switching gears and moving away from the Salford conference, but as it happens, we already have another interview with a presenter in store. So basically, I’ll keep doing these as long as people want to talk to me. If you still want to listen to me–and, more importantly, my eloquent guests–feel free to subscribe on your podcast service of choice. And if you really like us, take that aforementioned podcast app and shoot us a rating or review; it will make us more “discoverable” and broaden the listening base. In the meantime, thanks as always for listening!
It’s been a long six months since my last roundup post, but this time I’m not going to make any promises about picking up the pace: my inherent slothfulness aside, Dirty Mind also marks the beginning of my personal favorite era for Prince, and I want to do it justice. Hopefully, with this latest batch of posts, I’m off to a good start; as always, I’m looking forward to the rest!
Here’s my ranking of the songs from Dirty Mind:
8. “Do It All Night” First, let me be clear: I consider Dirty Mind to be Prince’s first set of wall-to-wall classics, so when I say “Do It All Night” is my least favorite track, it’s barely a criticism. It’s just that on an album that introduced a bolder, rawer Prince, this was one of the few tracks that sounded like it could have been held over from his previous record. It’s still a jam, though–and, as I noted in the post, it really came to life in concert.
7. “Sister” Again, no disrespect intended to what remains Prince’s most literal interpretation of the punk aesthetic. It’s just that “Sister” is less a great song than it is a great segue: doubling down on “Head”’s gleeful vulgarity, before getting political with “Partyup.” I never really listen to “Sister” on its own, but I can’t imagine the album without it.
5. “Uptown” This might be blasphemy, but for me this song is significant mostly for what it represents: the first of Prince’s grand utopian visions, an idealized multicultural Minneapolis invented out of sheer willpower, and an early example of the intersectional identity-fucking he’d perfect in the years to come. As a song, it doesn’t do much for me that “Controversy” wouldn’t improve upon later; but that doesn’t stop me from singing along when it comes on in the car.
4. “Dirty Mind” Like “Do It All Night,” this isn’t breaking as much new ground as you might expect, subject matter-wise; but in this case, the sound is pure throbbing future erotica, pointing the way to even deeper New Wave and electronic indulgences to come.
3. “When You Were Mine” Prince’s best pop song to date, and one of his catchiest ever; plus, it’s the one track on Dirty Mind I can (somewhat) comfortably listen to with my five-year-old, so that scores it a few bonus points.
2. “Head” Yeah, it’s “just” a funky song about blowjobs, but it’s hard to overstate the importance of this song to Prince’s oeuvre. So much of the rest of his 1980s, from the literal and musical miscegenation to the “Filthy Fifteen” explicit lyrics, can be traced directly back to “Head.” In its own way, this is Prince’s “Brown Sugar”: an unfiltered, borderline obscene id dump that nevertheless says something deeply significant about rock and roll.
1. “Partyup” My favorite track on Dirty Mind is possibly the least “dirty”; in my opinion, though, this sudden album-closing pivot toward conventional politics gives the other songs an even more liberatory charge. On his next album, of course, Prince would deal even more explicitly with current events, but not with anywhere near this level of ease, concision, or panache.
In case anyone had any doubts, this was also the longest series of posts I’ve done so far: 1,653 words on average, vs. 1,383 for Princeand 1,379 for For You.
I’m hoping to jump into the brave new post-Dirty Mind world next week; first, though, I need to deliver that podcast episode that was supposed to come out today. New ETA is Monday. In the meantime, here’s the Spotify playlist!
As we’ve noted before, when Prince began recording in the spring of 1980, he had no specific project in mind. “The previous albums were done in California, where they have better studios,” he told Andy Schwartz of New York Rocker. “I’d never wanted to do an album in Minneapolis” (Schwartz 1981). But after less than a month of work, he’d decided that his new “demos” were good enough to release as his next proper album. “I was so adamant about it, once I got to the label, that there was no way they could even say ‘we won’t put this out,’” he told the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. “I believed in it too much by that time” (Wilen 1981).
Prince’s resolute belief in the album that would become Dirty Mindplayed like a repeat of the bold position he took during the making of For You. But without an Owen Husney in his corner, this time even his management needed to be convinced. Prince brought his home recordings to Los Angeles to play for Cavallo, Ruffalo, and Fargnoli. As he recalled to Schwartz, “They said, ‘The sound of it is fine. The songs we ain’t so sure about. We can’t get this on the radio. It’s not like your last album at all.’ And I’m going, ‘But it’s like me. More so than the last album, much more so than the first one’” (Schwartz 1981). The managers “thought that I’d gone off the deep end and had lost my mind,” Prince told Chris Salewicz of New Musical Express. It was only after some “long talks” with the artist that they finally relented (Salewicz 1981)–with the caveat that he have the tapes remixed at a professional studio.
As readers of this blog are no doubt aware, the last 18 months have seen an explosion in critical and scholarly discourse on Prince: his music, persona, cultural significance, and beyond. It was only a matter of time until the focus would widen to include the “Minneapolis Sound” Prince played a significant role in shaping and delivering to an international audience. Got to Be Something Here, written by former City Pagesmusic editor and current Minnesota Public Radio host Andrea Swensson, is the first major book to discuss the Twin Cities’ unique contributions to African American music; it should go without saying that it comes highly recommended to anyone who reads dance / music / sex / romance.
To be clear, this is not a book about Prince–though he casts a long, purple shadow over the story, lending foreshadowed significance to places like The Way community center, Sound 80, and of course Sam’s Danceteria, later known as First Avenue. Swensson’s history begins in the year of Prince’s birth, 1958, when a Near North doo-wop group called the Big M’s recorded Minnesota’s first R&B single; the narrative path continues through the “chitlin circuit” of early African American R&B venues, the ill-fated integrated dance club King Solomon’s Mines, and finally the grassroots Northside funk community that spawned Flyte Tyme, the original Family, and Grand Central. This expanded perspective offers a broader, but ultimately more useful definition for the Minneapolis Sound than the usual “post-disco R&B with synthesizers for horns.” In particular, Swensson convincingly argues that from the 1950s to the 1980s and beyond, music from the Twin Cities was marked by an “aggressive blend of genres” that crossed Minnesota’s de facto but sharply-drawn color lines.
By focusing on the material conditions that necessitated this line-crossing, Swensson offers a valuable, politicized context for Prince and the other Black musicians who put Minneapolis on the map. The most eye-opening part of the book, especially for a non-Minnesotan like myself, is Swensson’s research on the construction of Interstate 94, which displaced St. Paul’s predominantly African American Rondo neighborhood and cut off Minneapolis’ North Side from the rest of the city. The story of the Minneapolis Sound is thus a story of unequal access to resources, and the things Black musicians had to do to get their fair share: chiefly, working twice as hard as their White counterparts, and becoming versatile enough to appeal to audiences outside of the city’s tiny African American enclaves. Pair this socioeconomic backdrop with the emergence of one phenomenally gifted individual, and you have as good an explanation for Prince as any.
If there is a complaint to be had about Got to Be Something Here, it’s that there simply isn’t enough of it: at just over 200 pages, it’s a surprisingly swift read, and it left me, at least, wanting more. While I understand why the book focuses on the Minneapolis scene “Before Prince,” it would have been great to hear more about the Purple One’s immediate peers: not just Jam and Lewis and Morris Day, but also Sue Ann Carwell, to name one perpetually underrepresented figure. I’m also curious to learn more about cross-pollination between the city’s funk and punk scenes: did Minneapolis have its share of Black New Wavers, or were Prince and André Cymone the only outliers? Again, it’s understandable that Swensson would narrow her focus here, as the story of First Avenue, Twin/Tone Records, and so on has been more thoroughly covered elsewhere; it would be fascinating, however, to find the connections between these parallel communities, in the same way that other pop historians have found the connections between punk and disco in late-1970s New York.
But again, these are quibbles: Swensson has made an important contribution to the study of Minneapolis’ musical history, and her passion for both the city and the music is evident on every page. If there are stones left to unturn–and there are–it will be the happy task of future researchers (maybe even Swensson herself!) to continue the work. For now, Got to Be Something Here is a great start: a story that needed telling, carefully and incisively told.