Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)

Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)

(Featured Image: London punks, circa 1977. Photo by Karen Knorr and Olivier Richon; stolen from BBC News.)

Prince’s adoption of a punk aesthetic in late 1980 and early 1981 was, as we’ve seen, an act of calculation; it would be a mistake, however, to assume that it was only that. For one thing, Prince’s New Wave songs were simply too good to have been born of strategic considerations alone. For another, as his cousin Charles Smith recalled, the artist was a known fan of “the whole English scene… He’d always been into David Bowie and that kind of stuff” (Nilsen 1999 72).

It thus stands to reason that when Prince finally made his way to punk’s epicenter, London, in June of 1981, his P.R. approach combined thinly-veiled opportunism with genuine homage. He promoted his one-off date at the West End’s Lyceum Ballroom with a pair of high-profile magazine interviews: one with Steve Sutherland of Melody Maker, and the other with Chris Salewicz, whose tenure at NME alongside writers Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill had helped frame the discourse around British punk. Warner Bros. even took the opportunity to release a U.K.-exclusive single in advance of his visit: a distinctly New Wave-flavored outtake from the Dirty Mind sessions called “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About).”

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I Don’t Wanna Stop

I Don’t Wanna Stop

(Featured Image: Not Prince’s home studio, but it is his reel-to-reel; ad for the Ampex MM-1100, circa 1974. Photo stolen from the Reel to Reel Tape Recorder Museum.)

So far, we’ve been looking at Prince’s Dirty Mind as a singular, cohesive work–which, in fact, it was: easily his strongest and most consistent artistic statement to date. But part of what made it so impressive is that according to Prince, it was never really intended as such. When he began recording in mid-1980, his goal was not an “album,” but a batch of demos: the same kind of home recordings he’d been making since 1976. The resulting tapes were “just personal songs that I wanted to have,” he told the Los Angeles Herald Examiner after the album’s release, a fact to which he attributed their immediate, “up-front quality” (Wilen 1981).

Like many of the stories Prince told to reporters circa 1981, there’s an air of myth to his claim that the songs on Dirty Mind were originally deemed too raw for public consumption; I’m inclined to believe him, however, if only because his home studio in Wayzata, Minnesota sounds like the last place one would choose to record a major label album. “The house had a lot of problems,” recalled Don Batts, who worked as Prince’s ad-hoc engineer and studio tech at the time. The mixing console, Batts told biographer Per Nilsen, was “rammed up against a table.” The tape machine, an Ampex MM-1100, was “held together with baling wire and patches, and on a regular basis had numerous tracks that weren’t functional simply because it was that raggedy.” Most dramatically, the drum booth was partially flooded from a nearby cesspool, resulting in a “constant drain of water” on the tracks  (Nilsen 1999 67).

Despite these conditions, Prince spent the bulk of May and June 1980 holed up in the studio, recording not only the entirety of Dirty Mind and affiliated outtakes, but a raft of songs that still haven’t been heard by the public: “American Jam,” the intriguingly-titled “Big Brass Bed,” the bewilderingly-titled “Bulgaria,” “Eros,” “Plastic Love Affair,” and “Rough.” He also recorded at least one song that has been heard by the public, but only by another artist, and seemingly against Prince’s wishes: a bouncy, rather anachronistic little number called “I Don’t Wanna Stop.”

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The Rebels: A Retrospective from an Alternate Timeline

The Rebels: A Retrospective from an Alternate Timeline

(Featured Image: Cover of The Rebels, 1980; © Warner Bros.)

Note: Just in case there is any confusion, the below is entirely made up, albeit with perhaps an excess of dedication to historical plausibility. See my previous “Alternate Timeline” post on For You for a better explanation of the concept. And have fun!

The late 1970s and early 1980s punk scene in Minneapolis and St. Paul played host to a number of noteworthy groups: Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, the Suburbs. But none were as eclectic, or as underrated, as the multi-racial, gender- and genre-bending act known as the Rebels. A far cry from a conventional “punk” band, the Rebels were a motley crew of disaffected Northside funksters, suburban bar-band escapees, and even a few seasoned pros, whose wild live performances made them the first group from the Twin Cities underground to be signed by a major label. Their self-titled 1980 debut for Warner Bros. was both critically acclaimed and hugely influential for a generation of genre-agnostic musical provocateurs, but internal tensions kept them from fulfilling their full potential. Still, almost four decades later, the mark of the Rebels remains evident across the contemporary pop landscape, from alternative rock to electronic music and hip-hop.

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