(Featured Image: “Please Audition Prior to Airing”–Dirty Mind, 1980; photo by Allen Beaulieu, © Warner Bros.)
Dirty Mind is an album with a reputation. Rolling Stone’s Ken Tucker deemed it “positively filthy” (Tucker 1981). Self-proclaimed “Dean of American Rock Critics” Robert Christgau branded it with arguably his greatest one-liner: “Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home” (Christgau). And then, of course, there was the marketing: that provocative cover photo by Allen Beaulieu; those proto-PMRC stickers warning radio programmers to “audition prior to airing” (see above); the wave of interviews with the 22-year-old artist defiantly espousing his core values of unfettered sexuality and free expression. Almost invariably, from 1980 to 2017, critics have seen Dirty Mind as a turning point: the moment when Prince, swooning teen R&B lothario, became Prince, brash punk-funk libertine. “Nothing,” Tucker wrote, could have prepared us for the record’s “liberating lewdness” (Tucker 1981).
Yet, for those of us who have been following along at home, perhaps the most surprising thing about Dirty Mind is how unsurprising it feels. The album’s smutty disrepute rests, more or less, on two songs: the already-discussed “Head” and the even-more-notorious “Sister” (more on that later). On the other three-quarters of the record, however, Prince isn’t much more sex-obsessed than he was last time around. In fact, rather than a radical about-face for Prince, Dirty Mind is more accurately described as a refinement of what came before: stripping the music to its bare essentials, turning the innuendos unmistakably transparent. It’s different, but hardly unprecedented; if you didn’t see Dirty Mind coming after Prince, then you simply weren’t paying attention.
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(Featured Image: Cover art for “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” by Joe Jackson, 1979; © A&M Records.)
In early March, 1980–right around the same time Rick James was absconding with their Oberheim–Prince’s band took a break from the tour and spent a day at Disney World. “In Orlando, we decided to have some fun being tourists,” keyboardist Dr. Fink told journalist Mobeen Azhar. “We asked Prince to come along, too, but he said, ‘Go ahead. Have fun.’ I remember leaving him sitting outside the hotel room on the balcony, with his guitar. By the time we came back, he’d written ‘When You Were Mine’” (Azhar 23).
If “Head,” as suggested last week, was “the foundation upon which Prince’s racial, sexual, and personal preoccupations of the next decade were built,” then “When You Were Mine” laid the groundwork for his musical expansion. It was his first real foray into crossover territory: a masterful capital-“P” pop song with all the literary value of contemporary New Wave troubadours Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. It wasn’t Prince’s first classic song–that, again, would be “I Wanna Be Your Lover”–but it was his first standard: timeless, durable, and rewarding of endless reinterpretations by other artists.
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(Prince and Gayle Chapman on Rick James’ Fire It Up Tour, 1980; photo stolen from Reddit.)
“I can’t believe people are gullible enough to buy Prince’s jive records,” Rick James griped to Britain’s Blues and Soul magazine in 1983. “He’s out to lunch. You can’t take his music seriously. He sings songs about oral sex and incest” (Matos 2015). It was the first public shot across the bow in a years-long, mostly one-sided beef between the godfather of “punk-funk” and the young upstart who first rivaled, then surpassed him. But it was hardly the first time these titans had clashed: James’ comments were transparently rooted in tensions from three years earlier, when Prince was the opening act for his early 1980 Fire It Up tour. And it was just before his tour with James when the “mentally disturbed young man” debuted his most notorious song about oral sex, “Head.”
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(Featured Image: Prince at his 26th birthday concert, First Avenue, June 7, 1984. Photo stolen from Prince Off the Record; check it out for a very nice review of the show!)
Well, folks, the podcast episode I promised yesterday isn’t going to happen until early next week; I simply didn’t have enough time to finish editing. Luckily, though, Warner Bros. has my back, because last night they surprise-released another advance track from the new Purple Rain reissue: the studio-recorded medley of “Our Destiny” and “Roadhouse Garden.” So, rather than completely skip a post today, let’s take a short look at these songs and how they fit into the grander scheme of Prince’s work.
Like the previously-discussed “Electric Intercourse,” “Our Destiny”/”Roadhouse Garden” has advance notoriety among hardcore fans and collectors–though, in this case, its connection to the Purple Rain project is much less clear. Prince and the Revolution performed the song only once, at his 26th birthday celebration at Minneapolis’ First Avenue on June 7, 1984: the same concert that yielded the basic track for Jill Jones’ “All Day, All Night.” And as all of us Prince obsessives know, that might as well have been a decade after the previous year’s August 3 First Avenue date, which similarly provided the majority of Purple Rain’s second side. By summer of 1984, Prince was already hard at work on his next project(s), including tracks that would end up on 1985’s Around the World in a Day.
Adding to the confusion, Roadhouse Garden would later become the title of an aborted late-’90s compilation of refurbished Revolution tracks by the artist then-formerly known as Prince–most of which seemed to date from what Princeologists would consider to be the “Dream Factory era” of 1985-1986. This, in turn, appears to have transformed in many fans’ reckonings into a whole other album between Purple Rain and Around the World in a Day, possibly also called Roadhouse Garden. Basically, the song’s provenance is a mess, and I’ve seen more than a few people cry foul over its and its sister song’s inclusion in what “should” be a compilation of outtakes specifically related to Purple Rain.
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