Podcast: 40 Years of For You

Podcast: 40 Years of For You

(Featured Image: Cover art for For You, 1978; photo by Joe Giannetti, © Warner Bros.)

dance / music / sex / romance is fast approaching its third year, so to celebrate, we’re going…backwards? That’s right, to mark the 40th anniversary of Prince’s debut album, I thought now was the perfect time to go ahead with an idea I’ve been toying with for a while: our own sub-series of review podcasts looking at each of Prince’s albums in isolation.

I’m doing this for a few reasons. First, it’s a way to bring those of you who have been listening to the podcasts but not reading the blog into the loop on my chronological Prince project–and also a way for me to work through some of these albums before I can get to it with my glacially paced writing schedule.

Second, I’ve known from the beginning of this project that if I really wanted to do Prince’s catalogue justice, I would need to incorporate more voices and perspectives than just my own. We all have our biases and blind spots, and as a Prince fan I am acutely aware that one person’s sentimental favorite can be another’s unlistenable mess (and vice versa). That’s why I asked my friends Harold and KaNisa, both of whose encyclopaedic knowledge of Prince’s career dwarfs my own, to join me. I think you’ll find that our tastes and opinions both intersect and diverge in a lot of interesting ways, which allowed us–and hopefully, will allow you–to take a different perspective on some of these songs and the context in which they were created.

I hope you enjoy this new approach to an album that remains underappreciated in Prince’s catalogue. If you do, I hope you’ll subscribe to the podcast on your streaming app of choice (iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play), and if you’re so inclined, leave a review! No matter what, thanks for listening, and see you again soon.

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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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Everybody Dance

Everybody Dance

(Featured Image: Prince and Lisa Coleman on stage at Sam’s Danceteria–later known as First Avenue–March 9, 1981. Photo by Duane Braley of the Minneapolis Star, stolen from the Current blog.)

During the lull between the first and second legs of the Dirty Mind tour, Prince’s relationship with publicist Howard Bloom began to bear fruit. Bloom had been hired by Prince’s manager Bob Cavallo at the end of 1980, in advance of the artist’s first headlining tour. Their goal was to finally achieve what Prince had been trying to do since 1978: break out of the music industry’s R&B “ghetto.”

Bloom, as he would be the first to proclaim, was the right man for the job. At the time, he told biographers Alex Hahn and Laura Tiebert, “it was incredibly unhip for any white person to work with a black artist. There was a wall, and it was segregation to the nth degree” (Hahn 2017). But Bloom, a white man of Jewish descent, had a reputation for flouting this segregation: “I was considered the leading ‘Black’ publicist in the music industry,” he recalled to K Nicola Dyes of the Beautiful Nights blog. “I worked with more Black acts and I learned more about Black culture than anybody else in the PR field” (Dyes 2014). Bloom, then, was one of the few in the music industry who took notice after Prince’s second album went platinum without ever “crossing over” from the R&B charts. Now, all he had to do was harness his client’s obvious star power, and make it impossible for the rest of the world to ignore.

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Roundup: Dirty Mind, 1980

Roundup: Dirty Mind, 1980

(Featured Image: Outtake from the Dirty Mind cover photo sessions, 1980; photo by Allen Beaulieu.)

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.

6. “Gotta Broken Heart Again” I’ve already confessed my love for Prince’s early, simple R&B ballads, and this is one of the simplest and purest of the bunch. Sometimes I think I might even like it more than “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” (don’t tell anyone I said that, though).

5. “UptownThis 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 also quite 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.

Now let’s take a look at those tags:

tagcloud-1979dirtymind-tagcloud

Obviously things are skewed a bit by the podcast, but there are some interesting trends to be observed: old collaborators (Owen Husney, Pepé Willie) are beginning to recede, while new ones (Dez Dickerson, Lisa Coleman) are starting to emerge. 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 Prince and 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!

Do It All Night

Do It All Night

(Featured Image: The mass seduction begins; Prince at Cobo Hall, Detroit, December 1980. Photo by Leni Sinclair.)

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 Mind played 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 ExpressIt 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.

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