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Ephemera, 1981-1982 Patreon Exclusives

Patreon Exclusive Bonus Track: Vagina

Lest anyone suspects I was exaggerating when I said I’m feeling inspired about the blog again, I’m currently just under 1,900 words into my post on “Baby I’m a Star,” which is on track to be the longest single post in the history of D / M / S / R. In the meantime, I’m also trying to wrap up the “bonus tracks” from our last chapter on the 1999 era. Here’s a peek at “Vagina”–which was not supposed to be a nudge-nudge, wink-wink joke, but what the hell, I’m leaving it:

Before last year’s Super Deluxe Edition of 1999, “Vagina” was known only by its title and its reputation–both of which were among the most tantalizing, and titillating, of any songs in the Vault. Few outside of Prince’s inner circle at the time of recording had heard it–and those who had, most notably former engineer David Z, described it as “obscene.”

It would have been impossible for any song to live up to such a reputation; “Vagina” certainly doesn’t, though it does stand as one of the highlights of 1999 Super Deluxe’s previously-unreleased Vault tracks. Recorded at his Kiowa Trail home studio in November 1981, the song finds Prince in stripped-down punk-rock mode–just him and his Hohner “Madcat” Telecaster; even the “percussion,” such as it is, is simulated with his mouth. As biographer Alex Hahn observed in a Facebook post soon after the passing of musician Andy Gill, Prince’s guitar work here “very much evokes” Gill’s playing with the English post-punk group Gang of Four–particularly when he “bangs the strings of his guitar in a percussive manner at the very outset of the song.” It’s a strikingly different sound from the rest of the music Prince was making ahead of his fifth album, which even in late 1981 was tending more toward synthesizers and drum machines than guitars–see, for example, the early versions of “Feel U Up” and “Irresistible Bitch” recorded in the same month.

If you want to read the rest, consider joining my Patreon at any level, which is where this and other “bonus tracks” will reside for the foreseeable future. And if you want to get a vote on which of the three remaining 1999-era tracks I tackle next–“Money Don’t Grow on Trees,” “Colleen,” or “You’re All I Want“–I just started a poll for patrons at the $5 level and above. I’m trying to avoid making promises I can’t keep, but based on my recent productivity, I feel pretty certain that the next post will be ready in less than the six months it took me to write this one. Thanks–and see you soon!

Categories
Patreon Exclusives Reviews

Post-Vacation Update: Patreon-Exclusive Originals Review, plus “Sister” on Press Rewind

Hello! Last week was quiet on the blog front because I was out of town on a family vacation, which was great fun but decidedly light on writing time. I did, however, get one thing done for supporters of the new Patreon: a review of the Originals compilation, which released on TIDAL early this month and on CD and other streaming platforms last Friday.

Patreon Exclusive: Originals Review

As I explained on the Patreon over the weekend, this is just one of the kinds of things I’ll be offering over there, but I’ll probably be keeping the patron exclusives Originals-related for the next month or so; my next exclusive post will be a full-blown song post on “You’re My Love,” which happened to be recorded right around the time I’m currently covering on the blog.

Also while I was out, the second episode I recorded for Jason Breininger’s Press Rewind podcast was released. Check that out if you haven’t already:

Press Rewind: “Sister”

Finally, I am still writing a blog, and I plan on putting up the next post, “3 x 2 =6,” on Thursday. In fact, the Patreon has been doing so well that I wouldn’t be surprised if we reached my $50-a-month goal by next week–meaning that there will be a guaranteed four new posts in July. My sincere thanks to the latest group of patrons for helping make that happen: Cliff Dinwiddie, Marilyn Hinson, Jessica, Darling Nisi, and Kaitlyn. If you want to be the one to put us over the edge toward that first goal, you know what to do:

Support d / m / s / r on Patreon

As always, thanks for reading! Coming back from vacation is rough, but I’m happy to return to this project.

Categories
Dirty Mind, 1980

Gotta Broken Heart Again

Last time, we touched upon how the spartan conditions and technical limitations of Prince’s North Arm Drive home studio helped lay the groundwork for what became his signature sound. This time, we actually have a concrete example to discuss: the sole ballad to appear on his 1980 album Dirty Mind, Gotta Broken Heart Again.”

On paper, “Broken Heart” is familiar territory for Prince; its borrowings from the early 1960s soul music of artists like Sam Cooke recall the similar homages of songs like “So Blue” and “Still Waiting.” But those tracks had felt labored: as if Prince, not fully comfortable singing in a hand-me-down style, had overcompensated by loading up the mix with fussy and (in the case of “Still Waiting”’s pseudo-pedal steel) even self-mocking touches. Here, though, circumstances forced him to sit with the material and approach it on its own terms–and the result was his finest experiment with the style to date.

Categories
Dirty Mind, 1980

Dirty Mind

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.