Around the same time that Prince was co-opting Flyte Tyme for his project with Morris Day, he was also falling out with another of his oldest comrades: the co-founder of Grand Central and his closest musical partner, André Cymone.
André’s and Prince’s musical fates had been linked since the moment they first locked eyes in the Bryant Junior High gymnasium. Both were budding multi-instrumentalists, the children of talented jazz musicians: André’s father, Fred Anderson, used to play bass with Prince’s father, John L. Nelson. Both, too, possessed a preternatural drive far beyond the norms of their age and circumstance. “There was a sixth sense between the two of us,” Cymone told Billboardin 2016. “It’s something that doesn’t happen, I don’t think, very often where you find two people come together who are really passionate about what they do at a time when they’re both growing and learning” (Cymone 2016).
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!
Well, another week has come and gone, and I still haven’t finished my next post. Fortunately, I have this piece I wrote about off-and-on Prince associate Jesse Johnson for my other blog, Dystopian Dance Party, to kick off our annual celebration of early-to-mid-’80s R&B, Jheri Curl June:
As I mentioned last week, one of the things I live for as a Prince fan is the sense that at any moment, some incredible, previously-unheard track could come out of nowhere–even, astonishingly, now that the artist himself is no longer with us. That happened last month with the studio version of “Electric Intercourse” and, more controversially, with “Deliverance”; but it’s happened many times before, often through less legitimate means. In late 2014, for example, bootleggers released “Kiss Me Quick”: a song whose title was familiar thanks to sources like Per Nilsen’s The Vault, but which had never been heard by the general public.
Back when “Kiss Me Quick” was just a title in The Vault, it was widely assumed to have originated from Prince’s Kiowa Trail home studio in 1981; now that we can hear it, however, it couldn’t be a more obvious product of 1979. With its galloping beat, rubbery bassline, and rapidly-ascending chord sequence, it’s certainly Prince’s most conventionally “disco” song this side of “Sexy Dancer.” But in this case, rather than self-consciously attempting to elevate the form, he just goes all-in, crafting a sparkling ideal of a disco track that could easily have made the Dance charts if its creator had bothered to, you know, put it out.
Still, it’s hard to begrudge him for leaving “Kiss Me Quick” in the Vault (or the Closet or Shoebox or whatever he was using in 1979): because, as good a song as it is, it’s not necessarily a great Prince song. It’s too conventional-sounding to have fit on the track listing of his second album; the sexual persona he inhabits is too innocent and demure for the libertinish “Spandex kid” he became in the transitional phase before Dirty Mind. Indeed, it’s likely that “Kiss Me Quick” was never meant to be a “Prince song” at all: according to biographer Matt Thorne, Pepé Willie recalled it being intended for his off-and-on protégée, Sue Ann Carwell (Thorne 2016). It thus makes sense that when Carwell left Prince’s orbit, the song would go back on the shelf, replaced by any number of the endless hits and almost-hits he was cranking out with assembly-line consistency.
And in a way, the thing that makes “Kiss Me Quick” interesting, more than anything else, is the possibility of those other songs. If this little gem could go from a title in a book to actual, audible music, then who knows: in a few short years, we could be hearing “Aces,” or “Machine,” or “Neurotic Lover’s Baby’s Bedroom,” or any other early song that exists now only as an intriguing name and a stub page on Prince Vault. Whatever else we might say about Prince’s handling of his music in life, he certainly left a lot of surprises behind; and the fact that we’re still able to look forward to “new” Prince songs is the one silver lining of his tragic and premature death.
Tomorrow, I’ll be back with the last full episode of my podcast with Jane Clare Jones. Then, next week, it’s on to 1980 and Dirty Mind! See you soon.
The recording sessions for Prince began in earnest in late April of 1979, with overdubs and mixes completed by June 13: about seven weeks, all told, barely half the time Prince had taken to complete his debut album. Indeed, while For Youand Princeare often grouped together by critics, in practice the two albums are a study in contrasts. Rather than the state-of-the-art Record Plant, Prince used Alpha Studios in Burbank, California: a relatively modest facility located in the home of owner and engineer Gary Brandt. And where on For You Prince had seemed determined to use every inch of the studio console, his approach to its successor was markedly scaled back; according to Brandt, Prince deliberately limited himself to only 16 of Alpha’s 24 available tracks (Brown 2010).
Prince’s stripped-down aesthetic was born partly of preference and partly of necessity. In later interviews, Prince would suggest a growing dissatisfaction with For You’s fussy production: he had tried to make “a perfect record,” he told Melody Maker’s Steve Sutherland in 1981, but “it was too scientific” (Sutherland 1981). Working with 16 tracks at Alpha Studios would likely have felt more comfortable to an artist used to the humbler accommodations of Sound 80 and his own home studio in Minneapolis; crucially, it was also much cheaper. For You’s recording budget, you might remember, had ballooned to some $170,000–almost the entire amount Warner Bros. had allotted for Prince’s first three albums. So this time around, Prince told Lynn Norment of Ebony magazine, “I realized that I had to make some money to prove to them that I was a businessman” (Norment 34). By recording quickly and economically, Prince would ensure that the new record came in on time and under budget. “He was really in a hurry,” drummer Bobby Z recalled to biographer Per Nilsen. “There was quite a bit of debt to the label, and he needed a hit. His back was against the wall” (Nilsen 1999 54).