Dirty Mind was the Prince record that hit me first—and hardest. If you listened to Detroit radio in the early ’80s, you couldn’t escape Prince’s music (thankfully), because “When You Were Mine” was ubiquitous on both the black- and white-oriented stations in the Motor City, if I remember correctly. If you tuned in to the influential DJ the Electrifying Mojo on WGPR, then you lucked into hearing Dirty Mind‘s deeper cuts, too. As an 18-year-old, experiencing these slammingly funky and lyrically risqué songs upon their release was like getting license to let your id run riot.
Dirty Mind lasts but 30 minutes, but the brevity intensifies its impact. Prince’s first classic LP is filler-free and devoid of the sort of ballads that padded out most of Prince’s other releases. Now, some folks love boudoir troubadourism, and Prince was a true master of the style, but I find it slightly tedious. Anyway, “Dirty Mind”—which was co-written by synthesizer wizard Dr. Fink—kicks off the album with the kind of slightly blurred come-hither synth riff that became a pervasive early-’80s sound—especially in Prince’s Minneapolis circle of musicians. “Dirty Mind” is cruise-y new-wave disco with much spring in its legs and it flaunts one of the supplest falsettos in the game. For a celebration of a slutty brain, though, this gleaming song has almost a genteel feel to it.
“When You Were Mine” boasts one of Prince’s most memorable and moving melodies and bears a great, twanging bass part that twists like an aching testicle. The hook “I love you more now than when you were mine” is deeply poignant, and the equanimity with which Prince accepts his ex’s new boyfriend is damned mature, even if now people would call him a “cuck.” Side one (the inferior side) concludes with “Do It All Night” and “Gotta Broken Heart Again.” The former’s shiny, pulsating pop-funk that’s decidedly not top-tier Prince; the latter’s the closest the album comes to a ballad. It finds Prince lamenting his romantic-loser status—something that would become harder and harder to believe as the ’80s progressed.
Side two is where the seriously libidinous action goes down. It begins with “Uptown,” a triumphant, strutting soul funk ditty in which Prince relates how a woman who initially asks him if he’s gay (spoiler alert!) later bestows him the best sex of his life. He also asserts how “Good times were rollin’/White, black, Puerto Rican/Everybody just a-freaking,” providing a glimpse into Prince’s utopian ideals and inclusive worldview. Next comes my fave cut on Dirty Mind, “Head.” It funks harder and filthier than anything else here and extols the virtues of 69 (the sex act, not the year). As a bonus, Dr. Fink’s fantastic synth freakout, if I may go out on a limb, represents orgasm. Play it at your next orgy.
The final two tracks maintain the über-sexxxy vibe. “Sister” is a frisky rock rave-up that doubles as a paean to incest. Bold for 1980… or for any year, really. “Partyup” [sic] is a close cousin to “Head,” and its sleek, decadent funk lives up to the title. In this uproarious anti-war song, Prince unequivocally proves that he’s a hedonist and not a soldier. In fact, he’d rather have a good time than die in a war, and the exciting rhythmic torque and radiant synth flares seal the deal.
Dirty Mind is the album that alerted the world to Prince’s polymorphous perversity and sexual ambiguity, both lyrically and in how he presented himself (check the cover photos). It was daring as hell for the time in the soul and rock worlds. 1981’s Controversy would further expand upon Prince’s radical, liberating views on race, sexuality, gender, and politics and solidify his status as a generational musical phenom. But Dirty Mind presented Prince in his rawest and bawdiest form, and it initiated his superstar phase. -Buckley Mayfield
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