Friday 28th November 2014. I am in the pub and Little Red Corvette comes on. One of the guys, an older guy, who is at my table casually says, “no one likes Prince these days.” And immediately I’m like, “what? That’s bollocks. I love Prince!” I look at my friend, who is sitting next to me, and silently plead for some kind of moral support. He shrugs. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard any Prince,” he says. Obviously this is an outrage. I try to explain that Prince is massively influential, that a lot of modern r’n’b is indebted to him to the point of ripping him off. I cite Drake as an example, and The-Dream. I talk about the great albums, Purple Rain and Sign O’ the Times and Parade. And, I want to talk about another…but…I’m a bit drunk… the name escapes me…it has a black and white cover…I’m pretty sure Prince is in his pants…all the songs are about fucking…
…I never did remember the name, at least not until I was walking home. Then, with the wind and cold aggressively slapping my face, the title of the record hit me me too. Dirty Mind. It’s called Dirty Mind. And it’s brilliant.
The year 1980 must have been a weird, exciting time for music. Punk had eaten itself, giving way to post-punk, which itself was starting to give way to the new romantic movement. Prince straddled all of those genres. When I first heard Dirty Mind I was completely baffled by it, much like I was with another great album released that same year, Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. I bought both around a similar time, when I was about nineteen. This is decades after their release, of course. By that time, both were established mainstream artists [even though Talking Heads had long since disbanded], and yet those two albums seemed so inexplicably odd to me. Dirty Mind, especially. I listened to underground hip-hop, and Japanese hardcore, and weird electronica, without batting an eyelid, and yet Prince’s brittle new wave-y funk was a problem. I couldn’t decide whether I liked it. So I kept playing it, and eventually it started to make sense.
The album kicks off with the title track, which, with its stabbing keyboard riff, sounds like eighties work-out music. I’m not kidding. It puts me in mind of people in spandex and headbands, which is probably what Prince was wearing in the video. The vocal, a high falsetto that sounds like a backed-up Mickey Mouse, is even weirder. The second track, When You Were Mine, is, I think, something of a fan favourite. Here, Prince drops the funk that dominates most of the record in favour of out-and-out pop; it sounds, to my ears, like XTC or, closer to home, Manic Monday, the song he wrote for the Bangles. Yet, lyrically it is typically subversive, with Prince throwing out lines like “when you were mine, I let you wear all my clothes,” which sounds somehow simultaneously innocuous and, well, dirty, not only because of the suggestion that this woman was wearing her man’s clothes as part of some kinky sex game, but also because of the probability that she lets him wear all her clothes too [I mean, it’s only fair].
While Prince and his music are both often described as overtly sexual or sex-obsessed, Dirty Mind is the only one of his albums that probably deserves that description; it is, in fact, easily his most consistently filthy record. I guess only you know whether that is likely to be problematic for you. Some people find it discomforting and some just plain silly. I, however, unashamedly love this kind of thing. Indeed, my love for it is at such a pitch that I used to write my own parody tracks, my own odes to carnality, with an ex-girlfriend of mine; songs called things like Sex Graze and [Hit It] Like a Great White Shark. Unfortunately, I no longer have copies of them, so I cannot share them with you. Anyway, Dirty Mind includes a song called Head, which I guess is pretty self-explanatory, and another, Sister, which is, er, about incest. No really, it is. However, the highlight of the whole record, and one of my favourite Prince tracks, is Uptown. It’s the one song on the album, for me, where the lyrics and the music are in perfect sync; indeed, I am going to conclude this review with some lines from it…
She saw me walking down the streets
Of your fine city
It kinda turned me on when she looked at me
And said, “C’mere”
Now I don’t usually talk to strangers
But she looked so pretty
What can I lose,
If I, uh, just give her a little ear?
“What’s up little girl?”
“I ain’t got time to play.”
Baby didn’t say too much
She said, “Are you gay?”
Kinda took me by suprise
I didn’t know what to do
I just looked her in her eyes
And I said, “No, are you?”