28: Head

Dirty Mind (1980)
In the chronology of Prince albums, Dirty Mind marks a seismic change, like a ring of a tree after a cataclysmic summer. Lewdness was gauchely toyed with on Prince, but then came the Rick James Fire it Up tour where, as the supporting act, Prince honed the art of shock to steal attention away from the headliner. This gave him a whole new arsenal to deploy for his third album and the big gun was his concert jawdropper Head

This sleaze funk anthem takes an ounce of inspiration from real life – Prince’s ex-girlfriend Darlene was engaged when he first met her – but its lyrics soon descend into a rude boy fantasy from Prince’s dirty mind. This ensured that, despite being the album’s strongest cut, Head couldn’t be released as a commercial single anywhere other than in The Philippines. Frankie Goes to Hollywood may have topped the charts a few years later with their ode to oral sex, but Relax had a thin veneer of plausible innocence to initially slip past the gatekeepers. Head was sculpted to shock from the off. Reinterpretation wasn’t an option, although that didn’t stop an uncomfortable-looking Dez Dickerson pointing to his head when singing the chorus after becoming a born-again Christian during the Dirty Mind tour.

Dez’s new-found faith may have sat awkwardly with Head’s blunt lyrics but in Prince lore, it was keyboardist and coerced shock prop, Gayle Chapman, who is said to have quit the band after she couldn’t square the song’s explicitness – as well as her on-stage objectification – with her Christian beliefs. Nowadays, Gayle refutes this story, saying she left for her own musical growth, but either way, her departure led to the arrival of Lisa Coleman and the future-Revolution member being given this track as an initiation rite. Prince believed if Lisa could sing Head’s lyrics she could handle anything and her cooly understated take on the soon-to-be-wed virgin role scored her a place in his touring band and a co-lead vocal credit on the album.

This acknowledgement, along with Fink’s credit on both the title track and on Head for his lip-biter synth solo, was the reason why, for the first time in Prince’s career, the phrase ‘performed by Prince’ contained an asterisk. Head opened the door for two keyboardists to transcend their concert roles and become more involved in the studio. It may or may not have lost him a keyboard player, but it gained him two new collaborators and paved the way for the birth of the Revolution.

Lisa would even write her own Head-adjacent song for the Time the following year, with The Stick appearing on their debut album. She not only passed her initiation, but would help set a new test for the next term’s intake.