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 an 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.

38: When You Were Mine

Dirty Mind (1980)
Where did Prince write When You Were Mine? Sources vary, although all agree he wrote it in a hotel room during the Rick James tour. Prince’s draft of the The Hits’ liner notes place the hotel in North Carolina, yet the published notes say it was written in Florida while the rest of the band were at Disney World. Fink concurs with this story but in an 1997 interview Prince said he wrote it in Birmingham, Alabama after listening to John Lennon. It could have been worked on across all three states, or memories of hotel rooms have blurred into one. What’s more important is its psychological location. As Prince wrote in his liner notes: “this was not a happy period.” He was stuck on a stressful tour that he was only doing for exposure, bumping egos with the headliner and (early on) dealing with some antagonistic audiences. Therefore the Florida story is the most illustrative. His band unwound from tour pressures by taking in a theme park, while Prince retreated into his music and created his own magical kingdom. When You Were Mine is pop perfection. A new wave nirvana. Shelter from the grey, tedious messy world by climbing inside a bubblegum palace where being cheated on has never sounded so good. Because the Dirty Mind album reinvented Prince as a sexual taboo breaker, critics often peg When You Were Mine as a song about a menage a trois. But I think that’s relying too much on one surely-metaphorical line. There wasn’t somebody literally sleeping between them. The singer was simply aware he was being two-timed and didn’t make a fuss about it, but now that his girlfriend has left him for the other man he loves her even more and begins following them around. It’s more a song about stalking than threesomes but, like Every Breath You Take, you don’t notice because it’s shiny, happy radio nectar. Unbelievably, it was never released as a commercial single but it was the b-side to Controversy and found a second life through a parade of cover versions. The first one, by the British band Bette Bright & The Illuminations, arrived the year after Dirty Mind was released. Two more appeared before Cyndi Lauper recorded what would become the best known cover. In January 1985, she released her version as a single, allowing When You Were Mine to finally roam the happy hunting ground of mainstream daytime radio. At the dawn of the 80s Prince spun gold out of tour-misery straw, but it wasn’t until the midpoint of the decade that somebody dazzled the market with its brilliance.

55: Dirty Mind

Dirty Mind (1980)
The first 15 seconds of Dirty Mind are Prince’s heartbeat at rest. The base level of funk that pulses through him when his mind is clear of all thoughts. Then Dr Fink plugs in. His synth riff arrives as the first official non-lyrical collaboration on a Prince record. A Van Halen-esque rock fanfare announcing the expansion of Prince’s universe. Only Chris Moon has shared a co-writing credit before (for the lyrics to Soft & Wet) but this is the first time Prince has acknowledged that the music wasn’t entirely ‘produced, arranged, composed and performed’ by himself. It came about during a rehearsal jam where a chord progression Fink was toying with scored him an invite back to Prince’s house to turn it into a new song. The keyboard player was dismissed in the early evening and by morning Dirty Mind was born, both as the song and the direction of his third album. A new Prince was created that night – probably the most important out of all of his between-album metamorphoses. His naked vulnerability got replaced by a seedy flasher mac and a ‘rude boy’ badge, two symbols that will feature on his next three album covers, showing the endurance of his lewd new sexuality. The song starts off tentatively. His vocals are low; his kick-drum and bass-synth chug along like they’re sizing up the alien element caught in their web. Cautiously the guitars spin their silk around the foreign body and slowly devour its essence. By the end Prince is screaming the chorus while dancing on disco’s ashes. A new funk/rock sex centaur has been born and the 80s stretches out before it, fresh as virgin snow.

70: Uptown

Dirty Mind (1980)
I grew up in rural Warwickshire, in a sleepy village whose only bragging rights were a Motown legend had retired there and a dubious probably-easily-disproven claim that it was where Shakespeare went to school. I was surrounded by small towns with even smaller-minded attitudes. Every high-schooler’s eyes were on the countdown clock to their 17th birthday when they could learn to drive and flee the circling, throttling briar of country lanes. Our eyes were on the city. Our Uptown. Like Prince’s Uptown it was a place you could be free, away from “nowhere bound, narrow-minded drag”. With my driver’s licence finally granting me the freedom of escape, I attended art college where vanilla experimentations in style and teenage identity meant I had several of my own “are you gay?” moments whenever I returned to the stultifying, conformist norms of the village. I’m afraid to say, unlike Prince’s snappy retort in Downtown, I would try to inject machismo into my reply, ashamedly taking the question as the slight it was intended to be. Prince’s Uptown arrived too late in my life to help. It found me at University the following year where a hall-mate’s The Hits 1 compilation soundtracked many an after-hours session back at her room. Tangled in a purely-platonic, loving embrace of limbs and sleeping bodies – a pile of mates so comfortable in each others company we’d all fall asleep in each others laps and beds – I was as far away from my provincial Downtown as I could be. The song’s message washed over me but the music seeped into my being and has remained there to this day.

114: Sister

Dirty Mind (1980)
Has any artist had a swifter, more extreme makeover between two albums? Twelve months ago Prince was riding a white Pegasus through a soft-focus meadow and now he’s posing in a flasher mac and bikini briefs amid monochrome urban squalor. Pop pin-up to punk pervert in the blink of an eye. The music on Dirty Mind has evolved less abruptly and sits snugly as a transition between Prince and Controversy, but the lyrics on one track tell us 80s Prince is not like 70s Prince. Sister sees the shock value get ramped up from its previous vanilla “ooh, a lesbian, nudge, nudge” setting to “holy shit, that’s horrific, dude why would anyone sing that?!” A one-inch punch of a song that in its 90 seconds has more twists and turns than a four-hour opera. Flash fiction set to power chords. Head may also raise the outrage stakes but has sounded tame ever since Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax infiltrated the charts. Sister is as taboo-breaking and as genuinely shocking today as it was almost 40 years ago. Prince at his most punk.

123: Partyup

Dirty Mind (1980)
Prince places a disco-funk flower into the rifle barrel of a Cold War-gripped country still reeling from Vietnam and the result is a bassline more devastating than any bomb. This one’s going out to the dancers, not the fighters – a rallying call for those who’d rather throw shapes than missiles. Morris Day wrote the music (or at least the groove) for Partyup and relinquished the dancefloor detonator in return for the gift of The Time. Which begs the question, if Morris had fire like this in his arsenal why did Prince write the first three Time albums? Maybe lightning doesn’t strike twice. Or maybe it does but it takes Prince to bottle it.

148: Do it All Night

Dirty Mind (1980)
Prince’s third album isn’t all the trench-coated, bikini-briefed, daughter-corrupting taboo-breaker the cover suggests. Yes, Head and Sister could still get Moral America hand-wringing today, but elsewhere there’s scarcely a tut to be found. Instead, we’re treated to endearing jams like this one which begins with the words “pardon me”. Granted, he then goes on to tell you he wants to do it all night, but he is also concerned about doing it to you right. Hugging and kissing and drowning in your arms is as racy as this song gets. Prince takes pains to tell you he’s “kind of shy” and usually so chaste (“giving up so easy is something that I never do”). Even the way he drops in a couple of “bloody”s is sweet, like he wants to show passion but goshdarnit that’s the wildest cuss he’ll allow himself. He’s uncontrollable with lust but he’s not an animal. Totes adorbs!

438: Gotta Broken Heart Again

Dirty Mind (1980)
Lyrically and musically this guileless ballad about a deserted love is much more in keeping with his first brace of albums. The country-blues guitar and gentle electric piano theoretically shouldn’t sit well with Dirty Mind‘s synthy, trenchcoat funk but due to the minimal beat and short duration this less sexually-charged song is able to freely walk amongst its wilder brethren like a pigeon at a zoo. There’s also an underlying sturdiness that wasn’t always present before. The spirit of rock bleeding in. A steel-capped falsetto lament which ends, along with side A of the album, with the sound of an amplified guitar being discarded, leaving you wanting more. Track highlight: the pause and slight vocal exhalation after the word “stop”, an affectation that Michael Jackson went to town with on the previous year’s Working Day and Night. All in all Gotta Broken Heart Again is a great slow jam, his first of the 80s, but there’s bigger and better ones on the way. One comment about the title though – doesn’t conventional slang usage suggest that Prince is singing he’s got to broken heart again? I feel the pedant’s pettifog rise within me.