Prince released his third studio album, Dirty Mind, in 1980, almost exactly a year after his self-titled sophomore album of 1979. Though Dirty Mind charted lower, it was a clear artistic advancement on its predecessors, exploring adult themes in a daring way and fusing a number of different genres including funk, rock, new wave and punk into a completely unique concoction. The stripped-down, minimal arrangements gave the album an extra punch, and the catchy hooks made it clear that Prince was on his way to crossover success.
Other than one keyboard solo courtesy of Dr. Fink, and some vocals by Lisa Coleman, every note of the album was produced, arranged and performed by Prince. (Contrary to the official credits, Prince wrote five of the eight tracks and co-wrote the other three with bandmates.)
Dirty Mind may not have been Prince’s commercial breakthrough, but it was adored by critics and fans alike, and it laid the foundations for his future career. The album’s bold, salacious lyrics coupled with Prince’s falsetto delivery earned him comparisons to both Smokey Robinson and Richard Pryor. The self-proclaimed “dean of American rock critics”, Robert Christgau, said, “Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home”.
Read on for a track-by-track guide to the album, and links to more detailed stories for each song, taken from Diffuser’s 365 Prince Songs in a Year series.
Kicking off the album with a robotic, pulsating beat, “Dirty Mind” made it clear that Prince’s music had been transformed. Gone were the relatively conventional sounds of his first two albums. The new Prince was funky, filthy and on the path to crossover success. “Dirty Mind” was the first time Prince shared a co-writing credit with a band member. Keyboard maestro Dr. Fink told Diffuser about how they came up with the song together, and what it was like to collaborate with the infamous workaholic.
“When You Were Mine”
Despite being one of the most radio-friendly tracks he had ever recorded, Prince never released “When You Were Mine” as a single. The song would instead find chart success when Cyndi Lauper released her own take in 1983. “When You Were Mine”’s wistful lyrics and almost perversely catchy melody make more sense when you know where Prince was when he wrote it: sitting in an Orlando hotel room while his bandmates had fun at Disney World.
“Do It All Night”
With an extended opening keyboard riff, “Do It All Night” served as the opening number on 1980-1981’s Dirty Mind tour. The tour was Prince’s first headline outing since he hit the road as Rick James’ support act earlier in 1980, and his most extensive trek to date. Though he never gave a name to his backing band, the group featured eventual Revolution members Dr. Fink, Bobby Z. and Lisa Coleman, alongside longtime friends and collaborators Dez Dickerson and André Cymone.
“Gotta Broken Heart Again”
A sweet, strangely sunny breakup anthem, “Gotta Broken Heart Again” is an early example of Prince’s gifts as a vocal arranger. His wrenching vocal harmonies contrast with a plodding, jaunty time signature, hammering home both the tragedy and the banality of having a broken heart… again.
According to its liner notes, the whole of Dirty Mind was recorded “somewhere in Uptown.” The place had a double meaning for Prince. On the one hand, it was a literal location: the Uptown district of Minneapolis, known for its nightlife. On the other, it was Prince’s idea of utopia, where people of all races, genders and sexualities could party together. The idea of Uptown would remain central to Prince’s philosophy for many years, and it all started here.
Read more: Prince Creates His Utopia With ‘Uptown’
Even for an artist known for his sexually explicit material, “Head” is particularly risqué. One of Prince’s funkiest-ever tracks, “Head” was initially meant as a concert-only tune, presumably because Prince thought his label would never allow it on a record. Featuring an early vocal appearance from eventual Revolution member Lisa Coleman, “Head” would remain a highlight of Prince’s live performances throughout most of the ’80s.
Dirty Mind is packed full of explicit and controversial lyrics, but “Sister” is the most taboo of all. Over a loud, fast-paced instrumental backing, the song’s narrator recalls a sexual encounter with his sister. But was it autobiographical?
Read more: Did Prince Really Sleep With His ‘Sister?’
Segueing straight in from “Sister”, “Party Up” is an upbeat anti-war anthem that was initially conceived by Prince’s former Grand Central bandmate Morris Day. When Prince heard him playing it, he offered to buy the song off him, or to get him his own record deal. Day chose the record deal, and together they created the Time as a vehicle for him. But as Morris himself told Diffuser, he had a very different idea about the song’s direction…
Read more: Morris Day Tells the Full Story of ‘Partyup’