Musicheads Essentials: Prince - Dirty Mind


Prince - Dirty Mind album cover
Prince's 'Dirty Mind' album was released on October 8, 1980. (Courtesy Warner Brothers)
Musicheads Essentials: Prince, Dirty Mind
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With his third album Dirty Mind, released on October 8, 1980, Prince jumped to the head of the class, laying the sonic blueprint that would help define the music of the '80s and beyond. This is still two years before 1999 and four away from the Purple Rain megastardom, but it's the moment he put the Minneapolis sound on the map. With musical daring and dexterity, Prince blends synthetic R&B, new wave, funk, pop, and a fearlessness in creating some of the most explicit lyrics in music history on Dirty Mind. Are these the fantasies or the realities of a shy 22-year old just back from his first tour? Does it matter when the relentless grooves of "Dirty Mind" and "Partyup" overtake your body?

While much of the funk and soul of the late '70s was about expanding the sound and the bands with layers of horns, percussion, and vocalists (think: Earth Wind and Fire, P-Funk), this is the record where Prince finds his sound by stripping it down to the essentials: spare guitar, keyboards, and bass lines that snake around his versatile vocals.

After two albums recorded in big California studios, Dirty Mind would be cut mostly in Prince's studio by himself. By leaving the songs sounding almost like demos, he draws a line that separates him from funk's immediate past as strongly as Bowie did to '60s rock with Ziggy Stardust.

And for all the controversy around the explicit lyrical themes, the key song that sets a tone for the record (and maybe his career) is "Uptown." On the surface it's a tribute to the artist-friendly Minneapolis neighborhood, but at the same time a metaphor for Prince's vision of utopia, where we can all be free to express ourselves and racism and prejudice don't exist. It's a theme he has returned to often, as he played the song on later tours, and of course, to Minnesota itself, coming home to work and live at Paisley Park for the final years of his career.

Dirty Mind was the album that put Prince, (and in some ways Minnesota) on the map, and it's an essential stop on any trip through Prince's career.

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