By then the world knew of Prince, though not much. Prior singles had earned some airplay, with “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (from his second, self-titled LP) providing “crossover” success (as they used to say) by making the top 20 on the pop charts.
Dirty Mind departs from Prince’s first two records, however, both of which mostly stick with funk-leaning R&B with only occasional excursions into pop/rock and/or the risque. More eclectic and adventurous, Prince’s third album unmistakably reveals a gifted songwriter and provocative performer. Not to mention a trouble-maker, too, demanding (and deserving) our attention.
The album’s brevity -- just eight tracks, totaling a half-hour -- formally resembles the get-to-the-point ethos employed by punk acts of the day. The idea of rebellion seems intended by the tracks’ mindful symmetry, too, with Side One consisting of four love-slash-lust songs that refrain from overtly challenging social mores, then Side Two adding four jams linked by ideas of transgression and/or insurgence.
The title track begins the record sparsely. A thumping bass drum and repetitive synth lay a groundwork over which Prince gradually develops an earnest plea to a would-be lover “to let me lay you down.” The hypnotic (or humping) groove climaxes, recedes, and climaxes again, aurally recapitulating a lover’s repeated attempts to get a little farther with his efforts.
“When You Were Mine” follows, the disc’s most accomplished example of straightforward pop. Here the relationship exists in the past rather than the future, the singer mournful over having loved and lost. The next two tracks repeat the pattern, with the upbeat “Do It All Night” reprising the title track’s booty call, then the subdued toe-tapper “Gotta Broken Heart Again” switching back to spurned-lover mode.
As mentioned, flipping the disc introduces a shift in tone. Whereas Side One keeps tracks distinct, all segue on Side Two, further suggesting a thematic link.
At first “Uptown” sounds like just another rave-up until the lyrics reveal an agenda, with the titular location representing a Paisley Park-like utopia where individuals of disparate backgrounds can convene together for the funk of it. Then comes “Head,” a celebration of oral sex in which Prince adds further scandal by luring a virginal bride-to-be from the altar with his charms.
For those unfazed by “Head,” the short, unsettling “Sister” follows, ambiguously lauding and/or lamenting an incestuous relationship with an older sibling. “Partyup” concludes the side with a make-love-not-war call to arms, ultimately resolving into a defiant, urgent chant that “we don’t want to fight no more.”
“Revolutionary rock ‘n’ roll!” is the call during the final track’s coda, underscoring the latter side’s focus. A career iconoclast, Prince kept crossing boundaries and upsetting expectations with subsequent LPs. But the seeds of revolution (the name subsequently chosen for Prince’s backup band) were earlier planted in the fertile ground of Prince’s Dirty Mind.