Category Archives: punk funk

‘Dirty Mind’ At 36: Prince Kicking Off His Prime Musical Decade

Dirty Mind

Prince was the topic of a conversation between myself and Henrique for much of this past summer. One of the big related topics had to do with an episode of Calvin Lincoln’s TV show Soul School TV out of Vallejo,California. The Prince tribute had a subtext involving its guest about Prince being the prime musical of all time. Henrique,Calvin and myself all ended up agreeing that Prince’s was the prime musical figure,but of the 1980’s-not of all time. The album that probably epitomizes this,as well as Prince’s main persona,came in the very first year of the 80’s decade Dirty Mind.

Last week,this album celebrated its 36th anniversary. Hard to believe Prince’s third album is the same as as I am. So no irony is lost on me that I’m a little late to the party over-viewing this album here. Most of the songs on this particular album came to me by way of their inclusion on the compilation The Hits/The B-Sides. Upon finally hearing the album in its entirety on vinyl,it became clear that this represented the beginning of an ongoing process on Prince’s part to gain the attention of the rock audience. His first two albums in the late 70’s were funk/soul with a West Coast soft rock twist. Dirty Mind changed all that.

The main characteristic of  Dirty Mind is the stripped down instrumental approach. As well as the raw demo style production. From my understanding and research,the post disco radio freeze out of black American music had a key tenant: using the than often maligned term of “disco” as a musically racist slur to keep uptempo hits from black artists from crossing over. Brittle,jerky guitar/synthesizer based new wave rock was the order of the day in the very early 80’s on pop radio. And for all intents and purposes Dirty Mind is Prince’s new wave rock album.

Most of the songs showcase pulsing synthesizers,stiffly grinding guitars with like minded bass lines and punkish “rage against the machine” attitude. What Prince added to this mix were melodic structures that were still very much in league with the funk/soul genre from which he came. He was still singing exclusively in his falsetto vocal register. The lyrical content also reflects elements of the sexual revolution from the disco era. The difference came from the explicit “punk” attitude with which Prince expressed what was generally only implied during the disco era itself.

Actually,this album is not particularly funky throughout. Even its ballads have more of a 1950’s doo-wop flavor about them. “Head”,with its naked electro Minneapolis funk,essentially set the stage for numbers such as The Time’s debut single “Get It Up” and his own “Controversy” from a year later. “Partyup”,with Morris Day on drums,closes the album with a tight new wave funk hybrid that lyrically sets the stage for his song “1999” a couple of years later. In the end Dirty Mind found Prince re-imagining his sound for what the decade required of it. And trying to reconcile the relationship between funk and rock.

With his next two albums Controversy and his breakthrough 1999, Prince pulled more funk into his mix of Minneapolis new wave. Sometimes even hybridizing for an entire song. This is the sound that Prince would make famous. Both of these albums were sleeker and had a hotter mix than anything on Dirty Mind. And of course Prince’s major breakthrough as a rock star would come in 1984’s Purple Rain. After that,Prince was primarily funk with some rock mixed in. Still Dirty Mind shows how Prince would still come into his own-even when the general music tide seemed to work against his style.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, classic albums, Dirty Mind, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, post disco, punk funk, rock guitar, sexual revolution, synthesizer

Prince Summer: “Partyup” by Prince (1980)

Prince’s musical mission in the years 1980-1984 are shrouded in mystery. And still open to debate in terms of who created what. What is known was that Prince and of his band really shook up the music critics and listeners in 1980 with the Dirty Mind album. It was raw, almost demo level new wave funk that apparently had one Warner Bros exec claiming “we signed the new Stevie Wonder and he’s giving us the new Ric Ocasek”. My personal opinion is that maybe the idea of a black American artist at this time,combining styles of music in this manner (at the time) threw many people off as to what they were hearing.

During his early 80’s period Prince along with Andre Cymone,Matt Fink,Bobby Z and Lisa Coleman who bringing the late 60’s musical free for all approach into the punk/post disco era-with a whole other sense of freedom and hedonism. One song on this Dirty Mind has a story that also shakes up the view of Prince as a total puppet master. It’s final song was originally by a local Minneapolis group known as Enterprise. Morris Day was a member of that group,and allowed Prince to have the song for the album. Prince in turn gave Morris position of lead singer of The Time. The song in question was called “Partyup”.

A high pitched synth squeal opens the song as Prince accompanies his thick rhythm guitar with a simple yet very funky three chord bass line. That also to the tune of him playing that same melodic rhythm on the piano. Morris Day keeps his classic shuffling groove on the drums throughout. On the choruses,Prince squeals the new wave style synth right up again along with tightening up the other rhythmic elements. The song progresses on this way until the song ends with Morris’s drumming really swinging as Prince preaches “your gonna have to fight your own damn war/’cause we don’t wanna fight no more”.

Many people credit this song is one of several examples on this album of being the beginnings of the Minneapolis sound. And that has a lot of truth. This groove blends the simple rhythmic notation of rock ‘n roll with the drum like instrumental approach of funk-all with a stripped down, raw punk-funk aestetic. Lyrically the focus of the song is similar to “1999”. It also cements Prince’s closeness to the baby boomer-Generation X sociological arc expressed in lyrics such as “because of their half-baked mistakes/We get ice cream, no cake/All lies, no truth/Is it fair to kill the youth?”.

For his own part,Prince seems to have been quite sincere in his anti war message. This goes up to his recent song “Baltimore” where he evokes a more matured invocation of Albert Einstein by stating “peace is more than the absence of war”. On this song,Prince is playing the rocking new wave/funk and singing a message that was full of  his youthful vigor,and in a certain sense narcissism. Though in stating to the hard swinging drums of Morris Day that “WE don’t wanna fight no more” strongly indicates he is already expressing a broader thematic vision with his words and music even then.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Andre Cymone, Bobby Z, drums, Funk Bass, Lisa Coleman, Matt Fink, message songs, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, New Wave, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, punk funk, rhythm guitar, synthesizers, Warner Bros.

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Sexuality” by Prince

 

Prince’s thematic persona was always about freedom of expression-especially on the sexual side. This was in fact what attracted me to his music from the outset. The man viewed physical intimacy as a loving,even spiritual act. With his  bold musical and lyrical frankness,Prince created a distinctive persona that opened the door for the liberating attitude of the sexual evolution as he was funking up the post disco American musical landscape of the early 80’s. He would wiggle and wobble in and out of his own concept throughout his career. But it never stopped being there.

This afternoon while doing errands with my mom, I was playing Prince’s fourth album Controversy  in the car CD player. It was actually one of my favorite pre-superstar Princ albums. Especially the way it really pushed Prince’s budding sociopolitical agenda. Even if the concept was hit or miss on the album,one song on the album actually revealed itself to be an anthem for Prince’s entire musical and thematic persona from a bit earlier even then “DMSR” from a bit later. And it’s one that I’ve been loving for just as long a time as well. This jam is called “Sexuality”.

Prince’s high pitched variation of the James Brown screech begins the album-providing an accessory rhythm to the rumbling gated drums. That screech is re-sampled as a siren like echo into the brittle bass synthesizer,which is accented by breezy synth orchestrations. After that Prince’s high on the neck rhythm guitar chug moves in. This is the main body of the song. On the choruses,the synthesizer is in a higher key. On the latter part of the song,the strong strips back down to the pounding drums under Prince’s spoken word rap. By the end of the song,Prince is whispering the chorus over his own rhythm. guitar.

Instrumentally speaking,this song almost perfectly blends the brittle new wave/synth pop and Prince’s Minneapolis naked funk sound. Much of the song finds Prince taking on what amounts to the funk/soul equivalent of the socially rebellious punk attitude. Lyrically speaking,I now read this song as a dog whistle metaphor regarding a racially bias media and educational system. He referred to such people as “tourists”-teaching children to “cuss,fight and breed”. These would be themes Prince would elaborate on for the rest of his career. And he delivered it hear with some of his most explosively purple punk-funk.

 

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Filed under 1980's, drums, message songs, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, Prince, punk funk, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, Synth Pop, synthesizers