Michaelangelo Matos revisits the evolution of Prince’s revolution in a recent feature for the Pitchfork Review, spotlighting the seminal 1980 album Dirty Mind. Here are five highlights.
Prince insisted on being signed to the Warner Bros. pop roster, not their R&B roster. In the segregated music world of the late ‘70s, it was very difficult to cross over from the R&B charts to the pop charts. With a sound that fused rock, R&B, and new wave, Prince immediately set his sights on the Top 40.
Rick James hated Prince’s music. James told Rolling Stone that Prince was “a mentally disturbed young man. He’s out to lunch. You can’t take his music seriously. He sings songs about oral sex and incest.” Matos suggests that James might have been jealous: Prince was added to James’s tour as an opener, and his searing live show proved to be a tough act for James to follow.
Prince pushed boundaries for both white and black audiences. Prince’s publicist recommended to his manager that Prince be booked into two venues at each tour stop: one show as an opener for “a major black headliner,” and one show “at the local new wave dance club.” Prince knew his music could unite audiences that, at the time, were often segregated by genre.
Prince was promoted as an album artist. The distinction between singles artists and album artists was more significant in 1980 than it is now, explains Matos—album artists (like Prince) were marketed to more “serious” listeners. “However, this was a distinction that was creeping toward irrelevance: Within three years, the ‘tentpole’ album, spinning off endless hit singles à la Michael Jackson’s Thriller, would be the major-label norm.”
“When You Were Mine” became Prince’s rapprochement with new wave. The new wave audience was receptive to Prince, although most of his music hadn’t come anywhere near actually sounding like new wave. With the Dirty Mind song “When You Were Mine,” though, Prince produced a genuine new wave classic that was covered by artists including Cyndi Lauper, Bette Bright, and even Mitch Ryder.
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Sage Larson is a junior at Concordia College, where she is double-majoring in multimedia journalism and Spanish, and minoring in communication studies. You can view more of her work in her portfolio.