On Monday’s post I mentioned my pilgrimage to the Prince statue in Henderson, Minnesota on Sunday. My kids all have headphones and ignore whatever I’m doing in the front seat and my wife typically falls asleep approximately ten minutes in to any road trip. So, I had 4+ hours to myself. Because this was a trip to Minnesota, Prince was mandatory driving music. I decided to start at the beginning and see how far I’d get. Prince’s first four albums are so short you can listen to all of them and still only be halfway to the Twin Cities.
An hour in to my road trip – somewhere on Highway 29 between Wittenberg and Wausau, Wisconsin – I started the 1980 classic Dirty Mind. I’ve heard that album over a hundred times, easily. For some reason on Sunday it sounded different. Maybe it was the feeling of knowing I’d be in Prince country within a few hours. I don’t know what it was. Dirty Mind sounded simpler to me. Not in a bad way. It just struck me that for an album that gets so much credit for being a filthy masterpiece, Dirty Mind is surprisingly simple. The album is 40 years old. It takes a lot more to shock us in 2020 than it did in 1980. Compared to something like “WAP” even songs like “Head” and “Sister” seem quaint. It’s not just the lyrical content, though. Dirty Mind has always lived in my head as one of those turning points in music. The time when Prince took disco, new wave, and punk and molded them in to his own genre. On this day Dirty Mind sounded like a bubblegum pop album. I know, it’s an unforgivable sin for a Prince fan to besmirch Dirty Mind, but the first half of the album sounded shockingly simple to me. I don’t mean that as an insult. In 2020 it sounds more like catchy early-1980’s pop music than a genre bending revolution. Like a happy country drive on a sunny summer Sunday.
Case in point, today’s song “Gotta Broken Heart Again.” If I didn’t know this song was planted dead center on Dirty Mind I’d think it was a country ballad. Aside from Prince’s falsetto, I imagine the sappy lyrics and guitar would fit right in on a country album. How has this song not been covered by young C&W artist trying to get some attention? “Gotta Broken Heart Again” is only 2:16 long and would’ve fit in better sonically on one of Prince’s earlier albums. Maybe Prince felt he needed a slow song on the album. Or, maybe he just wanted something to push the runtime of Dirty Mind over 30 minutes. Regardless, in my opinion “Gotta Broken Heart Again” is the control on this album. It’s there to remind you how far his sound had come since For You two years earlier. A few minutes after “Gotta Broken Heart Again” is over Prince begins singing about his utopic “Uptown” where “white, black, Puerto Rican, everybody just a freakin’.”
Yes, Dirty Mind might sound tame compared to today’s music, but put yourself in the shoes of someone in 1980 hearing “Uptown” or “Partyup” for the first time. He was groundbreaking. However, “Gotta Broken Heart Again” is the song that’s not pushing boundaries. It’s stuck in 1978. The weakest track on an otherwise unforgettable album.