Prince Crashes a Wedding in Spectacular Fashion With ‘Head': 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
While sexually explicit tunes are fairly commonplace on mainstream radio these days, this was most definitely not the case in 1980, when Prince put out Dirty Mind, which contained a song called "Head." Perhaps looking to prevent a potential controversy, Warner Bros. sent promotional copies of the album to radio with a sticker that said, “Programmers: Please audition before airing.”
For reasons that are fairly obvious, “Head” was not a commercially released single in most of the world (Prince Vault reports that it was a single in the Philippines), but it did feature on a promotional 12” featuring several Dirty Mind songs to encourage club play. Nevertheless, Prince was fond enough of the song that it made the track listing for his 1993 compilation, The Hits / The B-Sides. Prince wrote in previously unpublished notes for The Hits that “Head” was originally a demo that “was only [supposed to be] used as a concert tune,” and it served that purpose -- earning a space in many of Prince’s concert set lists throughout the ‘80s.
“Head” also figures heavily when it comes to the various musicians that sauntered in and out of what eventually became the Revolution. Prince was still mostly operating as a one-man band when it came to studio work, but keyboardist Matt Fink added a frantic solo to the song’s back half. Second keyboardist Gayle Chapman was not as enthused by the song. When “Head” was debuted on the road in the summer of 1980, Prince mandated that Chapman make out with him during the performance. According to Alex Hahn’s Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince, this caused Chapman to quit the band later that year (although she has subsequently denied this). In need of a second keyboardist, Prince hired Lisa Coleman to fulfill the duties, and “Head” served as a hazing of sorts.
Prince wrote that “Head” was “Lisa’s initiation into the band," believing that "if she could sing the lyrics to 'Head,' she could handle anything.” Lisa not only voiced the song’s female character on the version that was ultimately released, but was game for the performance with which Chapman allegedly expressed discomfort. Along with her partner Wendy Melvoin, Coleman was a key member of Prince’s inner circle for more than half a decade.
“Head” follows a somewhat unbelievable narrative arc. Prince appears to randomly run into a lady who is on her way to be married, wedding dress and all. Upon seeing Prince, the lady notices that he’s “such a hunk / So full of spunk” and offers to pleasure him. After finishing the act, the bride-to-be ultimately decides to marry Prince, who says he’ll return the original favor and “morning, noon and night / I’ll give you head.”
While the mature themes and more sparse, rock-centric vibe of the Dirty Mind album depleted some of the commercial capital Prince possessed after a platinum-selling sophomore effort, the critical reaction to Prince’s overtly sexual material was positive. Rolling Stone, giving Dirty Mind a 4.5-star review, noted that songs like “Head” weren’t dirty for the sake of being dirty, but “lewdness cleansed by art, with joy its socially redeeming feature.”
That same Rolling Stone review said Dirty Mind could be the “most generous album about sex ever made by a man.” Sure, “Head” is about what it’s about, but listen to the way it’s presented. Unlike most male-fronted songs about sex, there are no demands made. Not only does Lisa Coleman’s female character volunteer to pleasure Prince, but by the end of the song, Prince is eagerly returning the favor. That quality alone would be enough to distinguish “Head” from much sex-related art made by men, and is still an important fact to note as the battle for sexual equality rages on in the 21st century.
It was the self-proclaimed “Dean of American Rock Critics,” Robert Christgau, who provided perhaps the most succinct wrap-up of Dirty Mind’s context in his 1980 album review. Shortly after referencing “Head”’s lyrical content, he ended his critique by saying, “Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home.”