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North Arm Drive Home Studio

Prince begun renting properties since the outset of his career, at the time he signed to Warner Bros. His first rental was at 5215 France Avenue S. in the upmarket suburb of Edina, Minneapolis. The property, a wooden house dating from 1941, was occupied by Prince from the summer of 1978, a matter of weeks after the release of his inaugural album For You. Prince lived at this property with Kim Upsher, his first serious girlfriend and who he had known since his schooldays. She helped decorate the property and make it homely while Prince installed his “studio”. His first home studio was indeed a basic affair, comprising simply of an 8-track recording unit. Upsher became a key inspiration behind many of the songs for his second album Prince, which was released in 1979, having recorded it at Alpha Studios in Burbank, California, throughout April and May that year. He moved out of France Avenue in September 1979 and into a larger property, 680 North Arm Drive, in the rural suburb of Orono, on the northern reach of Lake Minnetonka. That November, he embarked on his first promotional tour, which continued through to May 1980 and infamously culminated with a brief stint as the support act for the Rolling Stones.

Prince’s time at Orono, Lake Minnetonka, of course inspired that famous initiation scene in which Apollonia was challenged to purify herself in its waters, in the movie Purple Rain, the shores of which backed onto the grounds of the rented home on North Arm Drive. This property was spacious and more importantly provided a haven from the city. Warner funded Prince to setup a studio at the back of the house, next to the living room, and upgraded his recording unit to a Ampex MM-1100 16-track recorder. The drumkit was rigged-up in a booth located in the basement. Unfortunately, this particular space suffered with dampness compounded by poor drainage caused by a disused cesspit, as the property was not yet connected to the city’s sewer system. Sandbags had to be laid along the booth’s exterior walls and brought Prince into immediate conflict with the landlord – Prince demanding the city authorities intervene. By 9 June 1980, the situation with the drainage had been resolved. And it was under this inglorious circumstance that Prince recorded the entirety of the Dirty Mind album in his North Arm Drive home studio, throughout May and June 1980. This marked a crucial epoch, being Prince’s first album recorded in Minnesota and furthermore not in a professional setting, allowing him to develop his trademark ‘Minneapolis sound’. Prince even gave North Arm Drive a recording credit in the album notes of Dirty Mind, as “Somewhere in Uptown”.

Just personal songs that I wanted to have

Because of the rudimentary setup of the studio, his intention was not to create an album from the material he recorded there but to keep them as demos. His equipment was basic, ageing – held together with wire, and often failed. Its smallness, unable to accommodate a piano, and the near constant flooding exacerbated the many limitations of his studio and therefore a larger facility was required. Prince moved out of North Arm Drive in December 1980 when embarking on the Dirty Mind Tour and purchasing a large two-storey ranch at Kiowa Trail in the suburb of Chanhassen, which he moved into following the tour’s conclusion, when his new studio was complete.

The North Arm Drive property, however, was seriously damaged by fire in early 1982 and subsequently razed and redeveloped into a new property.

Albums recorded at North Arm Drive

Dirty Mind (1980)

Dirty Mind

October 1980

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