After Prince had kicked off his 10 year genius period with the release of Dirty Mind, he returned with its successor just one year later: Controversy. It’s often characterized as Dirty Mind part 2, but that statement oversimplifies matters. The story of Controversy.
This article is linked to two separate sub articles:
Just before Prince started his Dirty Mind Tour in December 1980, he bought a new house at 9401 Kiowa Trail, Chanhassen, Minnesota. The house was painted purple and professional equipment was installed, thus enabling Prince to document his music night and day. Immediately upon returning home after the Dirty Mind Tour the studio was in full use. Prince worked on his next album, and also on an album by his very first satellite act, The Time.
Recordings went smoothly and on August 14th, 1981, Prince set foot in the Sunset Sound recording studio in Los Angeles for the very first time. Here he would do overdubs and mixing of the new Prince album, and record a last minute addition to the album. Both Kiowa Trail Home Studio and Sunset Sound became the two main recording studios for the years to come. Some years later, Paisley Park Studios was modeled after the feel of Sunset Sound.
Controversy is a key album in Prince’s career in more ways than one. It’s the first album to contain music recorded at Kiowa Trail Home Studio and Sunset Sound, the first album to feature the connection between Prince and the color purple, the first album to contain Prince’s unique spelling (“u” instead of “you”), the first album to feature the Linn LM-1 drum computer and the first album to contain a song recorded with a band.
Speaking of the band: after the Dirty Mind Tour childhood friend and bass player André Cymone left. He wanted to focus on a career of his own. Mark Brown, renamed Brown Mark by Prince, was added to the band as a replacement. His first shows with Prince took place on October 9th and 11th, 1981 in Los Angeles, when Prince opened up for The Rolling Stones. The shows were chaotic and Prince wasn’t exactly welcomed. Read the full story in sub article Prince and The Rolling Stones, 1981. As revered as Prince was amongst music critics, connoisseurs and early adaptors, he still had a long way to go before he could cross-over.
On October 14th, 1981, Prince’s fourth studio album was released, on November 13th, 1981, followed by its release in England. The exact release date for The Netherlands is unbeknownst to me. It’s quite possible it’s even later than the English date, as the album entered the Dutch album chart on December 19th, 1981 (for just one week).
The cover presents a ‘decent’ Prince. Dressed in a purple overcoat with the “Rude Boy” button, this time with a white shirt and bow tie, he looks into the camera self-assuredly. He is surrounded by headlines from the fictitious “The Controversy Daily”. The album was accompanied by a fold-out poster, that obviously harked back at Dirty Mind, showing a half naked Prince under a shower. The cross on the wall stands out.
Musically, the album seems to expand on the previous album: bold, unique and comprehensive songs, signaling a 180 degree turn from the (innocent) Stevie Wonder-esque image Prince had, based on his first two albums. However, where predecessor Dirty Mind primarily focused on (the pleasures of) sex, the subjects addressed on Controversy were more diverse and more politically charged.
All songs are written by Prince, unless stated otherwise. The album is produced by Prince.
Just like Dirty Mind, the album is opened with a four-on-the-floor beat. Complemented with synthesizers, rhythmic accents and a truly magnificent rhythm guitar part, Controversy is a true Prince classic, showcasing the so-called Minneapolis Sound for the first time.
Controversy is a superb opener and raises the bar for what is about to come after.
I just can’t believe all the things people say – Controversy
Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay? – Controversy
Do I believe in God? Do I believe in me? – Controversy
Midway through the song Prince recites “Our Father”, somewhat later followed by the robotic spoken-text:
People call me rude
I wish we were all nude
I wish there was no black and white
I wish there were no rules
At times, the lyrics seem to be aimed at (music)critics, who have difficulty labeling Prince. “Was it good for you? Was I what you wanted me to be?” surmises it perfectly. But, at the time, the questions Prince posed were almost liberating. The US was underway in one of its most conservative periods in its history and Prince questioned skin color and sexual orientation, while clearly presenting an androgynous image. This was far more bold than we can imagine nowadays. Read the sub article Prince and The Rolling Stones, 1981 to gain some perspective on where an average rock audience stood on these issues.
On September 2nd, 1981, the song was released as the album’s first single.
Controversy is placed on position 8 in my Prince song top 50.
Direct hit number 2. The title forebodes something else, but Sexuality builds on the theme of Dirty Mind‘s Uptown, describing Prince’s version of Utiopia. Sexuality deals with getting in contact with your own body and sexuality in order to obtain (individual) freedom.
C’mon everybody, yeah, this is your life
I’m talking about a revolution we gotta organize
We don’t need no segregation, we don’t need no race
New age revelation, I think we got a case
We live in a world overrun by tourists
Tourists – 89 flowers on their back…inventors of the Accu-jack
They look at life through a pocket camera… What? No flash again?
They’re all a bunch of double drags who teach their kids that love is bad
Half of the staff of their brain is on vacation Mama, are u listening?
We need a new breed – Leaders, Stand Up, Organize
Don’t let your children watch television until they know how to read
Or else all they’ll know how to do is cuss, fight and breed
No child is bad from the beginning… they only imitate their atmosphere
If they’re in the company of tourists, alcohol and US history
What’s to be expected is 3 minus 3… absolutely nothing
The song was released as the album’s second single on October 16th, 1981, in Germany, Japan and Australia.
Do Me, Baby
Direct hit number 3. The first recording of this song took place in 1978 with vocals by André Cymone, who wrote the song (accoriding to himself anyway). The album credits Prince with writing the song.
In 1979 Prince recorded Do Me, Baby as a solo offering during recordings for the Prince album. This version was released on October 14th, 2021, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Controversy release in the US.
Do Me, Baby is a ballad of the extraordinary variety. Sexy, seductive and intimate.
Here we are in this big old empty room, staring each other down
U want me just as much as I want U, let’s stop fooling around
Take me baby… kiss me all over… play with my love
Bring out what’s been in me for far too long
Baby, u know that’s all I’ve been dreaming of
Do Me Baby, like u never done before
Give it to me till I just can’t take no more
Do Me Baby, like u never done before
I want u now, I just can’t wait no more, can’t wait…
The vocals are highly impressive, with Prince reaching the absolute highest highs of his falsetto. After the song’s climax some sort of radio play is put on, making the listener feel like some kind of voyeur. Prince talks/whispers to an imaginary person:
You’re leaving me no choice
Ok, what are you gonna do… you just gonna sit there and watch? Alright…
Are you sure you don’t wanna close your eyes?
…Well, isn’t it supposed to take a long time?
I’m not gonna stop till the war is over…
Help me! There… ok… ok
I’m so cold… just hold me
On paper/typed out it seems a bit idiotic, but it works very well in the song itself. I have been lucky enough to witness this song in a live setting. In fact, it was the performance of this song at my first ever Prince concert that fully convinced me of Prince as the ultimate performer and genius.
The song was released as the fourth single on July 16th, 1982, in the US and Peru.
The last song to be recorded for the album, on August 16th, 1981. The first song Prince ever recorded at Sunset Sound. Also, the first Prince song to feature the Linn LM-1 drum computer.
It’s an okay pop song, that stands out for the screeching guitar solo at the end, that seemingly doesn’t fit in with the happy frisky song.
Ronnie, Talk To Russia
The previous song segues into a song that addresses the fear of an impending nuclear war, which was something that seemed very real at the time. Prince shows his naive political side, by putting the blame and responsibility for the threat solely on the USSR and presenting the US as the only party to prevent this.
Ronnie talk to Russia before it’s too late
Before it’s too late
Before it’s too late
Ronnie talk to Russia before it’s too late
Before they blow up the world
Another okay song, but primarily for the reason of it being different.
Funk with a capitol ‘F’. Fabulous bass. The song’s 12″ version is phenomenal, the first Prince remix that actually added value to the song, extra music and lyrics that enrich the song (even more). The Time‘s Morris Day plays the drums on the song’s extended part.
The song stems from 1979, when it was called Let’s Rock. After recording the song, Prince wanted to release it as a single, but Warner Bros. refused.
On January 7th, 1982, the song was released as a single in the US and Europe, followed by the 12″ on February 17th.
Where Ronnie, Talk To Russia isn’t convincing musically and lyrically, Annie Christian does succeed. The cheap drum machine rhythm, almost hallucinating synthesizers and glorious guitar playing in the background, combined with the half-spoken lyrics about the person (?) ‘Annie Christian’, make for another highlight. A great number of problems and events are addressed.
Annie Christian wanted to be a big star
So she moved to Atlanta and she bought a blue car
She killed black children, and what’s fair is fair
If you try and say you’re crazy, everybody say electric chair
Annie Christian was a whore, always looking for some fun
Being good was such a bore, so she bought a gun
She killed John Lennon, shot him down cold
She tried to kill Reagan, everybody say gun control
Annie Christian, Annie Christ
Until you’re crucified I’ll live my life in taxicabs
Jack U Off
The closer returns to sex. Rockabilly, recorded with a band comprising Bobby Z. (drums) and Lisa Coleman and Dr. Fink (keyboards). The first song to feature the typical Prince spelling.
Remarkable for the use of the term ‘jack u off’, used to describe jerking off, which is attributed to male sexual stimulation.
If U’re looking for somewhere to go
Thought I’d take u to a movie show
Sittin’ in the back and I’ll jack u off
I can’t give u everything u want
But I can take u to a restaurant
If u’re not hungry
I’ll jack u off
If your man ain’t no good
Come on over to my neighborhood
We can jump in the sack and I’ll jack u off
So things come full circle, the question asked at the beginning of the record “Am I straight or gay?” is still applicable. But Prince wouldn’t be Prince, if he didn’t get satisfaction himself.
If u ain’t chicken baby, come here
If u’re good I’ll even let u steer
As a matter of fact, u can jack me off
Yeah, that’s right
Contribution by others
All music and vocals performed by Prince, with the following exceptions:
- Lisa Coleman – keyboards on Jack U Off, background vocals on Controversy, Ronnie, Talk To Russia and Jack U Off
- Dr. Fink – keyboards on Jack U Off
- Bobby Z. – drums on Jack U Off
Press and reception
But sales of the album were up, significantly. On January 14th, 1982, the album was already certified gold in the US.
The freedom Prince had fought, and been rewarded, for with the release of Dirty Mind enabled Prince to make Controversy. The album contains more experimentation, which often works very well (Sexuality, Annie Christian). Prince spent more time on production, which is impeccable, making the album sound less raw than its predecessor.
But, any album that contains Controversy, Sexuality and Do Me, Baby on its A side, is fantastic by definition. That A side is superb from beginning to end and belongs to the best sequences Prince ever recorded. Unfortunately, side B does contain some lesser material in the form of Private Joy and Ronnie, Talk To Russia.
After the album’s release, Prince went on a US tour from November 22nd, 1981, to March 14th, 1982. The band comprised Prince, Brown Mark (bass), Dez Dickerson (guitar), Dr. Fink (keyboards), Lisa Coleman (keyboards) and Bobby Z. (drums). The average setlist contained songs from the last three albums. In the second half of the show the emphasis shifted to songs from Controversy. The stage and decor were ambitious, the show was professional leaning towards rock. Even the funky songs contained heavy rhythms and guitars. Recordings of shows from that tour, show Prince was very driven and giving everything he got. The Controversy Tour is amongst my favorite Prince tours ever. The support act for many shows was Prince satellite act The Time.
Reviews for the tour were highly positive. The level of what the band had to offer was extremely high indeed (also see Prince – Controversy – Press). Many recordings are available on black markets, many of them soundboard. All great documents, that show just how incredibly good Prince and his band were around that time.
The Second Coming
The shows started with a tape being played over the PA, containing the a-capella gospel The Second Coming.
It won’t be long
All of God’s children must learn 2 love
It won’t be long (I said it won’t be long)
Before the Second Coming, yeah
It won’t be long, no, it won’t be long
How many more good men must die before there’s gun control
U’ve got 2 love your brother if U want 2 free your soul (Soul, soul, soul)
It won’t be long (It won’t be long)
All of God’s, all of God’s children must learn 2 love.
The Second Coming refers to the Biblical return of Jesus Christ.
It’s also the title of a proposed live album and movie. The story goes that the movie depicts a show by Prince on March 7th, 1982, at the Met Center, Bloomington, Minnesota. Both the album and movie were never released.
Immediately upon returning home, work commenced on what would eventually result in the cross-over in the US: 1999.
What’s your take on Controversy? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Prince’s Controversy: a new breed, stand up, organize!. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Prince – Controversy Tour 1981-82 image: nbcnews.com
Prince – Controversy – Album cover outtakes image: pinterest.com
Prince – Controversy image: genius.com
Prince – Controversy – Back cover image: insheepsclothinghifi.com
Prince – Do Me, Baby (2021 single) image: spotify.com
Prince – Controversy – The singles image: discogs.com
Prince – Controversy – Ad image: billboard.com
Prince – Controversy – Gold record image: julienslive.com
Controversy Tour image: princevault.com
Prince – Controversy band image: stereogum.com
Prince – Controversy – Ad image: lansuresmusicparaphernalia.blogspot.com