Prince – Controversy – Press

Prince - Controversy - Press (

Prince - Controversy (

This article belongs to the story Prince’s Controversy: a new breed, stand up, organize!.


Controversy the album and Controversy the tour solidified Prince’s position and future career. This article contains a selection of press clippings.

Dit artikel is divided into two parts:

Controversy the album

All reviews stem from English and/or American publications.

Click on the reviews to enlarge.

In addition, below a number of reviews are listed of which I wasn’t able to find more than texts only.

Prince – Controversy

Billboard - Logo (

The dust kicked up by last year’s “Dirty Mind” will continue with this release as Prince – in his identifiable high-pitched r&b/rock style – takes on the political and sexual issues of the day head on. Side one takes its cue from one of the side’s key songs, “Sexuality”, while side two shows lyrical expansion into politics on tracks as “Ronnie, Talk To Russia” and “Annie Christian.”. Prince’s command of the rock idiom is firmer this time especially on side two. If the listener can get over the built-in prejudice to some of the lyrics and Prince’s image (note poster inside), there are some rewards to be had. Not for tender ears.

Best cuts: “Controversy,” “Private Joy,” “Ronnie, Talk To Russia,” “Let’s Work,” and “Annie Christian.”

Billboard, 31-10-1981

Some Day My Prince Will Come…

New Musical Express (NME) - Logo (

Prince has an urge in him which sometimes comes out as a nightingale, sometimes a vulgar pierrot and then occasionally just a babyish gurgle. Here is a minstrel who sings of his bedtime succour – a modern prince, mark you, and may have the captives seduced, only to dash the accomplishment away; straddled o’er an earthquake of rocky showtime guff and peacock proud of Mr Reagan to boot.

I’m still frightened of Prince allured by the promise, alarmed by the chintzy crud of his live routine, partially assuaged by this new “Controversy”. Prince’s value continues to lie in the merger he affects, implicit rather than explicit, of categories usually taken for granted as token dualities (love/sex, rock/soul) or as irreconcilable opposites (pleasure/politic, gaiety/acuity). We will get nowhere quickly searching Prince’s practice for principles of judgement: he is not uniformly lovable or loyal.

A Christian God. A God-fearing Country. The Original “funk” – Sex. Triplets which Prince plays with during the course of Controversy-inconsistently, with an often absured nobility of purpose. Prince obviously does not regard Sex, Politics and Popular Music as perverse bed (wherever) mates: they are alignable aspects of Being. The screwiest thin about “Controversy” is the dispersed division between rosy-cheeked humanist and slutty confessional; the Moral Majority will nog know whether to fete or castrate this hammy spritualist.

Prince refuses the Outlaw part offered him, detects nothing unnatural in his private or public affairs: his sex, his singing, are accomplices of Law and Order (in a symbolic sense) rather than crimes against it. To regard himseld as indecent, a kink, devious – this would render the pleasure of his deeds a cerebral rather than sensual one, the vicarous intellectual pleasure of the away-day Outsider (a popular pose amongst rock’n’rollers both nimble and thick) thinking he is engaged in forbidden activities. Prince beleives – in some kind of God, in the onslaught of a universal love. Or is there a gag in his mouth?

To put it bluntly: Prince’s prick is the source of his pride, the guarantee of his love. The fissures of the flesh intrude upon even his more visionary Political plateaux. There can be no knowledge, Prince avers, without bodies set free from the bondage of repressive persuasions. Or, as the irresistibly titled “Sexuality” puts it: “Sexuality is all I ever need? Sexuality I’m gonna let my body be free.”

Of course it is not wise to take this sort of stuff too literally; does a “freed” body come that simply? Perhaps by necessity of the (word) processes of his chosen medium, any transference of his political views into reord will condense the heterogeneity of Prince into an easy entertainment, a potted provocation, little more than a glib fib. Thus transcribed he conspires or compares with Reagan and the Moral majority not insofar as anyone is “left” of “right” of the impossible centre, but because their politics are all somewhere over a rainbow….. “People call me rude/I wish we all were rude/ I wish there was no black and white/ I wish there were no rules”. (“Controversy”).

When Prince gets “explicit” about earthly as opposed to earthy powers, it’s no less ambiguous: a kind of polymorphous perversion of policital life. In “Ronnie, Talk To Russia” he seems to be putting the blame squarely on those nasty Reds and urging Ronnie to play a conciliatory Audie Murphy type, pipe of peace ‘n’ all that, complete with the sort of advice the barrom whore with a heart of gold (sic) might give here avenging sheriff: “Ronnie, if you’re dead before I get to meet you/Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Prince’ work ethic (“Let’s Work”) has got more to do with the subject viewed exclusively as sex machine than with the New Protestantism and in “Annie Christian” he seems to be (that phrase again) shifting the blame back to the harbingers of New Amerika; whatever, the track in question is eerie, incorrigibly subjectieve and very funny (the punchlines have a lot in common with Defunkt: “Everybody say ‘electric chair’ – ELECTRIC CHAIR!!!!!”

Maybe Prince is as utterly wet and naive as it all seems to unfortunately hint. He simply can’t understand what all the fuss is about! Prince himself doetn’t appear to be in any pain over his manifold contradictions. He doesn’t even present them as such: they are present. His polemic comes in pouts rather than shouts, spouts or spurts…. and perhaps he secretly realises that, of course, contradiction is ultimately more intensely “thought provoking” than bald, blank policy statement can ever be. So, so. ‘Controversy’ is packaged as a collection of quibbles and queries unified under a vagueley ‘conceptual’ sign. And I like it. I obsessively like two of the eight inclusions (‘Do Me, Baby’ and ‘Annie Christian’) and all in all it’s a more elaborately and easily realised music than last year’s ‘Dirty Mind’. Prince can get geally expansive with his voice (how the abstract gospel intro shifts into a sexy smoky falsetto stutter in ‘Private Joy’) and his contructieve appliance of synth techniques assures that the sheer aesthetic and structural power of the music, thud and skim, shudder and tightening, has as much in common with Kraftwerk as with the more abvious Hendrix and harmony funk lineage.

Sex is his shrine, and that’s where Prince’s confusing charm works best. “Do me, Baby’ recalls the likes of imagination in its slippery slipstream, but is so much better. Prince comes complete with a dischord, jettisoning the eleborate arrangement and shivering in a silent afterglow. It’s Smokey Robinson singing about obscene moonbeams, lust imploring love, and the strains on the pillow aren’t the tracks of our tears.

Does he want to do much more than put his tongue in our cheek? I’m not sure that I’d vote for him if he did. Prince is ultimately conservative, but temporarily valorous; that’s funk?

New Musical Express, 14-11-1981

The Pop Life; Is Prince Leading Music To A True Biracism?

By Robert Palmer

New York Times - Logo (

Elvis Presley’s first national television appearances and hit records were controversial because they challenged the conventional sexual and racial attitudes of the mid-50’s. Mr. Presley flaunted his sex appeal more flagrantly than any white pop performer before him, and he introduced black rhythms and inflections into the American pop mainstream, making it possible for black rockers like Little Richard and Chuck Berry to appeal to white teen-agers directly. Today, of course, attitudes toward race and sex tend to be considerably more liberal. Or do they?

Prince, the 21-year-old singer, songwriter and multiinstrumentalist who is performing tonight at the Palladium, is the most controversial contemporary rock star precisely because he challenges sexual and racial stereotypes. The songs on his four Warner Bros. albums explore adolescent sexuality in language explicit enough to require warning stickers (“contains language which may be unsuitable for some listeners”), but the stickers haven’t kept his records off the best-seller charts. And his music confounds racial categories by combining elements of white pop and rock with black dance rhythms.

How rigid are racial categories in contemporary pop music? Prince recently found out when the Rolling Stones invited him to open several West Coast concerts on their 1981 tour. The suggestions of androgyny in his fluid body movements and flamboyantly minimal stage costume were more than a little reminiscent of some of Mick Jagger’s early performances, but the almost entirely white Stones audience apparently failed to make the connection. They pelted Prince with fruit and bottles, causing him to cut his sets short. Similar reactions from white radio programmers have kept Prince’s records off most FM rock stations; it’s the stations with black music formats that are playing them. ‘Dirty Mind’ Is Prince’s 3rd album.

Prince’s mixed black-Italian parentage and his upbringing in a racially integrated neighborhood in Minneapolis contributed to his genuinely biracial musical approach and outlook. The fact that white rock fans and radio stations have tended to banish him to the blackmusic ghetto says more about racism in contemporary pop music circles than it does about Prince’s songs or his presentation. And their resistance has been crumbling; Prince’s third Warner Bros. album, “Dirty Mind,” sold spectacularly and spawned a hit single, “Uptown,” and his latest album, “Controversy,” gives every indication of equaling and perhaps exceeding that performance.

The first single to be released from the new album is also called “Controversy,” and it is a perfectly realized fusion of black and white pop idioms, alternating stretches of taut dance-floor funk with a more melodic, songlike refrain. It’s also a calculated bit of outrage. During the melodic sections, Prince observes caustically that “some people want to die so they can be free,” and over the funk sections he repeats both the Lord’s Prayer and a litany of his own: “Some people call me rude / I wish we all were nude / I wish there was no black or white / I wish there were no rules.” (Controversy Music, Ascap) In other words, for Prince, sexual liberation is both a political program and a religion. “Sexuality is all you’ll ever need,” he maintains in another new song, “Sexuality,” “just let your body be free.”

Whether one agrees with this message or not, it can’t be denied that Prince backs it up with exceptional musical talent. The labels of his four albums proclaim that they were “produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince”; except for occasional contributions from one or two members of his touring band, the albums are one-man jobs. They certainly don’t sound homemade, unlike most albums that use similar studio trickery. The rich mesh of voices and instruments, all provided by Prince, give the illusion that a full band is playing, and there are enough distinctive guitar solos, keyboard riffs and drum breaks to suggest the presence of several gifted instrumentalists. Prince would be a talent to reckon with if he confined himself to playing guitar or drums on other people’s records.

The fact that Prince can do everything makes him one of the most impressive new pop talents of the past few years. It’s also the secret behind his apparently effortless fusion of black and white pop styles. The music transcends racial stereotyping precisely because it’s almost all Prince; Prince himself transcends racial stereotyping because, as he once put it, “I never grew up in one particular culture.” One suspects that as time goes on, more and more American pop will reflect a similarly biracial orientation. If that’s so, Prince’s black-white synthesis isn’t just a picture of what could be, it’s a prophecy.

The New York Times, 02-12-1981


By Ken Tucker

Rolling Stone - Logo (

It should come as little surprise that on his fourth album, Prince has made his inflammatory and explicit sexuality the basis of an amusingly jive but attractive social agenda. Once you’ve exalted brother-sister incest (Dirty Mind‘s “Sister”), not to mention nearly every other sexual possibility, how else can you get people’s attention?

Prince’s first three records were so erotically self-absorbed that they suggested the reveries of a licentious young libertine. On Controversy, that libertine proclaims unfettered sexuality as the fundamental condition of a new, more loving society than the bellicose, overtechnologized America of Ronald Reagan. In taking on social issues, the artist assumes his place in the pantheon of Sly Stone inspired Utopian funksters like Rick James and George Clinton. I think that Prince stands as Stone’s most formidable heir, despite his frequent fuzzy-mindedness and eccentricity. A consummate master of pop-funk song forms and a virtuosic multiinstrumentalist, Prince is also an extraordinary singer whose falsetto, at its most tender, recalls Smokey Robinson’s sweetness. At its most brittle, Prince’s voice sounds like Sylvester at his ironic and challenging best.

Controversy‘s version of One Nation under the Sheets is hip, funny and, yes, subversive. In the LP’s title track — a bubbling, seven minute tour de force of synthesized pop-funk hooks — Prince teasingly pants, “Am I black or white/Am I straight or gay?” This opening salvo in a series of “issue”-oriented questions tacitly implies that since we’re all flesh and blood, sexual preference and skin color are only superficial differences, no matter what society says. But Prince eventually brushes such things aside with hippie platitudes. Along the way, “Controversy” flirts with blasphemy by incorporating the Lord’s Prayer. The number ends with the star’s punk-libertine chant: “People call me rude/I wish we all were nude/I wish there was no black or white/I wish there were no rules.” Though hardly inspiring, it’s fitting that the Constitution of Prince’s polymorphously perverse Utopia should be written in childish cant.

The strutting, popping anthem “Sexuality” elaborates many of the points that “Controversy” raises, as Prince shrewdly lists gadgets (cameras, TV, the Acu-Jac) that cut us off from each other. “Don’t let your children watch television until they know how to read,” he advises. Who would disagree? “Ronnie, Talk to Russia,” a hastily blurted plea to Reagan to seek disarmament, is the album’s weakest cut. “Let’s Work,” a bright and squeaky dance song, and “Private Joy,” a bouncy pop-funk bubblegum tune with baby talk in the verses, show off Prince’s ingratiating lighter side. “Jack U Off,” the cleverest of the shorter compositions, is a synthesized rockabilly number whose whole point is that sex is better with another human being than with a masturbatory device.

Prince’s vision isn’t as compelling as it might be, however, because of his childlike treatment of evil. “Annie Christian,” the one track that tackles the subject, turns evil into a bogeywoman from whom the artist is forever trying to escape in a taxicab. Though the song lists historical events (the killing of black children in Atlanta, Abscam and John Lennon’s murder), it has none of the resonance of, say, “Sympathy for the Devil,” since Prince, unlike the Rolling Stones, still only dimly perceives the demons within himself.

After “Controversy,” the LP’s high point is an extended bump-and-grind ballad, “Do Me, Baby,” in which the singer simulates an intense sexual encounter, taking it from heavy foreplay to wild, shrieking orgasm. In the postcoital coda, Prince’s mood turns uncharacteristically dark. He shivers and pleads, “I’m so cold, just hold me.” It’s the one moment amid all of Controversy‘s exhortatory slavering in which Prince glimpses a despair that no orgasm can alleviate.

Despite all the contradictions and hyperbole in Prince’s playboy philosophy, I still find his message refreshingly relevant. As Gore Vidal wrote in The Nation recently: “Most men, given the opportunity to have sex with 500 different people, would do so gladly. But most men are not going to be given the opportunity by a society that wants them safely married, so that they will be docile workers and loyal consumers.”

Prince, I’m sure, would agree.

Rolling Stone, 21-01-1982

Prince – Controversy

By Robert Christgau

The Village Voice - Logo (

Maybe Dirty Mind wasn’t a tour de force after all; maybe it was dumb luck. The socially conscious songs are catchy enough, but they spring from the mind of a rather confused young fellow, and while his politics get better when he sticks to his favorite subject, which is s-e-x, nothing here is as far-out and on-the-money as “Head” or “Sister” or the magnificent “When You Were Mine.” In fact, for a while I thought the best new song was “Jack U Off,” an utter throwaway. But that was before the confused young fellow climbed onto the sofa with me and my sweetie during “Do Me, Baby.” A-

Village Voice, 1981/1982

Controversy the live shows

I have found only one review written during the Controversy tour.

Click on the review to enlarge.

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!