Prince Album #4: Controversy

Some early comments…
I try not to go into doing these entries until I’d listened to the album at least twice.
I listened to it once so far and it was Friday (it’s currently Sunday).
And maybe it’s because I hadn’t listened to Prince at all for about a week and this blizzard we had messed with all our heads and schedules a bit…

What I’m getting at is that listening to “Controversy” felt like a [pardon the language] mindfuck… like he was really messing with my head and I didn’t mind it.
People who’d worked with Prince in the past have said that he creates this whole world around him and sometimes you need to come up for air.

Pretty much my mindset was: with this album, had it been a success, Prince could have become an amazing cult artist or the leader of some weird cult.
Songs like “Controversy,” “Sexuality” and “Annie Christian” in particular… and maybe “Ronnie talk to Russia” to another extent.
They don’t feel like songs written by the Prince who’ve gotten to know over the first three albums. It’s like after the fallout or reaction (however you want to look at it) of “Dirty Mind,” he decided to transform himself into an artist people have no choice but to talk about.

I mean, I could go on about how authentic this album is to him as a person… but at the end of the day, I don’t mind getting lost in the fantasy or whatever you call it that the album presents.

Going through my records, I hadn’t blogged about it since 2011. So I really hadn’t listened to much of it in a REALLY long time. Which would kinda explain why it hit me so hard that it blew my head out of my skull and warped my mind a bit. It’s also best to wait for another listen before I actually do the track by track discussion.

My usual comments before the actual discussion…

Matt Thorne’s book didn’t have a lot about this album as far as revelations, but he did say that while it’s an important album and notable one in his career, it’s not exactly memorable. Which I can understand with some of the tracks. They’re timely, but in the whole “Prince canon” (as some guys at Peach & Black like to say sometimes), most get forgotten about.
That’s certainly not as blasphemous as saying Purple Rain is an overrated album… anyone who says that is crazy (I mean, I don’t want to full out say it’s his best album because it’s what everyone who doesn’t know Prince all that well automatically recalls).
And he also says “Private Joy” strikes him as creepy… which I guess you could pick up from the lyrics… for me, it feels a bit reaching. As does him saying the lyrics “do you want to play” (in “Controversy”) and “Let’s Work” contradict each other… I never thought of “Let’s work” being about “work” as we all assume.

As for the live performances… I know “Controversy” got a lot of play over the years. “Sexuality” did for a time (ok, not as much as I thought) and later got changed to “Spirituality”… meh… he should have just retired the song because the alternative just doesn’t make sense.

“Private Joy” was the last recorded for the album and the first at Sunset Sound- that’s pretty notable.
“Do me baby” was recorded at the home studio (although it says it’s unverified it was there or in California or both… but it definitely sounds like home studio quality with the piano… love that piano). Oh wow… he performed it at one of his last concerts… probably not much of it, but that’s pretty special. Every time I find out he performed certain songs at his last concerts… I have to stop and take pause and take that in for a bit. That got lots of play, this song.
Because Andre Cymone’s name is attached to it, I do wonder how much of the song is his and how much is Prince’s. I’m sure the spoken dialogue is all Prince’s doing- something he did to make the song his own- and it really started a trend with his ballads.

My gut says… most of these other songs (other than “Let’s Work”) didn’t get a lot of play outside of this part of the 80’s.
“Ronnie talk to Russia”- never… “Annie Christian”- a couple times in that part of the 80’s. “Jack U Off” was supposedly part of that set where Prince and his band was booed off the stage when they opened for the Rolling Stones, but oddly was played at this tour and Lovesexy… say what….
“let’s work”- definitely got plenty of play live…

Man, I looked so forward to listening to it again… and I wasn’t disappointed at all… it was just too damn short. So I put the longer version on my iPod to listen to another time.

***4 days later

Some more thoughts before the track by track…
What I didn’t quite get to say previously- even after going through his first three albums, going into “Controversy”- I kinda felt like I didn’t know Prince at all. It was like starting over again at his first album, that mysterious prodigy persona where you couldn’t really see much beyond the surface. Except this was the start of a brand new direction for him.
There are similarities to Dirty Mind in some aspects- mainly both albums being 8 tracks, and the 2nd half has the tracks segue into each other to give a sense of unity to the record.
But as far as the overall sound goes… I mean, this was mixed between the home studio and California this time around… it’s like the Dirty Mind sound got made over and was given a Linn-drum machine. [Although it may have been present in Dirty Mind somewhere, I’m sure someone will correct me on that].

This time around…
I wasn’t quite as invested and my mind didn’t get screwed around with. But there was one moment that was kinda crazy.
You have the first two songs where he’s kinda messing with us a bit, playing up the persona and putting on the mystery. Not sure what to make of him.

Then “Do me, baby” comes on… I didn’t fall head over heels like the last time, but it was a very slow burn. I don’t know the exact moment, but I slowly became spellbound and he had me for the rest of the song.
There’s debate about whether Prince wrote the song or adapted a song Andre Cymone wrote… but the overall performance on its own helps make my point that this is the first time Prince really comes into the brand he made for himself, which is fusing sex with music and lyrics and taking it places nobody had before. Not just explicitly, but the whole vibe and performance of it. You feel like you’re at the receiving end of his affections (at least if your sexuality- gay male or straight female- frees you up to experience that).

And now I’m remembering how inexperienced I was in this subject matter before getting to know Prince… physically, I still have zero experience, but mentally, between his music, reading 50 shades of grey and seeing various R-rated movies that happened to contain sex… I have more of an understanding of it than I did.
And still, nobody can do *that* the way Prince does.

The Weeknd comes closer than anyone I’d heard, but I also hadn’t been looking. With certain songs, I feel like he’s got Michael Jackson’s voice, but he has Prince’s sex appeal. Like his voice oozes sex and I hadn’t felt anything like that since Prince. Which is kinda nuts to think about.

Anyway, moving on…
Before I do any more random comments on the songs, I’ll do the track by track…

What a great jam to start an album with… title tracks tend to set the tone for the overall album and impress on the listener what to expect with the overall sound and theme. But unlike Dirty Mind, the meaning the title track has on the rest of the album is not as in your face or obvious.
Although he does touch on some controversial subjects throughout the tracks.

First off- the sound of this song is amazing. It’s a pretty long jam, possibly the longest song on the album. It’s odd that I don’t get sick of this groove. Enough happens that I don’t get bored and I like just being strung along.
But something about it is so familiar- it reminds of another song- the sound of Prince’s vocals on the verses (everywhere but the lyric “controversy” which is sung in a higher register). The sad part is I don’t know what the song is called or know any lyrics I can use to Google it. But it’s like a song I’d hear around Halloween- it’s spooky and unnerving. A bunch of vocals singing together at once.
The lyrics- they’re an enigma the way Prince is. They’re so great.
Love the different sections in the song.
The one thing I don’t like so much… the back-up vocals (ok, they’re more like grunts) on the beat during the main riff. I find it distracting and kinda annoying.
So many great nuggets in this song. I’ll just stop talking and move onto the next.

Also- that was his first major scream on record.

Then “Sexuality” has his first characteristic scream he’ll forever be known for.
Love the guitar work and the opening instrumental part of this song.
Love how the music builds up in the chorus- or whatever you want to call the part that ends with “sexuality is all we ever need.”
Overall, the song really screws with my head… part of that cult culture I was referring to. Like he sees the world in this weird unorthodox fashion and wants to educate and/or brainwash us to believe as he does.
I mean, you could write a term paper interpreting it and explaining what he means by all this… but I don’t have that kind of time. And I don’t like the song THAT much.
It’s going to be one of the great technical tracks, but the components score will be average.

“Do Me Baby” is going to score very highly on my personal scale.
I love the piano, the use of synths to create atmosphere. The vocal performance… phew… I mean, damn… his best vocal to this point without question.
I have to crank this up to maybe 36 in my car to hear it properly, but the production is very clean on the vocals. The rawness of the piano, the ad-libs and such. That’s part of its charm for me. Everything in this song works together so well.
Sex on a stick.

Then the album just crashes… and takes a while to really come back.

maybe it’s because I was nervous about whether I’d be able to finish the album before I got home (I was running up the hill to my house by the time “Jack U Off” was wrapping up)… but “Private Joy” just didn’t get me revved up or anything.

The music is so different- nothing Prince has done before or since sounds like it. Despite it being the last song recorded for the album, it sounds dated and the production sounds raw the way “Do Me, Baby” does.
The lyrics are kinda meh… the only exciting part for me is the “violent” portion where he strangles Valentino.
Nice to hear the Linn-drum on full display also- that’s another thing that keeps my attention.

“Ronnie talk to Russia”… considering everything going on right now, plus my affinity for someone from Russia… I’m a little conflicted on the lyrics.
I want us to have a good relationship with Russia.
The lyrics here are very dated.
It’s kinda interesting how this and “Jack U Off” both have that rockabilly edge to them. Prince never showed interest in that sub-genre before or after this album.
The guitar solo in the middle kinda reminds me of something out of a Beatles song, but I couldn’t tell you which one.

“Let’s Work” doesn’t have a lot to it. It has one more verse than “Sex Dancer,” which I tore apart for lack of lyrics.
The song’s just too damn short 😛 so I really should listen to the long version before I do Peach and Black tomorrow.
The groove is amazing- all kinds of great instrumentals. Bass line. That synth line that cuts in and out, that’s really cool.
I have a feeling this is one of those songs I didn’t really like at first and suddenly now I do… it’s hard to explain.

“Annie Christian”… uh… what do I do with this one?
It’s completely different from anything else Prince ever did.
The music is the main highlight. The production is interesting- like he was doing this live at a rally or protest or something. It’s back to what I said about “Sexuality”- that mentality about trying to educate or brainwash the listener to see his point of view.
This is another dated track as well with the references to Reagan and John Lennon.
What else can I say- technically brilliant, but it gives me the creeps and I never go out of my way to listen to it.

“Uptown” and “Partyup” really hurt my rating of the Dirty Mind album. I see the same thing happening thanks to the two dated tracks on Controversy… should be interesting to see where they both end up. Probably very close.

“Jack U Off”… yeah, this song’s kinda awkward. Unless you’re personally inclined that way, you really can’t sing it aloud without feeling self-conscious. And it’s so sing-along-y… it’s hard not singing along to it when it so clearly wants you to.
It’s the first band performance to end up on an album. I remember Bobby Z played the Linn-drum… one bit of trivia I picked up somewhere and just found out later on it was a band effort.
Maybe that’s why it comes off so well.
Definitely a controversial track, although not that insane degree of “Sister” or “Head.”
It feels like a jam session, lots of great instrumentals doing solos in the 2nd half of the song.

Seriously, if Controversy winds up scoring higher than Dirty Mind, yeah, that’d be freaking insane.
Because in my head, Dirty Mind is the better album.
I guess it just comes down to the scores of the other tracks I like better than the two I singled out… well, Private Joy also is a so-so track.

Anyway- Peach and Black next… then I’ll start working on my ratings.

Yet another great podcast.
Again, a lot of love for this album. Overall, the scores ran from 8 to 9.
Someone held back on the rating because they wanted to reserve the higher ratings for other albums.
Me, I’m maybe holding back on some songs, but I’m going through the albums chronologically, so I’m just giving the ratings as I go.
And I’m not tweaking that again.
But based on the quality of the material, I’m confident that I’m going to give a higher rating to Purple Rain, 1999, The Gold Experience and Parade than some of these earlier albums. Especially since my components score will give those songs more bonus points.

So yeah… I guess it’s time for me to talk about Captain again 😛
I still find him the most entertaining of the four guys to listen to, though they all have their moments.
Yet I seem to be the most conflicted with his particular tastes in Prince music.
He called “Do Me, Baby” one of the most skippable tracks on the album and “Ronnie talk to Russia” his favorite. I’m like “WHAT?” I mean, as much as I wanna say I wanna kill him, he does good points.
At least about “Do me, Baby.” That has to be an awkward track for a guy to listen to. At least for that second half of it where it’s basically sex after the foreplay. I get that. But skippable is a bit much for me. This album is so short and so solid, I wouldn’t skip any track. That’s just my opinion.
As for “Ronnie talk to Russia”… well, this is the same weirdo who liked “Wedding Feast” on The Rainbow Children. To a degree, I should’ve seen that coming.

It was so funny to hear him debating the lyrics with the guys. I know he’s right that he’s saying “left-wing gorillas”… yet MC is like “I thought he was saying realists”…
Even more hilarious when you consider Captain doesn’t listen to lyrics.
Yet this is one of his first albums and he’s played it loads of times. The lyrics gotta penetrate after a point, right?
Then there was redemption when he didn’t get “Annie Christian” and put it up there with “most skippable.” I mean, he’s nuts, but he’s not that nuts.

But in the Prince community, weirdness could only be a good thing. And I usually conflict the most with Captain’s opinions on Prince music. But I can accept his explanations for why he doesn’t like certain songs.
For oddball songs he likes… it’s hit and miss for me. Sometimes I don’t get it. Sometimes I do (“Man in a Uniform” is one of those exceptions).

MC really threw me for a loop when he said “Annie Christian” affected him a lot. That song is just so weird and unusual, I didn’t think anyone could feel so strongly about it. But that’s the power of Prince music. It’s powerful stuff and everyone can take from it whatever they want.

On another note, Captain and my fellow purple knight were exchanging some tweets and I got in on the action and we had some interesting conversations. Let’s just say Prince fans have been kinda negative lately about some things and we’d come to agree about certain things.
It’s pretty cool feeling to get likes from fellow Prince fans because they agree with my thoughts. We need that camaraderie to offset the negativity.

It started off on a pretty great note.
A whole lot of talk before the album even started going.
Then Controversy ate up at least 15-20 minutes of the review by itself… and like the song, I didn’t mind it going on so long. I just marveled at the fact they kept having things to say.
Even though Captain went first and said almost everything (so funny the guys were moaning and Captain’s like “you asked me to go first…”), they had a lot to say.
I think Toejam said “if anyone says they don’t like this song, they’re off the show”
I mean, I didn’t believe anyone was going to not like the song, but you never know with the Peach and Black podcast.

Yeah, I love those moments where MC uses “Peach and Black podcast” in a sentence as if breaking the 4th wall 😛 in this case, they were talking about Anna Fantastic covering one of the songs (Ronnie talk to Russia) under a different name and it was done in the late 80’s. Captain mentioned it and MC at the end says “always learning something new on the Peach and Black podcast”

I string this podcast along over the last three days of the workweek to make it go by faster… but at this point I’m not remembering as much I’d like to.
I think I nailed much of the points.
“Jack U Off” brought some interesting commentary and conversations and obviously innuendos could not be avoided and the guys were laughing uncontrollably. Someone said it was the “happy ending” of the track and they all just lost it. I never even realized that 😛

I got away from this post a bit to brush my teeth and suddenly a lot of stuff came back to me. Funny how the mind clears when there are less distractions.

Toejam said twice “if there is any evidence that Prince lives in ‘Prince world’ this is it”… he said that about “Sexuality” and “Annie Christian.”
I’m not going to argue that. I mean, I started this post saying he could have let a crazy cult or a punk rock revolution or something if this album hit Purple Rain level success.
And this album had some strange lyrics.

Also remembered that despite Captain acknowledging how “Let’s Work” is a good song and it’s loved by many fans, doesn’t mean he has to like it.
Another I can’t really dispute.
I am one of those weirdos or idiots that doesn’t like “Sexy Dancer.”
Heck, I’ll say I don’t like “Erotic City” because of the lyrics and people will think I’m crazy because it’s one of those most beloved B-sides Prince ever produced.

Speaking of B-sides, Player made that comment in “Ronnie talk to Russia” where he’d prefer the song as a B-side because “I don’t know what it’s doing here.”
I mean, the lyrics and the genre are oddly random. But I get that it goes with the “controversial” them of the album.

The consensus was that this album was the origin of Prince’s sound. The sound everyone got to know and love from him in the 80’s over his next two albums.

So here comes my rating… should be interesting… not sure what to expect.
I’m not even looking over my old blog posts or even posts I wrote for the book I was writing about Prince’s music, talking about origins and my interpretations and so on. I’m just going from what I remember and what I currently feel about the songs.

Again, the technical gives a point for good songwriting, vocals, music, lyrics and overall effect- whether or not it’s something special on Prince can accomplish.
Components score is my personal take on it.
1- I absolutely don’t like it
2- I’m not crazy about it, but I won’t skip it either
3- average, could take or leave
4- like it a lot

…well, of course the song is brilliant.
Technical score- 5 (even though I’m kinda meh about the grunts on the back-up vocals on the main riff- I can’t fault it. It’s so damn good)
Components score- 4
It’s a great title track, way to start the album. I really get it into and don’t get bored of it no matter how long it goes on for. It’s not up there with my personal favorites, but giving it this score is still a pretty big compliment.

Technical score- 4.5
The lyrics are the only thing I can really take points off for… they’re just weird at some points, the spoken word section (and someone in the podcast said he did an Elvis reference in the vocals… I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but regardless, not going to hear that part the same ever again, lol).
Components score- 3.5
This song’s a little better than average. I like it, but I’m not super crazy about it.

whether or not Prince wrote any of it or all of it is debatable. Peach and Black teased about asking Andre Cymone about it, but nothing materialized. I wonder if it will now, all things considered.
I’m sorry, I can’t find any fault with it.
It’s such a great ballad. The vocals are SUBLIME- it might be a bit much to say it’s his best vocal performance EVER (MC pretty much said that), but one of his best in his career. Maybe he didn’t write all of the song (Peach and Black mentioned how Pepe Willie testified to hearing Andre playing it and I read that story in the book I have… but they said they didn’t really take his word for anything… makes me kinda wonder what he did to deserve that kind of shade. Not that I know much about the guy to begin with).

Anyway- Do Me, Baby… it’s a 10.
I have to play the song when I’m alone cuz it’s too embarrassing to share it out loud with anyone. And I admit in the car I had it cranked up and I was singing at the top of my lungs to it. I hadn’t heard it in years, but I don’t think I ever got that opportunity before. It was pretty amazing.

…I actually turned on the album halfway through my trip while listening to Peach and Black and I pushed their “Jack U Off” review until afterwards. I was feeling out of step with the first three songs (even my perfect 10) cuz of it being my 3rd listen in the last week (as in last 7 days). That freed my mind to enjoy this song again. Granted, it isn’t great
Technical score- 4
it’s a nice little song, the music is really different for Prince- unusual, lyrics are simple and to a point- plus that Valentino part was great (Captain liked the song overall but I wanted to high-five him when he said that was his favorite part). The point off is because it’s not super special in Prince’s catalogue. Not to say it’s forgettable or skippable. It’s just not as good as so many other songs he’s done.
Components score- 3.5

…:sigh: now it gets tough… this was the period in Dirty Mind when the album went downhill and it was hard for things to fully recover.
Technical score… GREAT music, weird lyrics, nice structure, the vocals are okay, overall not too special (Captain said in his review that Toejam was probably going to say Prince is being naïve with this one and of course he nailed it… I think this was also the track where MC said that it sounded like Prince had been listening to Frank Zappa. I kinda forgot he was a big fan of his )
So technically, I’d give it… 3
Components score… if I hadn’t gotten so wrapped up in the Sochi Olympics, I’d have given this a three. But because I’ve gotten to like some Russian figure skaters and I think it’s ridiculous that they’re being blamed for the election results, I’d have to give it 2.5
5.5 overall.
Yeah… that’s just my personal opinion.
A lot’s changed in the 5-6 years since I last heard this album and that’s one of them I really didn’t see coming. I just thought the song was average, but I didn’t hate it before. Now, I’m kinda uncomfortable about it.
Prince would for sure bring this song back if he was still alive- the title could easily be changed to fit the situation. [The other day, I mourned the fact he wouldn’t be alive to cover “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna. I swear, that vocal style is right up his alley and he would have been SO amazing].

Anyway, moving on.

I really like this one. I have a feeling I didn’t when I first heard it. Going back to it is great, but I wish it was longer and the extended dance mix version helped satisfy that. I almost wish a 30-minute version of that existed instead of 30 minutes of “I would die 4 U” where nothing interesting really happens in 25 of those minutes.
Technical score- 4.5
Components score- 4.5
(yeah, if it was longer, I’d give it higher… wish I could, but just can’t).

…ok, here we go… the album could be made or broken at this point
For technical, the vocal is very striking as is the music. More weird lyrics. The songwriting overall… a bit odd.
Technical score- 3
Components score- 2 (when I came up with my system for components, I did so knowing I’d give this song a two- that contributed to my overall thought process)

It’s a final track that does leave an impression for sure. And it’s a good one. The subject matter is so off and weird, but Partyup on the previous album, I just found a little off-putting and repetitive. This one is done really well overall.
Technical score- 4.5
yeah, again, the one thing off with this song is the lyrics. It’s so damn catchy and fun to listen to… but it’s impossible to sing along with it. It just sounds and feels so wrong 😛
Components score- 3.5
yeah, I like this song quite a bit, but I don’t go out of my way to listen to it either.
8 (omg- can’t believe that got an 8)

Okay, going through with the math and ranking the tracks top to bottom…
I’m going to lose my mind if this scores 8 out of 10 😛

Do me, baby- 10
Controversy- 9
Let’s Work- 9
Jack U Off- 8
Sexuality- 8
Private Joy- 7.5
Ronnie talk to Russia- 5.5
Annie Christian- 5

7.75, which rounds up to 7.8

so…. let’s see where that stands with the other albums. Still haven’t gotten my first 8 yet…
For You was 6.2
Prince was 7.6
Dirty Mind was 7.4

Well, it’s not an 8… but Controversy is my highest ranking album so far… that’s kinda minding blowing. Not to mention it scored 2.5 points higher than Dirty Mind.

Let me do a side by side to see what “went wrong”… if anything really did…

Dirty Mind- 8.5/Controversy- 9
When you were mine- 10/Sexuality- 8
Do it all night- 6/Do me, baby- 10
Gotta Broken Heart Again- 7/Private Joy- 7.5
Uptown- 7.5/Ronnie talk to Russia- 5.5
Head- 8/Let’s Work- 9
Sister- 7/Annie Christian- 5
Partyup- 5.5/Jack U Off- 8

I think the difference between the two comes down to production. And maybe that’s the difference with all the albums. The vocals are easier to pick out of this album than previously.

Yeah, that’s pretty nuts. I like Controversy more than Dirty Mind. Even with having two songs I gave pretty harsh scores to, the strength of the other material is so up there.

And of these songs… my top three:
Do me, baby
Let’s Work

no real surprise there…

most likely I won’t get to 1999 for a while.
I’m going to try aiming for April 21st to watch Purple Rain and to go through the album and such… so I’m really going to going a while with 1999 and the two protégé albums of this period- What Time is it? and the one album put out by Vanity 6

But both come with a Peach & Black review and one is brand new… the Vanity 6 one came out earlier this year and I’m finally going to listen to it.
Plus, I can’t wait to have their music back on my iPod. I sometimes liked to kill time with it and that’s going to be fun to have them back.

And I’m just finishing this at almost 1am in the morning? What the hell?!

I hope it all went all right. I spent all this time on it and I don’t know if I really said anything good 😛

today I also designed what may become my new avatar for my DreamyPopRoyalty social media platforming.
As much as I love Sesshomaru, I can’t use him forever. And I want something that’s a little closer to Prince- who is the reason I started this blog nearly 10 years ago.
When I get to that date of the 10th anniversary, I’ll try to get a review posted then and maybe my new logo as well will be at the tail end of my post.

Next, I’ll most likely be posting about the final figure skating competition of the season.

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