Saturday, April 23, 2016
"Controversy," Prince (1981)
"Controversy" was the first Prince album that I obsessed over...or I should say, "we" obsessed over, because on the second floor of Cheney Hall at UC Berkeley in the winter and spring of 1982, it probably got played more than any other album (the other contenders I can think of are Roxy Music's "Avalon," Psychedelic Furs' "Talk Talk Talk," David Lindley's "El Rayo X," and the debut album from Tom Tom Club). There was one memorable evening when a couple of Cal football players partied with us in my neighbor's room, and someone asked "what should we listen to?" and I blurted out, "Controversy!," for which I was later chastised ("...dude, don't you think that was a little too obvious?"). Whatever...it may have been too obvious, but it was still the obvious choice.
About the album, Stephen Holden wrote in Rolling Stone, "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." Well, OK. At the time I think we were more into the sound, although it was admittedly difficult not to notice the lyrics on the title track ("...People call me rude, I wish we were all nude/I wish there was no black and white, I wish there were no rules...) and songs like "Ronnie Talk to Russia" and "Annie Christian," two of the most overtly political statements he ever made.
And then of course, there was the usual dose of sexuality, both in the song with that title and on "Do Me, Baby," "Private Joy" and "Jack U Off." And as an added bonus, there was the poster of the almost nude Prince in the shower, which we threatened for months to lacquer onto the door of one of our unsuspecting dorm mates but never quite mustered up the courage or reached the level of inebriation required to carry out that feat.
What we didn't know in 1982 was that Prince was on the cusp of a level of greatness that few artists have ever achieved. What we did know was that "Controversy" was a damn good album.