Today we have the first appearance from one of the biggest superstars in American music history, Prince. Late in 1981, he released “Controversy”, which was the first time I became aware of this dynamic and charismatic performer from Minnesota. If you combine the talents of songwriting, performing, playing musical instruments, singing and dancing, Prince has to be the most versatile and talented performer we have ever seen. Like many artists, we lost him way too young, but he left an unmistakable impact on the music world. He is very likely my son’s favorite recording artist of all time, so I have spent a lot of time listening to and contemplating Prince.
This album is like a lot of early Prince. True to its title, it is certainly controversial, heavily embedded with subtle and not-so-subtle sexual references across the entire record. Prince asks us on the first lyric, “Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?” As we pondered these questions as well as many others, we realized this guy was something unlike anything we had seen before. I do favor the title song as my favorite song on the album, probably both from familiarity and the funk groove it offers.
Before I go any further, I have to note my one major pet peeve with Prince’s songs. This has been a subject of debate between my son and I for many years now. As much as I love Prince, I think he, like Michael Jackson, as well as many other artists to be fair, often take a good four-minute song and turn it into seven minutes of redundancy. While I can absolutely appreciate the escalation of intensity and the reckless abandon with which Prince unleashes at the end of many songs, sometimes it is just a little too much, at least for me.
One of the best examples of this is “Do Me, Baby”. While there isn’t much mystery about what this song is about, which is fine by me, I’m not quite sure what Prince is doing the last three minutes of this song. It certainly sounds like he is enjoying himself, so good for him, but I would have probably been OK if this song was a bit more… concise.
My other favorite tracks on this album are “Private Joy” and “Ronnie, Talk to Russia” where we bring some modern-age geopolitical concerns into the studio. I also really like the last song, even if the title, “Jack U Off”, is a tad bit on the awkward side. Awkward and uncomfortable with a great backing melody? That’s Prince for you, welcome to his era.