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Controversy@35: Funk For Those Who Don’t Want To Die So They Can Be Free

Controversy

Controversy,released on this day in 1981,is one of my very favorite albums of Prince’s immediate pre-crossover period. It came along at a time when he was heavily building his musical persona. Everything from his stripped down instrumental approach,the name Jamie Starr and around this period the introduction of The Time. First time I saw the album on vinyl,it was the basic Prince image I saw on the cover staring hard at me in front of some captivating faux newspaper headlines. The purple trench coat with the studded shoulder and his Little Richard inspired hairstyle were there-as well as the thin mustache.

Picked the album up on vinyl upon seeing this from Dr. Records,in its old location in Orono Maine.  Happily it still had the original poster inside showing Prince posing in the shower, wearing nothing but black bikini underwear.  Its also important to note I heard Prince’s albums almost in order,so heard this fourth in that line. The title track in its full version really got my attention. Especially where Prince is reciting the lords prayer over the pumping rhythm and funkified rhythm guitar before his chant at the end. My boyfriend told me this was the very first Prince song he heard while living Scranton,Pennsylvania.

That chant at the end of course was “people call me rude/I wish we all were nude/I wish there was no black or white/I wish there were no rules”. The albums major funky moments come in the slap bass and synth brass groove of “Lets Work”,one of his finest slices of funk of that time. He also provides one of his major funk ballads in the elongated workout of “Do Me,Baby”-written by Andre Cymone and featuring some lustful vocals and slap bass. “Sexuality” ably mixes a rockabilly rhythm and melody,chicken scratch guitar and new wave synthesizers. Lyrically it also provides a bit of the albums social manifesto.

“Private Joy” is a sleek post disco new wave pop number build around drums and synthesizers-plus a peppy,sexy falsetto chorus. “Ronnie Talk To Russia” is a short,punky new wave number with a rather narcissistic anti nuclear message asking the president to talk to Russia “before they blow up my world”. “Annie Christian” is a striking art rock type number metaphorically dealing with the issues of violence and gun control in the early 80’s. The album ends with sexually playful “Jack U Off”,which is a straight up synthesized version of 50’s rockabilly.

Musically speaking,this album really finds Prince solidifying his sound. The musical pallet is similar to its predecessor Dirty Mind. Production wise however,Controversy is a pretty slick sounding album that doesn’t have the previous albums raw demo like quality. The album also integrates funkiness into its instrumental approach. Many times in the general rhythm of the songs,a lot of them still fall into the retro 50’s rock n’ roll/rockabilly style Prince was dealing with at this time. At the same time,he showcased how R&B,funk and modern synth pop/new wave would represent a major part of the Minneapolis sound.

Conceptually this album is one of his most telling. The Prince of Controversy emerged as a concerned,conscious citizen who also had a mildly unknowing,socially conservative streak. A lot of it is Prince walking the classic soul music line between the secular and the spiritual. In one song alone for example he’s saying “sexuality is all we’ll ever need” and turns around to say “don’t let your children watch television until they learn how to read/or all they’ll know how to do is cuss,fight and breed”.  This mix of sexual freedom and social paranoia is a close early glimpse of Prince’s then developing social conscience.

Prince of course is no longer with us. And with a released catalog almost 40 albums strong in his lifetime,he’s told many different stories both musically and lyrically. My friend Henrique warned me not to try to chase Prince’s motivations because of how intentionally elusive the artist tended to be. For me,this album is probably the closest he came in the 1980’s to laying his soul bare. His feelings on sex,violence and religion are something he’s trying to reconcile throughout this album. Don’t know if he ever did fully reconcile them before he died. But the questions he asked here may be more important than the answers.

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Filed under 1980's, ballads, classic albums, Controversy, gun control, message songs, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, Prince, rhythm guitar, rock 'n' roll, slap bass, synth brass, synth funk

Andresmusictalk Takes A Stand

Stop Killing Black People

Today I’d planned to bring you perhaps another Anatomy of THE Groove segment,or another list based article about jazz,funk and soul music. Every human being has a heart somewhere though. I’m no exception to that,and my heart is broken. Within the last three days,two innocent black American men in Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered by the police. Yesterday,a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas,Texas erupted into violence against the police.  The situation has gotten to such a critical state, it seems like right time to set the record straight as to what Andresmusictalk stands for.

Over the past couple of years,grooves with a message have been over-viewed here. Especially in times of crisis such as outbreaks of violence. And in my home state of Maine the election of Mister Paul LePage to the position of state governor. As much as it might be inappropriate to bring personal views and feelings to this blog,the national situation has gone beyond too far. Day after day,social networks such as Facebook are filled with racist rhetoric-from posted memes to comments. And in many states,including my own,open carry gun laws have turned private citizens into potential vigilantes.

I am personally many things. Black,Latino and openly gay are among them. Yet everyday American’s who are any or all of these things are being made to feel as if they’ve done something terribly wrong. For example,when people such as Treyvon Martin,Michael Brown,Freddie Gray,Tamir Rise and now Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are murdered by police,it is quickly dismissed as a misunderstanding-with the murdered party painted as a “potential criminal element”.  When police are murdered such as in Dallas,most of the nation stand behind them without question.

These contradictory actions have officially proven to me that America today has become nearly totally based on the racial privilege of white people in particular. Through the articles done here,I’ve tried to imply that empathy,not xenophobia,is the solution to a lot of these peoples. So many other people do that in their own way,too. Sadly,few seem to even be listening. So wanted to clarify these matters: this blog is against prejudice  and racism. It’s against the murder of the innocent based on skin color and other non criminal matters. And most importantly it’s against homophobia,ableism and white privilege.

What it does stand for wholeheartedly is music. Music to get people in the mind of doing the dance we call life. And often music with a direct message. Here are some songs to listen to that musically describe today’s situation very well. No over-view from me today. Just listen and dance to the funky and soulful people music.

Don’t Call Me Nigger,Whitey/Sly & The Family Stone

Ball Of Confusion/The Tempations

If There’s A Hell Below,We’re All Going To Go/Curtis Mayfield

Am I Black Enough For You/Billy Paul

Winter In America/Gil Scott-Heron

Black Man/Stevie Wonder

System Of Survival/Earth Wind & Fire

Ghetto Woman/Janelle Monae

Baltimore/Prince

*”Peace is more than the absence of war”-Prince (1958-2016) paraphrasing a quotation from Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

 

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Filed under 2016, Alton Sterling, Dallas, Freddie Gray, gun violence, message songs, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, police brutality, political songs, racism, racist murder, Tamir Rice, Treyvon Martin, Uncategorized, white privilege

Prince Summer: “Sign O The Times” (1987)

Prince was one of the most important figures for advancing funk during the early to mid 1980’s. Funk is the music that represents the rhythms and messages of black America from the late 20th century onward. Free jazz artist James Blood Ulmer once said jazz is the teacher,funk is the preacher. During the early 80’s,the emerging genre of hip-hop was extended on funk’s sociopolitical messages. Because of Prince’s stripped down sound, frank lyrics and appeal to Generation X,The Roots’ Amir Questlove Thompson has even suggested that Prince’s purple funk is a form of hip-hop.

Prince was a very busy man in 1986 in terms of recorded. He recorded enough music for at least three albums that year. While he and Warner Bros argued over how much to edit this material into releasable form,America was facing some major challenges. AIDS was a massive epidemic that was being ignored by the government,gun violence,natural disasters and the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger were inspired many Americans to again raise their voices with some level of protest. Prince decided to protest in his own way in July 1986 when he recorded the song “Sign O The Times”.

Prince gets the song started with a brittle synth snare pulse,accented by brushing percussion even on the two beat end of the rhythm pattern. This is accompanied by a round,dripping synth line playing a funky rhythm guitar type melody. He hits on the live snares during the main chorus of the song-while using a Fairlight sampler to provide the bluesy funk slap bass line. After that refrain,Prince accompanies himself on another more orchestral synth with a rocked up blues guitar lead. On the refrains,all these instruments play in closer unison in the same higher key-until the song fades out on it’s chorus.

Musically speaking,this song is something of a culmination of Prince’s approach as a multi instrumentalist. It’s still got the stripped down rhythms that he pioneered earlier in the 80’s decade. The big difference comes from the approach. Prince had begun to use early electronic samplers on this song-singling out live instrumental bass solo’s (for example) rather than providing a synth bass line. The song also doesn’t feature a synth brass line simulating horns. Everything about the song focuses on the rhythm section. The guitar,bass and drums all have a crawling,bluesy funk flavor within their groove.

Lyrically this songs message rings disturbingly true-especially now. As the news about Omar Mateen,the New Yorker who committed this mass shooting in Orlando Florida, continues to unfold,the media has been asking the question of what kind of nation has America become to almost tacitly accept mass gun violence as an inevitable reality. This song asked questions like that 30 years ago. Prince illustrates seeming passive suicide amid American’s in various ways-even saying “Some say a man ain’t happy unless a man truly dies-oh why?”. If Prince could ask the question,today’s America can answer it.

*To Support Victims Of The Orlando Mass Shooting,Click here!

 

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Filed under 1987, blues funk, drum machine, drums, Fairlight synthesizer, Funk Bass, gun violence, lead guitar, message songs, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, political songs, Prince, Sampling, synthesizers, Uncategorized