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Controversy, 1981 Podcast

Podcast: 41 Years of Controversy – A Conversation with Harold Pride and De Angela Duff

Here we are again, my first podcast in more than a year, and I couldn’t have asked for better guests than Harold Pride and De Angela Duff to discuss Prince’s fourth and quite possibly most underrated album, 1981’s Controversy. If you’ve been listening to these deep-dive album retrospectives, Harold needs no introduction; and, since the Prince scholarly community is a pretty small one, De Angela may not need one either. Suffice to say that she’s the biggest advocate of Controversy I know, and she makes a convincing case that it’s not only a great album in its own right, but also the linchpin of Prince’s entire career.

One quick note: you will likely notice that there was a significant drop in audio quality this episode; this was due to a perfect storm of technical issues that, unfortunately, left the low-quality Skype call recording as the only usable audio source from our conversation. I think you’ll get used to it, but I will assure you anyway that I’m taking steps to make sure we sound better next time. And yes, speaking of “next time,” I do have plans for more episodes in the coming months–probably not in October, but maybe one more before the end of the year, and then more to come in early 2023. If you want to hear the episodes as soon as they drop, remember to subscribe on your podcast service of choice using the links above!

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Apollonia 6, 1984

A Million Miles (I Love You)

Like its predecessor Vanity 6, the Apollonia 6 album was something of a community effort, with contributions from Prince’s touring bandmates and others from his circle. One of the most notable new additions to that circle was percussionist Sheila Escovedo, better known as “Sheila E.”

Sheila had actually been on Prince’s radar–and he on hers–for years before they ever set foot in the studio together. Her father, Mexican American percussionist Pete Escovedo, first told her about the “young kid… playing all the instruments and producing and writing by himself” in 1977, while he was recording with Santana and Prince was working on his debut album at the Record Plant in Sausalito. The following year, she told Billboard’s Jem Aswad, “I walked into a record store and saw a poster of him and was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s beautiful’” (Aswad “Sheila” 2016).

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Purple Rain, 1984

Take Me with U

Production on Purple Rain officially wrapped in late December 1983; but as the film’s chief composer as well as its star, Prince remained on call through the post-production phase. Just about a month after the end of shooting, his services were once again required: Director Albert Magnoli wanted a song for the sequence where the Kid and Apollonia ride through rural Henderson, Minnesota on his motorcycle. So, at Sunset Sound on January 22, 1984, Prince started work on “Take Me with U.”

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Ephemera, 1984 Lacunae

Lacuna: The Dawn

While shooting Purple Rain in the last two months of 1983, Prince had uncharacteristically little time to spend in the studio. But as production wound down in late December, he dove back in, returning to Sunset Sound to work on new material for his manifold projects. On December 27, he recorded the basic track for “The Glamorous Life”–originally intended for Apollonia 6, but later given to (and made famous by) Sheila E. The following day, he added vocals and cut another track that would end up on Sheila’s album, “Next Time Wipe the Lipstick Off Your Collar”; as well as a song yet to be released anywhere, “Blue Love.” The day after that, he completed his first version of “She’s Always in My Hair.” Finally, on December 31, he rang in the New Year with an enigmatic new number, listed on the studio work order as “The Dawn.”

As readers of Duane Tudahl’s Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions are no doubt aware, though, the last song Prince recorded in 1983 was not “The Dawn.” It was, in fact, “We Can Fuck,” a title deemed too explicit for an official Sunset Sound document; it would also be known by the euphemisms “Moral Majority” (not to be confused with the actual recording by that title) and, anecdotally, “Sex” (also not to be confused with the 1989 song later released as the B-side for “Scandalous”). But Prince clearly thought the dummy title was too good to waste on an act of self-censorship; because just a week later, on January 7-8, 1984, he recorded a new song bearing the same name.

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Ephemera, 1983

Father’s Song

Director Albert Magnoli liked to call Purple Rain an “emotional biography” of Prince: An impressionistic mélange of the star’s pet themes, anxieties, and obsessions, true to its subject in spirit if not in every detail. And of all the themes, anxieties, and obsessions Prince brought to the film, none loomed larger than his father, John L. Nelson.

John Lewis Nelson was born on June 29, 1916 in Cotton Valley, Webster Parish, Louisiana, the youngest child of farmers Clarence Allen and Carrie Nelson (née Jenkins). Not long after his birth, John’s parents divorced; the reason, according to biographers Alex Hahn and Laura Tiebert, was because Clarence had become involved with another woman (Hahn 2017 50). By the 1920 census, writes historian Kristen Zschomler, Carrie was remarried to a man named Charles Ikner and living in Webster Parish with three-year-old John and his siblings: James (born 1915), Ruby (born 1908), Olivia (born 1904), and Gertrude (born 1903) (Zschomler 9). By 1930, she was widowed, and had traveled north with Gertrude, Ruby, and their husbands and children to a rented home in Southside Minneapolis, near where Olivia had settled with her husband, Edward Mason Lewis. The now-teenaged John likely followed between 1930 and 1935 (10).