09. “Controversy” off Controversy (1981)
Aside from being in the pantheon of catchiest songs ever, “Controversy” is an excellent study in Prince’s prowess for speaking to social and political issues without jeopardizing his sound. Built around a call and response, Prince lays out precisely how inane he finds the speculation surrounding his ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so forth, a response to rising speculation in the media fueled by the success of his first three albums.
Riding on a smooth beat of sizzling funk and synthesizer pomp, the song truly reaches its zenith when Prince chants the The Lord’s Prayer, toeing the lines of blasphemy and empowerment before he offers his mission statement: “People call me rude/ I wish we all were nude/ I wish there was no black and white/ I wish there were no rules.” In these lines, Prince encapsulates all the things that made him such a singular talent, from his rejection of societal norms to his wish that the world was clothing-optional.
It’s a powerful conclusion to a song that cemented a landmark album of the same name, a record where Prince refuted the label of “funk musician” by proving himself to be a social conscious artist at the forefront of many issues leading the day in Ronald Reagan’s America. That the track could be so immediate and yet remain a timeless classic in 2016 is why Prince stands apart as an icon. No controversy there. –Zack Ruskin