‘P Control’ – The Gold Experience (1995)

This is the opening track from The Gold Experience – Prince’s 17th album. Although officially it was released under the name “0(+>” or “lovesymbol” or “the artist formerly known as Prince” or “I believe if I change my name to an unpronounceable symbol that it will somehow absolve me from fulfilling my contractual obligations” (but we all know who really made the album). It may come as no surprise that this song was originally known as “Pussy Control” (shocking, I know) and it was recorded at Paisley Park studios in July 1994 with additional recording and overdubs happening later in that year and into 1995. There was apparently a promo single where this song was called “Pussy Control” but obviously that kind of language would be too harsh to put on the back of an actual record and expect a store like Kmart to sell it. Crossbows are fine, just no pussy please. I think that there’s more to the name change than that, but more of that later.

The Gold Experience was released by Warner Brothers (warn a brutha!) and NPG Records in September 1995. For someone like Prince / 0(+> / TAFKAP / I believe if I change my name to an unpronounceable symbol that it will somehow absolve me from fulfilling my contractual obligations, this is a long time between recording and release. In fact this track was recorded before the release of the last album of new material – Come (August 1994). The Black Album was also released before this one (to help fulfill his contractual obligations) but it was all old material anyway (which means it was all lame and unlistenable).

So new name, new album, new experience. But how new and fresh is this really. Does this album, and by extension this song, really represent a break from the artist we had known up to this point or is this album just Prince by another name. I’m going to argue both and we’ll see where that gets us.

Looking at the booklet that came with the CD, the lyrics for this song do not appear. “Endorphin Machine” is the first song that gets a look in. Strangely, the last six pages (excluding the back cover) of the booklet are taken up by a review from Jim Walsh (Pop Music Critic, St. Paul Pioneer Press) about the tracks on this album and the shows where the songs were introduced. The back cover of the booklet has the lyrics to “Gold” (kind of the title track I guess). Jim’s article only mentions “P Control” briefly – “After a July Glam Slam gig, Theresa said she thought “P Control” was just another one of 0(+>’s sexist throwaways; I thought that was too easy. I defended it as a lighthearted, if raunchy, take on the power of womanhood”. I don’t think that this song is a “throwaway” track for Prince (I’m going to refer to him as Prince from now on, so save your outrage). It’s the opening track of the album which tells us that at least in Prince’s mind it is “important”. Given that there were better songs available that he could have included on this album to take the place of “P Control” (Days of Wild, Acknowledge Me, Interactive), I think that this song represents a statement that Prince is trying to make. Superficially it may be about “womanhood” but I think there is something more going on here.

This album is the first time Prince appears on an album as the symbol, 0(+>. “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” single and The Beautiful Experience EP had come out over a year earlier but this is the first proper album. Come was the last album credited to Prince and the cover proclaimed the death of Prince: 1958 – 1993. On The Gold Experience the song “Endorphinmachine” has an outro that also confirmed that “Prince esta muerto (Prince is dead)” in case you missed the message from the last album.

Listening back to the Peach and Black podcast’s review of The Gold Experience it reminded me how strange this song is as an introduction to a Prince album. There are, apparently, versions of this album where this song does not appear and “Endorphinmachine” is the opening track. Whether this is because of censorship in certain global markets (China, Japan, etc.) or some other reason I could only guess. It’s not like this song was recorded at the last minute to be included (unless the Prince Vault website has the dates wrong) so I think the intention was always to include this song as the opening statement of intent under his new name. A prologue to the “experience”. The album could be described as the Purple Rain of the 90s. It probably shouldn’t be. But I can see how a lazy music critic might be tempted to make that comparison. It does open with an upbeat party song and close with an extended ballad but that’s about it. “Let’s Go Crazy” opens with a keyboard/organ intro and “P Control” opens with a keyboard intro. But the similarities end there. Or at least I’m not going to bother finding anymore. Nonetheless you should feel free to have at it.

Musically, this song feels misplaced on this album; lots of electronic synth sounds and faux-operatic vocals. Definitely a unique opening track to a Prince album. Unprecedented in fact. This may be one of Prince’s best rap performances (which isn’t saying much to be honest) but his high pitched backing vocals are really annoying and deliberately so. The song opens with a weird sounding keyboard intro that mimics a dial-up modem. This is in the age of dial-up and Prince was one of the early proponents of online musical experiences. This album plays with that technological aspect all throughout with the NPG operator coming in between almost every track (at least that’s how it feels). It’s a weird way to start an album, that’s for sure. And then the keyboard fades out and the lady (Mayte, I assume) comes in with some Spanish. There’s a little strum of a guitar/bass and then the beat drops in and the song starts in earnest. The modem keyboard comes back in and we’re off. This song features Michael B on drums, Sonny T on the bass guitar, Mr Hayes on keyboards and Tommy Barbarella on keyboards and Prince on everything else. It doesn’t sound to me like a band recording though. I imagine that everyone recorded their parts and Prince just cut it all together as he pleased. The groove is pretty relentless all the way through this song and the verses are mostly rhythm section and vocals. There is some keyboard in there too but the choruses are where the keyboards make themselves known, especially that modem intro riff. Overlaid with Prince’s “operatic” vocals it kind of feels like these parts of the song are overdone.

There’s a fantastic cover of this song by Richard Cheese (thanks Peach and Black). It’s only two and a half minutes long but today as I write this sentence, it’s my favourite version. It doesn’t have all the lyrics but that doesn’t detract from it in any way.

So why have a song like this open up your album? The first album under the new name. The first album released on NPG records. The digital age is dawning. You want to make a statement. Why make it with this song? The last Prince album (Come) opened up with an eleven minute epic. The first 0(+> album opens up with “P Control”. Why? Why? Why? I think that the title is the first clue – “P Control’. The lyrics may imply that the “P” stands for “pussy” but what it actually stands for is “Prince”. Prince is in control now. New name and all. P has control. Of his destiny and his music. This isn’t technically the last record for Warner Brothers (warn a brutha!) but Chaos and Disorder seems like it was throwaway for Prince and the liner notes state that it was – “Originally intended for private use only”. The Gold Experience however is the intended last will and testament of Prince as a Warner Brothers artist. Prince may be muerto but he’s taking control from beyond the grave and letting us know what the future holds. There is precedent for referring to Prince as P, in the song “My name is Prince” Tony M says – “I’m on a roll with P”. So I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that this song is really about Prince being in control. Obviously, the lyrics are about “womanhood” but I think that is just a cover for what Prince really wants to tell us.

 

Nuestra presentacion especial comenzara en breve
(Our special presentation will start shortly)
Pero antes un mensaje de nuestros auspiciadores
(But first a message from our sponsors)

I got the lyrics (and the translation) from AZ Lyrics so I’m going to assume that they are accurate here. The first sound you hear on this record is the modem/keyboard intro and then this. So this makes it clear that this song, from the outset, is not part of the album proper but something else. It’s a message. From our sponsors? Warner Brothers? NPG Records? Prince?

 

Uh, yeah
Uh

Good mornin’ ladies and gentlemen (“What hotel number is she in?”)
Boys and motherfuckin’ girls (“319, 319” “Cool”)
This is your captain with no name speakin’
And I’m here 2 rock your world
With a tale that will soon be classic
About a woman U already know
No prostitute she, but the mayor of your brain
Pussy Control (Are U ready?)

The beat comes in and the song starts in earnest. Until that modem/keyboard riff comes back in during the chorus you’re probably thinking that the intro was something separate, but no. A trigger to get you to pay attention and a reminder that you have now entered the digital realm. The modem is dialing into Prince’s new online world. Welcome to the dawn. The opening lyric is “Good morning” which clearly indicates that our sponsors are talking to us from the a.m. Welcome to the dawn. Notice that he states here that the voice you are hearing “is your captain with no name”. Not an unpronounceable symbol of a name. But a non-existent name. Sans name if you will. In Exodus when Moses asks, he is told “I am who I am”. Implying that this god has no name. In this song, our narrator (Prince) is taking the place of god, similar to “I would die 4 U”, and our protagonist (Pussy) is actually a gender inverted version of Prince. She’s someone we already know. She’s no prostitute (i.e. she’s no sell out). She’s in charge of the sound coming into your brain. Are you ready?

 

Aaah, Pussy Control, oh
Aaah, Pussy Control, oh

This is the chorus. Prince is singing in a really high falsetto and slightly off key. It’s like he’s saying “I’m in control and I’ll sing this any way I please”. It’s supposed to echo the keyboard/modem sound and reinforce that what you are hearing is a download (28.8 kilobits per second – lightning fast!).

 

Our story begins in a schoolyard
A little girl skipping rope with her friends
A tisket, a tasket, no lunch in her basket
Just school books 4 the fight she would be in
One day over this hoodie
She got beat 4 some clothes and her rep
With her chin up, she scolded “All y’all’s molded
When I’m rich, on your neck I will step”
And step she did 2 the straight A’s
Then college, the master degree
She hired the heifers that jumped her
And made everyone of them work 4 free?
No! Why?
So what if my sisters are triflin’?
They just don’t know
She said “Mama didn’t tell’em what she told me
‘Girl, U need Pussy Control'” (Are U ready?)

School is where we are supposed to learn our lessons. Prince learnt his lessons about the music industry back when he was skipping rope with The Revolution in the 80s. Straight A’s from Dirty Mind to Purple Rain and then his college education and master degree in being a global superstar. Building his empire and preparing for the fight against the industry. Even when he was being criticised for the way he was dressing (beat for his clothes if you will) and refusing to talk to the press and the “We are the World” controversy (ha! a play on words). When he says that “U need Pussy Control” what he’s really saying is Prince needs to get control of his music.

 

Aaah, Pussy Control, oh
Aaah, Pussy Control, oh

Verse 2
Pussy got bank in her pockets
Before she got dick in her drawers
If brother didn’t have good and plenty of his own
In love Pussy never did fall
And this fool named Trick wanna stick her
Uh, talkin’ more Schick than a Bic
‘Bout how he gonna make Pussy a star
If she come and sing a lick on his hit
Pussy said “Nigga, U crazy if U don’t know
Every woman in the world ain’t a freak
U can go platinum 4 times
Still couldn’t make what I make in a week
So push up on somebody wanna hear that
Cuz this somebody here don’t wanna know
Boy, U better act like U understand
When U roll with Pussy Control” (Are U ready?)

In case you were wondering which verse we’re up to (numero dos). This is the verse where Pussy/Prince is making it clear that the lesson he/she learnt is that you gotta make sure you get paid. Anyone who has followed his career through the 90s and beyond will recognise this as a defining factor of his career. Getting paid and more importantly, making sure that no one else is getting paid off of his work. Or has the potential to get paid. Or is next door neighbours with someone whose uncle might get some YouTube kickbacks for posting a video of his 1 year old dancing to a Prince song. Prince is in Control. Warner Brothers (warn a brutha!) or any other record label would be crazy to think that they could buy him with the promise of some platinum records when he now sits at the helm of a global, digital empire. The fact that Warner Brothers helped him build that empire is not really a concern. Interestingly the record label/music industry/journalism is give the moniker “Trick”, which if you’ve listened to any rap music in the last 30 years you would have already heard. Urban Dictionary gives a few definitions:

“Trick has different meanings depending on the context it is used.
Definition 1: A woman that teases a man in order to get her bills paid or gets him to buy her things. In return she pleases him physically either by having sex with him, kissing him, or giving him head.
Definition 2: A man that pays prostitutes for sex or a man that pays women to hang around him.
Definition 3: A person that purposely gossips or tells information about someone in order to get them in trouble and gets pleasure out of seeing someone’s secrets become exposed in a way that ruins their reputation or makes them look bad.”

And all three definitions apply. Warner Brothers is “teasing” him so they can get paid. The music industry and all its hangers on pay artists to make themselves look or feel more important and music/gossip journalists keep spreading shit about The Kid. But Pussy/Prince is telling them all I have a better way now, I don’t need you to make me a star, I don’t need to go platinum. Pussy has the reins. I always heard the line as “talkin’ more shit than a bit” and I still think that’s what he’s saying but I’m going to leave the lyrics as they appear on AZ Lyrics – so no letters, please.

 

Aaah, Pussy Control, oh
Aaah, Pussy Control, oh

Breakdown
(Are U ready 4 the best Pussy U ever felt?) [x2]

With one more verse 2 the story
I need another piece of your ear
I wanna hip U all 2 the reason
I’m known as the player of the year
Cuz I met this girl named Pussy
At the Club International Balls
She was rollin’ 4-deep
3 sisters and a weepy-eyed white girl drivin’ her haul
I pulled up right beside her
And my electric top went down
I said “Motherfucker, I know your reputation
And I’m astounded that U’re here
I fear U’re lonely and U want 2 know
A 12 o’clock straight up nigga
That don’t give a shit that U’re Pussy Control
Well I’m that nigga, at least I wanna be
But it’s gonna be hard as hell
2 keep my mind off a body
That would make every rich man
Want 2 sell, sell, sell (75, we need another.. 85, 85 here, sold!)
Can I tell U what I’m thinkin’ that U already know?
U need a motherfucker that respects your name”
Now say it, Pussy Control (Are U ready?)

One more verse to go and the story is over (don’t scroll down!). The breakdown before this verse is pretty cool with some nice keyboard work. Not the best pussy you’ve ever felt but not bad. But we’re gonna concentrate on the lyrical content for the remainder. Now our narrator (god) is stepping into Prince’s (Pussy’s) story. God represents freedom from record company “slavery”, an idea he runs with in the years that follow this album. When I think about it, it’s almost as though the narrator is the NPG personified. Freedom is a player in the sense that “he” gets around (slut!). And when he rolls up to Pussy she has her entourage in tow – Michael B, Sonny T, Mr Hayes and Tommy Barbarella. The gender inversion has been extended to the rest of the band, although I’m not too sure if Tommy would be happy to be described as “weepy-eyed”. Freedom/god is letting Pussy/Prince know that he doesn’t need to be here playing this label/industry based game. If you come with me you’ll get the respect that you need as an artist and not be just a lucrative “body” of work that all the rich industry men can exploit (sold!). Now say it – Prince is in control.

 

Aaah, Pussy Control, oh
Aaah, Pussy Control, oh

And the moral of this motherfucker is
Ladies, make’em act like they know
U are, was, and always will be Pussy Control (Are U ready?)
Peace and be wild (Aaah, Pussy Control)

Say what, huh? (Oh)
Oh no, don’t U think about callin’ her a ho (Are U ready?)
U juvenile delinquent
Best sit your ass down
Talkin’ about Pussy Control
Huh, can U dig it?

Aaah, Pussy Control (Are U ready?)
Oh (Are U ready?)

Aaah, Pussy Control (Are U ready?)
Oh (Are U ready?)

If you haven’t guessed already, the moral of this story (which wasn’t quite over) is that artists (i.e. “ladies”) need to be free and get away from the slavery and prostitution of the music industry (sisters are doin’ it for themselves!). Prince came out very recently (August 2015) urging new artists not to sign with labels and comparing record label deals to “slavery”. Slightly hyperbolic and a little disrespectful to actual slaves (past and present) but that’s our Prince. Record contracts may be shitty deals for some but trying to make it in the entertainment business without some sort of backing is almost impossible. And it certainly worked for Prince’s career during the 80s. But this song is coming straight out of the 90s and by now he is well past being a “ho” for the record label. He can pimp himself out. That is why this track is the opening track of this album. That is the statement that he is making. The song finishes and then the album properly begins. “Welcome to the dawn”, says the NPG operator. This is a new day and this is a new artist. But really it’s the same dude. On the same record label. And whatever sematic tricks he tried to pull with his name change he still had to see out his contract and put out Chaos and Disorder.

The album as a concept is all about the new age digital experience and links in with what came earlier during The Beautiful Experience (album and TV special) and incorporates the leftovers from The Gold Album and Glam Slam Ulysses. This song specifically is about the new direction that Prince is trying to take (trying real hard). New name, new label, new direction, New Power Generation. He’s telling us that god/freedom/the NPG is allowing Prince/Pussy to finally wrestle complete control of his artistic future and the Spanish lady is the angel herald telling us all through the album the real message that he is trying to get out at the beginning of “P Control” and “We March” and at the end of “Endorphinmachine”. After “We March”, the NPG operator’s first words are “Welcome to the dawn” and then we hear “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”. This is where the album really begins and everything else has been prologue. The angel is no longer heard after this point but the NPG operator continues to help us on our journey through the new digital landscape. NPG will show us the way. That’s the message of this song and the album as a whole. That’s why this “weird” song opens this album. Just to be doubly sure, let’s put all the Spanish Angel’s words together:

 

Nuestra presentacion especial comenzara en breve
Pero antes un mensaje de nuestros auspiciadores
Prince esta muerto

Prince esta muerto

Que viva para siempre el Poder de la Nueva Generacion
Uno para todos, y todos para uno

 

Our special presentation will start shortly

But first a message from our sponsors

Prince is dead

Prince is dead

Long live the New Power Generation

One 4 all and all 4 one

 

Welcome to the dawn.
Running time: 5:59

 

References:

The Gold Experience

Chaos and Disorder

Come

AZ Lyrics

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

Peach and Black Podcast

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