Each month, UK magazine The Wire invites someone in the music world to write about artwork from the inside of an album package which made a mark on them. Peanut Butter Wolf writes this month for "The Inner Sleeve" column about the poster included with Prince's Controversy LP.

Prince – Controversy poster
Warner Bros, 1981
Photography by Al Beaulieu

Winter of 1981. Capitol Square Mall. San
Jose, California. Any given Saturday. Donkey
Kong, baseball cards, Whopper Jr, Jelly
Bellies and 45s. Lunch money was saved
throughout the week and by the weekend,
I'd have around $10 to ration between all
the above. I'd usually buy a few 45s every
Saturday, but holidays afforded me either a
12" single or album or two. One of the first
albums I remember getting was during that
Christmas. I was 11. I also remember getting
in trouble afterwards. I didn't get in trouble
listening to "Do Me Baby", where Prince
basically spends the final three minutes
orgasming. I knew better than to play that
one in front of my parents. Didn't get in
trouble listening to "Sexuality". 1 knew the
word sex, so listened to that one alone too.
And luckily it wasn't "Jack U Off" cuz I didn't
know what that meant and probably would've
listened to it in front of my parents.

No. I got in trouble for listening to the
title track, "Controversy". Not because of
the lyrics which acknowledged the people
who questioned whether he was black
or white (years before MJ broached the
subject) or straight or gay (years before
MJ avoided the subject), but because
he recited the Our Father in its entirety
midway through, in a voice which sounded
like a group of lifeless robots in church.
My mom said, "You're not allowed to listen
to that because it's sacrilegious." I didn't
even know what that word meant, but I did
remember that the Second Commandment
was to not take the Lord's name in vain and
the Fourth was to honour your mother and
father. To listen to this song after she
said no would be doubly sinful. My mom let
me be with my music for the most part,
but as a practising Catholic, there was no
escaping that one.

I don't think I got caught while listening
to it. It was after the fact: I wrote the lyrics
down and my mom found the paper in my
room. But regardless, I was banned from
that song, like The Cure's "Killing An Arab"
was banned from American radio after 9/11.
A few years later Tipper Gore punished
her daughter for listening to Prince's
"Darling Nikki" ("I met her in a hotel lobby
masturbating with a magazine') and
introduced the Parental Advisory stickers
on records with explicit lyrics, which
only led to more sales of albums as kids
started to look out for the coveted sticker.
But I digress.

So the year was 1981 and although I
got in trouble for listening to Controversy,
I didn't get in trouble for the poster that
came inside the record. I had no idea what
I was in for when I unfolded it. But as soon
as I did, my first instinct was to fold it
back up and hide it in the sleeve. There
wasn't even a sticker mentioning it on the
shrinkwrap (although some versions had
a 'free poster' sticker). It scared me as a
boy. I wasn't expecting to see my hero
in the shower wearing a thong with Jesus
on the cross behind him. But I didn't
wanna throw it away cuz I felt like it was
some secret artefact that I wasn't
supposed to have. Years before Madonna
caused controversy with her Playboy
shoot (1985), "Like A Prayer" (1989) and
Sex (1992), Prince did it all in one shot with
this poster. It was like Sinead O'Connor,
Nas/Puffy and Janet Jackson all rolled up
in one. Sex and religion: the two dominant
themes of the album. I wasn't gonna hang
the poster on my wall or really ever wanna
look at it again, except to show it off to
my friends for awkward laughs. It was
extremely homoerotic. Yet years later it
was the inspiration for my alter ego Folerio.

A picture is worth a thousand words
and this one summed up the album more
than its outer cover. (I'm guessing it was
probably taken with the intention of
being the album cover.) Sure, Lou Reed,
David Bowie and others before him had
already proved that androgyny was cool,
but Prince took it somewhere else.
And unlike the Parental Advisory situation
with Purple Rain, he never got in trouble
for the poster either. I still have it today,
tucked away in storage along with all
my homework assignments, school pictures,
unmixed mix tapes and baseball cards
from 1981.

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