On Episode 31 of the Press Rewind – Prince Lyrics Podcast, blogger Zachary Hoskins (princesongs.org) joins me to talk about the state of U.S. and Soviet Union relations in 1981, presidential assassination attempts, the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and Prince’s stab at political commentary on “Ronnie, Talk to Russia” from his Controversy album.
“Ronnie, talk to Russia before it’s too late“
A short burst of 60’s garage rock punk, “Ronnie, Talk to Russia,” is arguably the most overlooked track on the Controversy album. Why is that? Could it be the dated references to recently elected president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, which pins this song squarely down in the 1980s? Is it the reference to Russia as a potential threat in the escalation of the Cold War between the United States and the U.S.S.R., another very ’80s theme? Hmm, I don’t necessarily think that’s true, as the U.S. relationship with Russia is nearly as frosty in 2021 as it was 40 years prior, in 1981.
It could also be the fact that this was Prince taking another stab at making a political stance,. with mixed results. After the anti-draft/anti-war sentiment of “Partyup” and the societal complacency exhibited in “Sexuality,” “Ronnie” seems like the most overtly political song Prince had done to date. It’s brash. It’s bratty. And as my co-host for this episode, Zachary Hoskins said, it’s a bit silly too.
The sing-songy chorus, the sound effects (gunshots, explosions), and the brazen way that Prince warns Reagan that if he dies before he gets to meet him, “don’t say I didn’t warn ya.” Harsh words intended for a man that dodged an assassination attempt within the first couple of months of his presidency.
“Ronnie, Talk to Russia” is often forgotten because it’s the weakest song on an album filled with bangers, plain and simple. Controversy is stacked with dance-funk songs, sensual ballads, and eerie new-wave goth takes on late 20th-century social ills. With an album full of beloved classics, a song like “Ronnie, Talk to Russia,” which comes off as a less serious attempt at making a political statement than “Annie Christian,” is going to get left in the radioactive nuclear blast zone. Sorry, Ronnie.
The goal of each episode of Press Rewind is to:
- Take a track by track look at the lyrical content of Prince’s discography
- Discuss my own interpretation of each song’s lyrics along with any guest I may have
- If submitted, discuss listener’s interpretations of each song’s lyrics
Thank you for joining me on this journey through Prince’s catalog!