‘When You Were Mine’ – Dirty Mind (1980)

This is the second track from Prince’s third album – Dirty Mind. Initial tracking for the album (and this song) was recorded somewhere in May-June 1980 at Prince’s Lake Minnetonka home studio (along with the rest of the album). Whether he purified himself in the lake before (or after) recording is unknown. Final mixing and overdubs were done in LA in June 1980. The album was engineered by Jamie Starr, one of Prince’s aliases.

Dirty Mind was released by Warner Brothers in October 1980. That’s six months from initial recording to release. Not a bad effort if you ask me and released only a year after the previous album (Prince).

His output from this period of the early 80s was immense. Prince “fams” speak reverentially of “Prince’s Vault” and the treasures therein. This song is part of that legacy and if it hadn’t been released it would have definitely become one of those bootleg tracks that fams love to gush over (regardless of the sound quality).

This song and album come at a time of high productivity and creativity for Prince. With his own home studio he was able to record whenever he felt like it and luckily for all of us he felt like it often. Because of his home set up the sound quality on this album isn’t the greatest but as with so many things in life, sometimes just getting it done is more important than getting it perfect.

This album is where Prince started to take his music and lyrics (especially lyrics) in a new direction. More flamboyant, more risqué, more in line with what would come later. The road to Purple Rain starts here.

This track isn’t especially daring or freaky (compared to the rest of the album), although it does touch upon some “adult themes”. Yet somehow it is a standout track on this album. The host of the Peach & Black Podcast, M.C., described it as “one of his best pop songs ever”[1] and I’d have to agree. At its heart it is a break up song about a boy who loves a girl who no longer loves him. And judging by most of the lyrics, likely never did.

Musically it has that 50s/60s vibe to it (at least in my mind). Overall it’s not a huge musical departure from the previous two records. I’ve heard his first two albums described as “Stevie Wonder wannabe” and to be honest the music on this track doesn’t move too far away from that mould (not that Stevie is a 50s act – he signed with Motown in 1961 at age 11). I can even imagine The Beatles shaking their mop tops to this beat.

Prince grew up in the early to mid-70s and I feel like with this song he is tapping into the sounds of his childhood and the songs that he would have heard his parents and relatives listening to. Bear in mind that when he’s recording this song he’s only 22 so his childhood is not that long ago. But already he’s working on his third studio album (where he again writes, performs and produces almost all of the tracks) and has exponentially more experience in the studio and writing music than ever before.

When my wife heard me listening to this song on repeat in preparation to write this article she mentioned that it sounded like something that might fit onto the Grease soundtrack and I don’t really disagree with her, at least musically. It’s a kind of retro, funk, pop that is constructed so well in its simplicity that you can’t help but enjoy it.

In this song, the music is innocent and sweet and nostalgic but lyrically it’s dirty, angry, raw and emotional. This is something that Prince has done multiple times over his career where the feel and vibe of the music and melody is in total contrast to the lyrics that he’s singing. I think it works great here. It balances out the message with a funky/retro sound. And if you aren’t listening to the lyrics then it is an upbeat party track that makes you want to move and groove. Even if you do listen to the lyrics you’ll still likely end up tapping your feet.

I’ve heard Ani DiFranco do a live version of this song as a straight out ballad (with special guest Maceo Parker). In that form the song doubles down on the sadness and the slyness and cheekiness of the original is replaced with pain. Not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely not the same.

It opens up with the synth, some twangy clean guitar sounds, bass and drums thumping away in the background. Prince is playing all the instruments and singing all the vocal parts. It’s the whole one-man –band show that he became well known for.

There is an interesting little synth solo (2:08) where he comes in with a scream that is really cool but essentially it is just a really well constructed, basic pop song. Now when I say ‘basic’ I don’t mean to undermine it in any way, I just mean that there are a lot of good, uncomplicated elements that come together to form this catchy little pop song. To quote the Captain, it’s “amazing in its simplicity”[2].

After the solo there’s a breakdown that starts at about 2:20 (just vocals and guitar) which adds a cool little variation to the song too. This part goes over really well in concert and the crowd gets to sing along. And he likes to play this song a lot. Almost every tour it gets a run and it is always awesome.

This song was voted number 26 in the Peach & Black Podcast fan vote for all-time favourite Prince song, which is pretty good considering there are something like 500-plus officially released songs in the Prince catalogue (as at 01/08/2015).

A few Peach & Black quotes:

“Only a genius could have written such a simple pop song and make it sound so good”[3]

“You don’t have to be super tricky and technical if you can just write a decent song in the first place.”[4]

“Classic pentatonic pop song” [5]

“It’s never not great” [6]

“In Prince’s career (up to this point) this was by far the best pop song he had ever written and still one of the best since.”[7]

“Instantly listenable” [8]

Okay, so let’s get down to it. What is this song actually saying?

When you were mine
I gave you all of my money
Time after time
You done me wrong
It was just like a dream
You let all my friends come over and meet
And you were so strange
You didn’t have the decency
To change the sheets

 

“When you were mine”, that is to say, “when you belonged to me”. This is Prince starting off as the possessive ex-boyfriend. From the opening we know he’s talking about the past. This is not a song about what he wants to do or his dreams or his future. This is about the past. As the song progresses we come to learn that this was not a particularly happy past. And the present is not so pleasant either.

When you were mine, I owned you and I paid you for your services. But still “You done me wrong”. In fact, she let his friends (not just random guys/girls) come over and “meet”. Meet who or what, I wonder. With her? And what made her “strange”.

Two of the definitions for “strange” in the Urban Dictionary are:

A description commonly applied by male American, bachelors in the 50s and 60s to the anonymous mass of women whom they aspired to engage in casual sex with.

A clever, still slightly naughty, synonym for more profane terms like ‘pussy’ or ‘trim’.[9]

Given that this song seems to be thematically rooted in the 50s and 60s and clearly there is some sort of messy sex action happening here I’m going to assert that both definitions apply.

Now whether the casual sex we’re talking about her is recreational or more of a business venture is up for debate but I feel that the lyrics seem to infer that our man Prince has fallen for a prostitute.

A prostitute gets paid and if she has a lot of customers (all of Prince’s “friends”) then she likely wouldn’t have time to clean any sheets. I think referring to his fellow customers as friends is also an interesting lyrical turn. They definitely share common interests and what more could you ask from a friend.

Oh girl, when you were mine
I used to let you wear all my clothes
You were so fine (so fine)
Maybe that’s the reason
That it hurt me so

 

On the Genius website (genius.com) they refer to Prince’s diminutive size here as the driver for why he would let her wear all of his clothes. And yes, his clothes would likely fit her reasonably well. His fashion sense has always been fairly “feminised” which is no bad thing but the reason I think this line is here is because it ties into the next part.

You see, he lets her wear his clothes so that when he is looking at her she is reminding him of himself. And that is why she looks so fine. Because she looks like Prince and he is a narcissist and sees himself as the centre of the universe. Her body and the way she looks fits his frame so she can look “good” to him in his own clothing.

In the last half of the verse he is essentially admitting that the reason that he is suffering is not so much because he loves who she is as a person but it’s just that he really likes how she looks. Implying that if maybe she was just a little uglier it would be a little easier on his poor lonely penis heart.

I know (I know)
That you’re going with another guy
I don’t care (don’t care)
Cuz I love u, baby, that’s no lie
I love you more than I did
When you were mine

 

The chorus is where our hero starts to ramp up into crazy ex-boyfriend mode. He knows that she’s moved on. She’s got other clients and she doesn’t want to see him anymore because one would assume that he’s a little clingy and controlling. She’s moved on but he still loves her. In fact, he loves her more than he did when they were “together”. He wants her back because he can’t find anyone else (within his price range I imagine) who would fit into his outfits and look enough like him to turn him on. He loves her more now because he can’t have her.

For most normal people love grows when people spend time together, not when they’re apart. This lyric just highlights the dysfunction of our protagonist as someone who is moving beyond the socially acceptable parameters of male/female relations and standard sex work.

When you were mine
You were kinda sorta my best friend
So I was blind (so blind)
I let you fool around
I never cared (didn’t care)
I never was the kind to make a fuss
When he was there
Sleeping in between the two of us

 

When they were “together” they were “kinda” best friends? Sorta? If you have to pay your best friend what does it say about how well your life is going?

He says he “let” her fool around. As though she asked for permission and he gave it. This is just his deluded attempt to rationalise the fact that she is always going to be fucking some other guy/s. The fact that he focuses on a single “him” at the end of the verse confirms she has stopped fucking Prince at the same time as all of her other customers (which he interprets as her “fooling around”). The “him” that was between the two of them is not a literal person but rather a symbol of all the cocks that have come before and will continue to come after. That have pleasured her. That have asked her to be their fantasy (and not Prince’s).

I know (I know)
That you’re going with another guy
I don’t care (don’t care)
Cuz I love you, baby, that’s no lie
I love you more than I did
When you were mine

 

See above.

When you were mine
U were all I ever wanted to do
Now I spend my time
Following him whenever he’s with you

 

Now his obsession has gone into full stalker mode (achievement unlocked!). When she was accepting him as a client (when she was “his”), that’s all he wanted. She was an obsession. An addiction. But now. Now all he can do is follow her from a distance. But not all the time. He only follows her when she is with “him”. That is to say, he only stalks her when she’s working and she is with one of her customers.

Because he can’t handle the fact that she is fucking some other “lover”. He wants to own her. To possess her. To make her do what he wants.

And that is why she cut him off and he is no longer hers.

He’s too possessive and creepy and scary and weird.

I know (I know)
That you’re going with another guy
I don’t care (don’t care)
Cuz I love you, baby, that’s no lie
I love you more that I did
When you were mine
When you were mine, yeah, oh no
Love you, baby
Love you, baby
When you were mine

Repeat chorus, etc., fade to black.

Running time 3:47

So looking back on the lyrics and this interpretation it actually makes more sense that the music and the melody are so upbeat and cheerful. We can now understand that the music represents the manic and delusional mental state of our protagonist. His obsession with this women brings him a kind of joy which is symbolised in the twangy guitar work and happy rhythm section. But on top of that is that piercing synth, this is where the real world is trying to drive a dagger into his fantasy.

Recall that the synth solo starts up and becomes a piercing sound that is joined by a scream from our hero to match the same note. The real world (synth) is trying to break into Prince’s fantasy. But our hero is fighting back reality with his screams to continue to live in his dream world. The bass and drum rhythm changes underneath it all to indicate that something is happening. And then everything disappears apart from our narrator and the twangy guitar. Our hero was won. His fantasy continues.

He’s happy, he’s in love, and she is everything to him. But in reality he is a creepy stalker who fell in love with a prostitute that kind of looks like him when she wears his clothes.

References:

Dirty Mind (released 1980)

The Peach & Black Podcast

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

Urban Dictionary

The Hits – Songbook

AZ Lyrics

Mrs Thrawn

[1] “Dirty Mind Review” Peach & Black Podcast, 27/02/2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] ibid

[9] http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=strange

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2 thoughts on “‘When You Were Mine’ – Dirty Mind (1980)

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