“I Wanna Be Your Lover” – Prince (1979)

The lead single and opening track from Prince’s eponymous second album. Released on 19 October 1979 by Warner Brothers the album went platinum in February the following year. It’s the album that put young Prince on the map as a pop artist. The album with his first successful single, “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. And it’s the one with our hero naked on the front cover and riding Pegasus on the back cover (in the nude of course). If you’ve ever seen any ancient Greek or Roman portraiture you’ll probably notice some similarities with the shot on the front cover of this record. Eyes looking straight at the camera, shoulders angled slightly, shot cropped just above the nipples (or just under the shoulders) and sometimes naked (sometimes not). No smile. In Greek art warriors or heroes (or gods) were often depicted naked and almost always they were young, buff men and teenagers. The naked male form was the pinnacle of perfection and athleticism (Greeks tended to compete in the nude) and nudity has figured prominently in Western art ever since. Prince has taken these ideas and inserted himself as the new ideal. The album “concept” is credited to Prince so clearly this is his vision and how he wants to be seen; a new hero for a new age riding in on his winged steed.

 

Pegasus was the son of the god Poseidon and the gorgon Medusa and he is one of the best known figures from ancient Greek mythology. It’s said that he and his brother (Chrysaor) were born when Perseus cut off Medusa’s head and they sprang from the wound. Pegasus was eventually tamed and bridled by the hero Bellerophon. Some of you may be yelling at your screen now saying “It was Perseus that tamed the winged steed you fool!” But if you’ve bothered to check Wikipedia you’d know that this idea was a later development where Bellerophon was replaced with the more popular Perseus. An idea that became the standard through the Middle Ages and Renaissance but originally it was Bellerophon. So it’s quite possible that Prince thought he was imitating Perseus on this cover and the Prince/Perseus/Pegasus alliteration kind of hints at the idea. Regardless we are left with the concept of our hero riding into adventure on the back of his flying horse. Bellerophon was the son of the king of Corinth (a prince!) who used Pegasus (son of a god) to help him kill the Chimera (a cross between a goat, a lion and a serpent) and partake in lots of other adventures, including fighting the Amazons.

 

Prince/Bellerophon is the hero in our tale and this son of a king is being carried by the son of a god into battle. Knowing what we know about Prince’s beliefs and philosophy I think we can pretty easily throw a Christian lens over this interpretation and assume that Pegasus represents Jesus (pure and white). Now our Prince isn’t exactly the warrior type. His battles are battles of the heart. If you look at the track list on this album then it’s pretty clear that this is his focus. It’s all about love, romance and heart break. The Chimera that he is fighting is the monster that guards the way to his lover’s heart through all the tracks on this album (“Bambi” even echoes Bellerophon’s battle against the Amazon warrior women). These songs represent the trials and tribulations of our hero and show us his true nature. This is why the album is self-titled; why he’s naked on the cover. There’s no filter on his emotions. The album fluctuates between love and heartache and the opening track is the perfect representation of that dichotomy.

 

“I Wanna Be Your Lover” was recorded between April and June of 1979 at Alpha Studios in Burbank. Another one of Prince’s solo recordings that reached number 11 on the Billboard charts and got Prince a slot on the American Bandstand TV show. When I listen to the song it sounds like it’s trying to be a disco-funk song. Which makes sense given the artist and the era. Disco music is synonymous with the 1970s and Prince is synonymous with funk so the song represents two of the strongest musical influences floating around Prince’s head at the time. Wikipedia labels it as “post-disco” which was characterised by drum machines and synthesisers (if you listen closely to this song you may be able to hear something like that). It’s interesting too that on the album version more than half the song is instrumental with the lyrics dropping out after about two and a half minutes. A strange way to open an album but if you think about it as the start of our hero’s journey with his winged pony then this song would be the opening sequence of the movie version of the story. The lyrics help us set up the story in a kind of pre-credit sequence where the action has already begun and then the instrumental part is where the credits roll and we see the opening montage that shows us how our hero got where he is.

 

I ain’t got no money
I ain’t like those other guys you hang around
And it’s kinda funny
But they always seem to let you down
And I get discouraged
’cause I never see you anymore
And I need your love, babe yeah
That’s all I’m living for, yeah


I didn’t wanna pressure you, baby
But all I ever wanted to do

 
 
After spending almost the entire budget that the record company had given him for his first three albums on For You, the opening line is very probably the literal truth. Even a musician with a record deal can often find themselves below the poverty line (especially if you like to party). Nowadays Prince has approximately zero money problems so there’s no way he could honestly write a song like this anymore (although he does still love to sing it) but funnily enough he’s still writing songs about heartache and wanting someone’s love. And he still isn’t like any other guy that you would likely be hanging around with. But back in 1979 Prince was a poor musician with only one fairly unsuccessful album under his belt and the guys that his lover is hanging around would seem to be rich Los Angelinos (Californian princes if you will) that no doubt stand in contrast to the upstanding citizenry of his home. Prince recorded this song (and the album) in Los Angeles which is a kingdom far from his own homeland of Minneapolis. Similarly, the story of Bellerophon begins with his exile from his homeland (a prince without a country) and arrival in another kingdom with nothing to his name. In this verse he’s talking about his longing for someone that he claims to love. It was a dark time for our young hero. Even though the object of his affection appears to have moved on with other guys it’s clear that Prince believes himself to be the morally superior choice in a lover because the others “always seem to let you down.” Which he finds discouraging; although when he delivers the line he drags out the word “discouraged” and puts a bit of a pause in there so it sounds like “I get dis,” implying that he understands why his love is doing what she does (I’m assuming it’s a she) but it still bums him out. He loves her, he misses her, she’s his everything and he didn’t really want to pressure her (but now he does). But what does she want? It doesn’t sound like he’s even considered that. All of these lyrics are about his wants and needs; which is fair enough to a degree because it is his song. But it doesn’t really consider the desires of the object of his affection; which is kind of what you’d expect from a twenty year old songwriter.
 
 

I wanna be your lover
I wanna be the only one that makes you come running
I wanna be your lover
I wanna turn you on, turn you out, all night long, make you shout
Oh, lover! Yeah
I wanna be the only one you come for

 
With the chorus we get another strategic pause – “I wanna be the only one that makes you come.” It’s clear at this point that when Prince is talking about loving, he’s actually talking about fucking. Based on the first verse you may have thought this song was about a young man’s unrequited love but once you hear the chorus you understand that it’s not really as clean cut and PG rated as all that. “Lover,” “love” and “loving” are all synonymous with sex. So in the first verse when he says “I need your love” he’s basically saying “I want your sex” or “I need to fuck you.” The pressure that he’s talking about now becomes something stronger as though he is forcing himself upon her with his desires even though she’s hanging out with a bunch of other guys. Thematically it’s almost the precursor to “When You Were Mine” with the same type of boy+girl+friends relationships going on. You could even go as far to suggest that the initial focus on lack of money hints at this person that Prince is singing about being a paid professional of some kind that he’s fallen for and that the guys she is hanging with aren’t like Prince because he can’t afford to pay her anymore now that his funds are running low. I did suggest the same thing when I wrote about “When You Were Mine” so I won’t go over old territory here. No sense in beating a dead hooker. Whoever she is (assuming it’s a she) it seems that he wants to help her orgasm; which is a fairly progressive stance to take in that he is focussed on ensuring that his partner is enjoying the experience and putting her needs first. It’s a step away from the self-centredness of the first verse and is almost the leitmotif of Prince’s entire career; reappearing on every album. Making sure your lady comes is what it’s all about. But he has to be the only one who does it because it’s all about the monogamy (another feature of Prince’s career). It’s funny how at the end of the chorus he blatantly talks about her coming but earlier he was being all coy and clever by inserting the pause between “come” and “running.” He’s gotten so horny that he can’t hold back anymore and comes right out and says what he means.

 

I wanna be your brother
I wanna be your mother and your sister, too
There ain’t no other
That can do the things that I’ll do to you
And I get discouraged
’cause you treat me just like a child
And they say I’m so shy, yeah
But with you I just go wild!

I didn’t wanna pressure you, baby. No!
But all I ever wanted to do

 

Is he talking incest here? Or is it his way of saying “I want to be your everything?” It seems like he wants to be the only one in his lover’s life. No “friends,” no “family,” just him. He wants to become her family (just not her father it seems). But she doesn’t even take him seriously. His puppy love is unrequited. He keeps bragging about being a great lover but he’s really just a shy kid that she has no interest in (until he can afford to pay perhaps?). This entire song is all braggadocio and testosterone. If this was a real conversation then the woman that he is talking to would very likely call him a disgusting creep and walk away. But as a pop song it works because you’re hearing it through the filter of the record player or radio so you don’t really think about how creepy it is because the guy saying these things isn’t right in front of you at the bar trying to get into your pants.
 


I wanna be your lover
I wanna be the only one that makes you come running
I wanna be your lover
I wanna turn you on, turn you out, all night long make you shout
Oh, lover! Yeah
I wanna be the only one you come for, yeah

 

One last chorus and then the song switches gears and goes all instrumental for about three and a half minutes. Even though the lyrics give us no indication that he was successful perhaps our hero is now too busy sexing his lady to keep singing for us or all the sex talk has made him too horny to continue and he went off to make himself “come running.” Either way the outro seems to have the kind of rhythm that would be conducive to some sexual activity (try it at home kids!) but essentially it is filler to add some more running time to the album. I imagine that Prince would have gotten some pressure from the powers that be or perhaps it was even self-imposed to make this album run longer than For You which only goes for about thirty three minutes.

 

So the first chapter in our hero’s journey comes to a close. Prince/Bellerophon and his mighty steed Jesus/Pegasus have had their first adventure into the dark and twisted realm of sex and romance. Prince’s first battle here is to try and convince the object of his desire that he is a worthy suitor; someone with the right moral standing, physical attributes and abilities to be her lover. His battleground is the bedroom and his competition is a bunch of rich guys that have seduced his lady. Has he succeeded? Has he failed? That remains to be seen. I guess we’ll need to listen to the rest of the album to find out if he gets the girl.

 

Bellerophon does eventually get the girl. He marries her and they have children. But Bellerophon’s ego got out of control and he thought that he was one of the gods so he tried to fly up to Mount Olympus on the back of Pegasus. Zeus made sure that he didn’t reach his goal and he ended up falling off the horse. After he landed he ended up living out the rest of his days a blind and cripple hermit. Will our hero Prince share the same fate? He certainly has had his fair share of ego over the years and perhaps his conversion to Jehovah’s Witness is the equivalent to Zeus knocking Bellerophon off his horse; which has crippled his song writing in the sense that he has limited his artistic vision by no longer using the bad words and naughty ideas of his youth. I don’t imagine that Prince has designed his entire career to mimic the Bellerophon story; however there does appear to be a clear ancient Greek influence on the artwork of this album. Which implies that at the time at least Prince saw himself as hero of sorts and worthy of his lover’s affections.

 

 

Running time: 5:50

 

References:
Prince (released 1979)
For You (released 1978)
The Peach & Black Podcast
Wikipedia
Prince Vault
AZ Lyrics
Prince Lyrics (http://www.princelyrics.co.uk/search/)
Prince In Print

Advertisements