Prince was not a fellow short of a muse. The little Purple One had scores of relationships to celebrate and lament the loss of in songs. During his time, he championed many more female musicians than his peers, which in theory remains highly creditable. To this day, women are still hugely underrepresented in many areas of the industry. However, a bit of judicious digging illuminates his motive switches between trailblazing hero and amoral benefactor, depending on who you speak to.
Donna Grantis from the all-female band 3RDEYEGIRL, who played with Prince on live shows and albums in the latter stage of his career, once explained: “I think the respect and support he showed us, and other female musicians speaks volumes about his outlook on equality and sexism.” Whereas Susan Rogers, the sound engineer who worked with him extensively, has a different view. “Obviously, he was a heterosexual man and enjoyed having beautiful women around,” Rogers says, “But he needed to be the alpha male to get done what he needed to get done.”
One such woman that he worked with was Patrice Rushden. The R&B star arrived at Prince’s studio to do some synthesiser programming work to help him craft the steamy atmosphere he was after on his records. As it happens, she created more than heat in a sonic sense. Even though Prince had been enthralled with Sheila E. at the time, to the point that he mentioned marriage at one of their first meetings, he declares on the liner notes that the track was in honour of Rushden.
Despite the sultry sound and unambiguous title, the regal guitar God claims that his aim was far more innocent on much of his work than many people would allow you to believe. “People hear the sex in my songs much more than I ever write it,” he once said. “If you listen to the words, you’ll see they’re about monogamy rather than promiscuous sex.”
Innocent or otherwise, the question that remains on everyone’s lips is: did he seduce his muse with the track? As it happens, he was more successful at seducing the record-buying public than Patrice Rushden with it. It turned out to be a break-out hit for the Purple One, rising to eleventh in the charts and number one in the R&B rankings. Rushden, however, was unresponsive to his aural performance and even snubbed his follow-up sonic seduction attempt by turning down his offering of ‘I Feel For You’.
Ironically, in ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’, he tells the tale of a lowly guy who might not be cash-rich or flashy, but he won’t let his lover down. And, eh, we all know what happens next. Despite never being involved with him romantically, Rushden joyfully watched his career rocket towards stardom after their track together, describing him as “one of the most influential musicians that I would probably call one of my peers.” And adding that it was “one of the last rare opportunities to really watch the rise of an artist, and when I say artists, I really mean somebody that really embodies the contemporary point of view, when you understand that level of art.”
So for Prince, it might have been a romantic proposal that fell flat, but in the realm of artistry and commercial success, it was a watershed moment that served as a springboard for further seductive hits. C’est la vie.