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Music

The song which introduced Prince to America

Prince proved he could rock out with his debut For You, but on his second record – the self-titled Prince – he decided to use his formative experiences with his debut to write a yearning pop ballad, bringing the sensibilities of his pop career under one tidy banner.

Even if this song isn’t as rip-roaring or as exciting as the contents of his debut, it’s still a strangely beautiful track that made his name in the American stratosphere. And perhaps because it was so melodic, it made such an impact on the American contingent where truthfulness has always taken precedent over the rock-oriented fodder of the original album.

As it happens, the song ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ was reportedly inspired by Patrice Rushen, who worked on the first album, programming some of the synthesisers for the work. Prince was taken by her beauty, and although he attempted to court her, it didn’t lead to anything of great substance. He offered ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ and ‘I Feel For You’ to Rushen, although she declined the two songs.

As it happens, Prince recorded the song in falsetto, suggesting that he had a woman in mind when he wrote the song in the late 1970s. But under his sprightly hands, the song had another layer of ambiguity, creating a midway point between the sparkily pitched yelps of the Del Shannon era with the helium-induced frenzies of the Suede records from the 1990s.

Bolstered by the infectious chorus, Prince created a persona around the rousing song, which might explain why he described himself as 19 when he was interviewed by Dick Clark (the singer was 21 at the time.) Clark, a seasoned interviewer, was baffled at the artist, who responded with a series of one-word answers, each more direct than the one that came before it.

But Clark shouldn’t have taken it personally, because the artist had a barbed side to him that didn’t necessarily align to chat show performances. His work stemmed from the bravado, bravura and energy of his recorded output, as he put hours into layering every instrument.

He may have seemed glib to Clark, but there was nothing disingenuous about his vocal performances, which were fiery, tinged with a sense of palpable danger and demonstration. The singer was more than the presentation of his work, but rather was the embodiment of a great selection of emotions that he was willing to put to a pop backbeat.

If it was a success he was after, it did the job for him. It hit the number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 on January 26, 1980, opening him up to a mass market who were aching for a new countercultural voice to bring them out of the doldrums, and headfirst into the world of pop acceptance. The singer was good enough to showcase his soul, and through soul he moved into pop, plunging headfirst into a river of inspiration that ached for the world to follow him. And in many ways, it never did.