Episode 20: When You Were Mine

On Episode 20 of the Press Rewind – Prince Lyrics Podcast, Jerry Bonner returns to discuss what the hell is going through Prince’s tortured mind on “When You Were Mine,” one of the most covered tracks on Prince’s Dirty Mind album.

“Now I spend my time following him whenever he’s with you.”

“When You Were Mine” is one of the most popular non-singles, along with “I Feel For You,” from Prince’s first few albums. This popularity can largely be attributed to the number of well-known covers (e.g., Cyndi Lauper, Mitch Ryder) combined with this song’s quality and its inclusion on Prince’s The Hits B-Sides collection from 1993. Speaking for myself, this is my favorite song on the album. Much of this has to do with the lyrical content. 

Prince spins a twisted tale of an unhappy relationship with his unfaithful partner over a poppy, new wave musical landscape. In the song’s context, sexual dynamics are heavily blurred, and Prince allows himself to be walked all over in an almost cuckold-type scenario. Throughout the song, it sounds like he’s hurting but wistful while still recognizing many of the problems in his relationship and the mistakes he made. The song is told from only one perspective, Prince’s, but boy does he make this beautiful woman out to sound like a real creep.

A list of transgressions that Prince had to put up with in his relationship:

  • Took his money
  • Had sex with his friends
  • Untidy (didn’t have the decency to change the sheets)
  • Raided his wardrobe
  • She fooled around (see point #2 above)
  • Brought other men into bed with them

“I love you more than I did when you were mine.” Does Prince really love her more, or does it just feel like that now that he can no longer have her? It’s a question that the song asks the listener but never answers.

A couple of lines in this song, combined with his Dirty Mind era wardrobe, caused people to second guess Prince’s sexuality at the time. The line “when he was there, sleeping in between the two of us” paints a picture of a polyamorous situation that he may not be sold on but also isn’t refusing to participate in. This line could also be a metaphor, referring to the fact that another man is sleeping with his woman, causing an emotional divide. He’s either literally or figuratively getting in between the two of them, and it sucks.

The other line that helped support the “Prince is bi-sexual” narrative that gained some traction at the time was the line “now I spend my time, following him whenever he’s with you.” Why does he make a point of saying he’s following him, not her? It’s a curious but brilliant lyrical choice that slaps you across the face when you hear it. It makes you even question whether Prince is obsessed with this woman at all and is instead obsessed with the man that has stolen her away from him. 

At this point, we just want to shake Prince to snap him out of whatever trance this fine-ass woman has over him. She clearly has very different ideas than he does, of what a monogamous relationship means. Prince mined heartache and emotional distress to create one of his most unforgettable album tracks.

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!

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