Ephemera, 1975-1976

I Spend My Time Loving You

If Prince was devoted to music during his school years, he became downright monastic after he graduated in early 1976, six months ahead of his scheduled time.

First, let me just take a moment to say: holy crap, this blog got a lot of views on Wednesday and Thursday. Call it the “Chaka Bump.” So, if you’re new–and you almost certainly are, because up until now the only people reading were a few friends and apparently Chaka Khan–the basic idea here is that I’m going through Prince’s entire recorded oeuvre (what we know of it, anyway) and writing about each track in depth. I’ll be doing this until I reach the end or until it literally kills me, whichever comes first. Obviously this is an idea I ripped off wholesale from Chris O’Leary’s long-running chronological David Bowie blog, Pushing Ahead of the Dame; in my defense, though, I’m pretty sure I’ve given myself more to write about than he did, so my tolerance for self-abuse should make up karmically for whatever I lack in originality and/or writing chops.

Anyway, it’s an auspicious time to increase my readership, because today’s post is our first on a bona fide Prince composition: another home recording from 1976 called “I Spend My Time Loving You.” But first, let’s talk a little bit about Prince’s high school years.

Prince in his sophomore year at Central High, 1974; photo stolen from the New York Daily News.

One of the running themes of this blog so far has been the uncanny level of dedication and drive manifested by Prince, even in his earliest years. Aside from a brief foray into junior varsity basketball–which he dropped after it became evident that he was too small in stature to make the starting lineup–the teenage Prince Rogers Nelson lived and breathed music. Stories abound of him using the music room of MinneapolisCentral High School as a private rehearsal space during lunch hour, or playing Maria Muldaur’s soft rock hit “Midnight at the Oasis” on his guitar in the hallways after class (Bream 1984).

Prince’s music teacher at the time, a former pianist for Ray Charles’ touring band named Jim Hamilton, remembered him not so much for his virtuosity as for his intense work ethic: “If he wanted to accomplish something, he would really work at it,” he told biographer Dave Hill. “If there was something he was going to practice, he would sit there for an hour or two hours, and he would not stop until it had been accomplished. I considered that his greatest asset” (Hill 16). That intensity extended to his tenure in Grand Central, which was far more serious than your typical high school band: “We was all too ambitious,” former Grand Central member William Doughty said to Hill. “We devoted everything to it. Half the time we didn’t even stay in school. Half the day in school, half the day in the basement” (20).

If Prince was devoted to music during his school years, however, he became downright monastic after he graduated in early 1976, six months ahead of his scheduled time. This, too, was in service of his craft: “He doubled up on his credits, and took them all at once,” his foster mother Bernadette Anderson recalled to Hill.  “You could get them by going to school say from eight till two. Well, he went from seven until four. He wanted to get done, because his entire goal was music” (Hill 69). In the Central High graduation program, Prince’s post-scholastic plans were listed simply as, “Employment–Music” (Bream 1984). And without the responsibilities of schoolwork or a conventional job, he threw himself headlong into his passion.

A moody Prince appears in the high school newspaper shortly before graduating in 1976; photo stolen from That Eric Alper.

As was typical of Prince when he spoke about his childhood, his recollection of this period could inspire both awe over his dedication and sadness over his squandered youth. “Once I got out of high school,” he told Barbara Graustark in 1981, “it was interesting for a while because I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have any school, and I didn’t have any dependents, I didn’t have any kids, or girlfriends, or anything. I had cut myself off totally from everything. And that’s when I really started writing. I was writing like three or four songs a day. And they were all really long” (Graustark 115).

I was writing three or four songs a day. And they were all really long.


“I Spend My Time Loving You,” one of the handful of songs from that era currently in circulation, is certainly “really long”–almost seven and a half minutes of meandering acoustic guitar and that already-arresting falsetto. It also isn’t especially good–or at least, it’s easy to see why Prince never worked on it any further after the initial recording. Structurally, it’s a bit of a muddle: just when the song seems about to latch onto a decent hook, it’s already started to drift away to the next melody; there are also entirely too many repetitions of the song’s refrain (yes, Prince, we get it, you spend your time loving us).

Still, “Spend My Time” isn’t without charm. It’s more conventionally soulful than many of Prince’s better-known (and just plain better) pieces: you can hear a lot of Chaka in his phrasing, and even some of Minnie Riperton in the wordless, high-register vocal runs near the end of the song (again, it’s noteworthy that Prince’s clearest vocal influences at this stage in his development were women). The opening lyrics, “I used to spend my time / Painting watercolor portraits of a long sunrise,” are so inimitably “Prince” that one wonders whether he somehow decided to nail down self-parody before establishing himself as an artist. As always, though, the potential embodied in the song is incredible. His singing and playing are both breathtakingly gorgeous; he just needed a more substantial vehicle to get them across.

Prince would write much better songs in the near future–some within months of “I Spend My Time Loving You.” But first, he had to work out some sexual tension. That’s where we’ll pick up next.

By Zachary Hoskins

Recovering academic. Music writing at Slant, Spectrum Culture, and elsewhere. I also do podcasts with my little sister as Dystopian Dance Party.

11 replies on “I Spend My Time Loving You”

He did make an acoustic cd in the Music Club version on his ONA cd set. It was the bonus for being a NPG Music Club member. That cd has one of the best versions of his take on Joni Mitchell’s “Case of You” I’ve ever heard.

It is a highly coveted box set.

The version that was sold in retail didn’t have the acoustic cd.

oh just read your bit Zach , I disagree I think the meandering around is part of its strength , I think its very charming and the lack of formal structure is a thread that prince keeps sewing with ..and hooray I say so much songwriting is so predictable ..

Where do you find these recordings? You must me a music insider or an extremely avid fam. I love Prince but can never get this close to precious early recordings such as this.

Definitely the latter! There was a bit of a renaissance in unreleased recordings showing up on sites like YouTube soon after Prince’s passing, but the estate has (understandably) cracked down on them. Hopefully this kind of stuff will get an official release in the future!

Mr Hoskins, I am grateful you have chosen to educate on Prince. This song is absolutely gorgeous.The melody is so compatible with the guitar rhythm. I do not think another 18 year old kid for 50 years anywhere could write a song like this mature and the fumbling u speak of is the brilliance, He’s spending all his time thinking of loving her. Remember daydreaming as a teenager when you had a serious crush.bthinking bout what to say and what she will say.Also,who was writing stuff like this in 1976.Maybe Mayfield or Phoebe Snow? The melody seems so fresh even now

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