Amidst the flood of music Prince recorded in the lead-up to his 1984 magnum opus, Purple Rain, “My Love Belongs to You” barely registers as a ripple. A rough-hewn, seven-minute-long instrumental, it isn’t even the most fully-realized track from its recording date: April 20, 1983, a 10-hour session at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles that also produced “Velvet Kitty Cat,” overdubs for “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come,” and multiple takes of another studio jam called “Sleazy.” But my mission, quixotic as it may be, is to chronicle every circulating studio recording by Prince; and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my almost five years (!) of doing this, it’s that every recording by Prince has something to say about his musical development.
So, what does “My Love” tell us? First, that Prince had a knack for making even his solo studio creations come alive with spontaneity. By all accounts, he played all of the instruments on the track himself, yet it still has the feel of a loose, live-in-the-studio jam session; the circulating recording even begins a little abruptly, as if the engineer started rolling tape after the jam was already underway. Rather than a robotic groove in search of a song, like the previous year’s “Colleen,” “My Love” sounds like the work of a group of players feeling each other out, with each individual part–rhythm and lead guitar, bass, and synth–adding its own personality to the mix. That each of these distinctive parts happens to be played by the same person calls to mind Prince’s own explanation of his “one-man band” studio process: as he told Chris Salewicz of NME, “I just play along with the other guy” (Salewicz 1981).
Second, “My Love” tells us that Prince was always generating and refining ideas, even when he appeared to be merely blowing off steam. Listen closely to the track, and you can hear a number of familiar hooks being tried out, refined, or elaborated upon. The bassline suggests “The Bird,” a song Prince had demoed for the Time (based on a hook by Jesse Johnson) a week earlier. The cowbell-heavy Linn LM-1 pattern would show up again on “Chocolate,” another Time track started the previous weekend and completed over the next two days. The jerky main synth hook sounds like a variation on “Possessed,” a groove Prince originally recorded in May 1982 during the sessions for 1999–and would, according to sessionographer Duane Tudahl, pull back out for overdubs the following month. Last, but certainly not least, the trilling rhythm guitar fill–itself an homage to James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”–would be mined to greater effect on “Kiss,” recorded a full two years later in April 1985.
If “My Love” has any lasting significance in Prince’s oeuvre, it’s in the way it diffused across these other–and, frankly, better–songs. Tudahl writes that no future references to the song could be found in either Prince’s own studio notes or in the Warner Bros. vault (Tudahl 2018 73). That it’s available at all for hardcore fans to hear is a happy accident of the right tape being leaked to the right person (or the wrong one, depending on your view of bootleggers). In 1983, Prince simply rolled tape, tried out a few licks, and kept moving; now, like him, we’re on to bigger and better things.