The lady who recorded this week’s suggested song had a tough start to her career. As a session percussionist she was blatantly fired for allegedly being no good and got fed up, so returned to the job she did previously but was still writing songs which she believed in and so gave it another go. Sophie B. Hawkins was certainly more successful, but was still lied to by music industry people but soldiered on regardless. Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover has been referred to as a LGBTQ+ anthem which Sophie is aware of and said, “I’m glad, but it goes deeper than sexuality and gender, it’s about human issues, and over 30 years later, the meaning is still changing as society evolves.” let’s delve deeper.
When this song came out in 1992, millions of people had no idea that she was singing about a same-sex relationship and some of the ones that did were offended but the LGBT audience loved it. It was the same year that Hawkins ‘came out’ and declared she was ‘omnisexual’. She explained in an interview with People magazine this year, “I took omni and I took sexual and I put them together, and I said, ‘This represents me,'” She recalls explaining to a male journalist, “My sexuality is not based on my gender, and it’s not defined by your gender.'” She continued, “At the time, it was a very new concept, to be attracted to someone outside of their gender. People did not pick up on it, and they just said, ‘Ah, you’re gay. You’re gay. You’re gay.'”
Hawkins was born in New York in 1964 and post school attended the Manhattan School of Music and after meeting with the Nigerian drummer Michael Babatunde Olatunji she was inspired to take up percussion. Olatunji is best remembered as the writer and originator of the song Jingo which was a club hit in 1979 for Candido and a pop hit for Jellybean in 1987, but Olatunji recorded it in 1968 under the title Gin-Go-Lo-Ba (Jin-Go-Low-Bah) (Drums Of Passion). She landed a job, albeit briefly, playing marimbas with Roxy Music, but, as she told Dave Simpson, “I was Bryan Ferry’s percussionist but got fired after two weeks. He very nicely said, “You can’t play the Cuban congas as well as so-and-so who’s coming in to replace you.” I wore dresses then and was trying to be someone else, but after being fired I thought, ‘Screw it. I’m going to be myself.’ I went back to waitressing but was still writing songs. One night, playing some chords, my hand slipped to the G. It sounded so melancholy and suited my mood. The lyrics started to come. The first line – ‘That old dog has chained you up all night’ – was triggered by events in my childhood and the people I was hanging out with. Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover really is my life story.”
Long before it took shape as a song back in 1989, she recalled to Jim Beviglia in American Songwriter in 2020, “I started writing the lyrics on my wall, I didn’t know they were lyrics. They were just things on the wall. And I played those piano chords with the G as the base which was a mistake, of course, because the best things happen from mistakes. I was so tired from playing over and over again that my hand didn’t move from the G chord, and it was just so beautiful, the A and D over a G, and I had never heard it before. I thought that was really something big. It was this feeling inside of me – something big is about to happen to you, Sophie and it was the first big thing that had ever happened in my life, because I had never had that feeling before. Because I was a total loser, D student, nothing ever really happened the way I wanted it to happen. I thought, ‘Something is coming out of you that you know is in there. And if you can just get it out, if you can just be here, this will happen.'”
It was when she was waitressing, that she made the first demo on an old reel-to-reel tape recorder. When she wasn’t waitressing she would work in the cloakroom and it was whilst doing that job, she decided to hand out cassette copies to anyone who might be interested. According to Songfacts, “One went to Marc Cohn, who told her she was probably a good singer because she had a nice speaking voice. One of her tapes landed at JSM Music, where the keyboard player Ralph Schuckett heard it. He worked with her to clean up the demo and helped land her a deal at Columbia Records.”
As she continued shaping the song, she had the idea of changing the emphasis in the chorus, she continued to Jim Beviglia, “I remember playing with the chorus and it wasn’t DAMN! It was more like a soft and soulful Damn, I wish I was your lover. When you listen to it, there is a low voice that is actually the melody. And I loved it but I thought that no one is going to see this as a chorus.” That’s when she had the idea to shout the word ‘Damn’ really emphasising what she was feeling and what she wanted. “I wasn’t in any relationship that was as sophisticated as the song, but I did have someone specific in mind. I had been triggered by a lot of emotional events to bring the song out of me. There are times when you write a song and you think that it’s OK and it’s fun to play, people like it, whatever. But then there are the times when a song comes out where you feel like it’s almost ugly. It’s almost excruciatingly uncomfortable to listen to but yet you’re compelled. Those are the good songs.” She had never revealed the identity of that specific person. “I feel strongly that the most meaningful teachings come from our child self somewhere back in time when we couldn’t express these incredible feelings,” she explained to Songfacts. “When we finally start developing as artists we find a way to express them. So, Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover truly is my anthem and I’m learning things about it all the time. Only as I grow do I grow into knowing why I wrote it. And so, while I want to say maybe somebody triggered the song, that person is irrelevant and long-forgotten.”
The song featured on her 1992 debut Tongues And Tails, but she didn’t think it going to be a single because she thought it was too personal, “I thought it was cumbersome,” she declared. “It was so real for me and so me. But I also thought it was so layered. I mean, ‘That old dog has chained you up all right.’ I thought, ‘Who’s going to get that?’ But it turns out a lot of people got it on a lot of different levels.
Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover went to number 14 in the UK and a more respectable number five in the US. Her next hit, a cover of Bob Dylan’s I Want You, only just scraped into the UK top 50 then had to wait 18 months before we heard from her again, but when we did, it was worth the wait. Right Beside You went one place better in the UK but stiffed at 56 in America. She had two further hits, Don’t Don’t Tell Me No and the number 24 peak of As I Lay Me Down which was her last UK hit.
In 2007, Sophie, and in case you didn’t know, the ‘B’ stands for Ballantine, took a step into politics and animal rights and in support of Hilary Clinton for her presidential campaign she re-recorded the song as Damn, We Wish You Were President. Some 10 years later, she added her voice in support of an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention campaign.
In 2012, and after six years since her last album, she came back with The Crossing which failed to trouble the public and hence the chart listings and so another hiatus happened until her next album which was March 2023’s Free Myself, but that hasn’t brought her back to the public’s attention. Maybe the next one will in about 10 years from now.