‘I’m glad people call it a lesbian anthem’: how Sophie B Hawkins made Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover

‘I was told we had to remake the video because it was too erotic. Many years later I found out the real reason was that I was dancing with a Black dancer’

Sophie B Hawkins, singer, songwriter

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 and coat-checking, 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.

The third verse – “Free your mind and you won’t feel ashamed” – is probably why people have called it a lesbian or LGBTQ+ anthem. I’m glad, but it goes deeper than sexuality and gender. It’s about human issues and, 35 years later, the meaning is still changing as society evolves.

I made a demo cassette in my bedroom but the feedback from friends wasn’t good. I knew they were crazy – and that it was a ginormous song. Finally, after two years, by which time I had 40 songs on my cassette, I played it to Ralph Schuckett, a keyboard player who later did the beautiful string arrangements on my first album. He was more receptive.

Ralph wanted me to remove the third verse, shorten the bridge and remove the word “damn”. I remember we had fights about this in his house in Brooklyn, but I won because I was young and confident. He cleaned the track up and got seven labels bidding for me. He’s not alive any more but really Ralph was responsible for my career.

On the demo, I sang in a low and a wispy voice, but in the studio they suggested I try belting it out. I said: “I can’t possibly belt out a C sharp!” But I did and have done it ever since. Radio stations in the American south didn’t want the word “damn”, but to Sony’s credit they went with it. My mother said, “I love ‘damn’ because it’s like you’re damned.” It reminded her of William Blake.

I was told the video was “too erotic”. I found it dreamlike and sensual, like the music. But we had to make another. Many years later, I found out the real reason was that I was dancing with a black dancer. If I’d known that back then, I’d have done more scenes with him.

Eric Bazilian, guitar

I was in a uni band with Rick Chertoff, who wisely decided that he would be a better producer than a drummer. He produced my band the Hooters and had a knack for finding songs. He found Mandy for Barry Manilow and Girls Just Want to Have Fun for Cyndi Lauper. Cyndi thought it was misogynistic and swore she’d never sing it, but after Rick got me to programme the drum pattern from Come on Eileen and I played my guitar with a wah pedal, she loved it.

Eric Bazilian.
Eric Bazilian. Photograph: Andre Csillag/Shutterstock

It was Rick that got me to meet Sophie to see if we had any musical chemistry. We did. She was a very engaging performer, singer, woman, just oozing magnetism. We had a warm, fuzzy time in the studio together. Usually when I’m involved in a project, I’m in the trenches with every drum beat, bass part and keyboard part. With this I was just a hired hand to play guitar, which is fun. It’s just, “You like that? I’ll play it again. You don’t? I’ll try something else.”

When they hit the record button, I did the part in one take, right from the intro, but eventually they decided to bring the guitar in from the second verse, which was a good call. Sophie programmed the beats and played keyboards. Rick DiFonzo from the A’s played a 12-string guitar, but it lacked rock elements. So in the bridge, I played a rock riff. Rick went: “That sounds like Jimmy Page.”

We never discussed the LGBTQ+ aspect, but the song isn’t really gender or orientation specific. In years gone by, it would have just been taken as a great heterosexual anthem. I’m glad we’re now in times where these things are discussed more openly. It was such fun to do and I’m proud to have played on it.

  • Free Myself, Sophie B Hawkins’s first album in 11 years, is out now


Interviews by Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘I wanted to evoke a violent, sexual world’: how Suede made Animal Nitrate
‘When it went Top 10, the Radio 1 bigwigs got in touch and asked us what the song was about. They didn’t want another Frankie Goes to Hollywood moment’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

03, Jul, 2023 @1:06 PM

Article image
‘It was our response to glamour photos of Mel resurfacing’: how we made Mel & Kim’s Respectable
‘Our record company thought we’d be embarrassed by the pictures appearing in the tabloids. But we were streetwise girls. We had dealt with far worse than that’

Interviews by Henry Yates

21, Aug, 2023 @2:32 PM

Article image
‘Why don’t we just write the stupidest song ever?’ How the Darkness made I Believe in a Thing Called Love
‘The crab in the music video was a reference to when you’ve taken lots of cocaine and your eyes are on stalks. We’ve always had an affinity with sea creatures – we’re from Lowestoft’

Interviews by Ralph Jones

23, Jan, 2023 @2:24 PM

Article image
‘After gigs, we’d drop off our drummer to do his paper round’: how Inspiral Carpets made This Is How It Feels
‘Part of the song’s appeal was the sound of our Farfisa organ, which featured in everything we did. Our former roadie Noel Gallagher borrowed it for the last Oasis album’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

06, Mar, 2023 @2:44 PM

Article image
‘It made me a pop star – and I’m crap at being a pop star’: KT Tunstall on Suddenly I See
‘I looked at Patti Smith on the cover of her album Horses. There’s no makeup, no glam, no plastic surgery – she’s not a famous pop star with lots of money. And I thought, “That’s what I want to be”’

Interviews by Henry Yates

21, Nov, 2022 @2:57 PM

Article image
‘A song for heavy times’: Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips on Do You Realize??
‘People would tell us they’d played it when their mother was dying in hospital or their brother had been in a car accident. We didn’t know what to say’

Interviews by Ben Gilbert

24, Apr, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
‘It’s about disappointment – which everyone can relate to’: Shed Seven on Chasing Rainbows
‘We rush-released it for Christmas 1996 and it only got to No 17. But over the years it’s become the song people connect with most’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

19, Jun, 2023 @11:58 AM

Article image
‘I had to press the sampler button so much, my finger bled’ – Stereo MC’s on making Connected
The Nottingham duo behind the classic 1992 hit remember slamming into a dead end, clashing with their label – and finally finding the answer in their ‘ears and soul’

Interviews by Rich Pelley

31, Jul, 2023 @1:42 PM

Article image
‘Jo Whiley said we were laid-back – I thought “No!”’ How Hot Chip made Over and Over
‘We got our percussion instruments from the Early Learning Centre. The main hi-hat was made on a kids’ set of silver cymbals’

Interviews by Graeme Green

10, Jul, 2023 @12:06 PM

Article image
How we made Three Lions: David Baddiel and Ian Broudie on England’s Euro 96 anthem
‘I heard German fans singing it after they knocked England out. I had to resist throwing a TV out of the window’

David Baddiel and Rich Pelley

07, Jun, 2021 @1:47 PM