Prince Makes ‘Erotic City’ Come Alive
Prince created great music more often than some of us brush our teeth. This resulted in an incredible amount of unreleased material, and a treasure trove of B-sides (most of which are collected in 1993’s The Hits/The B-Sides compilation). 1984’s “Erotic City” (subtitled “make love not war Erotic City come alive”) is one of the most celebrated, arguably the most popular and surely one of the most controversial, of Prince’s “killer Bs”.
Released in the summer of 1984 as the flip to the wildly successful “Let’s Go Crazy," the sleazy funk of “Erotic City" served to extend an olive branch to fans who may have felt slighted by the A-side’s anthemic rock sound. Black radio took to the track like moths to a flame, and “Erotic City” got major airplay in dance clubs (joining its A-side at the top of Billboard’s Club Play chart) as well as Prince stronghold markets like Detroit.
Drawing inspiration from George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” (which Prince ostensibly saw a performance of when he caught Parliament-Funkadelic’s set at L.A.’s Beverley Center in 1983) and Laid Back’s “White Horse” (an enormous dance hit at the time), “Erotic City” contains a cacophony of voices; some sped-up, some slowed down, some belonging to Prince himself, some belonging to his latest protege, Bay Area percussionist and vocalist Sheila E. References to “creamy thighs” and “making love till cherry’s gone” make the song’s focus pretty clear...if the title “Erotic City” didn’t already spell it all out.
One thing that isn’t totally spelled out is exactly what Prince and Sheila are singing in the chorus. Most fans conclude that the infamous f-word is repeatedly used (“We can f--- until the dawn" and "f--- so pretty, you and me") while Sheila has indicated that the word used is “funk." Of course, in light of Prince and Sheila’s religious conversions later in life (and the fact that Prince was certainly not scared of the f-word during his heyday), it's more likely that the obscenity was the word of choice. The FCC would seem to agree, as it has levied fines against radio stations that have played an unedited version of “Erotic City”.
“Erotic City” has far outlived its B-side status. Prince revived it for 1996’s soundtrack to the Spike Lee film Girl 6. Dance clubs (to say nothing of strip clubs) still give the song major play, and there are plenty of pop, dance and hip-hop songs that either rip off “Erotic City”’s memorable synth hook or the song’s overall sleazy vibe. Furthermore, the song has been covered by a host of artists, including Berlin, Beck and Semisonic (perhaps paying tribute to their Minneapolis roots). Whether you think Prince is singing about f---kin’ or funkin’, there’s no doubt that “Erotic City” is a slinky, sleazy, danceable masterpiece.
Prince: 40 Years of Photographs, 1977-2016