All I knew about “Erotic City” in 1984 was that it was funky and fun as hell. I had no idea what the word “erotic” meant, and I couldn’t make out most of the lyrics. I didn’t even know that Sheila E sang the chorus with Prince until years later.
Thirty-five (almost) years later, I am very familiar with the lyrics and the overall concept of “Erotic City”, but I still find it mostly funky and fun as hell. I mean, the song is about sex. Duh. 97.3% of all Prince songs are about sex. Not many of them are as joyful in their filthiness, though. At the end of the day, “fuck” is just a word and “sex” is just a thing. And what I loved about this iteration of Prince was that his sexuality felt so unforced and natural. So, the only thing shocking about “Erotic City” is how it makes my ass wiggle every time I hear it.
Prince was allegedly inspired to write “Erotic City” after seeing a Parliament/Funkadelic show in L.A. I wonder if the troupe was actually playing as P-Funk in those days since it was the height of George Clinton’s post-”Atomic Dog” solo career. You can certainly hear elements of P-Funk; the vocals are alternately sped up and slowed down, and there’s the whole liberated, joyful sexuality thing that was a hallmark of Clinton and all his offshoots. Mostly, though, the groove of “Erotic City” reminds me quite a bit of Laid Back’s “White Horse”. What a stone cold jam that is.
The single edit of “Erotic City” is OK, but in order to experience this song in all its amazingness, you must listen to the full version (which, sadly, is not on YouTube. Go buy the “Let’s Go Crazy” 12″). Call and response “whoa-whoa”s, Prince’s sped up voice cooing like a demented toddler in the background; it’s such an amazing experience, as all good long songs should be.
Will we ever uncover the mystery over whether we are fucking until the dawn or funking until the dawn? No. The guy that wrote the song isn’t here anymore to tell us (and he wouldn’t give us a straight answer, anyway). And I’m OK with the answer being either. Or both.