ARTO LINDSAY / “Erotic City”

I’ve long thought that the best way for an artist to cover a song (if there is one ‘best’ way to do anything regarding music) is as if they’ve never heard the original. With rare exception, a cover version that faithfully follows the text will commit the cardinal sin of being not necessarily bad, but boring. This is particularly true in pop music where virtuosity is usually secondary to style. A seeming corollary to the ‘play it like you’ve never heard it’ rule is: avoid songs already made famous by those who do have highly original and/or recognizable styles. The safe thing to do is find good songs by relatively bland artists — in other words, songs that were underperformed the first time around — then update, adapt or otherwise put an individual stamp on said song. I say it’s a ‘seeming’ corollary because, at the moment, I’m listening to Arto Lindsay’s version of Prince’s “Erotic City” for about the fourth consecutive time and I’m still trying to convince myself that it’s for real. The audacity, you know? prince 19_1.jpg I’ve heard other versions of “Erotic City” and I haven’t liked any of them. Prince’s uptempo records are idiosyncratic almost to the point of self-definition. Meaning, it can be difficult to separate the quirks from the man. Think about the original. It’s usually considered a duet between Sheila E. and Prince, but I maintain that it’s a trio performance. There’s Shelia E. playing Sheila E., there’s Prince playing Prince and then there’s Prince playing Prince The Girl (who, several years hence, would return in all ‘his’ high-pitched glory as the vindictive funk goddess Camille). There’s something about a guy trying to talk a chick into sleeping with him by pretending to be a chick himself that makes you sit up and take notes, like, does that actually work? To effectively cover “Erotic City” also requires one to navigate the oddly stilted language: “How I wish you were my dame.” My dame? Next he’s going to call her a ‘lass’ or a ‘pretty.’ And speaking of ‘pretty,’ I’m fairly certain that “Erotic City” is the only time a girl’s ever been propositioned with the promise of being fucked “so pretty.” In response to this goofy nonsense (and before Prince, who would’ve thought that women find goofy nonsense even remotely sexy), Sheila is simultaneously reticent (she offers to “make some time” instead of babies) and enthusiastic (“we can fuck until the dawn”). None of it makes sense, except in a Prince kind of way, which is why I’m (a) not at all surprised that every previous attempt to cover “Erotic City” ended badly, and (b) very surprised that Arto Lindsay found a way to do it right. arto 01.jpg First things first, Arto ditched the bassline. That’s the best first step he could’ve taken because, musically at least, the bassline is the key to the record. If you were trying to get someone who couldn’t remember “Erotic City” to recall what it sounds like, you’d probably say, “The one with the beat like ‘BUUUUUM BUM-BUM, BUUUUUM BUM-BUM.’” And they’d go, “Oh! Right! ‘Erotic City.’” Arto got rid of that. In its place, he substituted a dark jumble of notes so boomy and indistinct that they sound like a car stereo subwoofer after the rest of the system conks out. He lets that amorphous mess ride for a couple bars, then starts talk/singing Prince’s lyrics: “All my purple life / I’ve being looking for a flame….” There’s no Regular Arto v. Girl Arto and he didn’t bring in anyone to do Sheila’s parts. It’s just Arto by himself and he’s playing it straight. Prince’s record is ostensibly on some sexual/spiritual/metaphysical vibe, whereas Arto is singing about this girl he really likes. I’m not saying Arto just wants to be friends – there’s no doubt he’s hoping to talk her into bed at some point too – but the two versions are like fucking vs. flirting, world’s apart.

* * *
There’s a moment near the end of Arto’s version when he says, or murmurs or whatever, “All my hang-ups are gone / How I wish you felt the same.” Given the inherent implication of a comment like that, it’s safe to conclude that the moment in question is a post-coital one, which, I’m forced to admit, does do significant damage to my whole ‘just flirting’ theory. But that wasn’t my point anyway. What I’m thinking about is the (unintentional?) ambiguity in the line. Arto says he wishes his girl felt the same. About what though? Does he wish she felt that they’ve fucked away her hang-ups, or his? I’m guessing his, but I like that I can’t be sure. You know what else? I just noticed that Prince’s song, technically speaking, isn’t about fucking anymore than Arto’s is about flirting. Check it: in the ad-libbed outro, Prince tells Sheila, “Come on and dance while you still have your cherry, baby.” And Sheila answers, one more time, “We could fuck until the dawn / Making love ‘til cherry’s gone.” Could. Hmm. So Prince’s “Erotic City” is a nasty song about the possibility of having sex whereas Arto’s “Erotic City” is much tamer song about actually having sex? For what its worth, the part about hang-ups is something Arto added.* (Unless I missed something in the Prince/Sheila E. version.) Arto changed some of the words too, mostly because he had to. The whole Victorian thing wasn’t going to fly, so he’s looking for a ‘flame,’ not a ‘dame.’ And instead of promising to “fuck so pretty, you and me,” Arto is having “thoughts of pretty you and me.” I don’t think Arto was concerned about either language or coming on too strong, he just realized conventionality (relatively speaking) was the way to go. Prince’s exact words coming from Arto’s mouth would sound either precious (in the case of “dame”) or lascivious (all the “fucking” parts), while coming from Prince they sound goofy and nonsensical, respectively, and, as I mentioned earlier. The pseudo-caixa drum breaks are an excellent touch too, as is the choice to hold back the acoustic guitar and congas until the song is half-over. Arto’s not as unflappable as Prince, but he’s nowhere close to nervous either. The song has to end at some point, and at five minutes, it does. You get the feeling though, that Arto, like Prince, probably stopped before he was actually done.
* * *
Arto Lindsay’s version of “Erotic City” is from his 1996 CD Mundo Civilizado. The Prince original was first released as a b-side to the 1984 “Let’s Go Crazy” single and is long out of print. Currently, the only way to get the long version is on an overpriced import CD single. The short version is on the 3-CD The Hits/The B-Sides compilation. … Word to the wise: despite’s track listing to the contrary, “Erotic City” is not on the 2-CD set The Ultimate Prince. Supposedly, Prince (playing Prince The Jehovah’s Witness) requested that Warner Bros remove “Erotic City” due to ‘bad’ language. Warner Bros complied but never got around to changing the track listing. —Mtume ya Salaam * Whoops. That line is in the original too. I could've rewritten all this, but....           What the #*%&%^! is this?!           OK. So waaaaay back… Folks, welcome to the Salaam divide. Over in the classic section you read Mtume’s reaction to the MJQ. Over in the classic section, if you substitute Prince/Lindsay for MJQ, you also read Kalamu’s reaction to both Prince and Lindsay’s cover of Prince. Mtume took the words out of my mouth, except I never bought a Lindsay album so I didn’t have one to return. That’s all I have to say, all that I feel like saying in reaction to this, this, ah, music (of sorts). —Kalamu ya Salaam  

This entry was posted on Sunday, June 24th, 2007 at 3:35 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “ARTO LINDSAY / “Erotic City””

Jarvis Says:
June 24th, 2007 at 9:32 am

"Every time I comb my hair thoughts of you get in my eyes." I love that line! Here it is Sunday morning, I’m about to head out to church and I’ve got "Erotic City" stuck in my head. Thanks a lot, Mtume!

Seriously, I’ve always liked the song (though can’t say I’m feeling the cover) but one of the great mysteries to is how the hell did Prince manage to get that song played on the radio? I’m not making that up, am I? Didn’t it play uncensored on radio stations. It was the early 80s before I had the equipment or money for purchased music, and I didn’t buy any Prince till college, so I’d have had to heard it over the airways. One theory I heard, and maybe Mtume you have an opinion on its validity, is that when the FCC folks complained, Prince told them the word was "funk," as in "we can funk until the dawn" and they relented. I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.

Anyway, I’ve always liked it for those reasons you say you did: its audacity, its rather stilted language, its comedy and for lines like the one I started with: "thoughts of you get in my eyes."

       Mtume says:      

I wouldn’t say Prince "managed" to get it on the radio. Actually, I doubt that either Prince or Warner Bros ever considered the possibility. Prince often laced his b-sides with songs that (presumably) wouldn’t get played over the air. The Prince/WB camp must’ve been as surprised as everyone else when "Erotic City" started getting airplay.

And yes, I do remember the whole ‘funk’ / ‘fuck’ debate. Today, I’m not sure how there was even a debate – they’re definitely saying ‘fuck.’ Although back in the day when the song came out, I had my doubts. Of course, I was thirteen, so I have an excuse. Not sure what excuse the DJs were coming up with, but I’m glad they did it. I first heard "Erotic City" on the radio too. 

C. Liegh McInnis Says:
June 24th, 2007 at 5:07 pm

Usually Mtume gets it right…in fact I say about Mtume what Prince said about The Time after they (he) broke them up…"To be quite honest…they were the only band that I was afraid of" (1985). So, Mtume is usually one of the few people, serious writers, who seems to have a clue. And I’m speaking from just finishing the 3rd edition of The Lyrics of Prince and reading miles of interviews and reviews of cats who get paid to write shit that ain’t about shit. But, I digress.

I may be mis-reading Mtume’s thoughts, but when he states "Prince’s record is ostensibly on some sexual/spiritual/metaphysical vibe," I thought, yes, again, Mtume gets it. But there seems to be even a line that he is unable to cross–the line that for Prince sexuality and spirituality are all the same trip, are from the same place–that the physical orgasm is a metaphor for a spiritual orgasm, which is why I argue that on all of the so-called "sex" songs from For You (1978) to Purple Rain (1984) that the songs about sex are about using sex to study or as a barometer for man’s neurosis. Even as late as 1990, Prince could pen a song for Mavis Staples that says “God is coming like a dog in heat. He’s looking for soldiers with strong feet.” The only songs between 1978 and 1984 that are about sex for physical gratification are “Soft and Wet” and “Delirious.” Check the lyric to "International Lover." The sex that happens is a reaction to loneliness, not physical desire or attraction. And this gets us to "Erotic City."

"All of my purple life, I’ve been looking for a dame that would wanna be my wife. That was my intention main." Of course nobody remembers this line because we all remember "We can fuck until the dawn." The "hang-ups" that the male wishes that the female would lose are the same hang-ups that Prince is trying to lose in "If I Was Your Girlfriend" or in "Sexuality." The hang-ups about what one can do or be sexuality, especially in relation to being spiritual, which is indicated by his desire to marry, "that would wanna be my wife." Or as Prince states in “When 2 R n Love” “When 2 R in love they whisper secrets only they 2 can hear… Let’s kiss with one synonymous notion that nothing’s forbidden and nothing’s taboo.” For Prince, uptight people have uptight sex. Thus, liberated people have liberated sex. To study the perverseness of mankind, we only need look at humanity’s notions of sex. So, the failing of the cover presented here is the same failing of all Prince covers; the artists either don’t believe in Prince’s message or aren’t willing to take the risk of articulating Prince’s message. The same holds true for TLC’s version of "If I Was Your Girlfriend," which Prince’s former road manager, Alan Leeds (also former road manager for James Brown) cites as the reason why Sign ‘O’ the Times stalled because most would not consider that Prince was being metaphoric. Therefore, there was no way that TLC was going to do a song called "If I Was Your Boyfriend," not in this Hip Hop controlled world. And musically that’s the divide. Millions love Prince’s music but not his messages or physical imagery. Or if they do love his message, it is because they think that his message is solely let’s fuck ourselves silly, which is what happens when video and the accountants who run the record business demand that we no longer think critically about popular music. (And I’m not going to run from the fact that Prince’ dandyism isn’t as much about selling units as it is about socio-political statement because popular art, unlike fine art and folk art, must balance the requirements of commentary versus selling units. But one’s desire to sell records does not discount one’s ability to make commentary. Just because we don’t like the message does not invalidate that there is a message.) Hell, I guess now it is illegal to think. George did try to warn us that this day was coming. However, to try and divorce Prince’s message from his music and imagery is like trying to put Malcolm X in a t-shirt and blue jeans. (And I won’t have a discussion about dandyism even though all artists and true revolutionaries cannot escape being dandies.)

So we have another Prince cover by someone who does what cooperate America does to black art–co-opt the pleasing sounds or style, while rejecting the socio-political matrix and message that created the sounds and style. This is why black music and poetry can market cars and hamburgers but do nothing to change the socio-political condition that created the art. Only those artists who are unafraid of Prince’s message or are secure in themselves have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting it right, of taking the song to another place. The rest…well…you heard it.


      Mtume says:      

I have two problems with what you’re saying C. Leigh. First, you say "the artists either don’t believe in Prince’s message or aren’t willing to take the risk of articulating Prince’s message." You set that up as an either/or, but there’s actually another much more likely possibility. That is, Prince’s message is so cloaked in metaphor and symbolism that the artists in question either don’t or plain can’t understand it. If you don’t realize that there’s something you’re missing, you don’t believe in it or not believe in it, you just don’t know.

The truth is, Prince intentionally wrote many of his songs so that they could be taken at face value. And then, even going past face value, there are other interpretations that appear to be valid but that still don’t go as far as you go. I’m not saying you’re wrong about anything you’re saying, but I do think your expectations are way too high. There’s just no way the average fan or artist will be perceptive enough or listen closely enough to come up with similar conclusions on their own. The cryptic style of Prince’s lyrics is completely intentional. If others don’t solve the riddle, how does it make sense to indict them as "rejecting" his message or being "afraid" of it? Maybe they just aren’t as willing or able to figure out the hidden meaning.

The other problem I have with what you’re saying is, millions of people like Prince’s music because it sounds good and because he talks about love, relationships and sex in unusual and provocative ways. They don’t have psychology degrees, they aren’t music fanboys like us and they don’t have the time and/or energy to sit around dissecting lyrics. They like it to whatever extent they like it and that’s that. Again, I don’t think it makes sense to write all of them off as rejecting Prince’s message or misinterpreting is as "let’s fuck ourselves silly." There is a vast middle ground of people who like Prince because he talks about familiar subjects in unfamiliar ways and he does it all with catchy hooks, interesting instrumentation and advanced musicianship. Maybe that don’t "get" the full depth of Prince’s intentions, but I say, so what. If they dig it, they dig it.


C. Liegh McInnis Says:
June 25th, 2007 at 11:16 pm

Mtume, you are absolutely right about Prince’s cryptic style creating the possibility for various meanings and about the “middle-ground” folks who like his work for their various reasons, and maybe I do indict them along with the so-called music journalist who cloak their vendetta against Prince as music journalism. And maybe I’m still reacting to the ten years of hip hop journalism that actively sought to erase Prince’s work from the legacy of black genius. Even though most folk like to discuss Questlove’s article as one in hip hop who embraced Prince’s genius, that was an anomaly. And this also includes older artists, such as Quincy Jones, who when doing a 10 part series for VH1 on the history of black music excluded Prince. Tell me, how can you have a conversation about the 80s or about sexuality in black music and not discuss Prince? So while in 2007 it has become cool to call Prince a genius, the truth is that there was a systematic movement to erase Prince’s legacy from the history of black genius, which is something different than an artist just being out of style. And this gets to my issue about the lyrics because part of the reason that Prince’s lyrics weren’t/aren’t studied as deeply as they can is because the journalists who have long been in bed with the record companies had decided before hand that Prince was merely going to be a sex icon. So even though he was waging war with how he was being presented, we cannot deny that other powers that be were fighting to make sure that he stayed where they could control him. And this includes both black and white powers, which does have an affect on how the public receives or engages the artist’s work.

But, your point about Prince being intentionally cryptic is dead on point. So, I guess my real issue is with the journalist who did not do their jobs to raise the issue of Prince being a lyrical powerhouse, which would have motivated more casual listeners to pay more attention to the lyrics. As Prince said about the initial positive reviews of Graffiti Bridge, “That’s cool but they’re not discussing the lyrics. Maybe I should have included a lyrics sheet.” So, it is all subjective, but I can’t let the Negro journalists off the hook for selling out the funk, especially when they are promoting themselves as cultural critics, which allows them to shape opinion and understanding about art and artists.

rich Says:
June 27th, 2007 at 6:17 pm

C Leigh – good lyrics are often delivered with a variety of intents and have a range of possible meanings. Part of the strength of those of a cryptic persuasion is that they are open to more than one interpretation. I find your interpretation both interesting and powerful, however, I don’t think it’s the only way of ‘getting’ Prince or his music. I don’t particularly love Arto’s version, I’m indifferent, but it does make me think again about Prince’s lyric – maybe that makes for a version of success as a cover. Part of the appeal of Prince is trying to work out where he is coming from – his character’s voices, his unusual slants, skewed perspective. Another part of the appeal is that he breaks social convention – one view of the song is that he is talking directly about fucking until the sun comes up and it’s a lyric that makes me laugh and is refreshingly honest to hear. I thought the swing against Prince was unjustified, but perhaps reflecting what I felt were diminishing returns from his music later in his career. He deserves his place and recognition as one of the more significant and interesting artists from the pop scene in the 80’s. If music takes you inside the mind of its composer, then Prince’s mind is a funny, insightful and sometimes refereshingly strange place to visit for a while…

Qawi Robinson Says:
June 28th, 2007 at 3:19 pm

Wow…all this discourse should be put in an ACADEMIC SETTING. To keep it simple:

Prince is a musically and lyrically gifted.
Prince is a supreme showman and entertainer.
Prince needs not re-invent himself because most people consider him an Enigma anyway.
Prince recognizes that his talent is from a Higher Power…and now takes a little more responsibility in some of the lyrics and what he conveys.

In one sentence, Prince has GROWN UP from the 70’s, 80’s Prince we are used to. Whether people understand him and cryptic messages remains to be seen. Still, people like him because he is a fairly decent musician and knows how to team up with other fairly decent musicians.

Which brings me to this cover of Erotic City. While BOL has brought us some decent covers of Prince’s material (Sign O’ The Times – Joy Denalane, Purple Rain – Etta James), the problem with Arto Lindsay’s cover is one of BLACKmusicness. Meaning that Arto Lindsay sings it with an absence of SOUL, excitement, and innuendo, that we expect.

The Lindsay version is cool in it’s own right, though. It is like the mellowed out version that my grandparents could’ve listened to at a Juke Joint…just not the version you’d expect to hear in the 80’s. It is still better than say, the Kiss cover by Robert Palmer. And slightly better than Sinead O’Connor’s cover of Nothing Compares 2 U.

The true measure of this cover is what Prince thought about it. Haven’t found any commentary about it, but a least he wasn’t publicly disappointed in it unlike Sinnead O’Connor’s.

Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah Says:
July 3rd, 2007 at 1:41 pm

While on the topic of Prince covers…

From what I understand Prince tut-tutted Bilal’s version of How come you don’t call me anymore (which homeboy then shelved) but then there was radio silence about the Alicia Keys version which was a paler imitation. Indeed there was lots of “Alicia is the truth” from His Paisleydom. Now perhaps I’ve got my chronology wrong, but what gives?

Now when you measure talent, I like me some Alicia but really she’d be laughed out of thejook joint when Bilal steps up and releases the freaky soul singe with the jazz aesthetic on the hip-hop vibe. The sales is a different thing, but in this joint we talk about soul music right.

So just curious, what is the house opinon on this. Is just that it is a case of pleasant eye candy and seduction on the one hand and the the threat of competition identified early.

And on Erotic City, that too was done in the spirit of a cover after seeing George Clinton and company freak things.

And a final digression, which soul singer of the moment has the greatest jazz inclinations. I’m thinking Bilal and Amel Larrieux, but perhaps you should school me… Or maybe that’s a conversation for another week.


Erik Says:
November 18th, 2009 at 7:50 pm

C. Liegh McInnis said:
“So we have another Prince cover by someone who does what cooperate America does to black art–co-opt the pleasing sounds or style, while rejecting the socio-political matrix and message that created the sounds and style. This is why black music and poetry can market cars and hamburgers but do nothing to change the socio-political condition that created the art. Only those artists who are unafraid of Prince’s message or are secure in themselves have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting it right, of taking the song to another place.”

“n the late 1970s, he co-formed the seminal no wave group DNA with Ikue Mori and Robin Crutchfield, although Tim Wright of Pere Ubu fame would soon replace Crutchfield. In 1978, DNA was featured on the four-band sampler No New York (produced by Brian Eno) which brought an early taste of international notoriety to the group, and which quickly became the essential document of No Wave. The famous rock critic Lester Bangs once described the group’s ritualistic vocals, and deliberately primitive, speaker-shredding guitar as “horrible noise.””

“Lindsay has worked extensively with bassist Melvin Gibbs, guitarist Vinicius Cantuária, and producer Andres Levin to help create his sound.”

“Lindsay has produced recordings by Brazilian musicians Caetano Veloso, Tom Zé, Vinicius Cantuária, Gal Costa, Carlinhos Brown, and Marisa Monte.”

Producing Tom Zé equals “”So we have another Prince cover by someone who does what cooperate America does to black art–co-opt the pleasing sounds or style,”

Playing Skronk and Skreetch on the Guitar is like selling Hamburgers.

Playing on that Tune with Melvin Gibbs (of Shannon Jackson and Defunkt notority) should root this Version deep enough in the Funk.

I saw never a Concert by His Royal Signess that was less than good, with his Sign of the Times Concer t 1988 in Zürich my greatest Concdrt ever.
But i can tell you that he deliverd “Nothing Compares to you” on Concerts only after that Irish-Catholic Punk Lass discoverd this Tune for him on a rather mediocre “Family” Album.
And his Renditions were much closer to her Interpretation then to the unremarkable Original.

Miss Shinehead did exactly the right kind of Cover.

And if Camille in a bad moment of Jehova inductet Envy got bitchy over her Version then s/he got over with buying a new pair of classy High Heels Bottines.

Over her in Europe his Genius was never questioned.
Double Concerts at the Montreux Jazz Festival are sold out within less than an Hour.

Feel 4 U all

Leave a Reply

| top |