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“Erotica Diaries” by Shep Pettibone : Icon Magazine

We transferred everything we had on the Tascam 8-track onto 24-track. I decided to produce the tracks 15 ips with Dolby SR beacause it has this warm bottom in the bass and I wanted to capture that for Erotica. Plus, I was listening to some of my old remixes, which were recorded at 15 ips, and was amazed at how much more you could feel the music. Compact discs seem to move you one step away from the music, while records put you right in the mix. So I figured that if I overemphasized that LP feeling, it would rub off on the CD, which is the primary format manufactured for American audiences today. Strangely enough, our country can’t get any LP’s of Erotica, while the rest of the world can.

On July 7, we did the mixing for Erotic the ode to S & M that Madonna wanted to include in her book, Sex. She felt it should sound the same as Erotica (the song on the album), with just a bass line, her voice and some sensuous Middle Eastern sounds. But by then I had seen the book and had come up with an interesting idea.

You have all these great stories in the book, I told her, Why don’t you use them in the song? I knew that Madonna was developing a 1930s dominatrix look for Erotica, but I didn’t realize how far she was willing to go before I saw Sex. It contained stories authored by her mysteriously dark alter, Dita. Madonna took the book and walked out of the room and didn’t come back until about half an hour later. Suddenly she was on the mic, speaking in this very dry voice. My name is Dita, she said, and I’ll be your mistress tonight. I knew that the original Erotica would never be the same again, and it wasn’t. The chorus and bridge were changed entirely and the whole psyche of the song became sexier, more to the point. It seemed as if Dita brought out the best in her, actually serving as a vehicle for the dangerous territory she was traveling. Actually, it was the same name Madonna used when she’d stay in hotels around the world. Not anymore.

When July 10 came, I felt my thirty-something years hit me full force. It was the day of reckoning – my birthday, and yet I was stuck in the studio with Madonna, Tony Shimkin, and an animal-ballon-twisting clown to celebrate it with. It was fun for about five minutes, until Madonna said, Shep, you gotta get back to work.

The Erotica Diary (August 15, 1992, MO’s Birthday)

One of the tracks, Godbye To Innocence, just wasn’t working. There was something about the song that didn’t grab Madonna, so we had to fix it. I worked overnight in my studio and came back to Soundworks with a brand new bass line that seemed to do the trick. Madonna put on headphones and got ready to lay down the vocals for Goodbye To Innocence. But instead of singing the original words, which were written last year, Madonna started toying with the lyrics, singing the words to the lounge-lizard act staple, Fever. At first we thought: This is cool, and it was. It sounded so good that we decided to take it one step further and actually cover the tune. Too bad no one knew the words. What we needed was a copy of Fever if we were going to record it that day. So, Madonna got on the phone with Seymour Stein at Sire Records, and within an hour, we had the lyric sheets, the Peggy Lee version, and the original version of the song in our hands. I was really impressed by how quickly we got it all. That was the last track on Erotica and we finished mixing it just in time to celebrate another birthday – Madonna’s.

That night, she had a birthday party on a boat circling Manhattan. Picture about 50 people dancing on a boat with disco blasting out of the portholes and you get the idea. In between dancing and celebrating, I spent the time reflecting on the album. I was confident that it was a great compilation of songs, but I was wondering how people would react to it. It was definitely a different album for her in that it was a dance/pop album, instead of a guitar-laden pop album designed just for top 40. That was a conscious decision on her part beacause it seemed that the more pop she went, the fewer of her albums people were buying. This time, she’s giving the people what they want.

The Erotica Diary (September – October 1992)

After three and a half months of working in the same studio and hearing the same songs day after day, it was a relief to have the album finished. Everything went smoothly except the last two songs, Why’s It So Hard and Words, both of which we had to recall for changes. On September 12, I walked out of Soundworks with the completed master of Erotica in my hands.

A month later, I went to the Sex party. The Erotica blitz was about to hit in music, video, and book form and a variety of stars were coming out for the party. Madonna herself surveyed the scene during the midnight hour. I walked over to meet her in the DJ Booth.

There was all this wild stuff going around us: people tattoing one another, couples simulating sex – it was crazy. And when I went to talk to Madonna, who was in the middle of it all, our conversations turned to music. For all the multimedia extravaganzas that were braying for her attention, it was still the music that mattered and it was the record that we fawned over. I realized that no matter how far I’ve come, I still feel the same way that I always did.

And then she put the handcuffs on me. NOT!

© ICON