Daily Prince 5/22/20: Darling Nikki

 

What an unbelievable discography Prince Rogers Nelson left us.  I’m reminded of that as I attempt to write about one of his songs every day.  My actual achievable goal is 100 days straight without missing one.  I’m almost a third of the way there.  My lofty goal is 500.  I’m barely 5% of the way there.  Yikes.  One could go further with Prince because he recorded enough music, but if I can write about Prince for 500 consecutive days I believe I will have achieved something I can be proud of.  No other artist that I can think of has a catalog of songs worthy of that amount of work.

A little over a week ago when “1999” popped up on my homemade Prince Song Randomizer (it’s an Excel spreadsheet, but Prince Song Randomizer sounds cooler) I was thrilled.  I figured it could be a month before I get to write about something as funky and culturally significant as “1999” again.  Today – less than a week later – I get another classic: “Darling Nikki.”  It was a reminder that Prince left us with a lot of amazing music.

This is not my first attempt to write about Nikki.  Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a piece for a Prince fansite called Housequake.com titled Purple Rain’s 4th Best Song.  I encourage you to click the link and read it.  I thoroughly enjoyed writing it and the response I got from Housequake’s readers.  The concept was based on the fact that everyone knows the big three hit songs from the Purple Rain soundtrack: Let’s Go Crazy, When Doves Cry, and Purple Rain.  I find it nearly impossible to rank the songs from that album/movie because it’s difficult to take the cultural significance out of the equation and rank them purely on the music.  I could also just not rank them at all and just enjoy a brilliant album from start to finish, but for some reason my brain won’t allow me to do that.  So, I decided to remove the three biggest hits from the album and debate which of the remaining songs was best.  I took some heat from commenters who didn’t quite understand the concept.  Most of it was deserved because I should’ve given it a better title than “Purple Rain’s 4th Best Song.”  I thought that title was catchier even if it didn’t exactly convey what I meant so I just went with it anyway.

If you haven’t read the Housequake post yet (Will you just read it for God’s sake?  Get me some clicks!  I don’t get paid for it or anything.  I just think it looks good if people are reading my shit.  Come on.  Just click here and give my ego a boost!) I’ll spoil it.  I ultimately come to the conclusion that “Darling Nikki” is the 4th best song from Purple Rain.  I had so much fun interacting with fellow Prince fans in the following days, mostly in the Housequake Facebook group.  Then I had my mind blown when the official Facebook page of The Revolution posted this five days later:

revolutionfb

I’m not saying someone involved with The Revolution read my post.  You be the judge.  I am saying that just the thought that Wendy, Lisa, BrownMark, Bobby Z, or Dr. Fink may have read that post was a thrill and an honor.

At this point I feel ridiculous bragging that someone from a band I love might have read something I wrote a year ago.  I’m severely digressing so I’ll get back on track.  I’ve thought a lot about my choice of “Darling Nikki” as the “4th best” song from Purple Rain.  Here’s how I feel now, almost a year later: My three favorite songs from Purple Rain, and I would argue the three best songs, are not the three hits, but the three that are considered “the weird ones” in the movie.  There’s a phase in the movie when The Kid (Prince’s character) is playing some experimental shit at First Avenue and he’s not bringing in his usual crowd.  The first of those three songs on the soundtrack and in the movie is “The Beautiful Ones.”  I believe that is the best song from Purple Rain.  Period.  Better than the hits.  Arguably (probably?) my favorite Prince song.  It’s a stunning masterpiece good enough to move you to tears.  The second of those three songs is “Computer Blue.”  The album edit is fantastic as is, but the 12 minute “Hallway Speech” version is a mind-blowing sonic adventure.  Maybe not my favorite Prince song, but likely top five.

Finally there’s “Darling Nikki.”  When Prince performed it on that blood red stage at First Avenue he was standing at the apex of Shock Mountain.  We had heard “Head” and “Sister” and “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” but still weren’t ready for anything quite as badass as Prince taunting Apollonia with a song about getting dominated by a woman he met in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine.  Forget about the lyrics and shock value of the song, though, and just listen to the music and vocal performance.  I can’t think of another song in popular music like it.  It has no genre.  You can’t classify it as rock, R&B, funk, soul, blues, etc.  It is its own genre.  It’s just Prince.  Not only is Prince the only musician capable of creating this, he’s also the only one capable of singing it.  No other vocalist can match not only Prince’s range on this song, but also the personality and attitude in his performance.  “Darling Nikki” is one of a kind.  Also on the short list of my absolute favorite Prince songs.  I’ll say it again: Every time I try to get cute like others and make an argument for 1999, Parade, or Sign O’ the Times as his best album, I listen to Purple Rain and am reminded that it’s the superior album.

At this point I think it goes without saying that I think “Darling Nikki” deserves 5 out of 5 stars. It’s Prince the creator, musician, vocalist, and provocateur at his peak.

3 Comments

  1. Whoa whoa whoa. What the hell is going on here? Did you just say that the obvious best three songs on Purple Rain are not the best songs? Are you saying Computer Blue is better than Purple Rain? This is madness. Clarify thyself. Or purify thyself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. Or the waters of Deadman Lake. Or Sunset Lake. But purify thyself. You’ve lost your mind. Or thy have lost thy mind? Whatever.

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    1. Finally! Some debate here. I’ve been waiting for this. I grappled with this argument a lot while writing this. Again, it goes back to separating the cultural significance from the songs. It sounds insane for me to say out loud that Purple Rain is my 5th or 6th favorite song from Purple Rain, but it’s true. If any one of the hits were to crack my top three of Beautiful Ones/Computer Blue/Darling Nikki, I would make the argument for When Doves Cry first. The other key to the argument is whether we’re talking about album versions or extended versions. The extended versions of Computer Blue and Let’s Go Crazy increase their value.

      A few other key points:
      1. I realize my love for Computer Blue is greater than most. Can’t explain why. That beat is so infectious for me. The Hallway version is 12 minutes long and it’s still not enough. There’s an insane guitar solo. There’s his freaky ass “hallway speech.” More freaky Wendy and Lisa stuff. It gets so dark and twisted late in the song. He could’ve made it 30 minutes and I’d be thrilled. It’s criminal that he didn’t at least include the second verse on the album version. I should be saving all of this for when I write about Computer Blue.
      2. Knowing that the song Purple Rain was basically Prince’s answer to the question, “What would it sound like if I tried to write a song that sounds like Bob Seger?” soured me on it a bit. That and the fact that he asked Journey for permission before he released it because it sounded so much like Faithfully he was worried they were going to sue him.
      3. Ask me again in three months. It’ll be the same six songs, but probably in a different order.
      4. I’ve heard tens of thousands of songs in my life at this point and we’re talking about six songs that are easily in my top 1%. We’re splitting hairs.

      I could argue for any of the six of them. I had to make a call. I don’t regret it.

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