So much to say about “Darling Nikki”. And, in one of those cool weird coincidences, this song’s number comes up about 12 hours before I’m headed into Williamsburg to see Purple Rain on a big screen for the first time ever!
I didn’t realize until recently that “Darling Nikki” and “Little Red Corvette” run along similar lyrical paths. Prince is a doe-eyed babe in the woods, runs into a woman far more experienced than he, gets turned the fuck out. Here’s where the songs diverge: in “Corvette”, Prince and “Corvette” are almost equally confident. Nikki is way out of Prince’s league experientially, and she leaves him a mess.
“Darling Nikki” got plenty of radio play during Purple Rain’s heyday. I heard it plenty on the radio during the fall of ‘84, at which point I was living in a Detroit suburb. Black radio in Detroit was playing Prince almost as much as they were hometown acts at this point. WJLB (which was the station my mom and stepdad listened to) omitted the “masturbating with a magazine” line, which I don’t think I was even aware of until I saw the Purple Rain movie the following summer.
Not that it would’ve made any difference. I was 8 years old and blissfully unaware of anything even vaguely related to sex. That would change within months, more due to the discovery of my aunt’s medical journals than “Darling Nikki” or Apollonia’s titties or anything related to Purple Rain. I apparently wasn’t the only kid directly or indirectly becoming aware of all that was going on in Prince’s naughty world. “Darling Nikki” famously ignited Tipper Gore’s ire after she overheard her pre-pubescent daughter jamming out to Purple Rain. This led to the creation of the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center), which aimed to police the lyrical content of popular music, and ultimately is the reason albums (for those of you who still buy them) with “naughty” or “vulgar” content have those lovely “Parental Advisory-Explicit Lyrics” stickers on them. I have a pair of socks with that logo on them-they’re awesome.
Anything to keep parents from discussing sex with their children, I guess. Not that parents having honest and early conversations with their children would be productive and helpful in terms of developing good sexual habits, teaching people not to be ashamed of their bodies or anything like that. Not that kids weren’t already having these discussions at the age of 8 or 9 back in 1984 (I can’t imagine how early these discussions are taking place in the 21st century). Of course not.
“Darling Nikki” definitely contains one of the all time greatest Prince screams ever. Actually, the Purple Rain album is chock full of Hall of Fame Prince screams. “When Doves Cry” has one about 2/3 of the way through the album version (shortly after the single version fades out). “Baby I’m A Star” has one after the bridge. There’s Prince’s tortured shouts towards the conclusion of “The Beautiful Ones”, too. The “Nikki” screams communicate many things; confusion, loss (Nikki has vanished and left nothing but a phone number and a note to give her a call next time Prince wants to grind). It fits perfectly within the framework of the song.
Someone needs to make “Darling Nikki” into a movie. Or a graphic novel. Maybe then we’ll figure out why Nikki was chilling in a hotel lobby when she had her own castle.