Saturday, April 20, 2019

Angelic voices, #5: Prince's "Darling Nikki"

Back in 1984, when Prince was at the height of his commercial stardom with the blockbuster album/movie “Purple Rain,” the song "Darling Nikki" was best known for its lyrics. The opening words about a woman caught masturbating in a hotel lobby turned heads and fed the reactionary, right-wing hysteria that led to the creation of the Parents’ Music Resource Center, congressional hearings, and content labels on records.

Overlooked amid the sound and fury was the potency of the song, including Prince’s vocal.
“Nikki” begins with a mischievous keyboard-and-guitar harmony that saunters along with the drumbeat, happy to take its time. The first verse’s spare instrumentation—a lone percussion line—gives Prince’s voice space to breathe and puts the story front and center. Once the lyrics trail off, a balls-out funk riff and crashing drums come in, as if foreshadowing, before quieting back down for the next verse.  

The song upshifts at the conclusion of the fourth verse as Prince lifts his voice into the upper registers, culminating at 2:38 in one of the most spectacular shrieks of ecstasy ever recorded.

Most songwriters would have finished with the hyped up drum-keys-guitar jam outro that follows, but Prince had the compositional chutzpah to go further. Rather than simply fade out, Prince closed the song with a counterintuitive segue into a gospel chorus singing backward over rain and a howling wind, making “Nikki” a symbolic nod to his two favorite subjects, sin and salvation.

                                                   Follow Dan Benbow on Twitter  
                                      Other "Truth and Beauty" vocalist profiles:

                                        Angelic voices, #4:  Aretha Franklin performs 
                                             before Barack Obama and Carole King 

                        There must be something in the water:  the magic of "Muscle Shoals" 

             A look back at "Strange Fruit" on the 100th anniversary of Billie Holiday's birth

                                     Angelic voices, #1:  Ella sings "Summertime"

                       Angelic voices, #2:  Marvin Gaye sings "The Star-Spangled Banner"

Angelic voices, #3:  Janis Joplin sings "Cry Baby"  

   More music appreciation on "Truth and Beauty":

         Click here for "The Second Coming:  Stevie Ray Vaughan," 
a first-hand account of Vaughan's final concert

here  for "Great Guitar Solos, #10: Prince attacks 'Whole Lotta Love'"

here for "The underappreciated ingenuity of Robbie Krieger"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #8: Freddie King's 'San-Ho-Zay'"
  here for "Link Wray's 'Rumble'"
here for "Great Guitar Solos, #1:  Eddie Hazel (Funkadelic)"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #3:  Hiram Bullock" 

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #5:  Alvin Lee"

 here for "Great Guitar Solos, #6: Neil Young's 'Hey Hey, My My'"