Prince‘s sixth album, 1984’s Purple Rain, catapulted him into the collective public consciousness forevermore. A grandiose, synthesised body of work, it has become one of the best selling albums of all time and is widely regarded as one of the greatest records in history.
In addition to the hit singles, which includes the title track and ‘When Doves Cry’ and ‘I Would Die 4 U’, one of the most beloved songs from the 1984 smash is ‘Darling Nikki’. In tandem with this, it is one of the more infamous songs of Prince’s vast back catalogue, up there with some of the more controversial songs of the ’80s.
Given the time, the song became scandalous, as it shocked many people in its graphic discussion of sex. However, the song is notorious for another reason apart from its titular “sex fiend”. At the end of the track, Prince inserted a hidden message, with a very different theme.
Back to the gaudy nature of the song for a moment. Purple Rain‘s fifth track concerns Prince meeting a woman named Nikki who becomes immediately sexually interested in him. He gets intimate with her, and watched her “grind”. This gritty subject matter is embodied by the production of the song. Many of the other tracks on Purple Rain, including ‘I Would Die 4 U’ and ‘When Does Cry’, sound very clean and polished. This is not the case for ‘Darling Nikki’, which has a raw approach that the other tracks do not. This perfectly captures the essence of Nikki’s character.
Typically, in America specifically, the song invited controversy. Historic bug to anyone not a knight in white satin and enemy of the punks, Tipper Gore, wife of former Presidential candidate Al, learned her 11-year-old daughter was listening to the song and this infuriated the prospective First Lady. This led her to found the controversial Parents; Music Resource Center (PMRC) which tried to “gag” explicit music, attempting to dissuade children and pre-teens from listening to music with adult content. We can say thanks to the PMRC for album covers being branded with the Parental Advisory stickers. Ironically, this sticker would become a hallmark of teenage rebellion in the nineties and noughties.
The song’s infamy does not solely stem from its lyrics. The noise near the end of the track frightened many fans, something which seems pretty humorous today. Towards the end of the song, the eerier sound of the choir singing sounds like utter nonsense. However, the sound is of the choir singing backwards. This chorus feature contains the secret message of ‘Darling Nikki’, which can only be accessed by playing the song in reverse.
In contrast to the rest of the song’s content, you may be surprised by what the secret message is. It is a Christian note about Jesus Christ returning at the end of the world. It reflects Prince’s fascination with the apocalypse as heard in ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘1999’.
“Hello, how are you?/Fine, fine, ’cause I know that the Lord is coming soon/Coming, coming soon.” This line reflects a fascination with the apocalypse seen in other Prince songs like ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘1999’.
‘Darling Nikki’ came out of an era in which some Christian groups were still concerned that music was the work of the devil, and that many rock musicians were exposing children and teens to evil messages through subliminal messaging in tracks. This tale is drenched in irony as Prince was using subliminal messaging to promote Christian ideals. Eat your heart out, Tipper Gore.
In combining sex and theology in the song, this was evidence of Prince’s blasphemy to some. To others, it showed Prince to be an artist of no bounds, not afraid to properly express himself. Regardless, ‘Darling Nikki’ is a unique song, in and outside of Prince’s back catalogue – helping it to thrive nearly forty years after its inception.