"Computer Blue" / "Darling Nikki"
Poor “Computer Blue”. Imagine growing up in a sonic family that features eight other siblings that are far more famous than you (even the protracted Paris Hilton of the clan, “Darling Nikki”). The Purple Rain fanbase can recite your relatives’ accomplishments verbatim, 25 years of rote repetitiveness on your favorite radio station guaranteeing their place in the public consciousness. But not poor “Computer Blue”. Ask a Rain-head to rehearse or recreate anything else from the album—“Let’s Go Crazy”, “I Would Die 4 U”, even “The Beautiful Ones” or “Baby, I’m a Star”—and you’ll have little trouble with the treatment. But this bizarro track, built around a funky little hook, a syncopated drum pattern, and random guitar feedback sticks out like a surreal sore thumb. As Prince’s echo heavy voice randomly invokes “where is my love life?”, the direct disposability of the track hides something far more telling.
Reviewing the writing credits, “Computer Blue” is the only Purple Rain production where Mr. Paisley Park is not 100% in control. The lyrics are credited to him, but the music is made up of random jams between himself, his father John L. Nelson, the dynamic Revolution duo of Wendy and Lisa, and keyboardist extraordinaire Dr. Fink. In many ways it represents the exact narrative of the movie, a microcosm of the kind of collaboration it takes a near-tragedy to get The Kid to embark on. Prince originally recorded the song as an extended 14 minute opus. It contained more electronics, a sing-along chorus, additional lyrics, and even something called “The Hallway Speech.” When the album was being mixed, a near eight minute edit was offered, but that was also trimmed when “Take Me With U” became a last minute addition. So not only is “Computer Blue” orphaned among what is practically a greatest hits collection on one single album, it suffered at the hands of its creator before it even hit vinyl.
The history explains the half-realized nature of the track, the lack of all the additional trimmings tantamount to turning an epic into a clip. And if you track down the lyrics for the longer version, the title even makes sense. Throughout, Prince is complaining about his broken down “machine”, unable to find him the love he so desperately needs. Mandating that his emotionless pile of silicon chips receive a new “programming” to learn “women are not butterflies/ They’re computers 2/ Just like U Computer Blue”, he hopes for something more pure and spiritual. He rallies against anyone, or anything, that will “fall in love 2 fast and hate 2 soon/And take 4 granted the feeling’s mutual.” On Purple Rain, the track feels like a freaky fetish anthem, what with Wendy and Lisa going through the whole “is the water warm enough” spoken-word routine at the beginning. With the excised material reinserted, the song becomes a prophetic, almost painful search by one man for feelings that are meaningful, not mechanical.
Kind of makes you feel bad for this awkward middle child of a song, doesn’t it? Marginalized by its maker, forgotten by many who claim to know the property by heart, this is a clear case of commercial concerns taking the place of artistic needs. Finding a copy of the complete version is next to impossible, though Prince is known to favor live audiences with differing versions of the tune. Still, it doesn’t make life any easier for this misbegotten musical memory from an otherwise earth-shattering sonic statement. Both the album and the film made Prince a superstar on par with Michael Jackson and Madonna, destined to partly redefine the ‘80s in his own oddball virtuoso image. Sadly, “Computer Blue” remains the obvious dysfunction in this otherwise solid family unit.
That Nikki is one slinky ‘ho.
Any hussy bold enough to get her rocks off in a hotel lobby, presumably in full view of any passerby, deserves a wax likeness in the Hooch Hall of Fame. Of course, we’ve no idea whether Miss Thang is holed up at in a Times Square ‘hotsheets’, or the local Ritz-Carlton, but Sweetheart has no shame either way.
Who’s Nikki, you ask? (And no, I don’t have her digits, so stop asking.) She happens to be the titular vamp in Prince’s scandalous 1984 tune, “Darling Nikki”, the most notorious track from his massive Purple Rain album, which followed in Thriller‘s footsteps as the pop crossover smash, while demolishing radio-influenced notions of “black” or “white” music, a social construct which sadly continues to flourish.
“Darling Nikki” tells the steamy tale of a “sex fiend” named “Nikki” caught—by His Royal Badness, of course—“masturbating with a magazine”. Our heroine predictably seduces the Purple One in a variety of situations, including an overnight romp at her “castle”, making it clear he should ring her up “anytime U want to grind”. Sonically, the song alternates between stripped-down percussion and swirling, melodramatic guitars; Prince, an unquestioned musical prodigy, handled all instrumentation himself. An insinuating keyboard whine—betraying a hint of femme fatale menace—starts us off, and we later hear slapping drum machine beats, possibly hinting at S & M play between Prince and Nikki. A standard-issue heterosexual male fantasy, as it were, not highbrow enough for Hefner, but more likely to appear in the pages of Penthouse.
And therein lay the problem. Purple Rain was released during “morning in America”, Reagan’s mildly jingoistic slogan for reassuring the citizenry that prosperous times were just around the corner, with a caveat. The good times didn’t necessarily include the freewheeling sexual bacchanalia of the 1970s, i.e., wife-swapping, nightclubs catering to group sex, or—for the AIDS-ravaged gay community—no-holds-barred bathhouses. The Gipper favored a more conservative, Rockwellian America, but also a wealthier one, apparently oblivious to the contradiction in dictating personal desires in an atmosphere of capitalistic freedom.
To wit, a watchdog group, the Parents Music Resource Center—headed by future Vice-Presidential wife Tipper Gore—formed, with the express desire to rate and label music releases, and our little Nikki was definitely on the radar. In fact, after Gore heard “Darling Nikki” blaring from her daughter’s stereo, the song became a keystone exhibit in their crusade, also rousing the ire of hypocritical Jimmy Swaggart and the Trinity Broadcasting Network, veteran purveyors of cheesy Biblical Camp. Eventually, the PMRC was able to coerce the recording industry to adopt “Parental Advisory” stickers, for placement on any albums containing sexually suggestive lyrics or profanity.
Although never issued as a single, “Darling Nikki” has firmly established itself in the audiosphere, inspiring numerous covers, including one from the Foo Fighters (!), which Prince ungraciously opposed, even refusing the band’s request to release their version. Shame on you, Prince Rogers Nelson. Are you trying to scare off Miss Nikki’s other admirers? We all heard you screaming in desperation after she left you alone in the sheets, “Come back, Nikki, come back!” Best crawl on back to Paisley Park ... Darling Nikki’s grindin’ without U.