Prince, “Darling Nikki”
I knew a girl named Nikki.
I guess you could say she was a sex fiend.
I met her in a hotel lobby.
Masturbating with a magazine.
She said, “How’d you like to waste some time?”
And I could not resist when I saw little Nikki grind.
It’s my belief that there are musicians and bands who are uncoverable. Doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but you’ve set yourself up to fail no matter how good your version might be.
Prince is one of those artists, and while I was listening to the Foo Fighters’ Medium Rare, I kept thinking of how all covers of Prince, particularly the more sexual songs, seem to miss the point and the mark. So much of Prince’s sexual antics and lyrics seemed to be respectful of female sexuality (not that he was necessarily above misogyny per se) in the sense that women could fuck and leave, and men could be the ones left shell-shocked, questioning whether it was right, and begging the lover to come back. In the glam-metal soaked mid-to-late 80s, this was revelatory in its own way.
Of course, being diminutive and flirting with the lines of androgyny and gender in appearance helped sell it in a way that Dave Grohl & co. couldn’t, no matter how reverent or well-intentioned the Foos may be with their cover of “Darling Nikki.” It’s nigh impossible to hear that vulnerability in Grohl’s voice that Prince achieved on a regular basis. Grohl is capable of vulnerability in his own songs, but his screech is more metal-derived and packs more testosterone. Even having Cee-Lo along for some renditions of it doesn’t help.
The Foos are really good at covers, but seeing little Nikki grind could never work for them. If you watch the Foos’ live version that I linked to, when Grohl sings the line “She had so many devices / Everything that money could buy” he works his hands to simulate a dildo when Prince never needed to go there. It’s the difference between pseudo-confident frat boy and a grown man secure enough to submit.