Cover Version Showdown #1

Prince, ”Darling Nikki” – Foo Fighters vs Rebecca Romjin Stamos

Prince is on the front page of this site, but I haven’t written about him yet. His debut album was released in 1978 and he first received Pazz and Jop notice in 1980, after which he was a regular for much of the following decade. So, when I decided to start this series, I went looking for a Prince song. And, in “Darling Nikki“, I found, like a gift from the gods, Rebecca Romjin (formerly Rebecca Romjin Stamos – does it bother Jerry O’Connell that she didn’t change her name for him, too?). You know, model Rebecca Romjin. Actress Rebecca Romjin. But a singer? She has exactly one song on Spotify – this one. Her music career is so obscure that it doesn’t even warrant a mention on her Wikipedia page. Yes, please, I’ll have that one, thank you.

As for our other contender, the Foo Fighters are a band I am certainly familiar with, and have occasionally enjoyed, without actually paying even the tiniest bit of attention to. Dave Grohl is one of the coolest guys around (and I love Nirvana), but I have never once consciously played one of their songs. Seriously – not a single time. I have to strain my mind to remember any titles (I’m not going to check this – they have one called “Learning to Fly”, right?), and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone in my circle say they can’t wait for the next Foo Fighters record.

But first, let’s check in with the champion. In 1984, Prince was at the height of his powers, with “Purple Rain”, the Oscar-winning film and Grammy- winning album. There are so many great options coming out of that album. Lydia Loveless does a killer version of “I Would Die 4 U”. “Purple Rain” filtered through Dwight Yoakam will make you forget it didn’t start out as a country song. And Susanna Hoffs does a lovely “Take Me with U” that I think I like more than the original.

But “Darling Nikki” was contro­versial. Tipper Gore completely lost her shit when she heard what her 11-year-old daughter was listening to. (It doesn’t seem to have harmed her too much.) Back when we were still buying CDs, those “Parental Advisory” stickers could be traced back to that moment when Tipper met Prince. Thanks in part to this song, Luther Campbell was arrested in June 1990. A butterfly flaps its wings.

Anyway, the song itself kicks ass, like pretty much everything good on that album. (I love Prince but all songs are not created equal.) “Let’s Go Crazy” rocks harder, but “Nikki” has Prince’s most impassioned vocal outside of the title track. 40 seconds in, almost every straight man listening wishes he could meet a girl like Nikki, and is terrified of what might become of him if he did. Prince has no such concerns – he jumps right in. In the movie, it’s a revenge song when his lover abandons him for a rival impresario (Morris Day just does not get talked up enough). Nikki uses the narrator, and moves on, leaving him a changed man.

And what of Ms. Romjin? How the hell did this become the one song she seems to have ever recorded? It comes from an album so obscure that it also is absent from Wikipedia: “Party o’ the Times: A Tribute to Prince“. The artists involved who I’ve heard of were way past their best before dates when this came out in 1999: Heaven 17, Missing Persons, Gary Numan, Information Society. Ice T is the closest thing to someone with a functioning music career, and he hadn’t made a great record since 1991’s “O. G. Original Gangster” (which I owned on cassette and played, and played, and played some more). Yet, for all the strangeness of this project, the presence of Rebecca takes first place.

So, how did she do? Pretty great, actually. It’s less raunchy musically, and her vocal is cool, sultry, casual, with that girl-on-girl air that makes it more risque – this was 1999 after all. It’s sexy AF without even trying all that hard, and I really wish she had sang more. Maybe the Romjinaissance that’s coming with her extended foray into the “Star Trek” universe will make this happen.

The Foo Fighters version is more faithful to the original, but it is unmistakably their song. It rocks harder than Prince did, and while Grohl roars like His Purpleness, it isn’t sexy, it’s pained. Prince came away from the encounter a new man – Grohl sounds like she left him a mere husk of what he was.

The Winner: Rebecca Romjin

No one outdoes Prince, except maybe Sinead O’Connor or The Bangles – and it’s telling that he gave those songs to others rather than release them himself. “Darling Nikki” is no exception. And the Foo Fighters do a respectable job in making it their own, but the bar is high when a band is already so accomplished. I put on Romjin’s version expecting a travesty, and was instead delighted. It’s faithful, yet also personal – my definition of a perfect cover version. That the source is so unexpected only adds to the delight.

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