Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Nico - 1974 - The End...

The End...

01. It Has Not Taken Long 4:11
02. Secret Side 4:08
03. You Forget To Answer 5:07
04. Innocent And Vain 3:51
05. Valley Of The Kings 3:57
06. We've Got The Gold 5:44
07. The End 9:36
08. Das Lied Der Deutschen 5:28

Bonus CD:
01. Secret Side (John Peel Session, 1971) 4:04
02. We've Got The Gold (John Peel Session, 1974) 3:58
03. Janitor Of Lunacy (John Peel Session, 1974) 4:34
04. You Forgot To Answer (John Peel Session, 1974) 4:30
05. The End (John Peel Session, 1974) 9:07
06. Secret Side (The Old Grey Whistle Test, 1975) 4:07
07. Valley Of The Kings (The Old Grey Whistle Test, 1975) 3:35
08. Das Lied Der Deutschen (Rainbow Theatre Live Version) 5:36
09. The End (Rainbow Theatre Live Version) 9:18

Backing Vocals – Annagh Wood, Vicki Wood
Bass, Xylophone, Acoustic Guitar, Synthesizer, Organ, Marimba, Triangle, Cabasa, Glockenspiel, Percussion, Piano, Electric Piano – John Cale
Electric Guitar – Phil Manzanera
Synthesizer – Eno
Voice, Harmonium – Nico

Nico's fourth solo album, 1974's The End, is the closing part in a disturbing, avant-garde trilogy of records produced by John Cale and marked the end of Nico's recording career for some seven years. 

Following on from the medieval Gothic-inspired The Marble Index and Desertshore albums, The End has its foundations in Nico's wheezing, off-kilter harmonium, doom-laden lyrics, and deep, brooding, European vocal style. But here the music is slightly fuller and perhaps less sparse - yet no less icy or menacing - with the introduction of experimentalists Brian Eno (synthesisers) and Phil Manzanera (guitar) to the intimidating mix. 

Dour, melancholic, and often quite uninviting, The End is however strangely compelling and unexpectedly memorable. Nico's merits as a songwriter were sometimes questioned, and her vocal attributes maligned through her participation with The Velvet Underground but her Cale-helmed solo albums proved her unique and original artistic worth. 

Despite the introduction of synthesisers and guitars to the core medieval sound Nico and Cale had created with the two previous albums, The End doesn't sound particularly of its time - all of Nico's music is oddly timeless and eerie. Nico's voice dives and soars and is perhaps even surprisingly strong or dextrous on some songs. 

"It Has Not Taken Long" opens proceedings typically eerily, with a zombie-like choral line. "Secret Side" offers a more melodically optimistic slant on Nico's trademark style, while the stark "We've Got the Gold" finds the music taking a more experimental art-rock turn. Much of the album is typified by unexpected twists and turns within Nico's core sound. 

For example, Eno's screeching, violent synthesiser effects create a highly disconcerting atmosphere on "Innocent and Vain," while "Valley of the Kings" finds Nico's voice taking off to unexpected heights and swoops, like a vulture. If possible, she reaches new depths of doom and despair on the harrowing, lonely "You Forget to Answer," supposedly about her relationship with Jim Morrison. 

The album ends with two starkly contrasting cover versions. 

Nico's take on The Doors' "The End" is harrowing, difficult, and challenging, an epic that bursts unexpectedly into a rock-inspired coda, a style she would explore in greater detail on her next album, 1981's Drama of Exile. If there could be a more different cover version offered, Nico, a master of unpredictability, would surely have taken it. But the German national anthem "Das Lied Der Deutschen," complete with banned verses, ends the album on a controversial note with Nico's black humour gloriously intact. It's at odds perhaps with the rest of the album, but maybe that was the Moon Goddess' intention. 

Just like the mysterious and enigmatic characters and worlds that orbited her doom-laden, disturbing world, Nico was an unpredictable and often unreadable woman. She drifted in and out of the music world and it is telling that each of her studio albums were issued on different record labels. She never found a mainstream audience, not surprisingly, but those who have heard her odd, strange, unique work are often polarised in opinion. There is no good introduction to Nico's music, simply because none of her albums are safe or reliable. The songs are timeless and don't seem to belong to any real era, which is a testament to Nico's songwriting power and artistic stature. The End is the last of Nico's unremitting dark, claustrophobic, insular works (although she hardly lightened up with subsequent albums) and is a worthy end to her stunning experimental dark avant-garde trilogy of albums of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Nico - 1970 - Desert Shore

Desert Shore

01. Janitor Of Lunacy 4:01
02. The Falconer 5:39
03. My Only Child 3:27
04. Le Petit Chevalier 1:12
05. Abschied 3:02
06. Afraid 3:27
07. Mütterlein 4:38
08. All That Is My Own 3:54

"Abschied" and "Mütterlein" and cover photographs are from the film "La Cicatrice Interieure", directed by Philippe Garrel.

Nico – vocals, harmonium
John Cale – all other instruments except trumpet
John Cale and Adam Miller – harmony voices
Ari Boulogne – vocals on "Le petit chevalier"

“She totally changed her image -- from being a blonde and wearing white into hennaing her hair and wearing totally black…And lived a dream. Everything that she did was part of this statement that now she was a different person. It was a solitary dream -- where occasional friendships were struck -- and abandoned. And the transitory nature of all of this was kind of the flotsam, the furniture of her life…with these somewhat derelict emotions. And it was so highly personal that it was very powerful.”
 -John Cale (from the 1995 documentary, “Nico Icon”)

As the other European member of The Velvet Underground, Cale had a closer cultural resonance with Nico although the pair’s artistic expressions were worlds apart. But a working relationship continued throughout a variety of situations that ran up until nearly the end of Nico’s life: from her first two solo albums (“Chelsea Girl” and “The Marble Index”) to the 1972 Velvet Underground Paris reunion concert, two albums for Island Records in the mid-1970s and her final studio album, “Camera Obscura.” Nico’s third album, “Desertshore” saw her bleakly personal images and ever-droning harmonium once more framed exquisitely by John Cale’s unobtrusive arrangements that succeeded in bringing a greater sense of organisation and expansiveness to her performances. As with his background stagings on her album of the previous year, “The Marble Index” Cale’s arrangements maintain the same marvelous sense of depth and shade although on “Desertshore” they cast a different leaning over the proceedings by replacing the former chill of “The Marble Index” with a climate more arid and at points lightening many of the tracks’ woefulness with glimmering luminescence. Also present is an uncharacteristically sense of compassion, with many of Nico’s songs speaking of both family and parenthood.

At the time of this album, Nico had already moved from New York to Rome where she became romantically involved with French director Philippe Garrel. The sleeve design of “Desertshore” featured blurred colour stills from his film, “La Cicatrice Interieure.” The title translated as ‘The Inner Scar,’ relating to Garrel’s own reflections on his horrific experiences with electro shock treatment and its aftermath. It is unknown whether any tracks from “Desertshore” appeared in the film but if it was predominately set in the dusty desert plains pictured on the album’s sleeve, then it would have made for a very appropriate soundtrack.

Produced by Cale and co-produced by Joe Boyd, the contrast of Nico’s clear vocals with her harmonium dream-weaving drone texturing throughout set the pace and tone of “Desertshore” from the very onset with “Janitor Of Lunacy,” a heretic canticle reeking of a sense of ominous and ancient decay. And these dry and undulating spaces continue to pass into most of the other five tracks that comprise the empty, imbued inner grace of the album. Sparse piano notes and clanging orchestral accidental noises rebound and operate as carefully placed chamber music cues throughout the monumentally slow trudge of “The Falconer” as they spread behind Nico’s deep vocals and harmonium. Soon, a sweetly ambling piano riff of childhood memories come flooding back, but this is only a momentary respite from the gloom and soon shifts back into the enveloping main theme of darkness. On the wistful “My Only Child” Nico’s full, sustained vocals are shored up by harmony vocals by Cale, Adam Miller and Annagh Wood with the only instrumentation present a barely noticeable single woodwind note. The album side is over after a brief vignette of faraway harpsichord performs in an abandoned nursery in “Le Petit Chevalier,” which is sung in French by Nico’s young son, Ari.

Side two begins with the elegiac “Abschied” (“Farewell”) as Nico accompanies her now familiar descending harmonium in German, joined by Cale’s viola as it scrapes, saws and swipes against the bow of mental ships rolling over stormy seas towards peace as the muted bass tones of the harmonium groan under their unearthly load in the background. A piano and viola accompaniment of serenity swells quietly behind “Afraid” a creation as beautiful and sad as Nico herself, rendered at the slowest pace of personal introspection. “Mütterlein” switches back to Nico’s native tongue as trumpets fanfare distant behind Cale’s random piano clusters that bang out in behind Nico’s voice, as a percussively struck piano key (or perhaps, orchestral bells) are quietly struck to sound like overworked heating pipes clanking out an insistent rhythm in the distant background as though swiftly ticking off the passing moments. Cale begins to discordantly hit out more and more low piano embankments as trumpets swarm all around and blow in squawking alarm.

But the air of disconsolation now is swept away with the lightly triumphant finale of “All That Is My Own.” Set off with fanfare kettledrums and Nico’s gentle harpsichord jingling joined by Cale’s unhesitating viola here she seems to have finally reached the end of her internal voyage across the burning sands of the dreams and desires of her life. Nico’s second, spoken voice edges out through a Leslie amplifier with the invitation to “meet me on the desertshore” as her parched caravan press onward towards the approaching and ever-greening hills. Cale’s viola swoops wildly in the background like a crazy pendulum, running over rumbling tympani outbursts and Nico’s unflagging harpsichord while those green hills continue to keep at mirage-like remove forever.

“Desertshore” is a work that for all its inner complexity flows ceaselessly with simplicity and purpose. After its release, nearly four years would pass until Nico resurfaced with her next album “The End” on Island Records, backed once more by Cale and a cast of rolling musical cohorts from the label that included Eno and Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera. But never again would her music receive the effusive, European classical embellishments as it did so beautifully on “Desertshore.” 

Nico - 1968 - The Marble Index

The Marble Index

01. Prelude 0:50
02. Lawns Of Dawns 3:12
03. No One Is There 3:36
04. Ari's Song 3:20
05. Facing The Wind 4:52
06. Julius Caesar (Memento Hodie) 4:57
07. Frozen Warnings 4:00
08. Evening Of Light 5:33

CD Bonus:
09. Roses In The Snow 4:06
10. Nibelungen 2:44

Nico: Vocals, Harmonium,
John Cale: Viola, Piano, Bass, Electric Guitar, Glockenspiel, Bells, Harmonica, Brass

Nico had made her recording debut in 1965 with the single "I'm Not Sayin'"; at Andy Warhol's suggestion she joined The Velvet Underground as a chanteuse, and sang three tracks on their 1967 album The Velvet Underground & Nico. Nico and the group were regulars at the Factory. However, Lou Reed was reluctant to include her in the band. This, coupled with her desire to be a soloist, made Nico leave the group as casually as she had joined. The band members continued to accompany her as she performed on her own and played on her 1967 solo debut, Chelsea Girl. The folk-pop album included songs by Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin, and Jackson Browne (with whom Nico had a brief affair).
Although Chelsea Girl is well-regarded by music critics, Nico was dissatisfied with it: "The first time I heard the album, I cried. I still cannot listen to it, because everything I wanted for that record, they took it away." Jim Morrison, whom Nico later called "[her] soul brother", encouraged her to write her own songs; this was "a key breakthrough for [her]". They were together in California in July and August 1967, often driving into the desert and experimenting with peyote. Morrison, who encouraged Nico to write down her dreams, read Mary Shelley, William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge to her. He recorded his chemical visions and dreams, using the material for his songs as he imagined the opium-addicted Coleridge had worked. In 1986 Nico said, "He taught me to write songs. I never thought that I could ... He really inspired me a lot. It was like looking in a mirror then." She began writing her own material and performing it to an intimate audience at Steve Paul's club, the Scene. Nico composed her music on a harmonium bought, according to Richard Witts, from a San Francisco hippie; manager Danny Fields recalled, "I think Leonard Cohen may have given it to her, or had something to do with her getting it." With that instrument, "she discovered not only her own artistic voice but a whole new realm of sound." The droning pump organ became her trademark.
The Marble Index was produced during a little-studied period of Nico's life. For The Quietus's Matthew Lindsay, "the liminal drift of these years only emphasizes the music's amorphous moorings and lack of precedent." Nico approached Danny Fields around the summer of 1968 with the desire to make an album and prove herself artistically. Resentful of her beauty, she radically changed her image – dyeing her hair red and wearing black clothes in an effort to distance herself from what had made her a popular fashion model. John Cale said, "She hated the idea of being blonde and beautiful, and in some ways she hated being a woman, because she figured all her beauty had brought her was grief ... So The Marble Index was an opportunity for her to prove she was a serious artist, not just this kind of blonde bombshell." Nico already had the title for the album in mind from The Prelude, William Wordsworth's magnum opus; in it, he contemplates a statue of Isaac Newton "with his prism and silent face / The marble index of a mind for ever / Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone." Asked about the significance of this Wordsworth quote, Nico replied: "I sometimes find a little of my own poetry in other poets, yes. Incidentally, or accidentally."

Fields relayed Nico's request to Jac Holzman, head of Elektra Records; she then went to Holzman's Broadway office with her harmonium and performed for him. Despite the challenging nature of Nico's music, Holzman agreed to release her album and assigned Frazier Mohawk to produce it, despite Nico and John Cale's desire to work together. He gave her a budget of $10,000 (equivalent to $70,000 in 2017), with a four-day recording schedule at a studio on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles. Fields contacted Cale, who was the album's de facto producer after Mohawk gave him free rein. According to Mohawk, he spent most of the sessions using heroin with Nico. Her drug use is cited as influencing the album's sound; Simon Reynolds wrote, "While it may be a reductive interpretation to regard The Marble Index as the ultimate heroin album, its hunger for narcosis, its frigid expanses, recalls William Burroughs's description of the junkie's quest for a metabolic 'Absolute Zero'.
During the sessions, Nico and Cale "fought at every opportunity" with the singer "being in pain" while recording the album. Nico and Cale worked on one song at a time, mixing the album as they went, with her voice and harmonium the starting points for each track. Cale said about the recording process,
The harmonium was out of tune with everything. It wasn't even in tune with itself. She insisted on playing it on everything so we had to figure out ways to separate her voice from it as much as possible and then find instrumental voices that would be compatible with the harmonium track ... As an arranger you're usually trying to take the songs and put a structure on them, but what I thought was valuable was when you took the centre out of the track and worked around the central core of the tonality and changes. That left you with a sort of floating free-form tapestry behind what she was doing, which is when things became more abstract.
He also said, "I was pretty much left alone for two days, and I let [Nico] in at the end. I played her [the album] song by song, and she'd burst into tears. 'Oh! It's so beautiful!', 'Oh, it's so beautiful!' You know, this is the same stuff that people tell me, 'Oh! It's so suicidal!'"[7] The original release of The Marble Index included eight of 12 songs Nico recorded. "Roses in the Snow", "Nibelungen", "Sagen die Gelehrten" and "Reve Reveiller" were left off the album. The finished album was barely 30 minutes long, which "was as much apparently as Frazier Mohawk, mixing and sequencing it, could stand without starting to feel suicidal".

The Marble Index's avant-garde style distanced Nico from rock and pop. When an interviewer pointed out the contrast between Chelsea Girl and The Marble Index, Nico said that the latter was "not supposed to be noise, because most pop music to me is noise, alright?" According to John Cale, the album "makes more sense in terms of advancing the modern European classical tradition than it does as folk or rock music". With Nico's compositions based around one or two chords, Cale decided to avoid drone and raga (Eastern music common on the West Coast at the time) in favor of a European classical approach in his arrangements. The resulting sound has been compared with Germanic folk music, Gregorian chant, medieval music such as madrigals, European avant-garde, Romanticism, and the music of Richard Wagner.
Peter Buckley noted Nico's use of psychedelic drugs during the Summer of Love as an influence on the album's music, and Jim DeRogatis described it as "minimalist bad-trip psychedelia". Frieze called The Marble Index the "bridge between the New York Minimalists of the late 1960s and Brian Eno's ambient records of the late 1970s". Simon Reynolds has identified the album as "the rock precedent for isolationism", a term coined by critic Kevin Martin to describe "a loose network of disenchanted refugees from rock and experimental musicians" that originated the genre known as dark ambient. Isolationism, Reynolds writes, "breaks with all of ambient's feel-good premises", and "evokes an uneasy silence: the uncanny calm before catastrophe, the deathly quiet of aftermath." He listed Aphex Twin (particularly his 1994 album Selected Ambient Works Volume II), Seefeel, David Toop and Max Eastley, among others, as exponents of this style.
According to Uncut, The Marble Index is "one of that rare breed of recordings which, the better part of four decades later, still has no adequate comparison, existing in a genre all its own". The album is considered a proto-goth record. André Escarameia felt the album "anticipated gothic rock by more than a decade due to [its] ethereally darker [ambience] and disturbing sonority." Its soundscape has been described as "bleak", "chilly", "harrowing", and "everything from the sound of someone rapping on a coffin lid to that of being buried alive". In her 1969 Rolling Stone review, Anne Marie Micklo described it as "mood music, with an obscure and elusive text recited over it". Regarding the record's sonority, British author Simon Goddard wrote, "it was on [The Marble Index] that the real sound of Nico was unleashed: a bleak pumping misery which would define her music for the last two decades of her life."

Nico's lyrics have been described as "mythological and surrealist". According to Spin, "for lyrical inspiration, Nico looked to the Romantic poets and peyote, passions shared with Jim Morrison." Stephen Davis wrote that the album's lyrics stem from the collaboration between Nico and Morrison, and his influence can be seen in song titles such as "Lawn of Dawns", "Frozen Warnings" and "Evening of Light". Morrison offered Nico a model for her writings by showing her how he worked on his poems, indicated by her use of internal rhymes. According to Peter Hogan, some of her lyrics "show a marked debt to Sylvia Plath and to William Blake" and a search for artistic legitimacy. Other critics have found Nico's lyrics to be intriguing. For example, Richie Unterberger wrote: "Nico intones lyrics that don't quite express specific feelings but convey a state of uneasy restlessness." 
The album begins with a gentle piano-and-glockenspiel instrumental before segueing into "Lawn of Dawns", which introduces Nico's harmonium "of undulating motion weaving against her voice". The song is engulfed in "weird clattering and tintinnabulating", while a "dark twangy guitar ... stumbles to a subdued halt in [its] final seconds". It features what may be Nico's first lyrics, inspired by her peyote visions with Jim Morrison: "He blesses you, he blesses me/The day the night caresses,/Caresses you, caresses me,/Can you follow me?/I cannot understand the way I feel/Until I rest on lawns of dawns—/Can you follow me?" Nico explained the peyote-induced experience which inspired the lyrics: "The light of the dawn was a very deep green and I believed I was upside down and the sky was the desert which had become a garden and then the ocean. I do not swim and I was frightened when it was water and more resolved when it was land. I felt embraced by the sky-garden." The lyrics of the next song, "No One Is There", have been described as "in all probability influenced by Jim Morrison" ("Some are calling/Some are sad/Some are calling mad") and are sung over Cale's classical quartet of violas darting in and out of her unusual vocal tempo. "Ari's Song" was dedicated to Nico's young son, Christian Aaron "Ari" Boulogne, her only child with French actor Alain Delon, and has been called "the least-comforting lullaby ever recorded". It begins with the harmonium's clipped, whistling tones as she sings softly, "Sail away/Sail away my little boy". "Facing the Wind" is supported by "Cale-banged piano clusters, scraping of percussion or walls and off-beat tympani"; Nico's voice sounds filtered (possibly through a Leslie speaker), with the "somnambulistic toiling" of her pipe organ accompanied by viola and strident piano.
Side two opens with "Julius Caesar (Memento Hodié)", which lyrically explores myths and gods. It features Nico's low, droning harmonium accompanied by Cale's viola. On "Frozen Warnings", Cale's arrangement harmonically blends with the pipe organ. It is considered Nico's signature song from her collaboration with Cale; Nina Antonia wrote: "Of all the strange and wracked numbers on the record, 'Frozen Warnings' is quintessential Nico; lyrics that convey a sorrowful atmosphere and little comfort in the melody." The album's dreamlike quality end with its last song, "Evening of Light", which has been described as "frighteningly quiet and hypnotizing". Nico sings "Midnight winds are landing at the end of time", with harpsichord and Cale's staccato viola building until the latter gains ground and sways with the tympani's "roar and clatter". The 1991 reissue of The Marble Index also includes the outtakes "Roses in the Snow" and "Nibelungen". In the latter, Nico's vocals are unaccompanied. The full version (with instrumental accompaniment) was included in the 2007 compilation The Frozen Borderline – 1968–1970; according to Dave Thompson of AllMusic, "It rises to equal any of Nico's subsequent performances or compositions."

When he heard The Marble Index, Jac Holzman decided that "there was no question of not releasing it" despite its lack of commercial appeal; Holzman saw it as a work of art, rather than a product. The album was released in November 1968 with little promotion. A music video for "Evening of Light", featuring Iggy Pop and the other Stooges, was shot by art collector François de Menil in 1969. He has described the clip as "a sort of pre-MTV promotional item for [The Marble Index]. An early pop promo." De Menil was interested in shooting a short film with the singer, and she agreed with the condition that they would film it in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Pop's hometown, and that he would be featured in it. Dave Thompson described the clip as follows: "It was shot in a cornfield behind [Pop's house], barren and stubbly in the late winter chill, Nico in white and windswept, Pop in whiteface, manic and agitated, caressing and crushing the mannequin parts that littered the field, while a wooden cross is raised before them and set ablaze as night falls." Elektra Records—who had not agreed to finance the project—rejected the music video, as did "any other media outlets that de Menil approached".
The Marble Index "failed to challenge the supremacy of Nashville Skyline, From Elvis in Memphis, Abbey Road and Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations on the album charts of 1969". Although Holzman was pleased with the album, Nico's longevity with the label was unlikely; he was increasingly concerned with her heroin use and she had a difficult, irresponsible attitude. Nico left the United States before she was officially released from Elektra, after a violent incident in a New York City bar. Biographers refer to her leaving the U.S. as an exile; Nico said, "When you live in a dangerous place, you also become increasingly dangerous. You might just wind up in jail." In London she recorded two more albums with Cale in the same vein: Desertshore (1970) and The End... (1974), now considered parts of a trilogy.

Although The Marble Index was generally unnoticed when it was released, it was praised by the countercultural East Village Other and International Times; however, most critics found "her desolate soundscapes inaccessible." Anne Marie Micklo of Rolling Stone gave the album a positive review, calling side two "a really worthwhile venture into musical infinity". A cult following emerged around it, which included music journalist Lester Bangs, who wrote in a 1978 article entitled "Your Shadow Is Scared of You: An Attempt Not to Be Frightened by Nico": "The Marble Index is the greatest piece of 'avant-garde classical', 'serious' music of the last half of the 20th century so far." Although Bangs praised the album, he also wrote that it "scared the shit out of [him]" and described the listening experience as "self-torture".
The album has had "a slow progress to critical darlinghood"; for the most part, audiences have remained nonplussed. According to Simon Goddard, most critics regard it as "[Nico's] defining avant-garde masterpiece". The Rolling Stone Album Guide considers The Marble Index the point in Nico's discography where "the difficult listening starts", and the album is "pretty amazing for it". Anthony Carew of called it "a suite of rootless songs written with little precedent" and "an astonishing haunting, the work of a woman who, even whilst alive, seemed a lot like a ghost". Anthony Thornton of NME called it an "artistic triumph": "Bleak but beautiful, this album remains the most fitting embodiment of her doomed glamour." According to Spin, "Few records, before or since, have sounded lonelier, spookier, or more desolate". Trouser Press described it as "one of the scariest records ever made"

Nico's music is indescribable. Various adjectives can be bandied around - claustrophobic, eerie, strange, uncompromising, gothic. But none of them encapsulates the wildness and intrigue that surrounds her often electrifying, atmospheric albums. 

The Marble Index is her entry into the avant-garde music scene. She had debuted in the music world in the mid-1960s with a dual career - that of the classy, elegant, Teutonic beauty for a stand-alone single, "I'm Not Sayin'," in 1965, and her solo debut Chelsea Girl, as well as the mysterious, enigmatic ice queen as the face of The Velvet Underground. 

Nico's transformation between those years and The Marble Index is a surprise. She had shown no real sign of being anything but another Warhol muse, a mysterious European model and chanteuse, an odd yet remarkable stage and screen presence. With this album, she enticed listeners into her gothic, icy sound world. 

The quaint elegant acoustic atmosphere on Chelsea Girl has been completely abandoned for a collection of thought fragments, wispy melodies, and intonations of death, fear, and destruction. It's a disturbing and often confrontational listening experience, but the oddly bewitching beauty of Nico's songs offers a small light in the bleak glacial world enveloping them. 

Perhaps a clue is on the front cover, Nico's famous blonde locks dyed black, and no sign of the obvious classical beauty of before. She still looks beautiful, with her high cheekbones and pale skin, but it's not a warm, radiating beauty. It's unconventional - and that is most definitely reflected in the music. 

Multi-instrumentalist John Cale is Nico's main collaborator, arranging the songs and playing a variety of strange, quirky instruments to support Nico's deep brooding vocals and off-kilter harmonium accompaniment. The presence of the wheezing Indian harmonium as the foundation for the songs lends The Marble Index an even more disturbing and unconventional quality. As Cale noted, no other instruments were in tune with the harmonium so he set about creating a world where the instruments were juxtaposed to create the unnerving effects. 

The album begins with the haunting "Prelude," a bewitching minute-long introduction into the claustrophobic, bleak sound world that ensues with "Lawns of Dawns," where Nico showcases her vastly improved vocals. On her own material, her voice sounds strangely beautiful and commanding, in comparison to some of her less satisfying previous performances. 

"No One Is There" is a song of stark beauty, with Nico's deep voice singing a bewitching melody over the top of Cale's mournful viola. The wheezing "Ari's Song" is a sad ode to her young son, with a funereal melody. The crashing "Facing the Wind" is quite simply one of the most frightening and disturbing songs committed to 'popular music' tape, with Cale's arrangement expertly adding to the drama and intensity of Nico's relatively simple yet disturbing composition. 

"Julius Caesar (Memento Hodie)" is one of the album's best showcases for Nico's voice and harmonium work, while "Frozen Warnings" is one of the few compositions to feature a somewhat optimistic, comparatively light melody. All changes with the closing "Evening of Light," perhaps the album's most beautiful and intense composition, marrying all of the elements explored already on the record into a claustrophobic, bewildering hymn. 

Lyrically, Nico is rarely clear in the messages she tries to get across, but especially for a woman for whom English is not at all a mother tongue she has a command of the poetics of the language, and her imagery is often quite fantastical. But what one can deduce from the album is that she sings of the darker side of life; this is not an album to be played for an uplifting experience. 

The Marble Index stands as one of the most important albums in the rock era. With her new dark image, Nico influenced a legion of gothic musicians but did not resort to thrashing guitars and thick, theatrical make-up to scare her audiences. Indeed, the music does that for itself. It's a stark, icy album, with moments of immense and unexpected beauty. Nico's voice is stronger than her previous work would have you believe, and though her songs are simple they are transformed into disturbing hymns and requiems by John Cale's arrangements and instrumental skill. The Marble Index is a timeless album. Listening to it, you would not easily guess that it was recorded in 1968. The sounds are as clear and pristine and electrifying today as they were decades ago, and this remains one of the most uncompromising albums ever to get a major label release. Likewise, Nico's songs have a medieval quality to them, and one can envisage her sitting alone in a cathedral centuries ago pounding out these intense declarations. It's not an easy listening experience, but that was never the intention. The Marble Index will still sound timeless and intense in centuries to come.

Nico - 1967 - Chelsea Girl

Chelsea Girl

01. The Fairest Of The Seasons 4:05
02. These Days 3:25
03. Little Sister 4:20
04. Winter Song 3:15
05. It Was A Pleasure Then 8:00
06. Chelsea Girls 7:25
07. I'll Keep It With Mine 3:20
08. Somewhere There's A Feather 2:15
09. Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams 5:15
10. Eulogy To Lenny Bruce 3:45

Track 2 is titled "I've Been Out Walking" on blue Verve disc label but "These Days" on back cover.

Christa "Nico" Päffgen – vocals
Jackson Browne – electric guitar (A1-2, B2-3, B5)
Lou Reed – electric guitar (A3, A5, B1, B4)
John Cale – viola, organ, guitar (A3-5)
Sterling Morrison – electric guitar (B1, B4)

One of the most fascinating figures of rock's fringes, Nico hobnobbed, worked, and was romantically linked with an incredible assortment of the most legendary entertainers of the '60s. The paradox of her career was that she herself never attained the fame of her peers, pursuing a distinctly individualistic and uncompromising musical career that was uncommercial, but wholly admirable and influential. Nico first rose to fame as a European supermodel, also landing a bit part in Fellini's La Dolce Vita film and giving birth to a son by Alain Delon. In 1965, she attracted the attention of Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who gave her a chance to record for his Immediate label, though the resulting single, which also featured Brian Jones and Jimmy Page on guitars, flopped. Shortly afterward, she moved to New York, where Andy Warhol installed her as a vestigial presence and occasional lead singer for the Velvet Underground. The band never really accepted her as a bona fide member and she departed in 1967, but not before contributing unforgettable deadpan vocals to three of the songs on their classic 1967 debut album.

Nico embarked on a solo career, recording folk-rock-flavored songs for her debut Chelsea Girl album with assistance from Jackson Browne, Lou Reed, and John Cale. Her 1969 follow-up, The Marble Index, was a dramatic departure that unveiled her doom-laden, gothic persona, produced by Cale and prominently featuring her deep vocals, impenetrable lyrics, and ghostly harmonium. Her subsequent '70s albums explored much the same territory, with assistance from Cale and influential art rockers like Eno and Phil Manzanera. Her career fell into disarray during the rest of the '70s and the '80s as she struggled with a massive drug habit and tangled personal life. She released several live albums on various labels, but the ill-planned Drama of Exile and the more successful Camera Obscura were her only coherent studio efforts until she died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Ibiza in 1988.
The original goth rocker, Nico's albums are demanding and bleak, but map a unique and starkly powerful vision that has become more influential with age. An intimate of Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, the Velvet Underground, the Stones, Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop, and others, her fascinating story is recounted in the biography Nico: The Life & Lies of an Icon by Richard Witts, published in Great Britain by Virgin books; The End by James Young is a seedy look at her drug-addled final years by a member of her touring band.

Although Chelsea Girl (1967) was the first long-player from the German-born Christa Päffgen, it was not her debut solo effort. Prior to becoming involved with the Velvet Underground and while under the direction of Andrew Loog Oldham, Nico issued an obscure 7" on the mod pop Immediate label. The song selection on that 1965 single -- which featured a cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "I'm Not Sayin'" and an Oldham co-composition with Jimmy Page called "Last Mile" -- foreshadowed the eclectic nature of this LP. Although the dissolution between the vocalist and core instrumental quartet was not without its share of acrimony, the non-percussive contingent of the Velvet Underground is heavily featured on Chelsea Girl: along with then-unknown singer/songwriter Jackson Browne (guitar) -- the vocalist's concurrent love interest -- there is Lou Reed (guitar), Sterling Morrison (guitar/bass), and John Cale (piano/bass/viola), who contrast what they had been doing with the larger combo. These sides are decidedly "unplugged," providing a folky and Baroque setting for Nico's dark and brooding vocal inflections. There is an introspective foresight in Browne's "Fairest of the Seasons," "These Days," and "Somewhere There's a Feather." The minimalist string section features a quaint, yet effective arrangement giving the material a distinctly European feel. These orchestrated folk leanings are similar to the sound emanating from other burgeoning groups such as the Incredible String Band, Pentangle, and the Fairport Convention spin-off Fotheringay.The same can be said of her almost unrecognizable reworking of Bob Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine." The noir black-widow charm ultimately saves the performance, as does Cale's remarkable classical intonations. With Reed's "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" -- a track which actually predates the Velvet Underground -- there is a sense of history that Nico brings to her interpretation, as if the melody were, in fact, a traditional German folk tune. There is a palpable distinction between those lighter cuts and the menacing Velvet Underground-conceived material. At the center of the project are the extended "It Was a Pleasure Then" and the stunning semi-autobiographical Reed/Morrison title track. The juxtaposition of such honest and at times harrowing imagery to Nico's inherently bleak delivery is nothing short of an inspired artistic statement which has since long outlasted its initial socially relevant context -- similar to the more modern contributions of Laurie Anderson, Ann Magnuson, and Patti Smith. An unqualified masterpiece.

Believe it or not, when I began my descent into Andy Warhol's associating music acts, this is where I started. Not The Velvet Underground, not Lou Reed, not John Cale, but Nico. The answer as to why is fairly self-explanatory. On my hunt for intriguing female musicians, whilst simultaneously appreciating the greatness of Swans and their elusive side singer Jarobe, Nico was brought to my attention as her primary influencer. After having gone through the German temptress' discography, and learning more about her deranged personal life, the comparisons became apt. However, much like how Swans morphed into the 90's Gothic Rock beasts from their 80's No Wave origins, Nico's genesis wouldn't become how her music overall was defined. There's no denying the bewilderment that would soon come when Nico forwent the blonde hair dye and became the fearless, striking, and utterly captivating Avant-Garde musician that would emerge on her more infamous 1968-1974 trilogy, but I'm personal to Chelsea Girl's innocent styling's. The emotion is night and day, and while the artist herself drew immediate disdain for Chelsea Girl thanks to the artistic choices commandeered by various Velvet Underground members, the straightforward Folk record came the closest to replicating 'Femme Fatale,' 'All Tomorrow's Parties,' and 'I'll Be Your Mirror' from her canonized work with the Lou Reed-led group.

While one wouldn't be discredited for thinking her lunacy that would follow Chelsea Girl is superior to her debut, the fact I enjoy the LP so much despite my general apathy towards Folk is the primary reason why it's my favorite. There's just something about her voice. Actually, scratch that uncertainty, there is something about her voice that resonates so strongly with many. Rarely will you find a talented singer such as Nico divide the line of love and hate as defiantly as her, endearing some while legitimately scaring others. Ironically, I fall into both, despite Chelsea Girl hinging on the former. Truth be told, there isn't much interest to be found in the production of Chelsea Girl. And while her later albums would emphasize sonic landscapes, Nico was still, as she's always been, the center of attention. I always have a difficult time describing vocals, and that won't change here, what with Nico's strong European accent and all. But while her lineage can directly be traced back to her German ancestors, the sounds protruding from her mouth feel more in line with ancient folklore, as if she's bringing Rip Vin Winkle, Sleepy Hollow, or Little Red Riding Hood to life.

As far as the sounds go here, there's something to be appreciated in the undeniably simple structures these songs endure. My two favorite tracks, 'The Fairest Of The Seasons' and 'These Days,' captures a singer so talented that she's able to make straightforward singer/songwriter Folk tunes seem infinitely deep. For the bulk of Chelsea Girl, it's really just Nico, an acoustic guitar, and some strings. Yet it feels as if there's hidden crevices to be unearthed, untold tales yet to become forthright, and darkness being consumed by the light. While she'd go even further down the rabbit hole with The Marble Index and beyond, everything wasn't peachy for Nico here despite the sound parlaying a different vibe. Her despondence and overall sadness is painfully evident, and works wonders in accentuating the given tone. And despite Chelsea Girl's down-to-earth attitude, it doesn't go without some hints of what's to come. Both 'Winter Song,' quite literally personifying a fairy tale, and 'It Was A Pleasure Then' bring out Nico's experimental heart. The latter especially, and definite hints on 'Chelsea Girls,' witness Nico forcibly pulling away from the Folk, only to be dragged back by the beautiful 'I'll Keep It With Me.' This unhinged fight between needs of others and wants of herself causes Chelsea Girl to have quite the impact on me.

Nico - 1965 - I'm Not Sayin'

I'm Not Sayin'

01. I'm Not Sayin'
02. The Last MIle

Produced and Arranged by Jimmy Page

Nico: Vocals
Brian Jones: 12 String Guitar
Jimmy Page: 6 String Guitar

Christa Paffgen was a German model who renamed herself Nico and had a supporting role in Federico Fellini’s masterpiece of decadent pop society, La Dolce Vita. She met Dylan in Paris in the spring of 1964. He had sung the praises of La Dolce Vita’s Anita Ekberg in “I Shall Be Free No. 10” and was no doubt happy to meet another starlet from the film. Nico accompanied him to Germany and Athens while he wrote much of his fourth album, Another Side of Bob Dylan. The track “Motorpsycho Nitemare” features a woman who looks like she stepped out of La Dolce Vita. Nico later claimed Dylan wrote “I’ll Keep It with Mine” for her, but then again, both Joan Baez and Judy Collins claimed that, too.

A year later, Nico hooked up with the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones. The Stones’ manager, Andrew Oldham, took her on as a client and decided to give her the same treatment that had launched Marianne Faithfull’s career. In late May he produced her cover of folk singer Gordon Lightfoot’s “I’m Not Sayin’,” with Jones and Jimmy Page on guitar. Oldham and Page wrote the atmospheric B side “The Last Mile,” which mourns lost childhood like the singles by Oldham’s other chanteuses Faithfull and

That month, when Nico was in Paris, she met Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, and Warhol’s assistant, Gerard Malanga, at the nightclub Chez Castel, where What’s New, Pussycat? had been filmed. The film’s stars, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, and Ursula Andress were hanging out that night as well. Malanga gave Nico the number of the Factory and told her to visit the next time she was in New York.

Around that time, Dylan’s (and Lightfoot’s) manager, Albert Grossman, heard Nico’s single, along with a demo she’d made with Dylan, singing “I’ll Keep It with Mine,” and offered to manage her if she came to the States. So she flew to New York and went to the Factory with Brian Jones. Morrissey thought she was “the most beautiful creature that ever lived.” He and Warhol wanted to use her in movies and maybe something musical — and by years end she had joined the Velvet Underground.


The first, & maybe last time Nico would take a shot at doing a commercial am-radio type record.  Not very interesting, but a real novelty because it's so out of character with the rest of her work (Gordon Lightfoot?'ve got to be kidding!).  

1980's Reissue

On the a-side, Nico's voice is in good form on this well-produced folk-pop song written by Gordon Lightfoot. I don't know how much Jimmy Page had to do with the arrangements as the producer here, but it's a little more lushly arranged than Lightfoot's own version, giving it more of a sunshine pop feel which may surprise those familiar with her later work. 

The b-side co-written by Page and Andrew Loog Oldham isn't radically different, but it is a bit more raw and dark with just her voice and that blurry sounding 12-string acoustic guitar that helps muddy up some of the early Stones records (played by Brian Jones here). It offers a slight glimpse into where Nico would be in a year's time. And that is usually the main point of interest about this single, but it's a good period piece on its own merits as well.

90's reissue on orange vinyl

Basically had Dusty Springfield or Petula Clark issued the exact 2 songs on a 45, it would have been in the British Top Ten. Nico on the other hand took Gordon Lightfoot's I'M NOT SAYING and turned it into a gothic funeral torchsong. Somber, sad and demonic. With the help of young Jimmy Page and Brian Jones on acoustic Guitars, Nico proved that she did not need men, but secretly she did. This is the single that Andy Warhol brought into The Factory to play for everyone proclaiming he would be bringing her in to meet the Velvet Underground. 
The rest is "one album history".