Though Nico is best known for her association with the Velvet Underground, as a solo artist she charted a career every bit as unique and interesting as her Velvet cohorts Lou Reed and John Cale. Her first single, released on the hip Immediate Records label in 1965, was orchestrated Mod Pop not unlike her contemporary Marianne Faithful, or dozens of others, for that matter. Written by Gordon Lightfoot, I’m Not Sayin’ is the most cautious of love songs, reflecting an emotional honesty not typical of the era, but perfectly suited for Nico’s unmistakable monotonic accent and melancholia. Add to that the twelve string guitar Jimmy Page, and a production from Brian Jones and you’ve got an impressive musical debut.
The following year, at the insistence of Andy Warhol, Nico was brought into the Exploding Plastic Inevitable/Velvet Underground fold, on whose debut she would sing only three songs, despite the album being titled, The Velvet Underground & Nico. Well, as everyone knows by now, that album, despite modest sales, went on to become one of the most influential albums of all time, and cemented Nico’s role as an outsider icon.
So much ink has been, rightly, spilled on the debut, that discussing it further here borders on pointless, so I’ll just add my own random aside: a girlfriend of mine once asked me what song I would play at my wedding. I, never having seriously considered it, can’t even remember what song I said, mostly because whatever it was, she totally trumped me with, I’ll Be Your Mirror. Ever since then I’ve known that, should I get married, that song will be playing. And yeah, I woulda married her then and there, were it meant to be.
Released hot on the heels of the VU’s debut, Nico’s solo LP, Chelsea Girls (named for the Warhol film in which she starred), featured songs written by Reed, Cale and Morrison, in addition to paramour Jackson Browne, Tim Hardin, and an unreleased Dylan nugget, I’ll Keep It With Mine. In addition to songwriting credits, her fellow Velvets performed on the album, and VU producer Tom Wilson again manned the boards. Musically it’s a continuation of her debut single, the orchestrated Pop, while fitting perfectly alongside her Velvets cuts.
Nico’s sophomore album, The Marble Index, saw a dramatic change in sound, as she began her love affair with the harmonium. The droning pump organ was a natural progression from John Cale’s La Monte Young influenced viola in the Velvets, and naturally lent itself to Nico’s world weary melodies. Nico wrote and performed the songs solo on harmonium, then brought them to Cale, who would arrange all subsequent instruments. Though his influence looms large, there is no mistaking that Nico had found what would become her signature sound.
Frozen Warnings is my ultimate winter song.
Look out for another of Nico’s boyfriend’s Iggy Pop in this promo clip from Evening of Light.
Desertshore would see Nico developing that sound, this time with Cale sharing production with Joe Boyd, a legend for his productions of sixties Psychedelia and Acid Folk.
It would be four years before another Nico LP hit the shelves. The End centers on the titular title track, a very Nico reading of The Doors psychedelic magnum opus, and the occasional synthesizer work of a freshly Post-Roxy Music, Brian Eno.
Following The End, Nico would not record until the eighties, at which point she had become an icon to Goths and Punks around the world.
I absolutely love this performance of Chelsea Girls shot in the Chelsea Hotel.