A perfect primer to the career of one of Krautrock/Ambient Music’s most influential pioneers.
A perfect primer to the career of one of Krautrock/Ambient Music’s most influential pioneers.
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.
I think with the presence of Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence, AND the Eno soundtrack (and a Satanic cult!), this has gotta be worth at least one watching, despite it’s 4.3 IMDB rating.
It’s a thing of beauty, for fans of “the pulse”.
This clip of Lark’s Tongue In Aspic never fails to floor me
Several years ago, some friends that were preparing to meet Brian Eno, asked me about the scope of his influence, specifically, whether or not I thought it was as massive as Dylan’s. I admit to giving it a moment’s hesitation before declaring “entirely!”, or some such unflinching affirmative. Now I know that sorta comment gets certain peoples blood boiling on the tracks (see! Dylan references are inescapable!), and it is not meant as a slight to Dylan at all, just an acknowledgement of Eno’s status as an innovator and icon of modern music.
Like Dylan, Eno was a pioneer of many musical styles. Starting his career in 1971, on synthesizer and effects/treatments as an original member of Roxy Music, Eno’s contributions helped give the band an experimental edge that set them apart from other bands of the era. The music of Eno era Roxy (1972’s self titled debut and 1973’s follow up, For Your Pleasure), established them as trendsetters not only for the budding Glam and Prog scenes, but Punk, New Wave, Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, electronic music, and pretty much anyone using a synth. In fact, Eno’s contribution to Roxy was so profound, that it lead to friction with singer Bryan Ferry, as Eno became the most recognizable figure of the band, due both to use pioneering synth work and flamboyant style. Clearly Brian Eno could no longer be contained within the parameters of a band dynamic.
Upon quitting Roxy, Eno immediately established himself as a individual force with which to be reckoned. Partnering with King Crimson mastermind, Robert Fripp, the pair released Eno’s first post Roxy record, 1973’s, No Pussyfooting. The two track LP was Eno’s virginal foray into the genre with which his name has since become inextricably linked, Ambient. The A-side, The Heavenly Music Corporation, consists of a taped loop of Fripp’s guitar, over which he solos live. For the B-side, Swastika Girls, Fripp soloed on top of an Eno electronic loop. Both songs use delay to create a hypnotic, swirling wash of sound. As an artistic statement, it was decidedly non-commercial, though it sales were surprisingly substantial. The duo would join up again for 1975’s, similarly minded, Evening Star. Eno continues to collaborate, in various capacities, with numerous artists to this day.
Following No Pussyfooting, Eno released four solo albums between 1973-74, all of them acknowledged classics. The first two, Here Come The Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), proved particularly significant in the development of Punk Rock and experimental music. With songs like Blank Frank, The Papa Negro Blowtorch, Baby’s On Fire, Third Uncle, The Great Pretender, actually name any song on these records and you’re gonna be hard pressed to find a precedent for them. I can only imagine what hearing them when the were first released must have felt like. An alien experience of alien soundtracks, perhaps.
As much of a fan as I am of the more Rock side of the Eno discography as I am, I have to admit that it’s his role as a pioneer of Ambient music which may ultimately prove his most lasting legacy. After ’73’s, No Pussyfooting and ’74’s, Discreet Music, Eno had already established himself as a champion of this new sound which he best describes as, “Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”. The majority of Eno’s following recordings, both solo and in collaboration with artists like Harold Budd and Cluster, would follow such a modus operandi, with 1978’s, Ambient 1: Music for Airports, being of particular significance.
I would be remiss, if I did not mention Eno’s work as a producer on such pivotal records as the debuts of Devo, Talking Heads (and their three successive albums), and Ultravox, the genre defining No Wave compilation, No New York, his work on John Cale’s Island albums, and whether I wish to admit it or not, his long and immensely successful work with U2. Also, let’s not forget that David Bowie’s, Berlin Trilogy would never have happened without Eno’s input. The best thing about Eno’s influence is that it will only get larger as modern music begins to catch up with and assimilate all of his ideas.
Oh, and I completely forgot to mention 801!
A great piece on Eno’s sphere of influence from the always great, Sasha Frere-Jones
The soundtrack to the rare, Land of The Minotaur, is prime 1975 era, Eno, and remains unreleased and largely unknown. It deserves to be heard be all Eno fans.
As much as any band, Conny Plank shaped the genre that came to be known as Krautrock, his publishing company, Kraut, providing the most obvious titular connection. Plank’s pioneering use of electronics and commitment to experimentation, became the cornerstone on which German bands solidified their unique contribution to the world. He was co-producer on the first four Kraftwerk albums, all three Neu! records and the first post Neu! band, La Dusseldorf’s first LP, several Guru Guru records, engineered the first Ash Ra Tempel and the pre-Kraftwerk, Tone Float, broke ground in electronic music with Kluster, worked with Brian Eno and continued being relevant into the eighties working with such bands as Ultravox, D.A.F., Killing Joke, The Eurythmics and others, as well as his own projects.
The Day After The Sabbath was nice enough to compile a selection of some of the heavier moments in the Plank’s sessionography.
Best known, by me at least, for his scores to the films of Peter Greenaway, and his debut album issued on Brian Eno’s Obscure Records in 1976, which Eno also produced.
Here’s the intro to Nyman’s 1974 treatise “Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond”, which name checks composers not often mentioned at that time. Definitely worth a look.
Without John Cale’s classical training and ear for the experimental, the Velvet Underground would have been a very different band. The immediately identifiable drone of Cale’s electric viola, was a direct result of his classical studies and time spent as a part of minimalist legend , La Monte Young’s, Theatre of Eternal Music.
Although he only appears on the first two Velvet’s albums proper, his vast contribution to the band’s legacy is unquestionable.
Since leaving the Velvet Underground, Cale has released a slew of solo records, a collaboration with another legend of Minimalism, Terry Riley, revisited his time with the VU, including a collaborative LP with Lou Reed, Songs For Drella, and produced two absolutely essential lynch pins of modern rock, The Stooges self titled debut, and six songs from The Modern Lovers debut LP.
Here’s a great clip featuring The Police’s, Andy Summer’s, filling in for the Phil Manzanera’s guitar, as on the Slow Dazzle LP