Thursday, January 21, 2066

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Velvet Underground and Nico - 1966 - A Symphony of Sound

The Velvet Underground and Nico
A Symphony of Sound 

The Velvet Underground and Nico: A Symphony of Sound (1966) is an American film by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey. The film was made at The Factory. It is 67 minutes long and was filmed in 16mm black and white.

The film depicts a rehearsal of The Velvet Underground and Nico, and is essentially one long loose improvisation. Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison play their electric guitars (Gretsch Country Gentleman and Vox Phantom respectively), Maureen Tucker plays her 3-piece drum kit consisting of a rack tom, snare drum, bass drum and single cymbal, John Cale plays his electric viola and Nico bashes a single maraca against a tambourine. Cale subsequently switches to bass and at some stage, he creates feedback on an wooden frame from a piano while Nico plays on Cale's Fender Precision Bass. Cale soon switches back to his viola and near the end of the film, the rehearsal is disrupted by the arrival of the New York police, supposedly in response to a noise complaint.
The film was intended to be shown at live Velvet Underground shows during setup and tuning.

“We’re sponsoring a new band," announced Andy Warhol at the end of the 1966 documentary posted here yesterday. "It’s called the Velvet Underground.” Brian Eno would much later call it the band that inspired every single one of its listeners to start bands of their own, but that same year, Warhol produced The Velvet Underground: A Symphony of Sound. The film shows the group, which features young but now much-discussed rock iconoclasts like John Cale, Lou Reed, and (on tambourine) the German singer Nico, performing a 67-minute instrumental improvisation.

Shooting at his New York studio the Factory, Warhol and crew intended this not as a concert film but as a bit of entertainment to be screened before actual live Velvet Underground shows. It and other short films could be screened, so the idea developed, their soundtracks and visuals intermingling according to the decisions of those at the projectors and mixer.

"I thought of recording the Velvets just making up sounds as they went along to have on film so I could turn both soundtracks up at the same time along with the other three silent films being projected," said director of photography and Factory member Paul Morrissey, best known as the director of Flesh, Trash, and Heat.  "The cacophonous noise added a lot of energy to these boring sections and sounded a lot like the group itself. The show put on for the group was certainly the first mixed media show of its kind, was extremely effective and I have never since seen such an interesting one even in this age of super-colossal rock concerts." Alas, someone's noise complaint puts an end to the Symphony of Sound experience: one policeman arrives to turn down the amplifier, and Warhol tries to explain the situation to the others. But the bustle of the Factory continues apace.

Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico - 2003 - Le Bataclan '72

Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico 
Le Bataclan '72

01. Waiting For The Man
02. Berlin
03. Black Angels Death Song
04. Wild Child
05. Heroin
06. Ghost Story
07. The Biggest, Loudest, Hairiest Group Of All
08. Empty Bottles
09. Femme Fatale
10. No One Is There
11. Frozen Warnings
12. Janitor Of Lunacy
13. I'll Be Your Mirror
14. All Tomorrows Parties (Encore)

Bonus Tracks: Rehearsals
15. Pale Blue Eyes
16. Candy Says

Extra Bonus Rehearsals
17. Conversation
18. Instrumental Check
19. Pale Blue Eyes Check
20. Pale Blue Eyes False Start
21. Pale Blue Eyes Restart
22. Candy Says
23. Black Angel's Death Song
24. Heroin

Recorded live at Le Bataclan, 50 Boulevard Voltaire, 75011 Paris, 29 January 1972

Acoustic Guitar, Vocals – Lou Reed
Guitar, Piano, Viola, Vocals – John Cale
Harmonium, Vocals – Nico

CD Liner Notes:
Lou Reed and John Cale formed the Velvet Underground in late 1965, recording their influential debut with Nico the following year. She was never regarded as a full member of the band, however, and ceased to work with them in mid-1967. Cale quit in the fall of 1968, leaving Reed to lead the quartet until his own departure in August 1970..There after a version of the band led by Cale's replacement Doug Yule (with Maureen Tucker the only original member) continued to perform, though by all accounts they were a pale imitation of the band's former self.

It therefore delighted their still small coterie of loyal fans when rumors began to circulate in January 1972 that Reed, Cale and Nico were planning to perform together again. At the time all three participants were in London - Reed was there making his solo debut, Cale was recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and Nico had flown in from Paris (where she was living with the filmmaker Philippe (Jarrel.) to work on an abortive fourth solo album, supposedly to be produced by Cale. 

She was also under the impression that the trio would be performing together in the city mid-month, the putative show being promoted by rock journalist Geoffrey Cannon (one of the Velvet Underground's few champions in the British press). In fact, Cale was due to play a gig at the Bataclan club in Rue Voltaire, Paris on Saturday 29th, and it was there that the former collaborators publicly reunited.

A rehearsal tape likely to date from mid-January finds Nico a little rusty on the songs she used to perform with the band - All Tomorrow's Parties, Femme Fatale and I'll Be Your Mirror - and not much better on three songs from her  own debut album, Chelsea Girl (which ended up being performed at the gig).

Another tape apparently finds Reed and Cale rehearsing for the reunion, and runs contrary to the received wisdom that they struggled to be civil to each other. On it they seem relaxed and friendly, and Reed even divulges his delight at having had an album signed for him by Jerry Lee Lewis. They run through Pale Blue Eyes and Candy Says (the originals of which post-dated Cale's tenure with the band, and which did not end up being played at Bataclan,, though they're included here as bonus tracks), as well as Heroin and Black Angel's Death Song (which were performed at Bataclan).

The concert itself, played in front of about 1000 people (with, according to Melody Maker at the time, twice that number unable to get in), was a triumph. Performed acoustically, unlike the vast majority of the Velvet Underground's material, the trio conjured a sparse yet warm sound, well captured by the soundboard recording. Cale played viola and piano over Reed's acoustic guitar, while Nico contributed harmonium. The bulk of the material dates from the VU days, but Reed also contributed his lesser-known gem Wild Child and an unusually lugubrious rendition of Berlin, which he later described as "a real nightclub torch thing... kind of a Billie Holliday trip." 

Cale, meanwhile, offered Ghost Story from his Vintage Violence album, as well as a strange tune called The Biggest, Loudest, Hairiest Group Of All (no studio version of which was ever released). Most surprisingly, he also played Empty Bottles/which he'd written for Jennifer Warnes (whose solo debut he produced soon afterwards).

Nico's harmonium is prominent on three tracks from her albums The Marble Index and Desert shore (No One Is There, Janitor Of Lunacy and Frozen Warnings), but inevitably it's the Velvet Underground material on which all three originally appeared that received the most enthusiastic response – Femme Fatale/I'll Be Your Mirror and the encore. of All Tomorrow's Parties. Clearly all three musicians enjoyed the experience, but a report in Melody Mater that a further performance by them was to take place in London in February was sadly mistaken, and the closest most people came to seeing them was via a partial film of the Bataclan show (offering Berlin, I'm Waiting For The Man, Heroin, Ghost Story and Femme Fatale that was screened on the French TV show Pop Deux on June 10th 1972.

Extra Extra Bonus: Video:

Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico
January 29, 1972 
Bataclan, Paris

POP2 22.01.1972
01. Janitor Of Lunacy
02. Interview
03. You Forgot To Answer

POP2 29.04.1972
04. I'm Waiting For The Man

POP2 10.06.1972
05. Berlin
06. I'm Waiting For The Man
07. Heroin
08. Ghost Story
09. Femme Fatale

POP2 04.11.1972
10. I'm Waiting For The Man

POP2 22.09.1973
11. Walk On The Wild Side
12. Heroin
13. White Light / White Heat

The legendary show recorded at the Bataclan Club in Paris, on January 29th, 1972,  Lou Reed is accompanied by John Cale & Nico, on stage for the first time since the break up of the Velvet Underground.
Broadcast on June 10, 1972, Pop 2, Antenne 2, France.

The show is presented by Patrice Blanc Francard and includes reports about Robert Wyatt's Matching Mole,Lewis Caroll and 23 minutes devoted to the Reed, Cale & Nico concert at Le Bataclan in Paris, on January 29, 1972.

It offers 5 songs filmed by Claude Ventura (Berlin, I'm Waiting For The Man, Heroin, Ghost Story, Femme Fatale) intersected with French journalists discussing.

In January of 1972, before any of them had established themselves as solo performers, the three semi-estranged principles of the disbanded Velvet Underground found themselves in Europe at the same time and played a legendary one-off "unplugged" concert at a thousand-seat venue in Paris called Le Bataclan. The set they played that night has long been available on poor-quality bootlegs, and though I've never heard any of those bootlegs, I cannot imagine how the sound quality could be any worse than on this official release. Sometimes it actually sounds as if the tape were slowing down, and various instruments have that weird, warbly sound that one associates with old cassette tapes well along the way to becoming spaghetti. Still, the novelty of hearing these by-now overly familiar songs in these lo-fi, round-robin, coffee-house renditions has a certain charm that is at times both poignant and illuminating. And the stage banter, always a key selling point with any live Velvets album, is suitably deadpan and entertaining.

"Waiting for My Man" opens the set. The traditional, scene-setting Moe Tucker drum kick-in being unavailable, Cale opts for traipsing in with an almost comically earnest school-recital piano figure. Reed, the star pupil, seems to be concentrating on his Sinatra-esque phrasing at the expense of his strumming, but he's in rare form with the quips. Before "Berlin", he tells the French people, "This is my Barbra Streisand song." Before "Wild Child", he explains, "This is about a wild child, funnily enough." The mandatory "Heroin" is given a decent read, Cale sawing away on his viola, and "Black Angel's Death Song", arranged for viola and acoustic guitar, turns out to be laugh-out-loud funny.

Cale takes center stage after some extended tuning, and some frustratingly inaudible off-mike conferencing with Reed (this is often better than the stage banter), before running through a song off Vintage Violence, and two previously unreleased numbers: "The Biggest, Loudest, Hairiest Group of All", which sounds like one of those old Peter, Paul & Mary sing-along children's songs, and "Empty Bottles", a stately love song he originally wrote for Jennifer Warnes. This last song is the first genuinely moving moment of the entire set. Of course, Lou pipes up: "Anybody got a straw?"

The boys kick in with "Femme Fatale" soon after, without Nico, as if they didn't trust her to talk on-mike, but they have to stop as she misses her cue. You can hear her sigh audibly and give a little embarrassed laugh before the song restarts. Her singing is so careful, it's clear that she's terrified. She doesn't have Reed's above-it-all snottiness, or Cale's formal detachment to hide behind. Her gift, such as it is, is pure human sadness unadulterated by irony. The song ends, the crowd finally goes nuts, and rightfully so. She is the evening's entrée.

She does three of her own songs next, ending with a literally gut-wrenching version of "Janitor of Lunacy": She erupts in a fit of coughing for almost a full-minute after the song ends. Then, Reed, as if he didn't deign to speak directly to Nico, instructs Cale, "Uh, John, have Nico tell them this is the last song." More coughing, then finally Nico recovers and is back at the mike. The crowd cheers her on. "I want to sing the last song now. If I can," she says in her halting English, "I try my best." After a beat, she feels compelled to add, "I don't smoke cigarettes." "I'll Be Your Mirror" is the song. Nico's voice is wrecked, the sound is crummy, but somehow, with Reed and Cale propping her up with two-part harmonies, and finally wrenching substantial sounds from their acoustics, it's an incredibly affecting, heroic rendition. The encore ("All Tomorrow's Parties") can't touch it, but gives the audience a chance to exhale.

If you collect fine-art photography, you probably won't care much for this record. It's under-rehearsed, poorly recorded, and the uneven performances range from the sublime to the incoherent. But if you appreciate the fleeting revelations to be found in snapshots, then this may be just the bit of quicksilver for you, a unique moment in musical history just before these three erstwhile Jekylls became forever Hydes.

Kevin Ayers-John Cale-Eno-Nico - 1974 - June 1, 1974

Kevin Ayers-John Cale-Eno-Nico
June 1, 1974

01. Driving Me Backwards
02. Baby's On Fire
03. Heartbreak Hotel
04. The End
05. May I
06. Shouting In A Bucket Blues
07. Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes
08. Everybody's Sometime And Some People's All The Time Blues
09. Two Goes Into Four

Kevin Ayers – vocals (B1-5), guitar (B1-5), bass guitar (A1-2)
Brian Eno – vocals (A1-2), synthesizer (A1-4, B5)
John Cale – vocals (A3), piano (A2), viola (A1, B5)
Nico – vocals (A4), harmonium (A4)
Mike Oldfield – lead guitar (B4), acoustic guitar (B5)
Ollie Halsall – piano (A1), guitar (A2-3, B4), lead guitar (B1-3), acoustic guitar (B5)
John "Rabbit" Bundrick – organ(A1-3 & B1-5), organ, piano, electric piano (B1-3)
Robert Wyatt – percussion (A1-3 B1-3 + 5)
Doreen Chanter – backing vocals (A3)
Archie Leggatt – bass guitar (A1-3 B1-3 + 5)
Eddie Sparrow – drums(A2&3 B1-3), bass drum (A1), tympani (B5)
Liza Strike – backing vocals (A3)
Irene Chanter – backing vocals (A3)

Original setlist for the show:

01. Intro
02. Driving Me Backwards
03. Baby's On Fire
04. Buffalo Ballet
05. Gun
06. Heartbreak Hotel
07. Das Lied Der Deutschland
08. The End
09. May I?
10. Shouting In A Bucket Blues
11. Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes
12. Didn't Feel Lonely Till I Thought Of You
13. Whatevershebringswesing
14. Everybody's Somebody And Some People's All The Time Blues
15. Interview
16. See You Later
17. Why Are We Sleeping?
18. Dr. Dream Theme
19. Two Goes Into Four
20. I've Got A Hard-On For You, Baby
21. Baby's On Fire

On June 1, 1974, several leaders on the British underground rock scene -- Soft Machine bassist Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Brian Eno and Nico -- joined forces for one memorable evening at the Rainbow Theatre in London. Thankfully, the show was recorded for the rest of the world to enjoy as well.
The idea for the concert came from Island Records A&R man, Richard Williams, who suggested it would be a interesting mix of artists and would help generate interest in the label which had, up to then, been associated primarily with reggae."I came up with the idea of doing a showcase concert at the Rainbow, and putting out a live album in record time," Williams told author Richie Unterberger in the book, 'White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day by Day.' Indeed, it was released less than a month later on June 28.
“They had all these cult people on the label," said Cale in a 1974 press release. "The idea was that if you put them all together you might sell enough to justify their presence.” All four artists were part of the Island stable. "I signed Cale and Nico to Island, and invited Eno and Phil Manzanera [Roxy Music] to work on Cale's album," Williams said.
Eno was a founding member of Roxy Music, and though he left after their second album in 1973, his influence has never left the group. Eno went solo, issuing two of the 1974's most eclectic and exciting albums, 'Here Come the Warm Jets' and 'Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy.' A year earlier, he released the groundbreaking 'No Pussyfooting' album with King Crimson's Robert Fripp the previous year.
Ayers had first come into public view as a member of the Soft Machine, who shared stages with Pink Floyd in 1967 at places like the UFO Club. He left the Soft Machine following the release of their debut album, and, by 1974, had a clutch of great albums to his credit. Cale, meanwhile, had also left his first real home, the Velvet Underground, around the same time, also carving out a trail of his own great solo discs. Another Velvets associate, Nico, was also making unique and very personal records. In retrospect, it seems like a natural melding of styles and personalities for this concert.
Joining the four were future touring Who member John 'Rabbit' Bundrick on keyboards and guitarist Mike Oldfield, who was in the midst of huge solo success with his 'Tubular Bells' album. Former Soft Machine drummer and vocalist Robert Wyatt was also on hand. Coincidentally, the concert was exactly one year to the day that Wyatt tragically fell out of a window, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
The concert featured material from all the key players, with side one split between Eno, Nico and Cale. Eno and company deliver great renditions of 'Driving Me Backwards' and a blistering 'Baby's On Fire.'  Cale's haunting rendition of the Elvis Presley classic 'Heartbreak Hotel' took the song into an entirely different world than Presley had ever dreamed of. A certain incident (see below) may have helped supply the venom this night.
Nico's incredible take on the Doors' 'The End' is a hypnotic trip. Ayers is well-represented here with all of side two dedicated to his songs. Two of his finest, 'Shouting in a Bucket Blues' and 'Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes,' are show-stealers with the incredible guitar work of Ollie Halsall taking things skyward.
But the event was not without its own soap opera. Ayers had became involved with Cynthia Wells, Cale's wife. Wells had once been a famous groupie (under the nickname "Miss Cynderella") and, along with the more infamous Pamela Des Barres, a member of the GTO's. Cale learned of their fling shortly before they took the stage that fateful night.

Cale would preserve the incident on his next album 'Slow Dazzle' in the song 'Guts,' which features the opening line, "The bugger in the short sleeves f---ed my wife, did it quick and split." The two eventually mended fences and continued to work together over the years.

Supergroups are one of rock music’s most frustrating entities. On paper, gathering up several big stars to collaborate might look good, but the results are rarely spectacular; for every Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or Derek And The Dominos, there’s at least a dozen SuperHeavys. When a supergroup forms, there are definitely high, oftentimes impossible, expectations from the fan base, not to mention the tremendous amount of ego of its participants, which can easily soil the work. There’s sometimes a sense of quasi-perverseness in the eyes of the band members, whether it’s “everything we do is gold” or “we could try harder, but people will buy this no matter what.” (Although the results turned out to be pretty solid, Them Crooked Vultures—consisting of Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Nirvana/Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones—were selling T-shirts and concert tickets hand over fist before they even premiered a full song.)

The idea for the performance was spearheaded by Richard Williams, A&R man for Island Records, who had helped sign several of the artists. Island was originally a strictly reggae label based in Jamaica, but starting in the late ‘60s, had started to release all kinds of music, especially artists of a more experimental nature. Though the critics lauded Island’s output, much of it didn’t sell very well, so while the concert was, in part, a unique artistic endeavor, there was a business element, too. As Cale explained in a 1974 press release for his upcoming solo album, “They had all these cult people on the label. The idea was that if you put them all together you might sell enough to justify their presence.”

The rehearsals were a dream come true for Eno. The Velvet Underground was a giant influence on him, and in return, branded the band with the legacy-defining sentiments that even though the Velvets didn’t sell many records, everyone who did buy them formed a band. (The exact quote changes depending on who’s telling it, as does who actually said it; it’s likely it wasn’t Eno after all.) Now he was collaborating with two of the band’s members, though he didn’t treat them any differently when it came to the music. He explained in a 1975 interview with Hit Parader, “Working with them was of course interesting; both of them are very demanding people in a way—and so am I in another way. It was a very volatile situation and those are the ones that interest me in music. We weren’t sitting around patting each other on the back saying ‘groovy,’ ‘let’s blow together’—it was quite intense.” As a sort of logistical adviser for the concert, he was careful not to make the mistakes that bog down most supergroups: “what happens usually is that you get the lowest common denominator of every person. You don’t bring out the best points in them, you bring out the points where they all agree.”

As Ayers and backing band the Soporifics were the main attraction, the bulk of the set list was focused on him. Unsurprisingly, he was incredibly relaxed during the short rehearsals, as Ayers seems to glide through things effortlessly, which represents itself in his music. Cale, however, was incredibly nervous about the show, as he had never really played live as a solo artist. Though he had made numerous records and produced a ton of groups, he hadn’t taken it to the stage since his Velvet Underground days. There was one thing, however, Ayers and Cale did have in common: the latter’s wife, Cindy Wells. A famous groupie in the late ‘60s, “Miss Cynderella” was later a member of groupie-band the GTO’s. Wells and Cale had married in 1971, though it was a shaky partnership, at best. The night before the Rainbow Theatre concert, as Cale was stressing himself out, he learned that Ayers and Wells were having sex behind his back. Cale confronted Ayers, who admitted it, but his wife repeatedly denied it. None of this helped Cale’s situation. In fact, the album’s cover photo, taken the night of the show, shows Ayers and Cale in a very awkward stare-down; Ayers is smirking, while Cale looks like he could kill the man. (The next year, Cale documented the incident on Slow Dazzle’s “Guts”: “The bugger in the short sleeves fucked my wife, did it quick and split.” His marriage with Wells ended soon after.)

Rather poetically, Cale’s single solo contribution to the album, though he played several songs that night, is a gnarled cover of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” Taking all the sexiness out of the original and substituting pure rage, the version is almost unnerving at times. In front of pounding drums, Cale’s screams punctuate the choruses, as do the three female backup singers who wail along with Eno’s siren-like synthesizer, echoing through. Cale would record “Heartbreak Hotel” on Slow Dazzle, but this is perhaps the best recorded version. (The song would become a live staple for him, later soundtracking his chicken beheading, as documented in an earlier Hidden Gems.)

Like Cale, Nico also only has one song featured on June 1, 1974, though like the former, it’s a showstopper. Her contribution is a haunting cover of “The End” by the Doors using just a harmonium and Eno’s synthesizer in a nine-minute long float of tension. Nico had a very intense relationship with Jim Morrison for a period in ’67 that was famously filled with fights, drugs and blood rituals in the desert. It ended after a short time, but the two free-spirits remained friends for the next few years. In July 1971, Nico made a phone call to Morrison’s Parisian residence, though he didn’t pick up; when she later found out the reason was because of his death, she was devastated. During May and June 1974, Nico was in the midst of recording her next solo album with Cale, which featured a more filled version of “The End” as the title track. (Also included on the record was “You Forgot To Answer,” a depressing ode to her last phone call to Morrison.) Even without knowing the dramatic subtext, the version here is still ghastly. Nico had one of the most unique voices in music, with her thick German accent and unbound sadness, and her brooding version stays true to the original on a scary, emotional level.

The much more upbeat side two is all Ayers, functioning as a great summation of his solo career up until that point. Opening with “May I?” from 1970’s Shooting At The Moon, Ayers’ charmingly laid-back nature accentuates the mellow grooves, even singing the last verse in French. “Shouting In A Bucket Blues” is almost a perfect representation of Ayers’ style: a melancholic tune about loneliness that sounds less than a self-pitying wallow, and more of a man trying to be happy, even if it’s not going so well. “So I sing for everyone who feels there’s no way out,” Ayers announces in his unique baritone, “but maybe if you all shout, someone will hear you.” The heroes of Ayers’ set are the guitar work of Oldfield and, particularly, Ollie Halsall. The latter’s mercurial runs up and down the neck provides an exquisite counterpoint to the casual atmosphere of the songs, especially the pseudo-rockabilly “Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes.”

June 1, 1974 was remarkably released the same month, as several more performances from the group followed. The album, although superb, merely acts as a sampler of the music that night; various bootlegs capture the entirety of the show, featuring more songs from each of the members, including a mini-reunion performance of a few Soft Machine songs and a version of Ayers’ “I’ve Got A Hard-On For You, Baby” that ironically, given the back story, features Cale on vocals. The participants of the concert would continue to work together over the years—even Cale and Ayers, who later made up. The record went on to become a cult classic, a fusion of some of rock’s most innovative minds. Although the show was a joy for him, the ever-sensible Eno realistically explained, “Of course we really couldn’t take it on the road, because we’d fight after a few gigs.”

Nico - 2012 - Reims Cathedral

Reims Cathedral

01. Janitor Of Lunacy 4:38
02. The Falconer 5:55
03. Valley Of The Kings 3:39
04. The End 9:38
05. Abschied 3:05
06. Mutterlein 4:27
07. Frozen Warnings 4:44
08. You Forgot To Answer 4:50
09. We've Got The Gold 4:51
10. No One Is There 4:05
11. Ari's Song 3:09

“On December 13, Nico performed at another of her always strikingly original concert venues, this time in Reims Cathedral, where France has traditionally crowned her kings for centuries. Following the event, outraged Catholics throughout the country claimed the church was desecrated and cried out for a special purification ceremony for the monument” 
Stephen Demorest (Circus Magazine, April 1975)

On December 13, 1974, Nico was the support act at Tangerine Dream's infamous concert at Reims Cathedral in north-east France. The promoter had so greatly oversold the capacity of the venue that attendees could not move or reach the outside, eventually resulting in some fans urinating inside the cathedral hall. As a result, the Roman Catholic Church denounced these actions, ordered the re-dedication of the cathedral and banned future gigs on church property.

I remember reading about this concert in a British music paper in the 1980s.This was an important gig in her career. The recording unfortunately is very poor. It was probably recorded by a fan in the audience. At times ,dialog in the crowd over shadows the music she makes. This was Nico in her heyday. She performed with only her pump organ and no band.Her best songs are all here. Janitor of Lunacy. the Falconer, and Frozen Warnings among others. Since this was recorded from out in the audience, the reverb from the cathedral is preponderant. However, I take my Nico tunes any way I can get them. this is a landmark recording in her canon. Her performances were deep and moving. Near the end of her performing career, she lost some of the poignancy that she has on these recordings. 

Let's clear up a few facts about this extremely rare, and previously unpublished concert recording. First, Tangerine Dream performed in the concert, as the 2nd act. Secondly, the concert was performed in a Catholic Cathedral with astounding acoustics, but it nevertheless was performed in 1974.... 1-9-7-4 folks! 40 years ago. Even the very best recording technology is nowhere near what it is today. Thirdly, and most importantly, both Tangerine Dream (Their set has also been released officially) and Nico had their hopes for a published work dashed by what happened at that concert. The Catholic Church banned all future performances in the cathedral because of what happened there. You can read about the details on another website. Nico wanted her music sold, not aired one time on a French radio station. Tangerine Dream was trying to make a name for themselves. All dashed because of what happened at the cathedral, and how furious the Catholic Church was about it. They had to reconsecrate their church, for cryin' out loud! 

Nico - 2007 - The Frozen Borderline 1968-1970

The Frozen Borderline 1968-1970

101. Prelude 0:59
102. Lawns Of Dawns 3:10
103. No One Is There 3:36
104. Ari's Song 3:20
105. Facing The Wind 4:58
106. Julius Caesar (Memento Hodie) 5:01
107. Frozen Warnings 4:01
108. Evening Of Light 5:44
109. Sagen Die Gelehrten 3:52
110. Rêve Réveiller 4:07
111. Roses In The Snow (Alternate Version) 4:00
112. Nibelungen (Complete Version) 3:15
113. Lawns Of Dawns 3:15
114. No One Is There 3:40
115. Ari's Song 3:14
116. Facing The Wind 5:05
117. Julius Caesar 5:02
118. Frozen Warnings 4:21
119. Evening Of Light 5:41

201. Janitor Of Lunacy 4:04
202. The Falconer 5:42
203. My Only Child 3:30
204. Le Petit Chevalier 1:17
205. Abschied 3:05
206. Afraid 3:30
207. Mütterlein 4:40
208. All That Is My Own 3:36
209. My Only Child 4:15
210. Janitor Of Lunacy 3:58
211. Abschied Ode (Death/Farewell) 3:01
212. You Are Beautiful (Afraid) 3:17
213. The Falconer 5:46
214. On The Desert Shore (All That Is My Own) 2:44
215. Frozen Warnings (Hidden Track) 4:24

Disc One, tracks 1 to 8 originally released as The Marble Index, Elektra (US) EKS-74029, 1968.
Disc One, tracks 9 to 12 are outtakes from the album sessions. (Track 11 was first issued in 1991 in a different mix, along with an a cappella version of track 12).
Disc One, tracks 13 to 19 are alternate versions from the album sessions.

Disc Two, tracks 1 to 8 originally issued as Desertshore, Reprise (US) 6424, 1970.
Disc Two, tracks 9 to 14 are demos, recorded August 20, 1969 and are previously unreleased.
Abschied and Mütterlein are from the film La Cicatrice Intérieure, directed by Philippe Garrel.
Disc Two, track 15 Frozen Warnings (with John Cale on drone viola) is an unlisted hidden track.

Four decades after its release, Nico's first solo album Chelsea Girls remains her most famous. Its bittersweet folk-pop has continually grown in stature, even hitting a pop culture peak a few years ago when "These Days" showed up repeatedly in commercials and films. Less well-known is how much Nico despised the album. The lithe melodies (written by ex-boyfriends Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, and Lou Reed, among others) and ornate string arrangements struck an irresistible contrast to her chilly vocals. But to Nico they were the antithesis of her own artistic core.

Her next two albums, 1969's The Marble Index and 1970's Desertshore, are more accurate representations of her dark, dramatic vision. They may not have achieved the renown of Chelsea Girls, but they've held up just as well, if not better, artistically. The Frozen Borderline: 1968-1970 is a UK-only deluxe combination of both albums, appending 18 alternate versions to the pair's original 16 songs.

After Chelsea Girls, apparently on the suggestion of Leonard Cohen, Nico took up the harmonium, an accordion sibling that's usually foot-operated. But Nico played a portable, hand-operated Indian version, and the instrument's droning tone was an apt counterpart to her obliquely tragic songs. Spending four days in an Elektra studio in L.A., she recorded 12 pieces with John Cale, who wrapped a rich pastiche of viola, piano, guitar, and more around Nico's harmonium and vocals.

The result is a strange, moving album that Lester Bangs called in a 1978 review "the greatest piece of 'avant-garde classical' 'serious' music of the last half of the 20th century so far." He also said it scared the shit out of him. There is certainly an underlying bleakness that can make The Marble Index a strenuous listen. But Nico's melodies are so hypnotic, and Cale's sonics are so fertile and unpredictable, that it's hard not to be entranced by these songs.

Sure, Nico's cryptic lyrics about "the end of time," "the heaving sea," and "frozen warnings" sound grim, but her Teutonic croon could've made commercial jingles seem foreboding. For every sad line or aching refrain, there's the touching beauty of "Ari's Song", the rising viola of the pristine "Frozen Warnings", the pulsating piano of "Facing The Wind". The Marble Index may seem to strike only one note, but inside it Nico and Cale found a universe of possibilities.

The original release of The Marble Index included eight of the 12 songs Nico recorded for it. The Frozen Borderline adds the other four, plus alternate versions of every track save the opening instrumental "Prelude". Some of these alternates are different mixes of Cale's contributions, but the most interesting present Nico alone with just her harmonium. The sparser setting gives the songs a sunnier feel, transforming the stirring "No One Is There" and the reflective "Julius Caesar (Memento Hodie)" from maudlin to bittersweet.

The Marble Index's lackluster sales led Elektra to drop Nico, but in 1970 Reprise picked her up, and she and Cale teamed again to make Deserstshore, included here on disc two. Many prefer it to The Marble Index for its sonic variety and wider range of moods, and it definitely sounds more open and less claustrophobic than its predecessor. But the album has too many soft and even saccharine moments to be perfect. The sappy melody of "Afraid" and the tinkly ice-dancer piano of "The Falconer" aren't crimes in and of themselves, but they keep Desertshore from matching the intense purity of The Marble Index.

Still, there are a lot of great songs here, and Nico's voice remains unerring, perhaps even stronger than before. On opener "Janitor of Lunacy" a slight strain in her voice adds urgency, while the German lyrics of "Abscheid" slice through Cale's viola like an icicle puncturing a snowdrift. And nothing quite compares to the creepy "Le Petit Chevalier", a nursery rhyme sung by Nico's eight-year-old son Ari.

The extra tracks on this disc are mostly harmonium-and-voice versions of the album's originals, and in many cases they sound better. "Afraid" becomes the haunting "You Are Beautiful (Afraid)", more like an elegy than the original's soft ballad, and the droning "The Falconer" is stranger and darker than its more ornate counterpart. It's perhaps sacrilege to prefer these sparser versions, and the Desertshore originals certainly offer more sonically. But Nico's solo takes are welcome breaths of fresh, uncomplicated air.

The Frozen Borderline ends with a hidden version of "Frozen Warnings", Nico's signature song from this period. Here, the arrangement is pared down to just Nico's voice and Cale's viola. Its stoic beauty is a perfect synopsis of this great period and just might represent the peak of both of these artists' stellar careers. Either way, The Frozen Borderline is an essential document of a high watermark in avant-rock history.

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.