"And with The Velvets
come the blonde, bland, beautiful Nico, another cooler Dietrich
for another cooler generation. Art [...] will never be the same again."
John Wilcock of The East Village Other's review of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable show, quoted in the liner notes of The Velvet Underground & Nico CD.
Nico was a German singer, model, actress, and Warhol Superstar. Born in 1938, she started modeling when she was a teenager and later moved into acting, landing a minor blink-and-you-miss-it appearance in Fellini's La Dolce Vita
. Later still, she started working with Andy Warhol
and Paul Morrissey on their experimental films, and it was Andy who inserted her into the The Velvet Underground
's lineup. The collaboration ended rather quickly because she and the band didn't really get along and the Velvets soon broke their ties with Warhol. Nevertheless, her work with the Velvets became legendary in the rock community, despite the fact that her involvement was limited: she only sang 3 songs and added backing vocals to another
on The Velvet Underground And Nico
. Additionally, she received no writing credits and was credited as "chanteuse"
Nico soon embarked on a solo career, using the opportunity to demonstrate the full range of her musical talent. Her debut album, Chelsea Girl
, was met with praise, despite the fact that Nico wasn’t really involved in the production of the album and was dissatisfied with it. It tends to be a Base Breaker
, with some of her fans regarding it as a great album, and others regarding it as an unworthy recording that is unrepresentative of Nico's talents and has attracted an undue amount of attention. She started taking control of her music starting with her second album. Because of this, her sound evolved into something darker, more experimental, and more harmonium-driven. Many of these albums are regarded in some circles as masterpieces.
On July 18, 1988, Nico had a minor heart attack while riding a bicycle in Ibiza and hit her head as she fell. A passing taxi driver found her and had a hard time finding a hospital that would admit her. She was incorrectly diagnosed as suffering from heat-exposure instead of having a severe cerebral hemorrhage, and died as a result. Her legacy still lives on, as part of the Velvets and as a respected solo artist. Musicians influenced by her include Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bat For Lashes
, Patrick Wolf
, Coil, Elliott Smith, and Dead Can Dance
. Also, despite their Creative Differences
, the Velvets liked her voice enough that whenever they performed "I'll Be Your Mirror" (a song where they fought with Nico to get the final result) live, they'd sing it in a German accent.
- Chelsea Girl (1967)
- The Marble Index (1969)
- Desertshore (1970)
- The End… (1974)
- Drama of Exile (1981)
- Camera Obscura (1985)
The following tropes are related to Nico:
- Baroque Pop - Chelsea Girl.
- The Chanteuse - How Warhol named Nico to avoid the band from thinking that he was actually adding a female front singer to the group. (Which he, in a sense, did.)
- Cover Version - "The End" by The Doors on the album of the same name, "I'm Not Saying" by Gordon Lightfoot as her first single, "I'm Waiting for the Man" by The Velvet Underground and "'Heroes'" by David Bowie on Drama of Exile, and the pop standard "My Funny Valentine" on Camera Obscura. In a variation, some of the songs for Chelsea Girl were written specifically for her by her collaborators.
- Creator Backlash – see Executive Meddling.
- Creator Breakdown – Nico wrote "You Forget to Answer" after she failed to reach ex-lover Jim Morrison by phone only to later find out that he had died.
- Creepy Monotone
- Darker and Edgier – The Marble Index is a hell of a shift from Chelsea Girl.
- Doing It for the Art – Despite her talent as a singer-songwriter/musician, Nico was deaf in one ear.
- Dream Team/Hey, It's That Guy! - Nico was good at getting help from talented musicians on her albums. For starters, her first single "I'm Not Sayin'"/"The Last Mile" was produced and had guitar by Jimmy Page. Chelsea Girls features her old VU mates Lou Reed, John Cale and Sterling Morrison along with Jackson Browne. The Marble Index and Desertshore had instrumentation entirely by Nico and Cale, The End kept Cale and added Roxy Music alumni Brian Eno and Phil Manzanera, Drama of Exile featured Ian Dury And The Blockheads saxophonist Davey Payne and David Bowie's keyboardist Andy Clark.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: Her first single, "I'm Not Saying"/"The Last Mile", is an unusually sunny affair compared to the Gothic gloom of her later works. Her first album also qualifies, since she had very little control over it (she had no control over the arrangements and the only song she had any writing input on was "It Was a Pleasure Then", which not coincidentally sounds more like her later material than the other songs on the album).
- Epic Rocking - "It Was a Pleasure Then", the cover of "The End", "Fearfully in Danger".
- Executive Meddling – Nico had little say in how Chelsea Girl was produced. This lead to her to disliking the album.
Nico: "I still cannot listen to it, because everything I wanted for that record, they took it away. I asked for drums, they said no. I asked for more guitars, they said no. And I asked for simplicity, and they covered it in flutes! [...] They added strings and – I didn't like them, but I could live with them. But the flute! The first time I heard the album, I cried and it was all because of the flute."
- Harmony - From The Marble Index onwards, Nico wrote and recorded her songs on an Indian harmonium, which is tuned to an entirely different scale than the Western instruments that make up the rest of the music. The effect can be more than a little unsettling.
- Jerk Ass - According to one account (published after her death, of course, so she could no longer challenge it) she was a virulent racist who once randomly attacked a black woman while drunk. Then again she also worked with non-white musicians (see the personnel list of Drama of Exile for example) so maybe she got better as she got older.
- Kids Rock - "Le Petit Chevalier" from Desertshore is a 1 minute tune of Nico playing the harpsichord and her son Ari singing a few lines.
- Lighter and Softer - The more New Wave influenced Drama of Exile coming right after the HONF-concentrated The End...
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly – Throughout Nico’s career, she has touched Baroque Pop, proto-goth, Synthpop, folk, classical, rock, experimental, and New Wave.
- New Sound Album – All of them!
- Perishing Alt Rock Voice - Yeah, she and pretty much everybody else in VU. Except maybe Mo Tucker.
- The Rashomon - Try to get a straight story of why there are two versions of Drama of Exile. The Other Wiki has more details.
- Revival by Commercialization - "These Days" after it was in The Royal Tenenbaums. The K-Mart commercial didn't hurt either. Jackson Browne, the song's writer and guitarist, had to re-learn it before he could start playing it live again when people started requesting to hear it.
- Rouge Angles of Satin - It's "You Forget To Answer", not "You Forgot To Answer". It doesn't help that the song title was misprinted on some editions of The End....
- Stage Names - Christa Päffgen was named "Nico" by Herbert Tobias, after his ex-boyfriend Nico Papatakis.
- Take That - Her performance of "Das Lied der Deutschen", which includes the infamous "Deutschland über Alles" verse, was, according to Word of God, intended as one towards Nazi Germany; she explicitly cited Jimi Hendrix's performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as an inspiration and dedicated live performances to a communist. Not everyone managed to figure this out. The fact that she was apparently still pretty racist herself probably didn't help matters.
- Tropes Are Not Bad - Apparently Drama of Exile was made for drug money. It's still a pretty good album.
- Unusual Euphemism: Warhol called Nico a "chanteuse" when he introduced her to the Velvet Underground so that the band wouldn't have the impression he was actually adding a new front singer to the group.