Classic Collection from the Teutonic femme-fatale Lady Death: NICO
The Classic Years - Nico
Member Name: beoram
The Classic Years - Nico
Date: 19/11/01, updated on 22/11/01 (305 review reads)
Advantages: excellent selection of Nico's 'classic' (early) music from 1965-1974
Disadvantages: doesn't include some of her good work from post-1974
I usually don’t think very much of ‘best of’ albums, but THE CLASSIC YEARS is quite a good one actually. Many are probably not familiar with NICO (born Christa Päffgen) and those who are most likely vaguely remember her from The Velvet Underground’s first album on which she sang three songs. But Nico continued producing music for another 21 years after her work with Lou Reed et al. of The Velvet Underground. Nico, who was a model before she began her singing career, was also an actress, appearing in over twenty films, including Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” (when she was fifteen). She was born in Cologne, Germany in 1938 (she once said that her father died in a concentration camp) and was educated in Germany, Italy and France, becoming fluent in seven languages. If you do know Nico, you probably think of the beautiful, icy Teutonic blonde dressed all in white—almost like a marble statue—from her modelling days, or early albums THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO and CHELSEA GIRL, but later she hennaed her hair and wore black (she tried to de-iconise, de-objectify herself and was once very pleased when someone told her she looked ugly…she wanted to be taken seriously for her art, like Janis Joplin, and not on the basis of her cold and distant beauty).
Amongst other rock ‘n roll stars, Nico was involved at one time or other with Jim Morrison, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen (or, at least, he fancied her…), as well as the French film director Philippe Garrel and the French film actor Alain Delon (whose child, Ari, she bore), and knew Sartre. In 1964 she met Bob Dylan in Paris and ran off with him to a small Greek island where he wrote the album ANOTHER SIDE for himself and the song “I’ll Keep It With Mine” for her. Later, trying to track down Bob Dylan in New York, she ran into pop-artist Andy Warhol, who was just then putting together his band, THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. <
After leaving VU, she recorded her first solo album CHELSEA GIRL in ‘67, the songs being written mainly by Lou Reed, John Cale and her then paramour Jackson Browne. After CHELSEA GIRL, she primarily wrote her own songs (saying that, ‘It’s boring singing other people’s songs’) and recorded a number of other studio albums, including THE MARBLE INDEX (1968), DESERTSHORE (1970), THE END…(1974), DRAMA OF EXILE (1981), CAMERA OBSCURA (1985) and the posthumously-released HANGING GARDENS (1990). But, as Nico herself once said, ‘I have a habit of leaving places just at the wrong time, just when something big might have happened for me’ – she never achieved the recognition she sought or deserved. Her music—unique and wonderful as I shall attempt to describe presently—is hard to define and nearly impossible to classify, which perhaps kept her from finding a particular niche within the popular music world and thus a particular following… Each of her albums appears on a different label: from PolyGram to Elektra to Warner Reprise to Island, and then to the more obscure Aura and Beggars Banquet labels. John Cale actually had to cajole Island Records into releasing Nico’s THE END… - he made it a pre-requisite to his signing a contract with them for one of his own albums.
Andy Warhol once said of her: ‘Nico was a new type of female superstar. Baby Jane and Edie were both outgoing, American, social, bright, excited, chatty, whereas Nico was weird and untalkative. You'd ask her something and she'd maybe answer you five minutes later. When people described her, they used words like memento mori or macabre. She wasn't the type to get up on the table and dance, the way Edie and Baby Jane might; in fact, she'd rather hide under the table than dance on it. She was mysterious and European, a real moon goddess type.’ The art critic David Antrim described Ni
co as possessing a 'macabre face - so beautifully resembling a memento mori, the marvelous death-like voice coming from the lovely blonde head'. Nico’s voice is unique and instantly recognisable – deep, slow, and germanic; sensuous yet ice-cold. If I had to put a voice to Lady Death, it would be Nico’s. Her music definitely changes and evolves through her albums, particularly once she starts writing most of her own music; and each album is recognisably different from the last. But, if you can imagine it, the closest one could come to describing the body of her work would be a cross between classical European opera and American folk/rock music – Mozart and Bob Dylan – “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” and “The Marriage of Figaro” – Richard Wagner and The Doors – “The End” and “Götterdämmerung”.
THE CLASSIC YEARS contains a selection of her songs from 1965-1974, including her early single (not previously released on CD to my knowledge), all of her songs with the Velvet Underground, and quite a few songs from her first four solo albums (19 tracks – 76 minutes). If I were to try to make my own [1 disc] selection of her songs from 1965-1974, I would have chosen exactly the ones on this disc! (well, except that I would have also included “I’ll Keep It With Mine”, the Dylan song from CHELSEA GIRL, knocking off "Little Sister" if I had to...).
The disc opens with the two songs from her first pre-VU single, ”I’m Not Sayin’” (Gordon Lightfoot) and ”The Last Mile”(Jimmy Page/Andrew Loog Oldham) – which are classic Beatlesque 60’s tunes.
The next three songs are from THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO(1967)—which, if you aren’t a Nico fan, are probably the ones you’ll recognise:
the lovely ”I’ll Be Your Mirror”(Lo
u Reed) – (‘I'll be your mirror, reflect what you are, in case you don't know. I'll be the wind, the rain and the sunset, the light on your door to show that you're home.’); the famous (and self-descriptive) ”Femme Fatale”(Lou Reed) – (‘Here she comes, you’d better watch your step, she’s gonna break your heart in two, it’s true…’cause she’s a femme fatale.’); and ”All Tomorrow’s Parties”(Lou Reed) – (‘And what costume shall the poor girl wear to all tomorrow’s parties? A hand-me-down dress from who knows where…’).
Next, are four songs from her first solo album, CHELSEA GIRL (1967): ”The Fairest of Seasons”(Gregory Copeland/Jackson Browne) – (‘It’s now I know - do I stay or do I go and it is finally I decide that I’ll be leaving in the fairest of seasons.’); ”These Days”(Jackson Browne) – (‘I’ve been out walking – I don’t do too much talking these days – these days I seem to think a lot about the things I forgot to do and all the times I had a chance to') [also very apt for Nico]; ”Little Sister”(John Cale/Lou Reed); ”Chelsea Girls”(Lou Reed/Sterling Morrison).
The four selections from THE MARBLE INDEX (1968) (probably her best album and the first which is truly ‘Nico’s’ music, i.e., written by her): ”No One is There”(Nico) – (‘Across from behind my window screen - demon is dancing down the scene in a crucial parody. He is calling and throwing his arms up in the air and no one is there’); ”Ari’s Song”(Nico) – (‘Sail away, sail away my little boy – let the wind fill your heart with light and joy…’) [written for her son]; ”Frozen Warnings”(Nico) –
(‘Into numberless reflections rises a smile from your eyes into mine – frozen warnings close to mine – close to the frozen borderline’); ”Nibelungen”(Nico) – (‘Since the first of you and me asleep in a Nibelungen and – titanic curses trap me in a banishment of stay – symbols vanish from my senses – stem and stave the view appears – symbols captured in a trance vanish from my glance’) [wonderful acappella song, with resonances of Wagner, unreleased until 1991 when the CD version of the album appeared].
The compiler of this collection chose very well from her third album, DESERTSHORE (1970): ”Janitor of Lunacy”(Nico) – (‘Janitor of lunacy, paralyse my infancy, petrify the empty cradle, bring hope to them and me…’); ”Abschied”[‘Farewell’] (Nico) – (‘sein körper bewegt sich nicht im Traume sich endlich sein Zwingen vergisst…’); ”Afraid”(Nico) – (‘Cease to know or to tell or to see or to be your own – have someone else’s will as your own…’)
Appropriately enough, the compilation concludes with three songs from THE END…(1974): ”Secret Side”(Nico) – (‘Without a guide, without a hand – unwed virgins in the lands, tied up on the sand…are you not loyal to your pride? are you not on the secret side?’); ”You Forget to Answer”(Nico) – (‘When I remember what to say – You will know me again, and you forget to answer’); and an ethereal cover of The Doors’ most famous song - ”The End”(The Doors – Jim Morrison).
All in all, a very good collection of Nico’s songs. It is, however, missing any representation of her later work. Admittedly, her next album THE DRAMA OF EXILE (1981) I’m not sure I care for much
– it’s Nico’s attempt to do ‘traditional’ rock ‘n roll and it just doesn’t come off somehow, though it does have a few good songs and nice covers of VU’s “Waiting for the Man” and Bowie’s “Heroes” (the latter of which Nico claims was written for her). However, the last studio album released during her lifetime, CAMERA OBSCURA (1985), is actually quite good and, if you enjoy Nico, you should definitely get it.
As I said previously, Nico’s music is very hard to classify, but if you like The Velvet Underground or The Doors or Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen or David Bowie or classical opera, you might just enjoy the morbid charms of Nico's unique music as well. Those already fans of Nico may also want this album, as it is nice compilation, plus it has two songs previously unreleased on CD (to my knowledge).
Overall, this is an excellent collection of the music of the Teutonic ice-sculpture, femme fatale, memento mori with a death’s-head voice, NICO.