For those of us of a certain generation – unless you have parents who listened to brilliant records on a regular basis – first introductions to Nico’s unmistakeably melancholic voice were made via king of twee Wes Anderson. In The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson tapped two tracks sung by Nico, most notably to soundtrack Margot Tenenbaum (Gwyneth Paltrow) and her slo-mo descent from the Green Liner bus. You might not know it from the way that songs like These Days and The Fairest of the Seasons have been merrily repurposed, but Nico – her voice, style and obsession with death – was the ultimate proto-goth in the 60s and 70s.
Nico was the German fashion model-turned-chanteuse who became known as one of Andy Warhol’s superstars in the 1960s. She may have sung on just four tracks on the Velvet Underground’s debut album, but her strident, deadpan delivery would come to define the sound of the NY underground. It was when she began working as a solo artist, however, that she could bring her death-fixated sheen to a samey rock scene.
The Marble Index (1968), Nico’s second solo album, has been called the first Goth record. You can hear why – its an uneasy listen, bleak without being boring, with Nico’s lyrical drone accompanied by a medieval-sounding musical landscape populated with a harpsichords and glockenspiels. More importantly, Nico’s persona graduates from the proto-Chelsea Girl – all miniskirts, thick blonde bangs and pop art pep – to something altogether more glacial. Like an angsty teen out to make a statement, she dyed her hair black, painted her wardrobe all-black and refused to seem bothered when the album commercially failed. Often described as an ice queen, Nico’s visual statement of these years speaks of the power that comes with creating a new persona for yourself: something that would go on to influence formidable females like Siouxsie Sioux, Björk and Zola Jesus. On what would have been the late icon's 77th birthday, it's an album that’s well worth a repeat listen.