Press "Enter" to skip to content

Every Nico Album Ranked Worst to Best

Perhaps you’re one of those ones who could sit and drink a bottle of straight Campari. Perhaps you’re one of those who enjoys the smell of paint thinner and gasoline. (And be honest, who doesn’t enjoy the pleasant little white gaps in our memories those fumes create?) Perhaps nails on a chalkboard is a comforting noise to you or maybe you just really like the sound of a fork scraping on teeth. If that describes you, chances are you’re already a fan of German avant-garde, punk and goth rock (and genuine weirdo) pioneer Nico.

Born Christa Päffgen (a name as German as a pair of lederhosen made of spaetzle) just before the start of World War II, Nico had an interesting career. A model, an actress, a Warhol superstar, a member of the Velvet Underground, a friend to Jim Morrison, a heroin enthusiast, Nico really did it all. But she never came into her own until she dyed her hair red, dressed all in black, started playing the harmonium and singing the weirdest, creepiest songs you’ve ever heard. Like an old German folk tale (for children), Nico’s best work makes you feel like your bone marrow has turned to glass. But how does it all stack up? Well reader, press on and find out.

Honorable Mention: The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)

As stated, this list is dedicated to Nico’s solo career, so we won’t be reviewing the album in full (we all know you nerds would absolutely shit razor blades if we tried to do a V.U. list anyway. So for the time being, let’s set you off just a little by saying… “Loaded” is mid and their second self-titled is great.) We will only be discussing Nico’s parts on that record. In three songs, we see the full-breadth of her career. The folk-based and beautiful “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” the gothic and haunting “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and the pop-based “Femme Fatale” are her sole contributions to the V.U.’s canon. But what contributions they are.

Play it again: “I’ll Be Your Mirror”
Skip it: “Femme Fatale”

6. Drama of Exile (1981)

There’s an interesting sort of thing that happens whenever baby boomer rockers make comeback albums. Because on these albums, they’re not just reckoning with their own sound, but reckoning with the groups that have come after them and taken influence. Much like how Christopher Nolan made “Oppenheimer” to reckon with the legions of douchebags that gravitated towards “Joker” for surrogate personalities. That’s the feel of “Drama of Exile,” a faster goth-rock and punk-forward record that feels touched by groups like Siouxsie and the Banshees, while also taking on a more ‘80s flavor. The result here, much like guacamole made by a depressive… is sadly mixed.

Play it again: “Purple Lips”
Skip it: “Sixty Forty”

5. Camera Obscura (1985)

There is a really excellent scene in the biopic “Nico, 1988” (probably one of the only music biopics that does anything remotely creative or interesting) in which Nico (Trine Dyrholm) performs the song “My Heart is Empty” at an underground venue in Soviet East-Berlin, while her management flees from armed guards. That’s the flavor of Nico’s jazz-infused final album. It’s a record that doesn’t give up its secrets easily and seems to have the head-up-assness of some of the most pretentious new-wave acts. But there are some genuinely great moments in this one if one has the patience to look.

Play it again: “My Heart is Empty”
Skip it: “Camera Obscura”

4. Chelsea Girl (1967)

Speaking of excellent movie scenes, who can forget that moment in “The Royal Tenenbaums” when Gwyneth Paltrow’s Margot steps off the bus only to be greeted by her incest-driven adopted brother (Luke Wilson) and “These Days” starts to play? We certainly didn’t. “Chelsea Girl” is a classic. But maybe… just maybe, it’s a classic for some of the wrong reasons. The songs on here seem to showcase how others felt Nico’s career should go, with songs penned by folk icons like Jackson Brown and Bob Dylan and even some more avant-garde tracks by former V.U. bandmates. It’s a great album, it sounds good, it’s cozy. But there are deeper places Nico could go.

Play it again: “These Days” and “I’ll Keep it With Mine”
Skip it: “Eulogy For Lenny Bruce”

3. The End… (1974)

The last of Nico’s great gothic trilogy (and the darkest of them by far), “The End…” is a collection of moanings, wailings, tortures, hauntings, and banshee keenings. And you know something? I love it. Essentially a eulogy for Nico’s songwriting mentor Jim Morrison, this album features a creepy truly, creepy cover of “The End” by the Doors and “You Forgot to Answer” an account of Nico trying to reach Morrison just before she was informed of his death. This album is probably Nico’s most ambitious work, but much like a lasagna with a weird extra ingredient (probably zucchini or some shit) it’s too messy to be perfect. But then again, Nico is a V.U. vet. And what’s more Velvet Underground than a mess?

Play it again: “Secret Side” and “You Forgot to Answer”
Skip it: “Das Lied der Deutschen”

2. The Marble Index (1968)

The launchpad to the Nico we know best, “The Marble Index” is, without doubt, one of the creepiest albums ever written. And its best song “Evening of Light” is so psychologically unnerving (with droning mandolins and monotone singing) that it’s honestly inadvisable to listen to it if you’re alone after dark. Still, many of Nico’s greatest… hits?… are on this record, including “Frozen Warnings” and “No One is There.” Ah yes. Nico’s greatest hits. You know how you always hear them on the radio? Those songs with the dissonant violins and the singing about demons? Songs of the summer here, folks.

Play it again: “Evening of Light” and “Frozen Warnings”
Skip it: “Julius Caesar (Memento Hodié)”

1. Desertshore (1970)

As every middle-aged man points out before trying either Hims or truck-stop dick pills… it’s not the size that counts. It’s how you use it. In this case, Nico uses a not-quite-29-minute record to make her greatest cultural footprint. So much so that the English group Throbbing Gristle launched “The Desertshore Collective” a multi-day live performance of songs on this album. Which is perfect, both as an artistic vision and as a version of the Bad Place for the people who got trapped at Burning Man this year.

Play it again: “My Only Child” and “Afraid”
Skip it: “Le Petit Chevalier”