The Marble Index (album)

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The Marble Index
Studio album by Nico
Released November 1968
Recorded September 1968
Studio Elektra Studios, Los Angeles, United States
Genre Avant-garde
Length 30:48
Label Elektra
Producer Frazier Mohawk, John Cale (uncredited)[1][2]
Nico chronology
Chelsea Girl
The Marble Index

The Marble Index is the second solo studio album by German musician Nico, released in November 1968. Produced by Frazier Mohawk, it was released on Elektra Records. Described by critic Simon Reynolds as "one of the most harrowing and death-fixated albums in rock history",[3] The Marble Index was written by Nico and features musical arrangements by John Cale, who had worked briefly with Nico during her collaboration with the Velvet Underground.

Though a commercial failure upon release, the record has since received acclaim from music critics. The Marble Index set the musical model for the rest of Nico's career, and became a crucial music and visual prototype for the gothic rock movement of the post-punk era.[4]

Background and recording[edit]

The Marble Index was produced in a period of Nico's life that biographers tend to barely probe.[5] Jim Morrison, who Nico later referred to as "[her] soul brother", encouraged her to write her own songs; Simon Reynolds described this as "a key breakthrough for [her]."[6] A hippie in San Francisco sold Nico a harmonium,[7] an instrument with which "she discovered not only her own artistic voice, but a whole new realm of sound."[8] The droning pump organ would become her trademark.[9]

The tracks were originally recordings of Nico singing over her droning harmonium; John Cale later added musical arrangements on top. Regarding the album's recording process, Cale remarked, "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 album takes its title from The Prelude, magnum opus of William Wordsworth; 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."[10]


"My melodies are from the Middle Ages. They are from my Russian soul. I do not mean this literally, but they are that in my imagination. John Cale said that they are not tonal. They do not come from our key system. They are too old in their arrangement."

— Nico[7]

The music of the album was a new style for Nico, distancing herself from rock and pop.[8][11] It is based on Nico's tonal and droning singing and harmonium. Cale's musical arrangements are reminiscent of European classical, avant-garde and folk music.[11][12] Anthony Carew of described it thus: "Bleeding out sombre laments and brutal dirges of intense medievalism, she sounds for all the world like she's wandering through the valley of death".[8] Richie Unterberger of AllMusic described it as "an uncompromisingly bleak, gothic soundscape,"[11] while NME‍ '​s Anthony Thornton noted a "chilly Eastern European sensibility."[13] Anne Marie Micklo, in her 1969 Rolling Stone review, described it as "mood music, with an obscure and elusive text recited over it."[14] The album also unveiled Nico's songwriting, as Chelsea Girl featured none of her compositions. Her lyrics deal with introspective and somber themes.

The album's prelude opens the album with a gentle instrumental featuring a piano and glockenspiel, then cutting off into "Lawn of Dawns" which introduces Nico's harmonium "of undulating motion weaving against her voice".[1] The lyrics of the following track, "No One Is There" have been described as "in all probability influenced by Jim Morrison," as she sings "Some are calling/Some are sad/Some are calling mad" over Cale's classical quartet of violas darting in and out into her unusual vocal tempo.[1] "Ari's Song" was dedicated to Nico's young son Christian Aaron "Ari" Boulogne, her only child with French actor Alain Delon; it has been described as "the least-comforting lullaby ever recorded".[15] The track opens with the clipped and whistling tones of the harmonium as she softly intonates "Sail away/Sail away my little boy".[1] "Facing The Wind" is shored up by "Cale-banged piano clusters, scraping of percussion or walls and off-beat tympani;" Nico's voice appears to be filtered, possibly through a Leslie speaker, while the "somnambulistic toiling" of her pipe organ is fettered by viola gears and the exhaustively strident piano banging.[1]

Side two opens with "Julius Caesar (Memento Hodié)", which lyrically concerns myths and gods. It exhibits Nico's low and droning harmonium clusters while Cale's viola needles into them; on "Frozen Warnings", however, Cale's arrangements adopt a more harmonic mode to blend with the pipe organ.[1] The album's oneiric quality comes to an end with its closing track, "Evening of Light", which has been described as "frighteningly quiet and hypnotising." As Nico sings "Midnight winds are landing at the end of time", delayed harpsichords and Cale's staccato viola build circularly, until the latter gains ground and sways back and forth with the tympani's "roar and clatter."[1]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating 4.5/5 stars[8]
AllMusic 3/5 stars[11]
Lester Bangs favorable[16]
MusicHound 4/5 stars[17]
NME 7/10[13]
Rolling Stone positive (1969)[14]
3.5/5 stars (1992)[15]
Sputnikmusic 1/5 stars[18] s

Though a commercial failure upon release, the record has since received acclaim from music critics and has influenced decades of music to come.[11] Anthony Carew of wrote: "Over four decades after its release, 1969's The Marble Index still sounds shocking; a work of radical avant-gardism cloaked in immediacy and intimacy; a suite of rootless songs written with little precedent, disconnected from what came before. That sense of being unmoored only adds to the genuine unease of these songs, which often exist without any kind of constant rhythm. [...] It makes for an astonishing haunting, the work of a woman who, even whilst alive, seemed a lot like a ghost."[8] Music journalist Lester Bangs considered The Marble Index "the greatest piece of 'avant-garde classical' 'serious' music of the last half of the 20th century so far", although he also famously wrote it "scared the shit out of [him]."[16]

Dorian Lynskey, writing for The Guardian, called it "a remarkable record, one with the annihilating beauty of a late Rothko painting".[19] Anthony Thornton of NME likewise described it as "Bleak but beautiful" and "the most fitting embodiment of [Nico's] doomed glamour."[13] Spin wrote "Few records, before or since, have sounded lonelier, spookier, or more desolate."[10]


The Marble Index featured a unique sound which set it apart from the musical landscape of the 1960s. Anthony Thornton of NME called it "a stark, oppressive opus that has influenced everyone from PJ Harvey to The Duke Spirit.[13] Spin wrote: " [The Marble Index] set the tone for decades of music to come — Arthur Russell, Dead Can Dance, Fennesz, Zola Jesus, Grouper, pretty much every metal band that ever used a harpsichord — but few followers have sailed so near to the edge of the abyss with such chillingly beautiful results."[10]

The record has been particularly influential to the Goth subculture of the late 1970s and early 1980s, sometimes being called "the first goth album".[20] Its release coincided with a deliberate change in Nico's look: she dyed her hair black and took to dressing mostly in black, adopting what has been called a "gothic horror princess" persona.[21] Gothic rock musicians, such as Siouxsie and the Banshees,[22] were influenced by the album's droning, stark sound.[11] Gothic rock musicians like Ian Astbury of The Cult and Peter Murphy of Bahaus have cited Nico as an influence.[20] She also lived in the United Kingdom during the time the gothic rock scene was developing, with supporting acts including The Sisters of Mercy and Gene Loves Jezebel. Peter Murphy stated "Nico was gothic, but she was Mary Shelley gothic to everyone else's Hammer horror film gothic. They both did Frankenstein, but Nico's was real."[20] On the other hand, David Dalton of Gadfly Online wrote "some say she is the originator of Goth, but this is just silly, a misunderstanding, a pastiche. Nico has no heirs. She is a discrete entity."[2]

Simon Reynolds has written about a female rock persona called the "Ice Queen". He wrote: Ice is the opposite of all that women are supposed to be: warm, flowing, giving, receptive. Like Lady Macbeth, the Ice Queen has unsexed herself, dammed up her lachrymal and lactation ducts. She offers cold, not comfort. Her hand surfaces can't be penetrated. She is an island, an iceberg."[3] He argues that, with The Marble Index, Nico took this persona (originally embodied by Grace Slick) even further, "[fetishing] disconnection" and "[dreaming] of a sort of negative nirvana".[3] This persona has been influential to future female artists like Siouxsie Sioux and Björk, who have also been dubbed "Ice Queens". The latter's 2011 album, Biophilia, was described by Rolling Stone as The Marble Index‍ '​s "haunted digital sister."[23]


The information regarding accolades attributed to The Marble Index is adapted from, except where otherwise noted.[24]

Publication Country Accolade Year Rank United States Top 30 Alternative Albums of the 1960s[25] 2010 25
Fast 'n' Bulbous The 500 Best Albums Since 1965 2012 470
Spin The Top 100 Alternative Albums of the 1960s[10] 2013 14
GQ United Kingdom The 100 Coolest Albums in the World Right Now! 2005 23
The Guardian 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die 2007 *
Paul Morley Words and Music, 5 x 100 Greatest Albums of All Time 2003 *
Sunday Herald Scotland The 103 Best Albums Ever, Honest 2001 *
Rock & Folk France The Best Albums from 1963 to 1999 1999 *
Mucchio Selvaggio Italy 100 Best Albums by Decade 2002 83
(*) designates lists that are unordered.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Nico. 

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Prelude"   1:00
2. "Lawns of Dawns"   3:11
3. "No One Is There"   3:37
4. "Ari's Song"   3:21
5. "Facing the Wind"   4:55
Side two
No. Title Length
6. "Julius Caesar (Memento Hodié)"   5:02
7. "Frozen Warnings"   4:02
8. "Evening of Light"   5:40


Credits adapted from The Marble Index's liner notes.[26]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "The Seth Man" (December 2001). "Nico - The Marble Index". The Book of Seth. Unsung. Head Heritage Ltd. Retrieved August 8, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Dalton, David; Fields, Danny (June 24, 2002). "The Marble Index". Gadfly Online. Retrieved August 11, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c Reynolds, Simon (1996). The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock 'n' Roll. Harvard University Press. pp. 300–301. ISBN 978-0674802735. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  4. ^ Unterberger, Richie (June 1, 2009). White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground day-by-day. Jawbone Press. p. 201. ISBN 978-1906002220. 
  5. ^ Lindsay, Matthew (14 January 2013). "Nico: Facing the Wind – The Marble Index Trilogy". The Quietus. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  6. ^ Reynolds, Simon (16 March 2007). "From the Velvets to the Void". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c Witts, Richards (1995). Nico: The Life and Lies of an Icon. Virgin Books. ISBN 978-0863696558. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Carew, Anthony. "Nico The Marble Index – Review of Nico's Definitive Alternative Album The Marble Index". Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  9. ^ "Nico Biography". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c d "Nico – The Marble Index (Elektra, 1968) | Spin". Spin. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f Unterberger, Richie. "The Marble Index – Nico | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards |". AllMusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  12. ^ Howard, David N. (2004). Sonic Alchemy: Visionary Music Producers and Their Maverick Recordings. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 184. ISBN 978-0634055607. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  13. ^ a b c d Thornton, Anthony (10 August 2005). "NME Reviews – Nico : The Marble Index |". NME. IPC Media. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  14. ^ a b Micklo, Anne Marie (March 15, 1969). "[The Marble Index review]". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  15. ^ a b DeCurtis, Anthony; Henke, James; George-Warren, Holly (1992). The Rolling Stone Album Guide. Random House. p. 508. ISBN 0679737294. 
  16. ^ a b Bangs, Lester (2008). Morthland, John, ed. Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader. Random House. pp. 205–213. ISBN 978-0375713675. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  17. ^ Cite error: The named reference acclaimedmusic was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  18. ^ Arp, Louis (7 May 2005). "Nico – The Marble Index (Album Review) | Sputnikmusic". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  19. ^ Lynskey, Dorian (14 October 2008). "Nico's The Marble Index Is Hard Listening but Worth It | Music | The Guardian". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  20. ^ a b c Thompson, Dave; Greene, Jo-Ann (November 1994). "Undead Undead Undead". Alternative Press (Alternative Press Magazine, Inc.).  Available here.
  21. ^ Jovanovic, Rob (March 27, 2012). Seeing the Light: Inside the Velvet Underground. St. Martin's Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-1250000149. Retrieved August 8, 2015. 
  22. ^ Wolk, Douglas (January 1995). "Reviews". CMJ New Music Monthly (CMJ Network, Inc) 17: 42. ISSN 1074-6978. Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  23. ^ Fricke, David. "Björk - Biophilia". Album review. Rolling Stone Magazine. Retrieved October 11, 2011. 
  24. ^ Acclaimed Music – The Marble Index. Retrieved on August 11, 2015.
  25. ^ Carew, Anthony. "Top 30 Alternative Albums of the 1960s". Retrieved August 17, 2015. 
  26. ^ The Marble Index (Media notes). Nico. Elektra Records. 1968. 

External links[edit]