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This Week In Rock History: Nico Dies and Roger Waters Performs at the Berlin Wall

Plus, Whitney marries Bobby and Oasis hits America

July 19, 2011 11:25 AM ET
Nico and the Velvet Underground
Nico
Photoshot/Getty Images

This week in rock history, Genesis vied with their ex-frontman on the charts, Velvet Underground singer Nico passed away, Roger Waters performed a Pink Floyd classic on the remains of the Berlin Wall, Whitney Houston married Bobby Brown and Oasis performed in America for the first time.

July 19, 1986: Genesis hits Number One on the U.S. singles charts with "Invisible Touch"; their former lead singer, Peter Gabriel, hits No. 2 with "Sledgehammer"
When outlandish lead singer Peter Gabriel left Genesis in 1975, the split confused fans of the British prog-rockers – fans who were already a bit perplexed, given the recent release of their ambitious concept record The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Gabriel stayed with the band through the Broadway world tour, a carnivalesque presentation of surreal costumes and heightened theatrics, then left to concentrate on his family and his own material.

Beginning in 1976, Gabriel released four purposely oblique solo albums. Influences veered from punky prog (collaboration with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp) to world-beat percussion (his now-popular "gated reverb" production technique); his broadest success stemmed from 1986's So, which included his Grammy-nominated, soul-infused single "Sledgehammer."

In the summer of 1986, "Sledgehammer" reached Number One on the Billboard charts. One fateful week, it slipped to Number Two behind some familiar faces: Genesis, still led by their Phil Collins, who bested "Sledgehammer" with their smash hit "Invisible Touch." In fact, that week, seven spots of the Hot 100 singles were occupied by past and present members of Genesis: the surviving band, lead guitarist Mike Rutherford's other band Mike + the Mechanics, Hackett's new band GTR and Gabriel.

July 18, 1988: Nico, of the Velvet Underground, dies
German musician Nico perfectly embodied the bohemian chanteuse ideal of the Sixties: she was a singer, songwriter, model, actress and Andy Warhol muse. The statuesque New York resident (born Christa Päffgen) was recognizable for her cavernously low singing voice and her regally calm demeanor, both of which were displayed on her most famous collaboration: three songs on the Velvet Underground's 1966 debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico.

 The album went largely unheralded at the time but was a crucial establishment of the band's aesthetic, down to the Warhol-sketched banana cover art. It proved massively influential in art-rock circles (it's Number 13 in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time) and the Nico-fronted tracks are some of the band's most popular works: "All Tomorrow's Parties," "I'll Be Your Mirror," and "Femme Fatale."

Nico enjoyed solo success through the Sixties and Seventies, including further work with Lou Reed and John Cale of the Underground. She usually sang while playing the harmonium and other folk instruments, and penned tracks for the films of French director Philippe Garrel; she eventually starred in his pictures and became romantically involved with him.

In 1988, while vacationing in Ibiza with her son, she fell off her bicycle and suffered a fatal brain hemorrhage. She was 49.

July 21, 1990: Roger Waters performs "The Wall"  on the remains of the Berlin Wall
Eight months after the Berlin Wall fell, Pink Floyd lead singer Roger Waters threw an elaborate celebration on its remains. The Wall – Live in Berlin was a spectacular multimedia moment for Waters, who performed Pink Floyd's 1979 album on the empty ground where the wall once stood. The site was located between two city landmarks, the city square Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate, and Waters's theatrical presentation changed many aspects of the album's original 1980-1981 live staging (Pink Floyd's final tour together). Fan-favorite anthem "Another Brick in the Wall, Part II" featured extended instrumental solos, and lighter-waving track "Comfortably Numb" introduced a lead guitar battle. The show also featured several prominent guest stars – Van Morrison, Bryan Adams, Cyndi Lauper and Joni Mitchell.

The Wall was a fitting soundtrack for the historic occasion; the grandiose rock opera was Pink Floyd's rumination on loneliness and isolation, and one of the best-selling albums of the 1980s. Waters's performance was watched by over 350,000 spectators and broadcast live in 52 countries. A live recording was released later that year, and is now available on DVD as well.

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