Nico: Chelsea Girl (1967)

Bah! A petticoated pig in lipstick, this. Nico’s first solo album out of the Underground was a powerful declaration of artistic integrity… that the record label crapped all over in the form of encroaching and annoying strings and flutes. You can hear how special Chelsea Girl should have been on the simply adorned “Eulogy To Lenny Bruce.” Now, that isn’t to say that the orchestral touches don’t have a marzipan charm to them, especially on “These Days” and “Chelsea Girls.” In fact, listeners already familiar with “The Fairest of the Seasons” and “These Days,” both prominently featured in the film The Royal Tenenbaums, might have a hard time imagining this album without strings. But the added orchestration, done without the knowledge or consent of Nico, completely obscures her original artistic vision. I mean, who would listen to a line like “excrement filters through the brain, hatred bends the spine” (from “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams”) and think yeah, a flute would go great right here? The genius of Nico is like a rose in the desert. Her music depends on aridity and a certain rigidity. Her later albums capture this, but they don’t feature the standout songwriting of Chelsea Girl. Jackson Browne’s contributions in particular shine, which is pretty amazing given the fact that the album’s other songwriters are named Lou Reed, John Cale and Bob Dylan. Chelsea Girl was supposed to be Nico’s coming out party, not Nico done up as some 60s party doll like New York’s answer to Marianne Faithfull. It’s still a beautiful record because all the ugliness is audible underneath, but it’s ultimately a flawed gem for the very reason that Tom Wilson and the labels tried to cover up the flaws. Someday, someone should release this album in an expanded avec/sans orchestra mix, if only to give Nico’s debut its due.

Original LP Version
A1. The Fairest of the Seasons (Greg Copeland/Jackson Browne) (4:05)
A2. These Days (Jackson Browne) (3:25)
A3. Little Sister (John Cale/Lou Reed) (4:20)
A4. Winter Song (John Cale) (3:15)
A5. It Was A Pleasure Then (Nico/John Cale/Lou Reed) (8:00)
B1. Chelsea Girls (Lou Reed/Sterling Morrison) (7:25)
B2. I’ll Keep It With Mine (Bob Dylan) (3:20)
B3. Somewhere There’s A Feather (Jackson Browne) (2:15)
B4. Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams (Lou Reed) (5:15)
B5. Eulogy To Lenny Bruce (Tim Hardin) (3:45)

The Players
Nico (vocals) with Jackson Browne (electric guitar on A1/A2/B2/B3/B5), John Cale (viola, organ & guitar on A3/A4/A5), Larry Fallon (arranger & conductor), Sterling Morrison (electric guitar on B1/B4), Lou Reed (electric guitar on A3/A5/B1/B4). Produced by Tom Wilson; director of engineering: Val Valentin; recording & remix engineered by Gary Kellgren.

The Pictures
Liner photo by Paul Morrissey.

The Plastic
Released on mono & stereo elpee in October 1967 in the US (Verve, V/V6-5032) and Germany (Verve, 710 008). Re-issued on elpee in 1971 in the UK (MGM, 2353 025). Re-issued on elpee in the UK (Polydor, 2353 025). Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Polydor, 835 209) and in Japan (Verve, POCY-9006). Re-released on 180g vinyl on July 31, 2007 in the US (4 Men Wth Beards, 4M138). Re-released on super-high material compact disc in 2009 in Japan (Verve, UICY-93902).

The Picayune
“Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams” is mistakenly attributed to John Cale on the UK elpee release.

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