While she sang lead on what is probably my favorite Velvet Underground song, “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” I’ve never been fully onboard with Nico’s solo career, though admittedly, I haven’t heard much of it outside of her debut album, Chelsea Girl.
But look at the credits of Chelsea Girl: nearly all of the songs are written by Lou Reed, John Cale & Jackson Browne with Tim Hardin and Bob Fucking Dylan as ringers. And nearly all of backing tracks were performed by the Velvets, absent Maureen Tucker.
The lack of Mo Tucker is indicative of the problem: Tom Wilson — who produced both Bringing it All Back Home and The Velvet Underground & Nico (not Andy Warhol, no matter what the credits say), for fucks sakes — decided that Nico was not a rocker, which meant that all vestiges of rock and roll had to be drowned in a sea of strings and wind instruments.
However, years after dismissing Chelsea Girl for exactly that reason, I came back to it a while ago — because Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, and John Cale — and realized that there were still a couple of performances that stood out. Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine” is almost too lovely to ruin, and Jackson Browne’s preternatural “These Days” — it takes some balls to write a nostalgic song at 16 — is why they invented chamber-pop in the first place.
I had a lover
I don’t think I’d risk another these days
And if I seem to be afraid
To live the life that I have made in song
It’s just that I’ve been losing so long
Maybe spurred by the fact that they were romantically involved, Nico sings it with something approaching actual human emotion, the icy disassociation that defined “Femme Fatale” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties” nearly melted by the melody and the lyrics.
That said: there must be a version of Chelsea Girl out there that has the basic VU tracks unencumbered by all of the symphonic overdubs, and even without a rhythm section, that’s a record that I’d really love to hear someday.
Fan-made video for “These Days”
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