Sad news of the passing of Apollo 11 astronaut Micheal Collins. I’m absolutely fascinated by space. My next music project I’m working on is space themed and I have been watching a number of space documentaries for ideas. The more I watch the more I admire the astronauts (animals too) who took space flight in this era and the build up to the first moon landing. I find the fact that the phone I’m writing this on has more computing power then the Apollo shuttles that went into space unbelievable. Maybe overlooked in that historic event of the first moon landing but Micheal Collins’s role was integral to its success and getting the three Apollo 11 astronauts back to earth.
“I certainly thought that I did not have the best seat of the three,” he said. “But I can say in all honesty, I was thrilled with the seat that I did have.”
With some of the blogs I’m going to do, I want to write about some of the albums that are really important to me. The first one is an album that’s had a huge influence on my own music and that is Chelsea Girl by Nico.
I first heard Chelsea Girl, all be it just a couple of songs, from the brilliant Wes Anderson film The Royal Tenenbaums. In one scene during the film a track from the album called These Days is played and with just a few opening notes of the guitar that begins the song I was hooked and keen to know who it was. When Nico’s voice entered the song, I wondered if this was the The Velvet Underground, who Nico performed with on the bands incredible debut album and it was song of theirs I had somehow miss. Instead it was from her own debut solo album Chelsea Girl. I wasted no time in hearing the whole album and I just loved it from the beginning to the end.
Why do I love this album? Well so many things but to begin with it’s Nico’s voice. It’s perfectly imperfect. It’s a voice that will leave you either with a feeling like mine or leaving you retching in audio disgust. To me, it’s beautiful. No she isn’t singer like Aretha Franklin but like her, Nico’s voice is distinctive and instantly recognisable.
The album is 45 minutes long and consists of ten songs, which are written by a pretty decent group of songwriters, Lou Reed, John Cale and Sterling Morrison (of The Velvet Underground) Jackson Browne, Tim Hardin and Bob Dylan. The music is fantastic, it’s simple and uncomplicated but is full of melody and rhythm. The chord progressions are a huge influence on my playing, as is the guitar sound. I adore it and as a guitarist it’s a sound I try to recreate endlessly. It’s clean but with a slight bit of distortion and the guitar is played with an acoustic finger style (with excerption on the track It Was A Pleasure, which has a bit more edge to it) which is a style I use regularly with my singer songwriter songs. Playing that way all started with this record.
Other instruments on the album are, bass guitar, a harpsichord sounding instrument, flute and strings. There’s no drums on the record. The strings were added by producer of the record Tom Wilson and arranger Larry Fallon after the initial recordings were made and to the displeasure of Nico apparently but they add so much depth to the sound of the record. Blended with the guitar and bass it’s an incredible sound.
Tom Wilson was a magnificent producer in my opinion. He worked with Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel and The Velvet Underground to name a few. Notable recordings you’re probably aware of are Like A Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan and Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel. There’s a great signature sound to his producing, it’s a big inspiration to my music and when I’m making my own recordings.
I’m a massive fan of records, like this one, that have instruments panned. So for example the guitar will be panned to the left speaker and the strings panned to the right speaker. It’s a very effective way of creating a wider sound with just a few instruments and not having everything so muddled up striving for your attention. I like the way too you can focus on just this part or that part and hear so much in the record.
Lyrically the songs have a sweet tone to them but also some have a dark tinge too, but it’s an upbeat sounding record to me. Maybe that’s just me or it’s the stings giving it that bit lightness and I do find Nico’s signing very comforting, which some listeners probably wouldn’t. I like the reflectiveness to the lyrics, as if it’s someone who lived a thousand lives and here’s some of the stories they can tell. With my lyrics and particularly my instrumentals, I like to try and tell little stories. I’m always wanting the listener to let they imagination go and create they own imagery to the music.
Nico may not of written the songs on the album but she definitely makes them all hers. Like Bob Dylan’s amazing composition I’ll Keep It With Mine, which definitely has similar vibe to another song of Dylan’s It An’t Me Babe. Maybe it was written at the same time, I don’t know. The brilliant These Days which was written by Jackson Browne, all of songs on the album fit her voice perfectly. I just don’t think a song like It Was A Pleasure Then would sound right with someone else singing it. She gives it that edge and combined with Lou Reed’s guitar, John Cale’s growling viola, it’s a cavern of a song and beautiful to fall into.
I find Nico’s singing very inspirational because it’s the tone it gives the song and not necessarily about all the perfect notes.
I couldn’t recommend this album enough. No it won’t be to everyone’s taste but to me, it’s a masterpiece!
Chelsea Girl by Nico – Tracks (1) The Fairest of the Seasons (2) These Days (3) Little Sister (4) Winter Song (5) It Was a Pleasure Then (6) Chelsea Girl (7) I’ll Keep It With Mine (8) Somewhere There’s a Feather (9) Wrap Your Troubles In Dream (10) Eulogy to Lenny Bruce
Please leave a comment if you like this album too, what do you like about it?