In 1967, Nico had one of the most impressive calendar years in recorded music history. In March she made up the “and Nico” portion of the seminal-yet-nobody-bought-it album ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’, which went on to influence a large bulk of recorded music since. A mere six months later saw the release of her solo record ‘Chelsea Girl’. Both are crucial cultural artifacts, but more than that, they are both fantastic records.
They are also sister albums, sharing the same producer, and personnel: aside from writing five of the ten tunes on ‘Chelsea Girl’, the Velvets (well, Sterling Morrison, Lou Reed and John Cale) performed the bulk of the instrumentation. Being both an influential Warhol superstar, and a drop-dead beautiful German babe, Nico was able to attract the era’s finest counter cultural songwriters to contribute material to her debut album, such as Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin, and Jackson Browne – who wrote the beautiful, fragile ‘These Days’.
Now, you’d be forgiven if Nico’s blunt German tones didn’t immediately signal ‘fragility’ to you, yet her glassy coolness – which rubs awkwardly even in stone cold Velvets classics such as ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ – is recast here as numb acceptance. She sounds removed, and she sounds tired. Her voice is the aural equivalent to a thousand-yard gaze; she’s seen some shit, and it wore her down.
The whole song is drenched with regret: “These days I seem to think a lot, about the things that I forgot to do”; I had a lover. I don’t think I’d risk another these days.” Astoundingly, Jackson Browne wrote this song when he was only sixteen. C’mon, now! The depth of remorse he manages is amazing, and only unwittingly funny when you let it be.
“Please don’t confront me with my failures – I had not forgotten them” is so devastating, even when you know Browne’s defeats at this age would have mostly been tennis-related. Still, you don’t have to live through pain to be able to access it. (I’m sure neither Bryan Cranston nor Vince Gilligan have killed anyone.) “It’s just that I’ve been losing so long” is the type of line that a teenage Jackson Browne could have written, sure, but it is doubtful that he would have been able to do justice to it vocally – it required a more world-weary touch, and Nico delivered. Jackson Browne has since recorded his own various versions of the song, but none of them touch Nico’s original take.