Helen of Troy (album)

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Helen of Troy
John Cale Helen of Troy.JPG
Studio album by
ReleasedNovember 1975
StudioSound Techniques, Chelsea, London, England
GenreArt rock
ProducerJohn Cale
John Cale chronology
Slow Dazzle
Helen of Troy

Helen of Troy is the sixth solo studio album by Welsh musician John Cale, released in November 1975 by Island Records, his last of three albums for the label.


During the sessions Cale cut two cover versions, "Willow Weep for Me" and "God Only Knows", which went unreleased. Another unused track, "Mary Lou", was released on the compilation album Guts.[1]

The album features a cover of "Pablo Picasso" originally by the Modern Lovers, a song which Cale had produced for the band's debut album. Cale re-recorded "I Keep a Close Watch" in 1982 for his album Music for a New Society.[2]

The cover has a photograph of Cale by Keith Morris. Cale's trousers were given to him by Judy Nylon who acquired them from fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.[3]


Helen of Troy was released in November 1975 by Island.[1] Even though the other Island albums were issued in the US (June 1, 1974, Fear, Slow Dazzle and Guts), Helen of Troy was not. It was commonly sold as a UK import all over the US. No singles were released from the album.

The album as originally released contained "Leaving It Up to You" as the ninth track. However, due to its reference to the 1969 murder of Sharon Tate by members of the Manson Family, Island replaced it on subsequent pressings with the song "Coral Moon". "Leaving it Up to You" later appeared on the 1977 compilation album Guts. The original sequence would be restored on the 1978 repress and when the album was released on CD, with "Coral Moon" appearing as a bonus track.[4]

The album was remastered in 1996 as part of the two-disc release The Island Years, which includes also Fear (1974) and Slow Dazzle (1975). It contained "Leaving It Up to You" in its original slot, with "Coral Moon" added as a bonus track, as well as "You and Me" and "Mary Lou". "Mary Lou" had originally been released on Guts in 1977.[1]

Release controversy[edit]

Helen of Troy was released without the consent of Cale, who considered that the tapes were not finished. Cale was touring when the album was released. For the spring 1975 tour to promote Slow Dazzle, he assembled guitarist Chris Spedding alongside Sandy Denny's previous rhythm section of Pat Donaldson (bass) and Timi Donald (drums). Later that autumn, he toured again with this same line-up for twice as many dates. After shipping the first pressings Island Records replaced the track "Leaving It Up to You" with "Coral Moon", because the former song mentioned Sharon Tate, wife of film director Roman Polanski, who was murdered in 1969 by members of the Manson Family (Island never updated the cover or label). Things turned sour, and Cale and Island went their separate ways. The CD version contains both tracks.

John Cale explained:

It could have been a great album. I came back from finishing Patti Smith's Horses and had three days to finish Helen of Troy before I went on [an] Italian tour. I was spending eighteen hours a day in the studio. When I got back, I found the record company had gone ahead and released what amounted to demo tapes. The trouble was that Island had their own ideas of what that album should sound like. They wanted to include songs I don't particularly like, but it was also an impertinent assumption on my part that I was capable of managing myself. My determination to have Helen of Troy the way I did was not really fair to Island or my management, especially at a time when Island was losing its percentage of the market, which was making everybody very paranoid.[5]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[6]
Trouser Pressgenerally favourable[7]

In a retrospective review for AllMusic, critic Ned Raggett wrote "Helen of Troy finds Cale at his edgiest, with fascinating results."[6] Writing in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), Robert Christgau was more critical of the record. He believed that, while "Pablo Picasso" and "Leaving It All Up to You" are "Cale at his mad best", "Mary Lou" and the title track are indicative of how the album is "sodden and stylized" as a whole.[8]

Track listing[edit]

All songs composed by John Cale, except where indicated.

Side A
  1. "My Maria"
  2. "Helen of Troy"
  3. "China Sea"
  4. "Engine"
  5. "Save Us"
  6. "Cable Hogue"
Side B
  1. "I Keep a Close Watch"
  2. "Pablo Picasso" (Jonathan Richman)
  3. "Leaving It Up to You"
  4. "Baby What You Want Me to Do" (Jimmy Reed)
  5. "Sudden Death"


Adapted from the Helen of Troy liner notes.[9]

Additional personnel



  1. ^ a b c Cale, John; Bockris, Victor (1999). What's Welsh for Zen. London: Bloomsbury. p. 164. ISBN 0 7475 3668 6.
  2. ^ Mitchell, Tim (2003). Sedition and Alchemy: A Biography of John Cale. London: Peter Owen. p. 152. ISBN 0 7206 1132 6.
  3. ^ https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Punk_Is_Dead.html?id=kno3DwAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y
  4. ^ https://werksman.home.xs4all.nl/cale/disc/helen_of_troy.html
  5. ^ https://werksman.home.xs4all.nl/cale/disc/helen_of_troy.html
  6. ^ a b Raggett, Ned. "Helen of Troy – John Cale | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  7. ^ Grant, Steven; Sheridan, David; Robbins, Ira. "TrouserPress.com: John Cale". TrouserPress.com. Retrieved July 5, 2016.
  8. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: C". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved February 23, 2019 – via robertchristgau.com.
  9. ^ Helen of Troy (CD booklet). John Cale. Island Records. 1975.CS1 maint: others (link)

External links[edit]