The Velvet Underground
- The Velvet Underground-Primary Artist
- Nico--Chant, Vocals
- Lou Reed--Vocals, Electric Guitar, Guitar, Keyboards
- Maureen Tucker--Drums, Percussion, Bass
- John Cale--Bass, Bass Guitar, Electric Viola, Keyboards, Piano, Viola
- Sterling Morrison--Bass, Bass Guitar, Guitar, Rhythm Guitar
- Nat Finkelstein--Photography
- David Greene--Editing, Remastering, Remixing
- Omi Haden--Engineer
- Acy Lehman--Cover Design
- Billy Linich--Photography
- Bob Ludwig--Mastering
- Gene Radice--Editing, Remastering, Remixing
- Val Valentine--Director Of Engineering
- Andy Warhol--Cover Painting, Producer, Design
- John Wilcock--Liner Notes
- Tom Wilson--Producer
The Velvet Underground and Nico was The Velvet Underground's debut album. Although it might not have broken any sales or airplay records, the VU would eventually influence the music scene to an extent comparable to The Beatles. Perhaps the only reason a band like the VU was able to record music like that way back in the 60s was famous flamboyant artist Andy Warhol's early relationship with the band.
Lou Reed created The Velvet Underground, along with his friend from college, guitarist Sterling Morrison, and the Welsh musician John Cale. Angus MacLise was VU's first drummer, but he quit, and Maureen Tucker took over. Barbara Rubin, a friend of Warhol's and a fan of the VU's music convinced Warhol to listen to the group at the Cafe Bizarre. He liked them, and invited them to play at his Exploding Plastic Inevitable show. New York hipsters got an early look at the Velvet Underground as Andy Warhol shined his films and strobe lights on them.
There we were in the Moulin Rouge. It was dark night. He'd come by camel. I came by taxi. No, we were playing in a tourist trap in Greenwich Village called Café Bizarre and some friends asked Andy to come and see us and thought that he might like us. And he saw us. He thought it was great. But Andy thinks everything's great. He had a week at the Cinematheque to show his movies, so he said, "Why don't you come?" He would show his movies on us. And we did. And that makes mixed media. We wore black so you could see the movie. But we were all wearing black anyway.
, April 1979
Warhol wanted to add a chanteuse to the group, and although Reed and the rest of the band were opposed to it, he eventually got his way. So Nico, the German supermodel and actress was added to the group, and was given 3 out of the 11 songs on the album to sing (her requests for more were shot down by Reed). Supposedly, Reed, Sterling and Cale purposely screwed up their backup vocals in "Femme Fatale", in a failed attempt to anger Nico.
The album was recorded in a mere eight hours. Tom Wilson produced some of the album (including "Sunday Morning"), but the majority was done by VU themselves. Andy Warhol's "produced by" credit was unnecessary, but certainly didn't hurt sales. Andy greatly aided the band by creating the classic album cover, of course, the Peel Slowly and See banana . (See bottom of this writeup)
The Verve label bought the album, primarily because of Warhol. When released, The Velvet Underground and Nico was unsuccessful, never breaking the top 100. It was even branded pornographic by some radio stations, and banned.
- Sunday Morning
Sung by someone other than Reed, this could almost come off as a nice light pop song. Almost. Reed utilizes a celeste, a strange instrument he found in the studio.
- I'm Waiting For The Man
A very rock and rolly song about drugs. One of the better songs on an album with nothing but good songs. Covered by David Bowie.
- Femme Fatale
Nico's first song on the album. Reed said it was about Edie Sedgwick.
- Venus in Furs
Lyrically, the darkest, most gothic song on the album, with sadomasochism references every other line But it's catchy. Song and name based on a novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (think masoch/masochism).
- Run Run Run
Another pure rock song about drugs. Check out Reed's guitar work.
- All Tomorrow's Parties
According to Reed, this was Warhol's favorite song. Andy knew this artsy New York society of which Reed sang well, after all Warhol was a God among those people. This is essential VU, but personally, I find this song a bit too creepy for easy listening.
There was commitment there. That was the powerful advantage that all of Lou’s lyrics had. All Bob Dylan was singing was questions - How many miles? and all that. I didn’t want to hear any more questions. Give me some tough social situations and show that answers are possible. And sure enough, Heroin was one of them. It wasn’t sorry for itself.
Rather than allude to his drug use, or just plain ignore it, Reed wrote and sang openly about it, as is best shown in Heroin, one of Velvet's most famous songs. Lou doesn't exactly glamorize the world of a heroin addict, but he doesn't do the opposite either. He writes honestly about his use. The catchy chorus ("Heroin, be the death of me, it's my wife and it's my life") helped secure this one as a classic.
- There She Goes Again
Begins by borrowing the opening from Marvin Gaye's "Hitchhike." A bit sexist: "…you'd better hit her… ".
- I'll Be Your Mirror
The final Nico song on the album, and unless you hate her voice, a pretty love song. Wisely donated to Nico.
- The Black Angel's Death Song
By far my favorite song on the album. Cale screeches out something lovely on the viola, and Lou Reed spits a load of religious or mythological or philosophical jargon at a fairly high speed. And somehow it sounds good. Really good.
- European Son
Avant-garde, the revolution #9 of this album (only much more listenable).
The order of the songs in this album is often admired (even though it would be unsurprising if they were thrown on at random). It begins with the lightest, poppiest song, Sunday Morning, and ends with the most avant garde, European Son. In between you get a variety of the best of VU, with All Tomorrow's Parties and Heroin in the middle.
The Velvet Underground didn't take Nico back for their next album, and only lasted though one more (White Light/White Heat) before separating with John Cale.
The Velvet Underground and Nico is arguably the first alternative album. Not only is it an important landmark in musical history, it's also a great album in itself.
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Warhol designed the legendary peel-off color. If one were to slowly peel the yellow banana sticker off, they'd be pleased to find a pink banana painted under it.
"Beyond the Velvet Underground" by Dave Thompson