[Review] The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)

Imagine if Bob Dylan fronted The Doors but did as many drugs as Jim Morrison. Plus Nico.

Kronomyth 1.0: All hail the new banana republic.

The musical revolution of the late 1960s looked more like individual battles being fought by pockets of resistance. In California, they were rejecting the aristocracy of art. In England, they were re-defining music as popular art. And in Andy Warhol’s New York pop factory, they were rejecting the conventional definition of art to find beauty in the unbeautiful.

The Velvet Underground & Nico is rightly regarded as a masterpiece of American rock music. There isn’t a single song on here that isn’t important, powerful and prescient. You could look at Andy Warhol’s soup can and question whether it was really art. But you couldn’t listen to this record without understanding that the very definition of music had been inalterably revised. The unblinking intensity of Venus in Furs, the harrowing urban storytelling of Heroin and I’m Waiting for the Man, the European art-film aesthetics of All Tomorrow’s Parties and the sonic experimentation of European Son mixed with mainstream pop music like oil and water. Fifty years later, it’s still shocking to hear this music.

Upon its release, the album’s shockwaves extended only to a small cadre of saboteurs and iconoclasts. It would take years for the full effect of the Velvet Underground to reach the mainstream in the form of the popular punk/alternative movement of the late 80s. You can could write a book about this record and still miss some important nuance: the deconstruction of the Beach Boys on Run, Run, Run and its role in the coastal culture wars, Lou Reed’s blasé imagery of violence over the years (There She Goes Again), the death of the lead singer during “Heroin,” etc. For a highly experimental record, it’s a nearly perfect one.

Personally, I would have preferred to hear Nico take the lead on Sunday Morning, or the band to explore The Black Angel’s Death Song more deeply, but I’m really inventing flaws that don’t exist. Velvet Underground & Nico isn’t simply one of the most important records from the 60s. It’s one of the most important from the 70s and 80s. They never made another one quite like it, although you can hear some of the same ideas in the band’s later work and, to a lesser extent, in the solo music of Nico. Or in the music of The Doors, since they kind of kicked off the whole scene.

Original LP Version

A1. Sunday Morning (2:53)
A2. I’m Waiting For The Man (4:37)
A3. Femme Fatale (2:35)
A4. Venus In Furs (5:07)
A5. Run Run Run (4:18)
A6. All Tomorrow’s Parties (5:55)
B1. Heroin (7:05)
B2. There She Goes Again (2:30)
B3. I’ll Be Your Mirror (2:01)
B4. The Black Angels Death Song (Lou Reed/John Cale) (3:10)
B5. European Son To Delmore Schwartz (Lou Reed/John Cale/Sterling Morrison/Maureen Tucker) (no track time listed on original elpee)

All songs written by Lou Reed unless noted. All arrangements by The Velvet Underground.

2CD “Deluxe Edition” track listing
A1. Sunday Morning
A2. I’m Waiting For The Man
A3. Femme Fatale
A4. Venus In Furs
A5. Run Run Run
A6. All Tomorrow’s Parties
A7. Heroin
A8. There She Goes Again
A9. I’ll Be Your Mirror
A10. The Black Angel’s Death Song
A11. European Son
A12. Little Sister
A13. Winter Song
A14. It Was A Pleasure Then
A15. Chelsea Girls
A16. Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams
B1. Sunday Morning
B2. I’m Waiting For The Man
B3. Femme Fatale
B4. Venus In Furs
B5. Run Run Run
B6. All Tomorrow’s Parties
B7. Heroin
B8. There She Goes Again
B9. I’ll Be Your Mirror
B10. The Black Angel’s Death Song
B11. European Son
B12. All Tomorrow’s Parties
B13. I’ll Be Your Mirror (mono single version)
B14. Sunday Morning (single version)
B15. Femme Fatale (mono single version)

Tracks A1-A11 are the original stereo versions; B1-B11 are the original mono versions.

The Players

John Cale (electric viola, piano, bass guitar), Sterling Morrison (rhythm guitar, bass guitar), Nico (chanteuse), Lou Reed (lead guitar, ostrich guitar, vocal), Maureen Tucker (percussion). Produced by Andy Warhol except A1 by Tom Wilson; edited and remixed under the supervision of Tom Wilson by Gene Radice and David Greene; recording engineered Omi Haden – T.T.G. Hollywood; director of engineering: Val Valentin.

The Pictures

Cover painting by Andy Warhol. Cover design by Acy R. Lehman. Portraits by Paul Morrissey. Color show photo by Hugo.

The Plastic

Released on mono & stereo elpee on March 12, 1967 in the US (Verve, V/V6-5008).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in the US (Verve, V6-5008), in Germany (Polydor, 2459 358), Japan (Verve, 23MM-1091) and the Netherlands (Verve, 2485 118).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in August 1983 in the UK (Polydor, SPELP-20) and in Germany (Polydor, 849 144).
  3. Re-released on yellow vinyl in the US (Verve, V6-5008).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in the US (Verve, 823 290).
  5. Re-released on remastered compact disc on May 20, 1996 in Europe (Universal, 531 250).
  6. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1997 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDCD-695) and in Japan (Polydor, UICY-2334).
  7. Re-packaged on expanded, remastered 2CD and ltd.ed. 2CD on June 25, 2002 in the US (Polydor, 589 588/624) with stereo & mono versions and bonus tracks.
  8. Re-packaged
  9. with White Light/White Heat on 2-for-1 2CD on August 3, 2009 in France (Universal, 531 867).

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