Today marks the 50th anniversary of The Velvet Underground’s debut album.
Funded by Andy Warhol and featuring German singer Nico, The Velvet Underground & Nico has become one of the most influential records of the 20th century.
During the time of recording The Velvet Underground were apart of Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable tour. The tour spawned dates from 1966 to 1967 and featured live performances from the band and Nico, as well as screenings of Warhol’s films and dance performances by regulars of Warhol’s Factory.
The line-up for this record featured the classic members of The Velvet Underground: Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker. Most of the songs that would make up the band’s debut were recorded in a mere four days at Scepter Studios, a decrepit recording studio in Manhattan. It took a while for any recording labels to agree to release The Velvet Underground & Nico, with Columbia Records, Atlantic Records and Elektra Records all declining. Eventually Verve Records, owned by MGM Records, agreed to release the band’s debut.
After gaining acceptance from Verve Records, the band spent time in T.T.G. Studios in Hollywood and then Mayfair Recording Studios in Manhattan putting finishing touches on the album. Although Andy Warhol (pictured below) is credited in the liner notes as producer of The Velvet Underground & Nico, it is still unclear who might have been responsible for the production of the record. Other contributors thought to have had a hand in producing the album are Norman Dolph and John Licata, who recorded and engineered the Scepter Studio sessions, as well as John Cale, who is said to have handled the musical arrangements for most of the songs.
Although almost completely ignored upon release, The Velvet Underground & Nico has become one of the most influential albums of our time. The album become notorious for its explicit lyrical content. Inspired by beat generation authors, such as Allan Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Hubert Selby Jr., Reed wrote lyrics about drug abuse, prostitution, sadism and masochism and sexual deviancy. These themes played apart in the record’s initial lack of success.
The Velvet Underground & Nico only sold 30, 000 copies on initial release, but it has been stated that everybody who purchased one of those copies formed a band. The influence from this record can be heard in a wide variety of genres, including grunge, gothic, shoegaze, art rock and indie music. Many songs on the record have become avant-garde classic, including “Sunday Morning”, a song about paranoia, “I’m Waiting For The Man”, a song about a junkie waiting for his fix, and “Heroin”, a tune dedicated to the feeling of the titular drug.
Listening to The Velvet Underground & Nico fifty years onwards, it becomes apparent why the album has stood the test of time. Reed’s lyrics and Cale’s musical arrangements were way ahead of their time, and although this resulted in a lack of success upon initial release, it has secured the band’s place in musical history.
What's your favourite track off of The Velvet Underground & Nico? Let us know in the comments!
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