|The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
How perfect that today’s (or whenever this gets posted) classic album tuesday honors the year 1967, as I’ve recently rediscovered my love for The Velvet Underground. I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but I’m glad it did as my last two weeks have been dominated by this infamously cool classic. As a pinnacle in both beat and psychedelic music, this is an album that takes on many forms, from the velvety softness of “Sunday Morning” to the raw grit of tracks like “Heroin”. It invokes both pain and optimism that’s tied together by the powerful, yet honest songwriting of Lou Reed as he pens songs about drugs, streetwalkers, and some of the notorious superstars of Andy Warhol’s infamous clique of models, actors, and drag queens.
Pop art king Andy Warhol clearly made his mark on this debut serving as the group’s early mentor, manager, producer, and cover artist. The addition of German model/artist Nico was another one of Warhol’s must haves, though it’s been said this pissed the band off. So with all the experimental absurdity that surrounded this album, it’s amazing that it’s as good as it was or still is, it really is brilliant. So much so that it’s difficult to express with words, it merely inhabits it’s own category of art rock ecstasy. How something can be this unusual and yet this cohesive is a testament to the songs, musicianship, and the many bold chances that were taken.
Every member of VU adds a distinct layer to this indescribable sound. John Cale brings a great deal of instrumental diversity tackling; bass, piano, celesta, and that classic droning violin that can be heard on tracks like “The Black Angel’s Death Song”. Sterling Morrison also dons the role of bass player, but more importantly provides the much needed low twang of his guitar. Maureen Tucker provides the backbone with one of the most unusual drum setups I’ve ever heard of including just; tom toms, a snare, and and upturned bass drum, all played with mallets and very sparingly using cymbals. Nico, who clearly isn’t the best singer somehow manages to fit into the equation with her husky accented voice and Lou Reed pulls the strings (I’ve been saying that a lot lately) as any great rockband leader does.
I love all the songs for various reasons but I also love it’s “we do what we want and don’t give a shit attitude.” By which I mean the group’s approach to both playing and recording. For example take the legendary track “Heroin”, it’s just two goddamn chords! There’s no bass and the drums even accidentally drop out at the 5:17 mark. Sure they could of recorded it again, maybe polished it up, but it ruined the raw spontaneity of the song. “European Son” just descends into madness but somehow it just feels right. I mean there’s a little bit for everyone with more accessible tracks like “I’m Waiting for the Man” or “There She Goes Again” but then you have that great weird shit like “Venus in Furs” or other tracks previously mentioned.
It’s still an exciting listen every time I put it on and I wouldn’t be surprised if it continued to inspire future generations of aspiring rockers. I just wish I knew a better way to describe why I liked it, I guess it’s one of those cases where you just listen and you know.
Favorite Tracks: “Femme Fatale”, “Heroin”, “Sunday Morning”