14 Mar 50 Years On: Remembering The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
50 Years On: Remembering The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
In light of its monumental achievement: of half a century gone since the The Velvet Underground & Nico’s 1967 debut and a barrage of influential bands and records directly taking sonic, artistic and thematic cues since (from the late David Bowie to even Kanye West) we’ll be paying tribute in a manner we’re most comfortable with – by telling you what the music means to us. In our humble opinions, very few albums have aged this gracefully as this one infamously adorned in an Andy Warhol iconic banana cover art, til’ to this date still blows our minds as to the balance it had: between a gentle bliss and a mastery of tension.
Countless affections have been thrown upon the record this week, a lovely piece on an obsessive Velvet Underground fan with a remarkable memorabilia collection, an article expounding on how it still sounds new and timeless, masterpiece reviews, and many many more. But alas, in a manner we know best, here are our personal favorite Velvet Underground & Nico tracks. (Disclaimer… these could change in a year, really, the record is that good. Also, the writer is a sucker for more of the softer tracks, and I just personally find them more memorable so that would explain the bulk of them going towards that direction)
There’s also a Twitter account by the name of VERYSMALLALBUMREVIEWS that tweets “reviews” on alternative music in less than a 140 characters. What makes them endearing is that instead of going for a studious and serious perspective, they go for simple and vivid portraits of what the track “looks like” to them – basically the sonic portrait they evoke. For this article, we will be trying… an attempt on that at the end of every track. Cool? Cool.
5. I’m Waiting For The Man
A tale of Reed detailing his routine drug meet (with a dealer of Lexington and 125), this Velvet Underground track is the forward pusher in many ways of the record, with Sunday Morning setting the tone – this track just carries the themes of excess and ecstasy forward with banging pianos and rhythm guitars propelling and reflecting that narrative.
A nervous young man hurries to meet his dealer at a dimly lit intersection fearing police intervention, but is only surprised at the meet by a dystopian Year 3000 game show style narrative, with party poppers, kazoos, and a future notice of the substance being legal at the greet instead.
When the meet comes to an end, Reed goes forward with the initiation and (injection). This time, however, he details the experience of his body reacting to Heroin. Hallucinations and spikes in energy follow with him singing about “closing in on death… wishing that he was born a thousand years ago, and that he’d sailed the darkened seas.” All this is punctuated by some sinister and cacophonous instrumentation – the unstoppable bass drum mimicking the heart rate and a deafening electric viola by Cale providing a calculated mess we could only see as “purposefully distressing.”
A veteran abuser attempts his own concoction of substance as a reaction to what they saw as vacant and apathetic in their normal rounds, and almost dies from the overdose, but fortunately lives to see another day.
3. I’ll Be Your Mirror
The tension and story of the vocal recording always bedazzles us – even to this day. This beauty of a ballad on helping a loved one with their insecurities and making them see the worth in themselves is only made more poignant with the narrative, that Nico broke down and cried after the band’s dissatisfaction with her strident vocal takes, but with one last time instead of the tension was afforded some kindness and generosity. In an ending we can only see as perfect ending with the band telling her “fuck it” and that they won’t bother her anymore after the last take.
In Morrison’s words the band told her:“Oh, try it just one more time and then fuck it — if it doesn’t work this time, we’re not going to do the song.” Nico then sat down and “did it exactly right.”
In a minimalist hotel room decorated with a lone incandescent light, an impassioned lover makes a plea of continuing to her suicidal spouse – only to be greeted with the response she found just.
2. Sunday Morning
Perfection… Simply perfection. We love that you can still go back to this track, and learn more and more about this, the details: the variations of Cale’s Celesta that initially caught us by surprise (thought it was a glockenspiel), and Nico’s faint vocals that hang in the otherworldly reverb world we’re pretty sure very few bands will ever come close – to not just mimicking that – but to master simplicity and application… the way The Velvet Underground have done throughout their career.
(Editor’s Note: Personally, as a young music fan, I remember being introduced to this track on the day Lou Reed passed back in October 2013, with a YouTube comment or so about his passing on a “Sunday Morning” etched so greatly in my mind. To me, this track’s charm and timeless quality – will never be lost.)
A struggling singer-songwriter who never went full on commercial dies in their sleep at the tender age of 65 in the middle of a tour. The next morning the body is discovered, with only a collection of their truths and experiences held dear in a newly found journal… and within the artist’s discography.
- Femme Fatale
(Editor’s note: Probably one of my favorite tracks ever.)
This song is beautiful, in it’s purest sense – disregarding the narrative of a dangerous heartbreaker, the instrumentation is so well written and arranged, it’s just remarkably tremendous. The way the rhythm guitar dances around like it’s nothing – the playing so simple yet so masterful, the tonal quality so astute yet heavenly. We strongly believe that every singer-songwriter or band could learn a thing or two on songwriting basics by just pulling from this song.
An afterlife of a green and luscious field of “rest” beneath a great and wide mountain, a physical manifestation of purity and happiness.
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