Thank you so much for 600 followers <3. I very much appreciate the support, and I have enjoyed every day of my time on AOTY. I decided to review one of my favorite albums, “The Velvet Underground & Nico.”
I would start this review with “ThIs AlBuM iS sO aHeAd Of ItS tImE,” but that statement seems like a cliché at this point. In my opinion, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” does sound like it’s from 1967 but only few albums have aged as well as this. The album is one of the earliest examples of having a predominantly proto-punk sound. However, the album includes some of the earliest examples of post-punk, indie rock, gothic rock, dream pop, shoegaze, drone, experimental rock, art rock, and post-rock to an extent. The album is possibly the most influential of all time since it’s agreed upon as the foundation of alternative music. Without the release of this album, the alternative rock scenes of the 80s to today would be obsolete or look totally different. The album’s themes are also entirely different from the time. Most of the tracks include graphic lyrics about drugs and sex; themes that caused a huge stir at the time.
The Velvet Underground formed in 1964 with Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Angus MacLise as its founding members. MacLise was later replaced by Maureen (Moe) Tucker after he left due to band disagreements. The band started recording their debut album in 1966, with Andy Warhol as a producer. Warhol made little contributions as a producer, and the only major decision he made was forcing the band to include German singer Nico, as a vocalist on a couple songs. He is also responsible for the cover, incorporating a Warhol print of a banana. His name is also largely prominent just so he could shove his name on a project where he had little creative involvement. The cover is now widely recognizable today and one of Warhol’s classic works. It can be argued that Warhol’s lack of involvement is what made the album sound so great. The band had full creative control and could experiment with their sound.
The album’s unconventional sound and provocative themes resulted the album to be unnoticed at the time. It was banned from many record stores, received no play from radio stations, and was given little promotion from their label, Verve. The album initially only sold 30,000 copies, but to quote Brian Eno, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” The album received little critical attention but later went through a critical re-evaluation in the 70s. Ever since, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” has been regarded as one of the greatest and most important albums ever made. Shortly after the album’s release, the band would have a falling out with Warhol and Nico. The band would go on to record three more acclaimed records, and Nico would embark on a highly influential solo career.
The album starts with a beautiful, psychedelic sunshine pop ballad, “Sunday Morning.” The song incorporates beautiful melodies like “Watch out, the world's behind you/There's always someone around you/Who will call/It's nothing at all.” From my perspective, the song is about the weight of the world on your shoulders with life flying faster than you can comprehend. Looking back, this song is definitely an early example of dream pop. “I’m Waiting for the Man” is more representative of the album’s sound. It’s a roaring, garage rock and proto-punk song that is sung from the point of view of someone from another side of town waiting on a street corner for a drug dealer. “Femme Fatale” is one of the songs that feature Nico, which are essentially peaceful interludes from the album’s raw, proto-punk sound. The song has a lush, chamber pop sound. Lyrically, it’s about a Warhol superstar, Edie Sedgwick. However, Warhol ruined the girl’s life. The lyric, “She’s going to break your heart in two” refers to the people who loved her, but couldn’t have her. This is furthered in the lyric, “your number 37,” which is a reference to how many hearts she’s broken. On the other hand, there are darker lyrics like “The things she does to please,” that references the actions she made to satisfy Warhol to the point where she destroyed her wealth and became a junkie that was homeless. This surprisingly isn’t the darkest song on the album.
“Venus in Furs” is a notable example of the album’s importance, as it may be the earliest example of drone music. Composition wise, John Cale’s electric viola stands out like a sore thumb with it being accompanied by a tambourine and bass drum beats. Lyrically, the song explores sexual themes that were highly controversial. “Run Run Run” is most likely a reference to Catholicism because of the lyric “Teenage Mary, said to Uncle Dave/Sold my soul, must be saved.” This makes reference to the Virgin Mary discovering she would give birth to Jesus Christ and telling King David, which is who Uncle Dave might be. The song is also very likely to be about drugs with the mentions of “Margarita Passion” and “Seasick Sarah.” The song’s chaotic rhythm is absolute genius, complimenting the repetition of the word “run.” “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is a Nico song with a unique fusion of chamber pop and garage rock, resulting in one of the first art rock songs. The song is quite interesting lyrically, with Lou Reed observing Warhol’s inner circle.
“Heroin” is a huge standout and possibly the track that goes the most off the rails. The song’s tempo gradually increases before reaching a crescendo that is marked by a viola and sharper guitar strumming. The song then returns to the original tempo and repeats in pattern. At 5:17, Maureen Tucker, stopped drumming for a couple seconds, but then returned to the beat. She stopped because the band’s performance became too loud for her, but no one else did, so she quickly picked up the pace like nothing happened. It’s not hard to imagine what the song is about, but the graphic imagery is unexpected at first listen. The song created controversy for encouraging fans to take heroin even though the song does not glamorize nor condemns the usage of the drug but is rather written from the perspective of a heroin user. The song can’t help but remind me of the hilarious Billy Idol cover that sounds like a rave.
“There She Goes Again” is a simple garage-influenced jangle pop song with some elements of soul. The song is very pretty, but it’s likely the song is about sex. “I’ll Be Your Mirror” is the last Nico song and has a subtle beauty. The song is a simple love ballad that highlights Nico’s unique voice. The song is by far the most tame and heavily clashes with the last two songs. “The Black Angel’s Death Song” is a wild experimental rock track. The song is about the choices one will face but it’s from the perspective of a black angel. The different paths the person chooses are unlucky, making the point that life is meaningless. The song is a huge example of the album’s sarcastic and nihilistic tone. “European Son” is a thrilling closure, masterfully blending rock with the avant-grade. Around the beginning of the song, John Cale creates an explosion sound with a stack of plates hitting a chair. The song escalates to this lo-fi, noise rock epic that reminds me of “Trout Mask Replica.” The song was dedicated to Delmore Schwartz, one of Lou Reed’s professors at Syracuse, after he died. Schwartz hated rock lyrics, so the song barely has any, and he hated pop music structures which explains why the song sounds like a musical equivalent to a natural disaster.
When I first listened to “The Velvet Underground & Nico,” I had no idea what to make of the album. Nothing sounds quite like its postmodern sound. However, this iconic album grew on me fast and is now one of my favorite albums of all time. Simply put, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” is a masterpiece. It’s like the band could predict every future rock trend and combined them to make a work of art. Reed’s lyricism was more clever than ever, the album’s sounds blend nicely, and the band sound like they were making music much longer than putting out just one album at the time. To this day, the album still influences countless rock and alternative acts.