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Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Satur-debut – THE VELVET UNDERGROUND “THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO”

“The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.” This statement, or something similar, has long been attributed to musician/producer/synth & ambient music pioneer/all-around sonic architect Brian Eno. Whether or not he was responsible for this oft-referenced quote, it perfectly sums up the immense influence the group had on generations of musicians that followed in their footsteps. Right from the start they were onto something unique & challenging, yet their debut has a number of accessible songs for the uninitiated, as I explain below.

For more information on this series, please read the opening paragraph of the first post, which featured the debut album from Led Zeppelin.

 

From GREAT OUT OF THE GATE Part 4:

Few bands have been as influential on future generations of musicians with little commercial success as The Velvet Underground, the quartet consisting of New Yorkers Lou Reed (guitar, vocals & principle songwriter), Sterling Morrison (bass, guitar & backing vocals) & Maureen “Mo” Tucker (drums & percussion) and Welshman John Cale (viola, piano, bass & much more). They were championed by artist Andy Warhol, who produced their debut album, designed its iconic cover and recommended the addition of German model/singer Nico to their lineup. I don’t think I heard any of their music until I was well into my 20s, and even then I was just a casual fan. All of that changed in 2001 when my band at the time was hired as the house band for a Halloween party at a hip New York club, where we performed this album in its entirety with different singers & musicians joining us on each song. In preparation for that gig, I played the album dozens of times so I could learn Tucker’s drum tracks perfectly, and in the process gained a new-found appreciation for this record. They may have a reputation as noisy, dissonant, avant-garde outsiders (which applies to tracks like “Venus In Furs” and “The Black Angel’s Death Song”), but there’s a lot of subtlety & even serenity to be found on songs like “Sunday Morning,” “Femme Fatale,” “There She Goes Again” and “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” Reed also delivered two songs that capture the essence of New York’s gritty, drug-addled underbelly: “Heroin” and “I’m Waiting For The Man.” It’s not always easy listening but the mood is intoxicating, and Nico’s deadpan vocal contributions on a handful of songs, while not to everyone’s taste, are surprisingly endearing.

 

 

I’ve met as many people who consider The Velvet Underground their favorite band as those who think they’re unlistenable. Are you among those extremes or somewhere in the middle?

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23 comments on “Satur-debut – THE VELVET UNDERGROUND “THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO”

  1. Aphoristical
    February 9, 2019

    I really enjoy most of this record, although the last couple of tracks are tough going. Heroin and Venus in Furs are among my favourite tracks from the band.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I felt that way the first several times I played the album, but when I immersed myself in it to learn the songs for the gig I described in my post I came around to the whole thing. Never thought I would love “The Black Angel’s Death Song” but it happened. How do you feel about the rest of the VU catalog?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aphoristical
        February 9, 2019

        The debut is my favourite, although the third one runs it close. I need to check out the out-takes sets from the 1980s sometimes, although I do have a bootleg of the lost fourth album.

        Like

  2. 80smetalman
    February 9, 2019

    I’m definitely somewhere in the middle but leaning more to the plus side.

    Like

  3. Bill P
    February 10, 2019

    My only exposure to VU is their album Loaded, which is by far more commercial and accessible. I actually came to it backwards by hearing Phish’s live Halloween album covering the same in its entirety.

    As it is my first liste, I find these song clips equally compelling and worth further study. I quickly skimmed Heroin and Black Angel’s Death Song too. The latter seems discordant and I can see the challenge for a pop music listener. However, the genetics of the music seem very similar to their later work. Reed’s vocals have the same general cadence and tone in most of these tracks.

    I look forward to listening to it more. Thanks for opening my ears to an album I’ve long known about but never took the time to follow up on.

    Like

    • Loaded is an excellent album although I miss hearing John Cale’s contributions. I think I enjoy his solo career as much as (or possibly more than) Lou Reed’s. Glad you found “Black Angel’s Death Song” at least listenable, which a lot of people don’t. Even I had trouble with it at first but after immersing myself in the album for the gig described in this post I came to really like it. Funny how you came to VU via Phish’s Halloween performance and I went from casual fan to big fan after my own band’s Halloween show performing their debut album. Funny…or scary(?). Haha.

      Like

  4. Murphy's Law
    February 10, 2019

    I came to this album in my 20’s as well. I was interested to hear it because of REM’s covers of Pale Blue Eyes, Femme Fatale and There She Goes Again. I dated a girl in college who was a big Lou Reed fan and she turned me on to VU. I don’t listen to them a lot, but when I do it’s usually “and Nico” or the third album. Mo’s vocals on After Hours are amazing.

    Like

    • I think I knew two of those three REM versions before ever hearing VU, so even though I was aware they were covers I still enjoyed making the connection once I started listening to the VU discography. I have to revisit the self-titled 3rd album since I don’t remember “After Hours.” I’m sure I’ll have an “oh yeah” moment when I play it again.

      Like

  5. Yahooey
    February 10, 2019

    I have always loved this album.

    I was surprised by the small sales numbers when I first heard the Brian Eno quote (FYI: It’s 30,000 and from a 1982 interview). When I first heard the album as a teenager in the late 70’s it was well known, though probably more famous for it’s peel slowly album cover, and a few friends had copies (of the unpeelable kind).

    It took me a little more time to get familiar with and enjoy the rest of their catalogue; and I find that their “avant garde” pieces like have aged well. One of my many favourite bands.

    Like

    • I had read that it was only 10,000 copies of the debut, so I think the details of that quote are nebulous. I think for a long time this album, and pretty much their whole discography, was more famous for its reputation than for the actual music. Fortunately for me the music lived up to the hype, but you certainly need to have an open mind to really appreciate what they created in their short time together.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. 1537
    February 10, 2019

    Nice choice, definitely one of my very favourite bands. The demo versions LP of this is also very good.

    Like

    • Are you referring to the first disc of the Peel Slowly And See box set with six demos (including 4 songs that appeared on this album)? If so I agree that it’s really enjoyable and nice to see they had their unique sound from the very beginning. Wondering if there’s a more comprehensive collection of demos from this album based on your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • 1537
        February 11, 2019

        Hey Rich, I’m not sure what’s on the box set but the ones I mean are the Sceptre Studio Sessions (they were released on an LP for RSD 2012). I like how unpolished they are.

        Like

      • Thanks for the info about The Sceptre Studio Sessions. Will be on the lookout for that. It’s ironic how you enjoy that they’re “unpolished” when the studio album is far from a polished affair.

        Like

  7. christiansmusicmusings
    February 13, 2019

    I checked out some of The Velvet Underground’s music in the past and can’t say it grabbed me. But as I’m listening to this album, I can’t deny it has something.

    My suspicion is I might end up embracing that band, if I listen to them long enough. And who knows where it might go from there!😆

    My list of artists who were an acquired taste seems to keep growing. Some are now among my favorites!

    Like

    • The VU are certainly an acquired taste and I couldn’t argue with anyone who doesn’t “get” them. They’re still not among my all-time favorite artists but there’s so much to love in their brief discography. Also, becoming a fan put me on a path to discovering the incredible solo catalog of John Cale. Lou Reed gets all the press but Cale’s discography is every bit as diverse & impressive.

      Like

      • christiansmusicmusings
        February 15, 2019

        I think I might do some more exploration of the VU. I’ve listened to some Lou Reed solo stuff. I don’t think I’ve done the same for John Cale, so that actually makes me curious.

        Sometimes, I fall a bit into the trap to keep listening to the same stuff. I should probably venture out a bit more.

        Like

      • There’s nothing wrong with listening to the same stuff, especially when you have diverse tastes like you clearly do. I spent a lot of years expanding my musical horizons, which was a costly but rewarding endeavor, but in recent years I’ve found myself revisiting many favorites I hadn’t played in years. I was pleased to find that most of them held up, although a few had me scratching my head about why I was so enthusiastic about them in the past.

        I highly recommend the John Cale discography. You can’t go wrong with his run of albums from 1973’s Paris 1919 through 1975’s Helen Of Troy.

        Liked by 1 person

      • christiansmusicmusings
        February 19, 2019

        Thanks, I’ll be sure to check out these John Cale albums!

        Like

      • If/when you do hear any solo Cale I’d love to hear your thoughts. They likely won’t be immediate favorites but will probably hit you on the second or third listen, if you make it that far. Then again, maybe you’ll love them immediately. I certainly hope that’s the case.

        Liked by 1 person

      • christiansmusicmusings
        February 20, 2019

        Will do!

        Liked by 1 person

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