Sound Is Art #4: The Velvet Underground — ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’

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Background:

No denying this Andy Warhol work is one of the most iconic album artworks in the history of rock music. The original LP, and the slightly more expensive reissues, has the peel-back banana option while the back cover features actor Eric Emerson who, back in 1967 threatened to sue, only for the record company to recall the album, and then airbrushing his image instead. The image has since been reinstated, or unairbrushed, if you will, as various reissues of the album have come and gone on both CD and vinyl.

Does the artwork represent the music within?

If you’re talkin’ an abstract form of possible sexual innuendo mixed with off-the-wall absurdity, then maybe.

Anything else?

Brian Eno famously said something similar to “not many people heard ‘Velvet Underground And Nico’, but those that did all went on to form a band”. Also generally known as ‘the banana album’. Meanwhile, Rolling Stone called it “gritty, innovative and unapologetically self-possessed work”.

We say:

Granted this was 1967 but listening to the record now, it’s hard to believe its is commonly considered that the album was too daring to be featured on daytime radio (or even most nighttime radio for that matter). Forgetting the lyrical base of some of the tracks (themes around sex and drugs are never far away but then, neither was it with Beatles and Stones records at this point), and the washed out, feedback friendly lo-fi that the record’s famous for; take a song like the pretty haze of Sunday Morning, for example, or Femme Fetale’s almost tranquil acoustica, and you can see plenty of opportunity for these songs to have become quite popular at the time if awarded the chance. Maybe it was that look; the all black leather n shades matched with an untamed looking broodiness, that scared both the playlisters and generally square record execs in suits and briefcases.

Listen to any playback of a John Peel show from the 1980s and 90s especially and you will hear almost every second or third track featured can be traced back to this record. It played a big part– wether intentionally or not– in the birthing of goth, certainly; in fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that this LP was the founding father of what people commonly refer to as ‘indie’.

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