You Picked It!! – The Velvet Underground & Nico – ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ – Album Review

Alright…You Picked It! And this one wasn’t really close. The one you picked was The Velvet Underground & Nico.  The votes were as follows:

  1. The Velvet Underground – ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ – 8 votes
  2. ZZ Top – ‘Eliminator’ – 4 votes
  3. The Rolling Stones – ‘Tattoo You” – 3 votes
  4. Wig Wam – ‘Never Say Die’ – 3 votes
  5. Chris Stapleton – ‘Starting Over’ – 1 Vote

Thanks to all for participating.  The March choices will be up on Saturday!

The Velvet Underground & Nico – ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967):

If I thought the last album was a little daunting to review with The Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’, this one is just as daunting a task. This has also been called one of the greatest albums of all time and one of the most influential albums as well. Punk, grunge and numerous other genres all owe a tip of the hat to this album. With ‘Pet Sounds’, I found the album was really good, but I didn’t think it was one of the best ever although “God Only Knows” is one of the best songs. So how will this one fare? I will come out and just say it, I love this album! I mean this thing far exceeded any expectations especially since it has been labeled as art pop and experimental rock. I wasn’t sure what to expect and this wasn’t it. I have to say this thing kind of blew me away.

First up, what an awesome band. The Velvet Underground is the great Lou Reed and John Cale as well as Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker. And then you throw the German singer, Nico, in the mix and not a bad bunch of people to have sitting around playing music. And the strange part of the album is that Andy Warhol produced it. Andy does art, I didn’t realize he produced as well. The album came out on March 12, 1967 and sounds like a product of its time as you can tell it is an album of the 60’s, but there is so much more.

We know Andy does art, just look at the cover of this album. That is an Andy Warhol concept, the unpeeled banana. The cover has a sticker of a banana that you can leave unpeeled, or peel the banana yourself. Be careful if you do, as the album cover is then changed forever as you can see the picture down below. Try finding an original unpeeled banana cover and you will be shelling out some major bucks which is why I still don’t have one. But, after doing this review, I will be looking for this album to add to my collection.

The album was written mostly by Lou Reed and it contained some very controversial lyrics that talked about drugs, prostitution, S&M and bascially being a sexual deviant. All the experimentation on the album was brought forth by John Cale and when you mix the two together, you get a solid masterpiece of an album. I don’t really talk more about the background, I would rather get straight in to the music.

SIDE 1:

“Sunday Morning” opens with a little child’s lullaby. It is soft and sweet and feels like a pleasant and quiet Sunday morning like life should give you. You wouldn’t guess the song was about paranoia until you actually read the lyrics. The psychedelic feel to the song would I guess help explain that paranoia feeling if you were floating high from some controlled substance. Sterling was on bass and kept the song moving along and Lou gave a nice pleasant sounding vocal performance.

Next up is “I’m Waiting For The Man” which has more of a punk and garage band feel with a 60’s flair. The song is sung by Lou and talks about waiting on the street corner waiting on the man to buy some heroin. Yeah, who doesn’t do that. The guitar riff and melody is pretty much the same all the way through with maybe a slight increase in tempo and urgency as the song goes on. For me, it was when I started to think, this could be really good as I am really digging this tune.

“Femme Fatale” is the first song with Nico on vocals. The song is about one of Warhol’s superstars, Edie Sedgwick. Musically, the production is a little rough with some feedback and muffled notes. Having Nico sing it was brilliant as approaches it as a femme fatale herself. Her voice is feminine yet a little deeper to and adds to the jazz feel of the song.

Then we get one of the coolest songs on the album “Venus in Furs” which is based of the book of the same name by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. The song is about S&M just like the book. Musically the song has a ton going on with so many different sounds including Cale playing his electric viola and the percussion is the beat of two bass drums and a tambourine played rather slowly by Maureen. The music is sort of monotonous in its delivery, but when up against the same vocal delivery by Reed, it somehow works. The thing is the viola could be irritating in its squeaky playing, but instead I am enthralled by the whole thing and I get lost in its essence.

The band takes a completely left turn with “Run, Run, Run” which is more upbeat and rocking and feels every bit that it is recorded in the 60’s. The song details drug use by several different people named in the song, but what is really memorable about it is the distorted, mess of a couple of guitar solos by Reed that works on every level. It is the most rocking song on the album and by this time, I was all in and just enjoying the ride.

The final track on Side 1 is “All Tomorrow’s Parties”. The song was inspired by what Reed heard at Warhol’s factory and how insane everything really was at the place. This is another Nico sung song and this one is interesting in that her vocals were double tracked and layered against each other giving it a cool dual singing feel to the song. I would’ve sworn this was a guy singing with a slightly higher voice, but it is Nico with a slightly deeper tone. I’m so confused. It features Cale on piano, more tambourines and Reed on his ostrich fretless guitar. It sounds like everyone is playing a different song at the same time and is all over the place and it feels like insanity. Maybe I have gone a little insane as I enjoyed every note.

SIDE 2:

Side 2 kicks off with the best song on the album. The indelible “Heroin”. The song is about drug use…Wow!! Shocker. Who’d a thunk. It starts off slowly with Reed on guitar and singing softly. As the song continues, more instruments join in and the tempo builds until we get to the crescendo where the build up delivers a hell of a punch. Then it goes back to the original tempo and repeats itself over and over. I don’t know why I loved it so as this goes on for over 7 minutes that seems to fly by as with each crescendo you are lost again in the song and time has no meaning. With all the distortion and noises it seems like there is no method to the madness, but that is the brilliance I found in the music. The madness at the end is nothing short of genius and then to end how it began is magic.

“There She Goes Again” is more of a normal rock song that could be by the Kinks or any British sounding band which is cool coming from a New York band. The guitar riff is borrowed from the Marvin Gaye song “Hitch Hike”. What I found cool about the song were the tempo changes and by the time you get to the end the tempo has doubled in speed. It is a little song with a lot of punch.

“I’ll Be Your Mirror” is the last Nico led song which she sings softly and gives her whole heart. It is a love song that Reed wrote for Nico to sing. It is a really short, sweet song and therefore, I will keep the comments short on it.

Then we get to some more experimentation with the song “Black Angel’s Death Song”. Lyrically it makes absolutely no sense and that was by design. The lyrics were pieced together for how they sounded and not for their meaning. It has Cale on the electric viola again, bass and some interesting hissing. Not sure what that was about. It is the weirdest song and I still loved it. The more bizarre the better.

The album ends with “European Son” which was written by the whole band. It opens like a typical song would with some opening licks and then Reed comes in with lyrics and then you get a fury of sounds, a crash and then everyone goes nuts and what sounds like noise and everyone playing whatever the hell they feel like playing. Some cool guitar riffs, distorted guitar runs, bass lines, frantic drumming and percussion and monstrous playing all around. It is a giant hot mess of a song so why did I listen to it over and over.

No need to do a track score as it is a 100% Track Score. I wouldn’t delete anything, in fact, I never skipped anything either. I probably hit repeat a few times on some songs and I know I did while I was writing this so I could enjoy the song again. I will be honest, there is nothing on here I didn’t like. I know, I am as surprised as you are probably reading this. I never expected to like this and I didn’t like it, I loved it! Every weird ass note, every weird ass Reed lyric. I even loved Reed’s vocals and thought Nico added a nice contrast to Reed. For me, this was as close to perfection as you could get. I will give it a 5.0 out of 5.0 Stars. I am definitely not saying you will like it, but you might be surprised if you have never heard it. I certainly was.

72 thoughts on “You Picked It!! – The Velvet Underground & Nico – ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ – Album Review

  1. Well I’ll be damned. Even when you hinted that this review wouldn’t be what we expected, I never would have thought you’d flat out love it like me. It’s such an interesting, vital, uncompromising, original LP. It rocks, it’s melodic, it’s harsh, all in service of the message. It was my first taste of Lou, and it hooked me. Started with the Velvets stuff and then moved on to his solo career which has several gems. “Heroin” is impressive on so many levels, just sounding so dirty and euphoric and detached. Total mastery of tempo and dynamics. It was the first song I learned to play on guitar. It’s a song that’s super simple yet cool. Just two easy open chords (D-G) tuned down a half step which makes it even easier to play. So technically it’s Db and Gb. A I-IV chord progression, Lou liked those a lot.

    This was Warhol’s first time producing an album. Lou said Warhol acted as a protector, that he told Lou to “keep all the dirty words” and used his clout to prevent people from trying to change the music or message, to soften what shouldn’t be softened.

    Now that I know you like the noisy stuff too, I think you’ll really love all three of the remaining Velvet Underground albums. White Light/White Heat is the noisiest, “Sister Ray” is almost a rockin’ precursor to Metal Machine Music. Lots of awesome distortion on that album. Album three, the S/T is way more quiet because their gear got stolen. Great songwriting on that one though, enjoyable in a different way. Loaded’s the most commercial, and it just rocks. Neither of those are as challenging as the first two, but since you love this one, you’re up for the challenge. I’d recommend getting a copy of the Peel Slowly and See box with the banana sticker still on and the standard Bob Ludwig re-master of the third album so you have both mixes. It’s got every album (only the closet mix of the third, hence my suggestion to also get the normal standalone re-master), and some great stuff not on the albums. It’s not too terribly expensive to find in good shape with the sticker.

    Lou’s solo career is much longer, but Transformer (produced by David Bowie & Mick Ronson), Berlin (Bob Ezrin), Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, and New York are definite standouts to this guy. Bet you’re glad we voted for this one now. Welcome to the club my friend. Now you’re a Lou Reed fan!

    https://1001albumsin10years.wordpress.com/2011/12/10/velvet-underground-velvet-underground-and-nico-1967/
    Check out what the first lady who commented on Stephen1001’s review had to say about those of us who enjoy the band.

    Liked by 1 person

              1. I was talking about which did you smoke at 12 or 13? A cigarette, a joint, or a cigar? Ha! Gets hard to keep track of all these fucking replies.

                Good idea on the Super Deluxe.

                Liked by 1 person

      1. We start a partial re-opening tomorrow. We’ll see how that goes…with any lucky I could be browsing records again within a few weeks. This is one I would look for. Was on Discogs the other day but I don’t even look for vinyl anymore due to the shipping craziness. Vinyl will have to wait….

        Liked by 1 person

              1. $20 is my limit from Japan so I’m in budget. I order three discs at a time to make it worth my while.

                I got a solo album by Minor Niihara, a King’s X Japanese import, and FINALLY the Japanese version of Ace Frehley’s Loaded Deck with the nine minute version of Shock Me. Finally.

                Liked by 1 person

        1. Make sure if you get it to get the 1990’s Bob Ludwig re-master. The original CD contains a different version of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” than the one on the original LP. The 1980s CD version only has a single vocal track, not the cool double effect John was so smitten as to note in his review. The re-master restores the proper version. The Deluxe edition has them both, and the mono mix of the whole album. If you go all in.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll have to spin those vids you posted later. I obviously heard the name but never took the time. I might as well download it off Apple and spin it there..lol
    Good stuff and out of the comfort zone. Cheers John.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I like it as I can dig into albums I won’t buy or may at some point like the two recent Dio live albums.
        The reason being is I have on preorder from Amazon on vinyl are Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules the deluxe editions which I have never owned on vinyl.
        The Crowes box set as well..lol

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t know if I would enjoy the album, but the contortionism in your review kept me smiling! A few clips: “Maybe I have gone a little insane as I enjoyed every note.” … “The music is sort of monotonous” … “I’m so confused … It sounds like everyone is playing a different song at the same time” … “repeats itself over and over. I don’t know why I loved it so …” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha!! There are so many reasons why I should not like it and normally wouldn’t like it, but there was something there that made me enjoy every second of it when it was all said and done. I would hit repeat and play it again and again.

      Like

  4. Great write up, John. I was heavily into this album for a long time… particularly the first half. Absolutely incredible stuff. I think it’s easy to say that this is one of the most influential and innovative albums of ever ever. So much goodness cooking in that pot. That said – I would agree that the last couple of songs are tough going these days. I think I either oversubscribed to the album way back when I got into it or they just don’t hold the same appeal as the majority of the others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I will agree on the last couple song. They aren’t the best, but they had their moments. There has always been so much hype on this, I am just glad it lived up to it. Most of the overhyped albums don’t. Like Pet Sounds for me was not as great as everyone said for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know a few folk that feel the same way about Pet Sounds (like our mutual pal 1537)… but I love that album unconditionally. There was a period where I listened to that album daily! I have a special place for that one.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I salute you for reviewing this album John. I’ve never heard the entire thing myself, so listened to it on Spotify as I read your review. Can’t say I love it, but I appreciate how groundbreaking it must have seemed upon its release.

    Liked by 1 person

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