Friday, August 19, 2011

Velvet Underground Series, #2: The Velvet Underground & Nico- S/T (1967) / The Velvet Underground & Nico Unripened: The Norman Dolph Acetate (1966) / Yesterday's Parties: Exploding Plastic Inevitable (2005) MP3 & FLAC

"I'll be your mirror, reflect what you are in case you don't know."

Simply put, The Velvet Underground & Nico was a game-changer that, over the course of four+ decades, has served as a guidebook for everything from Glam-Rock to Punk to Industrial and beyond, a deceptively unassuming album whose particular effect was best summed up in Brian Eno's famous pronouncement: "The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band." As the album cover suggests, the back-story of The Velvets' debut is very much about their brief stint as members of Andy Warhol's Factory, for it was through Warhol's mentoring and patronage that they were able to record (a now legendary) album that they themselves never thought would happen. However, from the beginning of their association with Warhol, there was conflict. Paul Morrissey, an avant-garde filmmaker and factory regular, convinced Warhol that The Velvets needed a more appealing lead singer, as Lou Reed was prone to appearing withdrawn and abrasive on stage. German fashion model and fledgling singer Nico, whom Warhol had used in a few of his films, most notably, Chelsea Girls, was Morrissey's recommendation to Warhol, who in turn set about convincing Reed and John Cale to accept Nico as the band's "chanteuse." Despite their hatred for the idea, Reed and Cale were eventually persuaded to not only accept Nico into the band, but to write a few songs specifically for her; being the intelligent opportunists that they were, they likely realized that being given new instruments, free rehearsal space, food, drugs, sex (of all kinds), and Warhol's pop-art cache were perks that few, if any, bands could ever dream of enjoying. Despite all this, at their first rehearsal with Nico present, the band reportedly drowned her voice in guitar noise every time she tried to sing. As Sterling Morrison once revealed, Nico was often a detrimental force within the band: "There were problems from the very beginning because there were only so many songs that were appropriate for Nico, and she wanted to sing them all [....] And she would try and do little sexual politics things in the band. Whoever seemed to be having undue influence on the course of events, you'd find Nico close by. So she went from Lou to Cale, but neither of those affairs lasted very long." Warhol's first major project involving The Velvets was a multimedia exhibition called the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which involved the band playing in front of a silent 70 minute black & white film entitled The Velvet Underground & Nico: A Symphony of Sound.

Performing in the EPI allowed The Velvet Underground to regularly explore and indulge their interest in musical improvisation, a trait that would be put to use soon thereafter while recording their debut album. In 1966, the first step a band would typically take before recording an album was securing a recording contract. In the case of The Velvets, Warhol decided instead to finance the album himself with the help of Norman Dolph, a Columbia Records Sales Executive who hoped Columbia would ultimately agree to sign the band and distribute the record. In mid-April 1966, after much rehearsing and endlessly working on new arrangements intended to accurately reflect the innovative approach they had honed earlier that spring playing in the EPI, The Velvets entered an old, decrepit recording studio in New York City with Warhol as ostensible producer to record an acetate that would be peddled to various record companies. Lou Reed has clarified Warhol's role during the recording sessions: "Andy was the producer and Andy was in fact sitting behind the board gazing with rapt fascination at all the blinking lights. He just made it possible for us to be ourselves and go right ahead with it because he was Andy Warhol. In a sense he really produced it because he was this umbrella that absorbed all the attacks when we weren't large enough to be attacked. As a consequence of him being the producer, we'd just walk in and set up and did what we always did [....] Of course, he didn't know anything about record production, he just sat there and said, 'Oooh that's fantastic,' and the engineer would say, 'Oh yeah! Right! It is fantastic isn't it?'" Despite the austere recording conditions, The Velvets made the most of the opportunity. The result, known as the Norman Dolph Acetate, ended up being roundly rejected by Columbia who didn't feel the band had any talent (ditto Atlantic and Elektra); however Morrissey managed to sell it to Verve/MGM, who promptly decided to sit on it until the following year because they had just released another "weird" album, Freak Out  by The Mothers of Invention and weren't quite sure how to market The Velvets. The delay gave the band a chance to rerecord a few songs under better conditions in Los Angeles while on tour as part of the EPI and to record some new material (including "Sunday Morning") with Verve staff producer Tom Wilson in New York.

An often overlooked characteristic of The Velvet Underground & Nico is the album's sonic diversity. At the time, The Velvets were derogatorily referred to as an "amphetamine band"; they were especially reviled by the so-called "flower children" of the San Francisco music scene who saw the band as excessively dark and out to destroy the last shreds of rock music's innocence. For the 10,000 or so who actually bought the debut album when it was released, they were treated to a varied and uncompromising journey into the nether regions of the growing counter-cultural phenomenon. Not surprisingly, drug-culture steps forth front and center in the form of the album's then-scandalous centerpiece, "Heroin," which features some of Reed's most brilliant lyrics, equally evocative of a love-letter and a suicide note to the song's namesake. In addition, the song's slowly building dynamic mimics the effect of heroin as it hits the bloodstream, thus lending even more emotive power to the lyrics. On "I'm Waiting for the Man," Reed's lyrics treat the listener to the other, even darker side of heroin addiction: the perpetual need to score more skag: "I'm feeling good feeling so fine, until tomorrow but that's just some more time." The song's grimy, staccato feel provides a powerful counterpoint to the dreamy insularity of "Heroin." Much to her chagrin to be sure, Nico ended up with only three songs on the album, all of which are gorgeously off-center due to her singular vocal style. The album is at its most innovative and confrontational on the more avant-garde songs such as "Venus in Furs" and "The Black Angel's Death Song," both of which make heavy use of Cale's haunting electric viola. Not long after the release of the album, the relationship between Warhol and The Velvets began to badly deteriorate due to contractual issues relating to the distribution of album royalties as well as Warhol's decision to focus (again, at the urging of Morrissey) on Nico's solo career. In hindsight, The Velvet Underground & Nico can be viewed as an early death-knell of the hippie movement; as such, it is an abrasively avant-garde, unprecedentedly literate, unflinching existential journey into the dark soul of the sixties, while simultaneously functioning as a harbinger of nearly every underground music scene that has followed in its wake.

The Velvet Underground & Nico 
(Universal ~ 2010/1967 ~ Japanese SHM-CD SACD Remastered Edition)

 1. Sunday Morning  (2:53)
 2. I'm Waiting for the Man  (4:37)
 3. Femme Fatale  (2:35)
 4. Venus in Furs  (5:07)
 5. Run Run Run  (4:18)
 6. All Tomorrow's Parties  (5:55)
 7. Heroin  (7:05)
 8. There She Goes Again  (2:30)
 9. I'll Be Your Mirror  (2:37)
10. The Black Angel's Death Song  (3:10)
11. European Son  (7:40)

MU: Lossless (FLAC)

The Velvet Underground & Nico  
(Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab ~ 1997/1967)

 1. Sunday Morning  (2:54)
 2. I'm Waiting for the Man  (4:38)
 3. Femme Fatale  (2:37)
 4. Venus in Furs  (5:09)
 5. Run Run Run  (4:19)
 6. All Tomorrow's Parties  (5:57)
 7. Heroin  (7:11)
 8. There She Goes Again  (2:39)
 9. I'll Be Your Mirror (Monophonic)  (2:12)
10. The Black Angel's Death Song  (3:12)
11. European Son  (7:47)
-Bonus Track-
12. All Tomorrow's Parties (Alternate Mix)  (5:58)

The Velvet Underground & Nico Unripened: The Norman Dolph Acetate 
(XTV ~ 2007 ~ Bootleg CD)

1. European Son to Delmore Schwartz  (8:53)
2. The Black Angel's Death Song  (3:15)
3. All Tomorrow's Parties  (5:53)
4. I'll Be Your Mirror  (2:11)
5. Heroin  (6:12)
6. Femme Fatale  (2:37)
7. Venus in Furs  (4:29)
8. I'm Waiting for the Man  (4:11)
9. Run Run Run  (4:23)

Yesterday's Parties: Exploding Plastic Inevitable 
(World Youth Records ~ 2005 ~ Bootleg Vinyl)

-Thanks Scurfie-

1. The Nothing Song (Live at the Valleydale Ballroom, Columbus, OH, Nov. 1966)  (24:11)
2. Untitled (Live at The Dom, New York City, NY, April 1966)  (24:24)


  1. My favourite album <3

  2. Brilliant review! I can still hear some of the smarter, freakier acquaintances tell me to buy the album when it came out. But did I listen? no

  3. WOW! You were not kidding! Looking forward to the rest of the series!

  4. superb post voixautre. best band ever. period

  5. Anon., certainly in my top five

  6. scurfie, thank you. Wow, if you had listened to those freakier acquaintances, according to Eno you'd have started a band and I would be posting remasters of your stuff here on luna forty years later

  7. Paulo X, I'm going to really enjoy doing this series. I'll have another one up early next week

  8. bedlam, thank you and much agreed

  9. Velvet UG: Series 2/30
    30 great posts like this ?
    i don't believe it ! ;-)

  10. douxεε, yes, I have big plans for this series :) Some live stuff coming next

  11. Hey man, I've got to tell you, with no doubt this one is the best music blog I know currently. I've adore this record for 20 years!

  12. (rl) matiné, I really appreciate your comment. I work very hard to make this blog special for the readers, and I also wanted to do something worthy of this peerless album. I'm really enjoying the Velvets series. I'll have another one posted early next week. Good to have you with us :)


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