The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) (1 Viewer)

travispickle

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I first heard this album in my teens too. Like a lot of music I got into in my teens, I discovered VU via Bowie - ditto Iggy, the stooges, scott walker and sundry other stuff as well.
For me, if you were a teenager into alternative pop/rock/indie, especiallyl if you were a mad Bowie head, you had to contend with the Velvets; you had to deal with this album in particular. As @dudley said earlier, so much has been written and said about this album that it's hard to be objective about it anymore, but it was interesting listening to it again for TAC as it's an album I'd never have cause to listen to usually.
It's not a great album. It's certainly very flawed but it captures a certain quality that makes it very appealing. Yes you could say dark, nihilistic, depressing, confused - perfect music for youngsters who feel the world doesn't understand them!
I think @Cornu Ammonis mentioned this too but musically, I love the juxtaposition of Reed's poppy, melodic sensibility with Cale's off kilter avant-drone. So many of the songs are so catchy but also have this very "off" quality. The guitar tunings for one thing. Are they deliberately detuned, in weird keys or just out of tune? A lot of the songs have that drone idea going through them as well and coupled with Nico's deadpan drawl, you can see how this record appeals to disaffected teens generation after generation. It's like a go-to bible for "How to do Indie" or "How to be punk" - this is really where it all started.
Personally I'd have jettisoned Run Run Run and the last two songs. Everything else, for me, is golden. Though my personal VU favourite is their third album.
 

Cornu Ammonis

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The guitar tunings for one thing. Are they deliberately detuned, in weird keys or just out of tune?
They tuned the guitars and bass down to be in the same key as the viola. They're all tuned to D instead of E. I think on one of the songs at least, they use Reed's "ostrich" tuning where all the strings are tuned to the same note.

Damn near everyone knows someone who's been affected by drug addiction or violence against women, and everyone dies.
And at the time hardly anyone wrote about those things in pop songs. At least not as obviously as writing a song called "Heroin". Later in that year, The Beatles had "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" which they didn't even have the stones to say was about LSD, instead they claimed it was based on a drawing by Lennon's son.

The Doors were somewhat on the same page but to me feel like a panto version of VU who fit more into the beatnik scene and gritty New York realism of Hubert Selby Jr. (Last Exit to Brooklyn has segments that could easily be lyrics to this or White Light/White Heat). Reed himself was damaged, he was given shock treatment for homosexuality at a young age and VU were hanging around with the outcasts (drug addicts, gays, transvestites, mental illness, etc.) and it bled into the music. I think there's more sincerity here than some kind of teenage angst.
 

egg_

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And at the time hardly anyone wrote about those things in pop songs
So? People have written songs about sex and drugs and death for thousands of years. The recorded music industry was gonna catch up sooner or later

I think there's more sincerity here than some kind of teenage angst.
I don't doubt his sincerity, but I don't think he's saying anything of substance - just some mildly shocking shit
 

Cornu Ammonis

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So? People have written songs about sex and drugs and death for thousands of years. The recorded music industry was gonna catch up sooner or later
Usually in a way that doesn't break social taboos though. Name a song about sadomasochism earlier than "Venus in Furs", I'm sure there are some but none I can think of in popular or folk song.

I don't doubt his sincerity, but I don't think he's saying anything of substance - just some mildly shocking shit
Mildly shocking now but this is nearly 50 years old. They tackled transgenderism, mental illness and drug addiction in 1967 as a popular music band, I'd call that ahead of the curve when it comes to music.
 

rettucs

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I haven't a lot to say on this one. I've become a bit apathetic towards it, probably from overlistening to it over the years. I don't mean that to sound like a criticism - I'd still consider Pink Floyd to be my favourite band but never listen to them at all now.

I first got a copy of it at about 17/18 - I remember picking it up on CD in a sale in the old Virgin records in the Square (2 for a tenner kind of thing - the other album I bought was Closing Time by Tom Waits). Some girl I fancied at the time told me that Venus in Furs was her favourite song. I agreed with her, then legged it off to buy it so I could listen to it (for the first time) before talking to her next.

I don't recall ever going through a phase where I'd listen to it to death. It'd be moreso that I'd hear a song (or someone reference a song) from it here or there and I'd dig it out.

Back in 1987 (when I was 13) I saw Lou Reed support U2 in Croke Park. A best-of Lou Reed came into our house soon after and I nearly wore it out from listening. Because of that I've always favoured the VU stuff he was more prominent on than Cale's stuff. I went to see Cale in the Village about 6/7 years ago, more because of who he was than that I liked his solo stuff. I didn't really know his solo stuff. I still don't. To me VU was always more about Reed.

Someone mentioned that there isn't really a whole lot going on in the songs on this. Hard to disagree. I suppose its the distortion, the 'mess' of sound they pad the background out with that gives it such a unique sound. I don't really get the Monkees comparison.

I find it a bit of a chore to sit through the album in its entirety. Dipping in and out of it, or hearing a song here and there, works best for me now. 'Venus in Furs' and 'All Tomorrow's Parties' are two songs that make you sit up and listen. If I was putting a song on a playlist, it'd be one of those.

The only other VU album I know is 'The Velvet Underground'. 'I don't agree that its better than this one, but then I came to this a lot sooner so mine is probably not an unbiased view. Neither of my favourite VU songs are on this though (Pale Blue Eyes, Rock and Roll).

As an aside, why did Cale not feature on 'The Velvet Underground'?

The Warhol connection doesn't put me off either. I don't know a lot about Warhol apart from the banana and the soup can. I'll try and keep it that way, maybe, though the New York scene that VU/Warhol were part of does fascinate me, and it is something I would like to know more about. I've read bits and pieces about it, such as what Patti Smith wrote in her first biog.

As for the Nico songs - they could be helped with better production. Her vocal is a little odd so I can see why people find it a little grating (on Femme Fatale anyway). I had a listen to Chelsea Girl over the past week. Its fantastic. For someone who clearly has very limited talent, she comes across really well when the songs suit the type of voice she has.

Theres lots about this album thats offputting, but not the songs themselves. Its one of those albums that its uncool to knock. I don't think it warrants being up on that kind of pedestal. Its not that good that theres something wrong with someone who dislikes it. All I know is that I like it, a lot, but I don't plan on listening to it again anytime soon. 4 stars from me.
 

nooleen

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i like it a lot, i've listened to it a bunch

i had listened to it before but found lou reed annoying. i'm over that now

too lazy to write a load o stuff
 

Cornu Ammonis

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As an aside, why did Cale not feature on 'The Velvet Underground'?
Cale and Reed had a big falling out after White Light/White Heat so Cale left and was replaced by Doug Yule who was a big fan of Lou Reed so did pretty much what Reed told him to. VU then morphed from a noisy avant rock band to a more straightforward rock band. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing, the two post-Cale albums are terrific and the they represent some of Reed's best songwriting. The album after The Velvet Underground, Loaded, is my favourite of the two without Cale. White Light/White Heat is my favourite overall and, for me, the greatest rock and roll album ever.

For someone who clearly has very limited talent, she comes across really well when the songs suit the type of voice she has.
She has a limited range maybe but limited talent is a bit harsh. Her later albums are much better than Chelsea Girl (which she hated herself due to the fey music and arrangements, particularly the flute) but aren't exactly easy listening. The Marble Index and Desertshore were collected as a double compilation with bonus tracks called The Frozen Borderline, I highly recommend that to hear her best post-VU work. Out of Reed, Cale and Nico, I think her solo career after VU was the strongest. Reed and Cale had great moments afterwards but Nico's catalogue was the most consistent while also pushing boundaries. Her own lyrics are more impressionist and dreary than Reed or Cale but given that she was a heap of German misery, could you expect anything else?
 

egg_

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Usually in a way that doesn't break social taboos though. Name a song about sadomasochism earlier than "Venus in Furs", I'm sure there are some but none I can think of in popular or folk song.
They weren't a popular music act though. The Beatles writing about drugs was a totally different thing - they were megastars, they actually had something to lose. VU were just artsy types making up tunes for themselves and their friends with fairly one-dimensional lyrics about shit from their everyday lives. Name me a song about the tribulations of parenthood, or the daily grind of having a responsible job, in popular or folk music. There's none I can think of, apart from ones written by me or people I know. Does that make us revolutionaries?
 

hugh

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in fairness though, egg has a point re: the Beatles vs. the Velvet Underground
Well, they were both operating within the same basic form - the difference is that one band were famous and the other wasn't. There is also a very different tone and approach here. When the Beatles and other acts write about drugs its done in a nudge-nudge wink-wink way .. it's cloaked in metaphor. It's not direct. With a song like 'Heroin' its unambiguous and frank about the rush of shooting up. They are poles apart to my ears.
 

Lili Marlene

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Fair point! I guess my problem with the VU is that it’s all so fucking white. There was no shortage of songs that were very directly about drugs or weird sex but the difference was that they were usually done with a sense of humour and, well, sung by black people. It took some studied, white artistes writing about it in a musically blues-less, lyrically exclusionary manner for it to be taken seriously as Art. Same old story really.

Like a lot of very good albums it’s probably tainted by its own hype and I’ve always felt a certain amount of resentment towards it just on principle. No one ever gives out to you for not knowing your James Brown (or Elvis Presley for that matter) but it’s like you failed a test by not having this album as your main reference point for all other music and assuming everyone else does too.

Having said all that, and having listened to the album a bunch of times, I can say that as far as I’m concerned it's all fantastic stuff, more than lives up to the hype. The sparse production sounds great, I’m almost always into less is more music, and while I’m not mad on the sunglasses at night lyrics, they don’t put me off. Ridiculous, looking-at-yourself-in-the-mirror music has to come from somewhere and this album certainly tapped into a certain kind of drugged out narcissism that I don’t think was around in pop/rock music before this album.

I like all the songs on it: i'd forgotten the Strokes getting into a lot of trouble amongst some people for "ripping off" I'm Waiting for the Man. Great track. Run, Run, Run has that fantastic galloping rhythm and the Black Angel’s Death Song takes the music to another level imho. Actually I'm surprised so many people think it could be removed, I think it’s where things really get interesting on the album. I love how the lyrics are chanted over it, like a Bob Dylan remix or something.

I don't think I know enough about the Warhol/Nico connections to see how they did or didn't influence the music, i've just been reading a bit about in in this thread and on the internet. They don't seem to have been essential to what makes it good nor did they hold it back. Maybe if Warhol hadn't facilitated the whole thing it'd be a lot more slapdash or only be known as a great, unfinished album?

Overall then, while I may have some issues with the album and the talk about and around it, none of them are with the music itself.
 

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