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

egg_

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
Since 1999
Joined
Nov 15, 1999
Threads
571
Messages
9,704
Location
Where dogs wear hats and birds fly backwards
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.
Hahaha

/me points finger at other posters for being complicit in this

I suppose arguing about ground-breakingness or importance in the context of popular music just strikes me as daft, and that's what I'm reacting against here. The tunes are mostly good, the lyrics are kinda teenager-y. Good record, but doesn't really scratch my itches
 

hugh

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Contributor
Joined
Dec 9, 2000
Threads
223
Messages
5,453
Website
www.tracesofthereal.com
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.
Well the "musically blues-less" part, to me, is a large part of the appeal. (Even though,it's not really true - Waiting For The Man, for example, is pretty much a blues song). I take your point though, but as I said, this is one of the (many) things that make this album great - a shift away from rock music informed by the blues to rock music informed by something that is, yes, more white. I can absolutely see why some would dislike this. I mean Moe Tucker's drumming is possibly the least funky thing that has ever been committed to tape (As an aside, if anyone is looking for more reasons to dislike VU, then check out her Facebook page - she's a gun-toting tea-party supporting rightwing extremist nutjob. Which also reminds me of the fact that Lester Bangs, one of the VU's key champions, wrote an article sometime in the mid/late 70s accusing the entire NY punk underground of being a bunch of racists). But I love it. Lots has been said about how the album incorporates all sorts of 20th Century experimentalism into its fabric (like drone and dissonance and so on) but to me Moe Tucker just nails this with her drumming - it's minimalism and serialism with a snare (sneer!) and a kick.

There are some choice song titles there in your "weird sex" list by the way - "I Love To Play Your Piano (Let Me Bang Your Box)"!
 

dunderhead

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 6, 2005
Threads
162
Messages
2,796
if it wasn't for Blackboard Jungle, I may never have heard this album...

bought this with nick drake's bryter layter in march 97 in grafton street's hmv while my school were up to the big smoke out in rte. was part of the numb skulls in the crowd, not the nerdlingers with all the answers.

I love this album. for the same reasons that plenty have already expressed here. remember listening to both of those 2 for 15 purchases continuously for weeks back then. both really pinged me off in two directions at once with regards to future album buying tastes for a 15 year old.

run run run getting a bit of flack here. love that tune. love the solo especially. last 2 tracks can piss me off but sometimes I love them. as scutter (i think) said a few posts back, hadn't listened to it in years in full, tunes here are there suffice these days, enjoyed a couple of listens this week though. 4.5
 

Cornu Ammonis

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Contributor
Joined
Feb 1, 2011
Threads
25
Messages
5,966
Location
Dublin
Website
brainwashed.com
Hahaha

/me points finger at other posters for being complicit in this

I suppose arguing about ground-breakingness or importance in the context of popular music just strikes me as daft, and that's what I'm reacting against here. The tunes are mostly good, the lyrics are kinda teenager-y. Good record, but doesn't really scratch my itches
Why have an album club if we're not going to talk about the albums? Do we exclude all contextual information as being irrelevant?
 

Cornu Ammonis

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Contributor
Joined
Feb 1, 2011
Threads
25
Messages
5,966
Location
Dublin
Website
brainwashed.com
Anyway, as you might have guessed from my previous posts, I love this album. I don't know if I suggested it (I might have suggested White Light/White Heat which I think is better than this) but I'm glad it showed up. This is one of those albums that gets heaps of praise thrown on it and the players on it have been raised to the level of myth (and then had the egos to go with that). Does it deserve all that praise? Maybe. I certainly think it represents one of those rare moments in time where music got as close the transcendence as it could. It's not unique in that but it still has a power that many rock albums from its time have lost.

For those unfamiliar with the backstory and what sets VU apart from the other bands at the time (all playing variations of folk and the blues), Lou Reed was a professional songwriter working for a record company called Pickwick Records in the late 50s/early 60s. This was a firm that latched on to trends and tried to cash in on them as quickly as possible so Reed would hear the new hot single (in whatever style) and try to ape it; so he ended up making all sorts of songs and getting session guys and girls to come in and sing on them. He also recorded music more suited to his own taste under his own name (Lewis Reed) and with a band called The Jades. He was a hardworking songwriter and wanted to leave a mark on pop music.

At the same time, John Cale had arrived in New York from Wales on a scholarship to study music. He was classically trained and had no interest in rock or pop music. He came to the US to work with La Monte Young, the father of Minimalism. He formed part of an improvising group called The Theatre of Eternal Music with Young, Marian Zazeela (Young's wife; also a visual artist), Tony Conrad (a filmmaker and experimental musician) and Angus MacLise (poet, percussionist and full-on counter cultural hero). The music consisted of long (very long) drones, all based on pitches heard in the environment (they used to tune all the instruments and voices to the pitch of the aquarium motor in the room they practised in). Young was heavily influenced by Indian classical music (studying under Pandit Pran Nath and becoming the first Western Kirana master in his own right) and the idea that music never stops, you just tap into the groove when you start to sing or perform. It was (and still is) challenging stuff but you can hear where that viola sound started (and how Cale toned it down for VU).

In 1964, Reed tried to get in on the novelty dance craze with a song called "The Ostrich", it was a bit of piss-take where the dancer would stick their head in the sand, etc. He came up with the idea of an "ostrich guitar" which involved tuning all the strings on the guitar to the same note. Pickwick thought this might be a legitimate hit and got him to put a band together to tour the single. Reed had also been hanging out around the New York avant garde art/music scene and had recently met Cale and Conrad along with Walter de Maria. They played as The Primitives (the name Reed used for the single) but to little success. Cale and Conrad only did it for the laugh (neither had any interest in popular music) but were struck that Reed was using the sort of tunings and approaches that they were working on with La Monte Young.

Cale and Reed hung around more and started writing together. There are demo recordings from Cale's loft that show that most of the songs were developed early on but they were more folk-orientated. Reed put on a really dodgy Dylan-esque voice and the whole thing sounded like a bad knock-off of Dylan or, when Cale sang, like music for Renaissance fair. However, they decided to amp up and make the sound harder and louder. Reed's friend Sterling Morrison joined on guitar (he had worked with Reed in the past) and MacLise (from The Theatre of Eternal Music) joined on percussion. They called themselves The Warlocks.

MacLise would leave soon after as he thought that turning up for gigs and being paid was selling out. This was just before their first proper gig so they asked their friend's sister to play drums. Maureen Tucker had played in a group called The Intruders prior to this and had a distinctive and minimalist style that fit perfectly with the rest of the music. She was a massive Bo Diddley fan and based a lot of her percussion on that of the Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji:

This completed the mix of the band and Tony Conrad suggested they rename themselves The Velvet Underground after a book about America's BDSM scene. Things didn't go great from there as they played in various toilets until Paul Morrissey, Andy Warhol's right hand man, saw them and thought they would be perfect for a film they were making. Morrissey and Warhol became managers for VU and decided they needed some glamour and international mystery so they insisted on Nico (a German model who had dabbled in pop music with Serge Gainsbourg) joining the band.

Others have mentioned that the influence of Warhol puts them off the album but aside from the album design (the banana peeled away to reveal a pink fruit underneath), he had no artistic input to the process and al. He did bankroll the whole thing and with his name attached, VU got interest from the major labels. The majors weren't delighted with what they heard, usually asking for them to ditch the viola. They held true to their vision and eventually they were picked up by MGM. In the meantime, they managed to get about 2 minutes of music out on more obscure labels. The first was as part of an audio collage put out on ESP Disc (the free jazz label). The collage was meant to be an audio version of the The East Village Other (an underground newspaper), merging radio broadcasts of President Johnson's daughter's wedding with VU, free jazz, Allen Ginsberg chanting mantras and other weird stuff. Despite it's name, the "Noise" VU contributed sounds more like regular jamming (starts at around 1 min in the video below). They also produced a flexi-disc called "Loop" that was included in the art magazine Aspen, which featured a guest editor every issue who would select the writings, images, prints, photos and music that went into the issue. Issue 3 was Warhol's and his flexi-disc featured VU on one side and Timothy Leary on the other. The VU track is a tape collage of loops made by Cale but credited to the band.

Enough history, what I love about this album is, much like The Beatles' self-titled album, every song could be by a different artist but there is some common thread that holds it all together. White Light/White Heat holds together much more firmly but this one has a scattered, loose approach. There are times when I listen to it and I forget what song is supposed to come next, how many albums that you've listened to for years can surprise you like that?

The lyrics are straightforward but pack a punch, @egg_'s dismissal of them as teenagery is way off for me. I wish I could write lyrics this good at any age. Don't forget that Reed was a poet first and studied English literature at college, before being taken under the wing of the poet Delmore Schwartz. Take the lyrics to "I'll Be Your Mirror", Reed takes this tender approach to depression where even if the person he loves can't see it, he'll be there at the end of it all to remind them that they're still worth loving. It's trite when you write it like that but it's something that hits home for me. Then the gritty realism of songs like "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "There She Goes" feel like they've come straight out of Last Exit to Brooklyn as Reed puts on these different masks to sing about what he sees day-to-day.

Then there's the centrepieces "Venus in Furs" and "Heroin", neither are written from first hand experience but the group create these sprawling and vivid pictures that fill the room like a howling wind. How anyone could listen to either of these songs and not feel like something is happening is beyond me. Cale's viola is like a thunderbolt out of the blue as Reed and Morrison keep this tight-but-loose rhythm propelling forward, all underpinned by Tucker's primal drumming. "Heroin" combines that intensity of The Theatre of Eternal Music and fuses it with the catharsis of rock and roll. Then compare that to the fuzzy, lovely fog of "Sunday Morning".
 

Cornu Ammonis

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Contributor
Joined
Feb 1, 2011
Threads
25
Messages
5,966
Location
Dublin
Website
brainwashed.com
Hit the 10,000 character limit there, here's the rest of the post:
It's funny seeing which tracks some of you would jettison, I'd have put money on the Nico tracks being unpopular but "Run Run Run"? What a rhythm and drive to the music, that guitar solo and the "fuck off" coolness of the whole thing. "European Son" and "The Black Angel's Death Song" are less surprising, they're abrasive and they're pushing the limits much more than even the drone-heavy tracks earlier in the album. "European Son" features the Ostrich guitar mentioned earlier and its descent into a mass of noisey jamming in the end carries the same sort of power as free jazz musicians like Albert Ayler and John Coltrane were hitting around that time too. This was deliberately anti-rock as Reed dedicated the song to his rock-hating mentor Schwartz. Lyrically, "The Black Angel's Death Song" is Dylan by way of Edgar Allan Poe; the sharp delivery of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" recited with the urgency of a speedfreak who thinks the world is about to end. Musically, it feels like the world has already ended. I always feel like they missed a trick not swapping the order of the last two songs, what a bang the album would have ended on with "The Black Angel's Death Song".

It's interesting to listen to live recordings from around this time because in addition to these songs, they were also exploring longer, less structured pieces like "Melody Laughter" and "It Was a Pleasure Then". They sound like what would come years later as bands like Can, Faust and The Soft Machine took up the baton of weirdo, outsider music. While I can't say that this album hasn't aged, it certainly hasn't become stale. Some of the ideas explored here are still ripe for further exploration, I still haven't heard anything that comes close to "Venus in Furs" by any artist.
 

egg_

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
Since 1999
Joined
Nov 15, 1999
Threads
571
Messages
9,704
Location
Where dogs wear hats and birds fly backwards
Why have an album club if we're not going to talk about the albums? Do we exclude all contextual information as being irrelevant?
Not at all. What I dislike is the stamp-collecting aspect that creeps into these discussions, and the way people tend to impose standard stories (like the brave artist breaking social taboos) upon real people's lives. The real stories are more interesting, and I very much enjoyed your backstory above
 

egg_

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
Since 1999
Joined
Nov 15, 1999
Threads
571
Messages
9,704
Location
Where dogs wear hats and birds fly backwards
I also dislike people describing the music in a music-journalist-y way. I can hear it for myself, thank you very much. I am interested in how the music affects you on an emotional/physical level, and why you think it does that

I realise I'm on the minority on this, so carry on
 

Cornu Ammonis

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Contributor
Joined
Feb 1, 2011
Threads
25
Messages
5,966
Location
Dublin
Website
brainwashed.com
I also dislike people describing the music in a music-journalist-y way. I can hear it for myself, thank you very much. I am interested in how the music affects you on an emotional/physical level, and why you think it does that

I realise I'm on the minority on this, so carry on
I like both, I also like super up-their-own-hole academic breakdowns of music as well. That's what I love about art and music, the endless ways of enjoying the same thing from different angles. There's music that I appreciate purely on a shallow "this rocks" level and music that I would never ever listen to but I love the fact that it exists because it did something interesting when it came into existence.
 

hugh

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Contributor
Joined
Dec 9, 2000
Threads
223
Messages
5,453
Website
www.tracesofthereal.com
I like both, I also like super up-their-own-hole academic breakdowns of music as well. That's what I love about art and music, the endless ways of enjoying the same thing from different angles. There's music that I appreciate purely on a shallow "this rocks" level and music that I would never ever listen to but I love the fact that it exists because it did something interesting when it came into existence.
Yes! I agree. And the very best stuff is that which rewards being looked at from all those different angles ... like, eh, VU for example.
 

HMD

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Jul 16, 2004
Threads
432
Messages
9,942
Location
Back on the southside
Website
www.rockjihad.com
Despite my preconceived ideas about this band and album I really enjoyed it. I'd definitely play it of a Sunday morning in the future.


I kinda hate myself a bit for liking it though.
 

hugh

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Contributor
Joined
Dec 9, 2000
Threads
223
Messages
5,453
Website
www.tracesofthereal.com
I like Warhol.
Seem to me he figured out some stuff that we are only barely beginning to grasp now.
For sure. Cornu mentioned in his excellent post that Warhol probably didn't have much influence on the VU's music per se but you can see why he was interested in them. He was all about breaking down the distinction between museum-style "high art" and popular culture.
 

oh shit

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 11, 2003
Threads
301
Messages
9,584
Location
Bethnal Green
Surprising how many people admit to disliking music they've never listened to on the basis of their perception of the 'fanbase' - which in itself is a very weird concept in relation to a 50 year old album by a dead guy.

This is a stone classic but I prefer White Light/White Heat. 'I heard her call my name' is where noise music was invented (according to David Keenan - I guess a lot of people don't like him either on account of him writing ideas down about music.)
 

Cornu Ammonis

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Contributor
Joined
Feb 1, 2011
Threads
25
Messages
5,966
Location
Dublin
Website
brainwashed.com
Surprising how many people admit to disliking music they've never listened to on the basis of their perception of the 'fanbase' - which in itself is a very weird concept in relation to a 50 year old album by a dead guy.

This is a stone classic but I prefer White Light/White Heat. 'I heard her call my name' is where noise music was invented (according to David Keenan - I guess a lot of people don't like him either on account of him writing ideas down about music.)
"I Heard Her Call My Name" is an amazing track but noise music goes back to Luigi Russolo in the 1910s with his Art of Noises manifesto. His work fed into the New York avant garde scene which informed VU and was an influence on Reed's Metal Machine Music. Russolo wanted to free music from tonality and melody, he wanted to embrace the sounds of the modern, industrial world through machines that replicated the new sounds that were being heard in the world: motors, tools, etc. None of his machines survive but people have tried to build them based on descriptions from the time but his brother Antonio did record a piece using similar techniques that has survived. It doesn't sound anything like noise music now, it sounds utterly quaint, but the idea was there.
 

Create an account or login to comment

You must be a member in order to leave a comment

Create account

Create a thumped.com account. It's easy!

Log in

Already have an account? Log in here.

Users Who Are Viewing This Thread (Users: 0, Guests: 1)

We're listening to...

  • The Calling
    Observer
    Sevdaliza
    The Calling

Support thumped.com

Support thumped.com and upgrade your account

Upgrade your account now to disable all ads... If we had any... Which we don't right now.

Upgrade now

Donate!

Total amount
€0.00
Goal
€100.00

Latest posts

Trending Threads

Latest threads

Top