Timeless Classic: Velvet Underground And Nico
It's hard to walk into any discerning record shop these days let alone Sainsburys and not see the Velvet Underground And Nico album cover staring at you from the racks. What started off as an Andy Warhol sonic art project has become one of the most iconic artefacts of the 21st Century. I’m sure not even Warhol himself, when putting the band in a run down New York studio to record their debut album, could ever of dreamed that over fifty years later the album is more popular now than its ever been. In fact, given the themes of drug abuse, sadomasochism and prostitution that lie in its soiled grooves, it’s a wonder it ever made it out of The Factory.
A plain white cover adorned with a bright yellow banana, It’s quintessentially Warhol. An image that has become almost as recognisable as the man himself - a playful, provocative, inquisitively mundane design that is as bland as it is beguiling. In many ways it does little to prepare you for the true sonic wonderment within. Drop the needle on side one, track one and you are instantly hooked. When met by Nico’s voice - the german chanteuse appears on four tracks all, without exception, glorious in their own right - you are instantly transported to some altered state. At once dreamlike, mesmeric and hauntingly ethereal it still sounds as otherworldly now as it must have back in ’67. Lou Reed, equally spectral yet abrasive and menacing, delivers ‘Waiting For The Man’ with the conviction and know how of an experienced junkie whilst Cale, Tucker and Morrison churn away relentlessly in the background building to some yet unknown climax. Nico again entices on ‘Femme Fatale’ and ‘I’’ll be Your Mirror’ charting the gloomy pathways of the heart whilst it is on the incredible ‘Venus In Furs’ where the Velvet Underground really engrave their name on the alter of Rock’n’Roll. A relentless, dark, disturbing homage to domination, submission and other perversions driven along at a funeral pace by Cale’s twisted electric viola and Reed’s de-tuned ‘Ostrich guitar’ it’s five minutes-odd of music that can never be forgotten. It’s the song that would spawn a million bands and an image - the dark shades, suede and black leather - that would become essential for any band worth their salt at cool school. ‘Heroin,’ all seven minutes of total aural addiction, hope and despair at the end of the needle, literally, the somewhat ‘poppier’ yet dark undercurrents of ‘There She Goes Again’ and the damn right threatening ‘Black Angel Death Song’ that all perfectly add to the majestic madness within. The closer, ‘European Son’ provides the perfect end to what is a thrilling, bemusing, and totally exhilarating ride.
To say ‘Velvet Underground And Nico,’ as many claim, is the greatest album ever made would be bold even for me. I’d argue it’s one of the most important records ever made, an album that perfectly illustrates a world where music, art, personality, and all the many facets of the heart and head are woven into an aural tapestry that blanket covers even the darkest of souls. It’s a record that sounds as vital now as it did upon release. It’s an album that demands attention and ultimately a record that will change your life in however small a way.