The Velvet Underground were a band that got it’s start in New York City in 1964. The original members were John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Lou Reed, and Angus MacLise. MacLise was replaced by Moe Tucker in 1965 as drummer.
I would not put The Velvet Underground under the umbrella of psychedelic rock, but were quite popular around the same time. Their music could be categorized as proto punk and experimental, as well as other genres.
Though the musicians in the band were well received and had careers of their own, none became more popular than Lou Reed, who had a solo career that was active for the better part of five decades. The Velvet Underground did not achieve much success during their active years, but later became known as one of the most influential rock bands in history.
Andy Warhol was very much around the band in the middle to late sixties, and the cover for their debut album was his artwork.
The Velvet Underground’s debut album, “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” was released in March 1967, and featured friend and model Nico, who would go on to have a fairly successful solo career.
The record starts out with a slow mellow song, Sunday Morning, which features John Cale playing a celesta, an instrument not readily heard on rock records. It gives the song a playful feel and it works well. It is one of my favorite songs on the record.
Following Sunday Morning, I’m Waiting For The Man is a song written by Lou Reed, which is very specific in its lyrics about a drug deal in New York City, with the “man” referring to a drug dealer. It is one of The Velvet Underground’s more popular songs, and gives a very concise picture of what it was like in the big city, both in the era of the sixties and also, unfortunately, very much what it is like in these times.
The next song, Femme Fatale, is a more mellow, softer song than the previous one, and is a song that has been covered by many bands and musicians over the years. It is one of their most recognisable songs that has remained somewhat in the spotlight due to it’s many cover versions.
Venus In Furs is a mesmerizing, driving song that probably sounded awesome back in the sixties while doing what they did back then, maybe dropping some acid, which was a thing. One can only imagine how this song was enhanced by such activity, and the lyrical content dealt with some taboo issues, and was not for the faint at heart.
Run Run Run has a bit of a psychedelic feel to it, and is again about people in New York City going after drugs, and is very specific about who are the characters, and where this is all happening. It is highlighted by Lou Reed’s obscure guitar work.
All Tomorrow’s Parties was written by Lou Reed and is sung by Nico. It has been suggested that this is a precursor to what would become the goth music genre, and I agree with this assessment. It is rather slow moving, and Nico’s low singing style makes the connection to goth a strong one.
Heroin is one of The Velvet Underground’s most celebrated tunes, and is very explicit in describing what using and abusing heroin is like. The song is haunting at times, violent at other times, and starts with what feels like will be a sweet, nice beginning, but we know how it all ends. It is a dark song, and one of my favorites.
There She Goes Again is a song about a prostitute, who is tough, and living on the streets. Again, another song about a sensitive subject, but that has a great guitar riff and is very entertaining.
I’ll Be Your Mirror is a song beautifully sung by Nico, and though it is one of the lesser known songs on the album, it is exquisitely executed, and is a real hidden gem.
The Black Angel’s Death Song is the one potential dud on the record, but musically it is so different, that it is interesting. Not one of my favorites on the album, I do feel the inclination to skip over this one, but still follow through till the end.
European Son is the last, and longest track on the record. It takes a bit of getting used to, with the majority of the song being The Velvet Underground’s foray into their extreme experimental stage. An alright ending to the record, that shouldn’t take away from the brilliance of most of the work previously.
The debut by The Velvet Underground is at times incredible, and at sparse times is hard to swallow. The majority of the record is groundbreaking, giving rise to what would become punk a bit later on. It is a very good record, that deals with some real life, controversial issues, and was musically very entertaining for the most part.