The Velvet Underground & Nico

The Velvet Underground & Nico
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO(1967)

 

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.

Rating: A-

 

 

 

 

 

Nico-Chelsea Girl

NICO-CHELSEA GIRL(1967)

 

Nico was a German singer, who got her start in music with the Velvet Underground from New York City. She was more than just a singer however. She was also a songwriter, composer, model and actress. Chelsea Girl is her first solo record released in October 1967.

Chelsea Girl is considered a pop-folk, chamber folk album, very mellow and subdued, haunting and at certain times, dark. It is an acquired taste that some will disregard, especially those who like music that is harder and that has more substance. But as a record to turn down the lights to and lay back and relax, it serves its purpose and is actually quite good. I had to give it many listens to truly appreciate its subtle charm. However, it is not psychedelic music.

Some have said that Nico didn’t have much of a voice, some say she had a terrible voice, but I tend to disagree. First of all, she sings in English and has a heavy German accent. Which I like. However, her voice is not on par with some of the more popular female singers, but I think she has a nice mellow feel to her, deep and sexy at times.

The Fairest of the Seasons, and These Days are the first two songs on the record, and they were used on the soundtrack of the movie The Royal Tenenbaums.

An interesting point to make about Chelsea Girl is the way that it was recorded musically. There are no bass or drum parts on the record, and the use of the flute and strings give it that chamber music feel. When asked about the making of the album, Nico expressed her displeasure with the use of  horns, and she was not happy about the outcome of the record.

Hotel Chelsea-Photo by Gyrofrog

 

Having been a part of the Velvet Underground, Nico had members John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Lou Reed play on the record, and anyone familiar with the Velvet Underground will hear the influence. The musicality of the album is considered by many to be very simple in nature.

Nico starred in the movie Chelsea Girls by Andy Warhol, who was very popular in pop culture during the 1960’s. The song Chelsea Girls talks about the Hotel Chelsea in New York City, where many famous musicians and artists hung out. It is a biographical piece about specific people and what happened to them at the hotel.

The video below is a piece of history filmed at the Hotel Chelsea of Nico singing Chelsea Girl that I thought would give some context as to what the lyrics of the song were about. The song recorded on the album doesn’t have the people and affects that are here in the video.

I’ll Keep It With Mine is a song written originally by Bob Dylan that is covered by Nico on Chelsea Girl, and is one of my favorite songs on the album. It also sounds the most like the Velvet Underground on the record.

This album, although an acquired taste, really grows on me the more that I listen. It is a beautiful, mellow record, which I recommend. It may need more than a few listens, but it is a good, entertaining album.

Rating: B