The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico
- Verve, 1966
January 23, 1997
Here's my bias up front: The Velvets are my favorite band, hands down. Capable of cataclysmic noise and achingly beautiful ballads, Chuck Berry-derived boogie or avant-garde dissonance, VU did it all before Sonic Youth, Nirvana or Stereolab (to name but a few disciples) were out of diapers.
Originally the house band for Andy Warhol's travelling sideshow of freaks, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, the Velvets were the antithesis of the peace and love vibe of the 60's; this debut album was therefore almost universally ignored. Remarkable, when you consider how different modern music would be without VU's groundbreaking experiments - if Neil Young is the godfather of grunge, Lou Reed is the progenitor of punk.
But it is not merely their historical importance and staggering musical influence that makes VU essential listening, as their music remains as violently arresting today as it was 30 years ago. Lou Reed's brilliant, evocative songwriting and fine pop sense coupled with John Cale's classical violin training and flair for experimental noise made for an incendiary pair to equal Lennon-McCartney.
This, backed by Sterling Morrison's exquisite guitar technique and Maureen Tucker's heartbeat-simple drum pulse, resulted in the visceral, terrifying "Heroin", the relentless junkie freight train to hell that is "I'm Waiting for the Man", and the disturbingly sensual ode to sadomasochism "Venus in Furs".
Vocalist Nico appears on "Femme Fatale", "I'll Be Your Mirror" and the elegaic "All Tomorrow's Parties" - her cold, European voice adds film noir feeling to Reed's dean-on character sketches and piercing insight into the human condition. Reed's sing-speak on the other cuts is the voice of a street poet disclosing intimate secrets and fears, a form that springs directly from pained experience.
The Velvet Underground represents rock and roll at its pinnacle: anarchy, passion, raw cacophony, unapologetic beauty and uncompromising catharsis.
- Jared O'Connor