Thursday, December 11, 2014

13 The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967) The Velvet Underground




1. Sunday Morning
2. I'm Waiting For The Man
3. Femme Fatale
4. Venus In Furs
5. Run Run Run
6. All Tomorrow's Parties
7. Heroin
8. There She Goes Again
9. I'll Be Your Mirror
10. Black Angel's Death Song
11. European Son

There are a couple of entries on this countdown which I can honestly say I've done a complete reversal on: albums or artists I was initially not a fan of but have come to appreciate and even love over time. The VU is definitely of them.

Many years ago, a work colleague tried to convince me of the benefits of the VU and I have to confess I wasn't ready for them. I listened and concluded they just weren't for me. They confirmed what I'd always suspected: they were something of an acquired taste.

It's possible I was correct but I've since definitely acquired the taste. The access point was the easily accessible Loaded which is the VU album that non VU fans like but it led me deeper to try and appreciate this masterpiece, which really is as good as everyone gives it credit for. It's tempting to believe that the only reason The Velvet Underground and Nico is lauded so much is because it was so ignored at the time. We're all over-praising an album because we're so romantically attached to the notion that quality work went totally ignored in its day. While it's true there is a certain cool factor in liking this album and knowing it makes you smarter than the entire of 1967, but that's not the only attraction.

There are some simply outstanding songs on this album. I'm waiting for the Man is a great rock and roll song by anyone's standards. It's not darkly impenetrable, weirdly esoteric, emotionally disturbing or any of the other labels that get thrown at the VU, it's just a great rock song. True it's about waiting for a heroin dealer which in 1967 wasn't in any way cool but that's beside the point. Speaking of heroin, the song Heroin is apparently about heroin. While other bands were trying to subtly drop hints at marijuana or LSD usage into their lyrics, The VU were happy to write a song that was blatantly and unequivocally about an intravenous drug trip.  The lyrics not only talk about taking heroin, the song structure, with its lazy opening tones which build to a crescendo, is designed to replicate the feeling of a trip in progress. Speaking as someone who has never used heroin I have no idea how accurate the aural depiction is, but I can tell you that it works as a Rock and Roll song. Run Run Run is another great track which could easily have been a minor hit for lots of other bands performing at the time, assuming of course that they dropped the heroin references.

I'm Waiting for The Man, Heroin and Run Run Run are three fantastic songs with brilliant Lou Reed vocals but then Reed's singing isn't the problem a lot of people have with The Velvet Underground and Nico. The issue is the Nico bit.

Nico was a German chanteuse, a word which I think means "woman possessed of a deep voice". She sings her lyrics with a definite German accent in a register below what most people consider a normal female range. For those used to pretty singers with pretty voices it must have been a real shock to encounter someone who sounds like she's not just from the other side of the Berlin wall, she's actually a part of its foundations.

When you can get past the fact that Nico has an unconventional voice, you can definitely start to really enjoy and not just endure her contributions to the album. I'll be your mirror is great, All Tomorrows parties is brilliant and Femme Fatale is kind of haunting. I've heard them all done by more classically acceptable singers with pretty voices and they don't have anything near the appeal of the original. There really is something to be said for the value of character and personality in a vocal performance and this proves how important matching the right singer to the song really is.

Even if you overcome the hurdle of Nico's voice, this album still has challenges to throw at you. European Son is basically just loud feedback and distortion and The Black Angels Death Song sounds like... well it sounds a lot like a Black Angel would if it was dying. Neither are the sorts of tracks that your mother would put on for a relaxing afternoon.

The Velvet Underground and Nico isn't just a novelty album that has gained a reputation thanks to its initial obscurity and famous cover. It's a great set of songs in its own right and deserves all the praise it gets. If you're not a fan then can I urge you to give it a few more listens? You might be exactly where I was once, but trust me you'll be much happier where I am now.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I bought this CD after a guy at a coffee shop saw me playing my Strokes CD on my player. He said, if you like the Strokes you'll like the velvet Underground."

-That's a very cool way to get into music "Some stranger reccomended this album..." shame he didn't end up enjoying it.

So is this as addictive as... I don't know some addictive substance, I can't think of one right now... or not? Let me know below

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