It may have never attracted the public’s attention in the original 1967 release, but The Velvet Underground & Nico’s self-titled debut record is the album to be played at your burial. It perfectly wraps the essence and danger of life’s turns while conquering this feat of drug addiction, BDSM, experimentalism through sound, and of the missteps that eventually formed one of the greatest records ever pressed to wax.
The large Andy Warhol banana cover that stands isolated with just his signature below acts as the only indication of production from the artist. While in a push to hopefully sell more records, Warhol’s name did none of that but instead sculpted an interactive cover that goes beyond normal means. When the peeling of the banana occurs, The Velvet Underground & Nico use this as a technique to begin the record with “Sunday Morning.”
A track built and designed for sunrise, the early celesta chimes that coincide within graceful touches are transposed with lyrics from Lou Reed and backing vocals from Nico. The two here are locked in this playful manner that slips back the facemask off the eyes, revealing a whole world of discovery to be explored. This is also probably the most cheerful of all the tracks featured on The Velvet Underground & Nico. Immediately after comes “I’m Waiting For The Man” that spawns the unearthing of the seedy underbelly that The Velvet underground painted as New York City.
“He’s never early, he’s always late, first thing ya learn is that you always gotta wait,” describes Reed with the help of John Cale on bass, Sterling Morrison on the rhythm guitar, and also Maureen Tucker on the percussion. While the recording process might not have had much initial direction, the record is a fluid motion through the back alleys of Harlem and the desires of copping street prescriptions. Reed here through the writing is more akin to a poet who can describe in great detail the shapes and sounds that occur throughout daily life in New York.
Especially shown on the controversial but socially necessary track, “Heroin” which enacts the idea of injecting and the after-effects of China White. The way that the instrumentation builds and swells resembles the same repercussions of the drug.
The introduction is gentle and built upon wonder, then as Reed describes “I have made big decision, I’m gonna try to nullify my life. Cause when the blood begins to flow, when it shoots up the dropper’s neck. When I’m closing in on death,” the reality sets in. It feels as if years are passing by the listener like seconds. All the time and construct of time becomes shattered until the final seconds where Reed describes, “Heroin, it’s my life and it’s my wife… heroin will be the death of me, heroin will be the death of me.”
Never meant to be shocking, the graphic detail that The Velvet Underground & Nico embody is both beautiful from a writing and structure format, but ultimately animalistic and shows the grit of human life. Even now 50 years after the initial release, the aftershock is still impacting the youth and possibly more than it ever had back in 1967.