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Music / The Velvet Underground & Nico

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I don't know just where I'm going, but I'm gonna try for the kingdom, if I can.

"Only 30,000 people bought The Velvet Underground & Nico, and all of them started a band."

The Velvet Underground & Nico is the debut studio album by, as the name implies, The Velvet Underground and Nico. Released in 1967 through Verve Records, and initially not selling well, it is considered one of the most influential rock albums of all time, as the attributed quote by Brian Eno can attest. Together with Frank Zappa's Freak Out from 1966, it's often considered to be one of the first underground rock albums.

The album cover is equally famous: a huge banana against a solid white background, designed by Andy Warhol. On the original record cover, the banana was a sticker that could be peeled off, revealing a pink, naked banana underneath. This was later nodded to in the title of their box set Peel Slowly and See, which featured a replica of the original banana sticker.


Side One

  1. "Sunday Morning" (2:54)
  2. "I'm Waiting for the Man" (4:39)
  3. "Femme Fatale" (2:38)
  4. "Venus in Furs" (5:12)
  5. "Run Run Run" (4:22)
  6. "All Tomorrow's Parties" (6:00)

Side Two

  1. "Heroin" (7:12)
  2. "There She Goes Again" (2:41)
  3. "I'll Be Your Mirror" (2:14)
  4. "The Black Angel's Death Song" (3:11)
  5. "European Son" (7:46)

Principal Members:

  • John Cale - viola, piano, bass, backing vocals (track 8), celesta
  • Sterling Morrison - bass, backing vocals (tracks 3, 5, 8)
  • Nico - lead vocals (tracks 3, 6, 9), backing vocals (track 1)
  • Lou Reed - lead vocals (all except 3, 6, 9), backing vocals (track 3), guitar
  • Maureen Tucker - drums, percussion

"You better run run run run run, take a trope or two":

  • Addiction Song: "Heroin", "I'm Waiting for the Man".
  • Alliterative Title: "Femme Fatale", "Run Run Run".
  • Alternate Album Cover:
    • Later copies had the picture of Warhol associate Eric Emerson being projected upside-down behind the band airbrushed out after Emerson sued over the use of his image. The original image was restored on later reissues.
    • US cassette releases and initial CD releases worldwide added text to the album's cover, bearing the band name and album title in big black letters. The 1996 remaster reverted back to the LP cover, albeit with the banana being printed on rather than using a sticker (the design behind the sticker, a pink, peeled version of the banana, was moved to the interior tray art).
  • Always Late: The song "I'm Waiting for the Man" describes the eponymous drug dealer as "never early, he's always late" in the third verse.
    First thing you learn is that you always got to wait.
  • Being Watched: "Sunday Morning":
    Watch out, the world's behind you / there's always someone around you who will call / It's nothing at all.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "Run Run Run" both show an ugly side of New York City's night life and drug culture.
  • The Chanteuse: How Warhol named Nico to avoid the band from thinking that he was actually adding a female front singer to the group. (Which he, in a sense, did.)
  • Cover Version: All of the songs have been covered by other artists numerous times; for that matter, the album has been covered in its entirety a few times, probably most famously by Beck.
  • Creepy Monotone: Nico's voice.
  • Crossover: Between The Velvet Underground and singer Nico, for whom it was both their debut album.
  • Darker and Edgier: The Velvet Underground's debut album featured songs about sadomasochism, drugs, and sounds that most listeners would call gratuitous noise. Back in 1967, there weren't many rock groups like them.
  • "Days of the Week" Song: "Sunday Morning":
    Sunday morning, praise the dawning
    It's just a restless feeling by my side
    Early dawning
    Sunday morning
  • Dedication: "European Son", to the writer Delmore Schwartz, who had been one of Lou Reed's college professors. (Reed's solo song "My House" memorialised Schwartz.)
  • Death Seeker: The narrator of "Heroin" ("be the death of me") and the one in "The Black Angel's Death Song".
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The album cover was designed by Andy Warhol and his artists at the Factory. On the original LP the banana could be peeled too.
  • Drone of Dread: A staple of several songs, especially "European Son" near the end. "The Black Angel's Death Song" and "Venus in Furs" feature a lot of this too. Basically, whenever Cale plays his viola, expect copious amounts of this.
  • Drugs Are Bad: "Run Run Run", "Heroin", and "I'm Waiting for the Man", though not all listeners got the message. Lou Reed was horrified whenever fans told him that they took their first shot of heroin while listening to "Heroin".
  • Epic Rocking: "All Tomorrow's Parties" (6:00), "Heroin" (7:12), and "European Son" (7:46).
  • Erotic Eating: The risqué lyrics make it tempting to interpret the banana on the cover as a phallic image. It doesn't help that anyone who manages to "PEEL SLOWLY AND SEE" would see that the banana is a fleshy pink colour.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: That ungodly noise that kicks off the instrumental portion of "European Son" is John Cale pushing a metal chair with a stack of plates on it across the studio.
  • Femme Fatale: "Femme Fatale":
    Cause everybody knows
    (She's a femme fatale)
  • Gainax Ending: The album ends with a mad noisy jam.
  • Genre Roulette: Eastern drones ("Venus in Furs", "Heroin"), lullabies ("Sunday Morning"), pop ballads ("Femme Fatale", "I'll Be Your Mirror"), amphetamine fueled surf-rock ("European Son"), Motown ("There She Goes Again"), your basic Rock 'n Roll ("I'm Waiting for the Man", "Run Run Run"), and an avant-garde folk-rock jig ("Black Angel's Death Song").
  • Hemo Erotic: The sado masochistic song "Venus in Furs" closes with Lou Reed droning: "Now bleeeeeeed for me!"
  • Larynx Dissonance: That female voice you hear in "Sunday Morning"? Well, it's not a woman, it's just Lou Reed putting on an incredibly convincing female voice! Many listeners have been fooled into thinking it's Nico, though if you compare it to her other tracks on the album you immediately notice the difference.
  • Lecherous Licking: "Venus in Furs":
    Kiss the boot / of shiny, shiny leather
  • Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: The 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition (no, seriously), which has no less than three different mixes of the album, along with Nico's first solo album, plus an entire concert.
  • Literary Allusion Title: "Venus in Furs" is based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's novella of the same title.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "There She Goes Again", a relatively upbeat garage rock song, is a song about a woman in an abusive relationship from the perspective of her abuser. (Or about a sex worker, addressed to her abusive pimp. Either way.)
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: A banana.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: The title of the album deliberately separating Nico from the rest of the band could come off as this, although it's accurate as she wasn't actually a member of the band.
  • New Sound Album: Both instrumentally and lyrically this album was quite unique when it came out: Experimental rock; songs about heroin, male prostitution, and sado-masochistic sex; weird instruments like the viola and to top it all off: Nico's bizarre Creepy Monotone singing. Where this trope comes into play is by comparison to their acoustic demo, which is Bob Dylan-esque folk. (Then again, it's pretty easy to hear the influence of Highway 61 Revisited on parts of this album, too - go figure.)
  • Noise Rock: "European Son" is the prototype.
  • Non-Appearing Title: Seeing this is a Self-Titled Album the title never appears in any of the lyrics.
  • Nothing Left to Do but Die:
    • What the Black Angel of Death seems to advise in "The Black Angel's Death Song".
    • The narrator of "Heroin" is hoping to "nullify [his] life" by taking the titular drug.
  • The Not-Remix: Several times over — for instance, the first CD issue had an alternate mix of "All Tomorrow's Parties", and with all the various remasters, re-releases and luxury editions the album has seen, you can pretty much be a collector of this one album.
  • Obligatory Bondage Song: "Venus in Furs". Potentially the originator of this trope, as they were one of the first bands to write and record songs of this nature.
  • One-Man Song: "European Son".
  • One-Woman Song: "Femme Fatale".
    • Or generally, all the songs where Nico sings the lead.
  • Pep-Talk Song: "I'll Be Your Mirror", where Nico offers to be "your mirror", "your eyes", and "your hand in the darkness, so you won't be afraid."
  • Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: Pioneers!
  • Post-Rock: "Heroin" is often said to be the Ur-Example.
  • Record Producer: Andy Warhol. Although credited as producer, his influence primarily seems to have been just to pay for the recording like a film producer. The actual creative production work was done by Tom Wilson and the band themselves. Lou Reed acknowledged that Andy's pedigree allowed them to get away with a lot for their debut that might have otherwise been lost in executive meddling.
  • Rip Van Winkle: "Venus in Furs":
    I am tired; I am weary
    I could sleep for a thousand years
    A thousand dreams that would awake me
  • Self-Deprecation: The album reprinted scathing reviews of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable as well as favorable ones.
  • Self-Titled Album: Just the name of the band and their guest.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Venus in Furs" is a reference to the eponymous novel Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.
    • At the end of the chorus for "I'll Be Your Mirror", the guitar riff from The Kinks' "You Really Got Me" is played.
    • The main riff of "There She Goes Again" is lifted from Marvin Gaye's "Hitch Hike".
  • Single Stanza Song: "European Son".
  • The Something Song: "The Black Angel's Death Song".
  • Streetwalker: "There She Goes Again" is about one of these, addressed to her pimp.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Nico's role on this album is somewhere between this and Vocal Tag Team. Her vocal part on "Sunday Morning" is very easy to miss, because she's mixed in pretty quietly. It helps to listen on headphones.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: "I'll Be Your Mirror", which sounds really innocent between those other songs about sex and drugs. "Femme Fatale" is also somewhat less heavy than the surrounding material, although it's still somewhat dark lyrically.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Warhol called Nico a "chanteuse" when he introduced her to the Velvet Underground so that the band wouldn't have the impression he was actually adding a new front singer to the group.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: "I'm Waiting for the Man":
    Up to a brownstone, up three flights of stairs
    Everybody's pinned you, but nobody cares
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "Black Angel's Death Song", deliberately by Reed. It devolves into actual gibberish just before the end, before reverting to something simple but ominous:
    Don't scream, try between
    If you choose, if you choose, try to lose
    For the loss of remain come and start
    Start the game I che che che che I
    Che che ka tak kooo-ooooh
    Choose to choose
    Choose to choose, choose to go
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: "I'll Be Your Mirror".
    I find it hard to believe you don't know
    The beauty that you are
    But if you don't, let me be your eyes
    A hand in your darkness, so you won't be afraid