The Velvet Underground & Nico is the debut studio album by, as the name implies, the Velvet Underground and Nico. Released in 1967, it is considered one of the most influential rock albums of all time. Together with Frank Zappa's Freak Out from 1966, it's often considered to be one of the first underground rock albums. Also a Cult Classic, since it didn't sell well upon its original release, but did become one of the best known rock albums in history.
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.
The Velvet Underground usually gets the praise they deserve, but Nico's contribution to this album is sometimes overlooked. Especially since she only sang three songs on the album and didn't appear on their other albums.
This album might be one of music's most influential commercial failures. In 2006 The Velvet Underground & Nico was included in Time Magazine's list of 100 timeless and essential albums, as well as inducted in the National Recording Registry for being "historically, culturally and aesthetically significant." It was also listed at #13 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. A big-name fan was influential British radio DJ John Peel who, in 1997, placed it at no. 2 in a list of his 20 personal favourite albums note when asked by the newspaper The Guardian. It is currently #4 on Acclaimed Music's combination of critics' lists, and recently won their user poll of the best albums of all-time.
- "Sunday Morning" (2:54)
- "I'm Waiting for the Man" (4:39)
- "Femme Fatale" (2:38)
- "Venus in Furs" (5:12)
- "Run Run Run" (4:22)
- "All Tomorrow's Parties" (6:00)
- "Heroin" (7:12)
- "There She Goes Again" (2:41)
- "I'll Be Your Mirror" (2:14)
- "The Black Angel's Death Song" (3:11)
- "European Son" (7:46)
- 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".
- 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.
- 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.)
- Corpsing: Lou Reed can be heard cracking up on the last verse of "Heroin".
- 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 dawningIt's just a restless feeling by my sideEarly dawningSunday 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 free jazz section.
- 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").
- Hell Is That Noise: The loud hissing from "The Black Angel's Death Song" is rather startling when you first hear it, especially since it's higher in the mix than the other instruments.
- 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 / Filk Song: "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.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: By today's standards, the album probably covers 1 ("Femme Fatale", "I'll Be Your Mirror") to about a 6 or 7 ("European Son", "Heroin" at its hardest). By the standards of 1967, the heaviest moments easily reached 11.
- 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 wearyI could sleep for a thousand yearsA 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.
- "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".
- "Hotellounge (Be the Death of Me)" from dEUS album Worst Case Scenario (1994) is a title shout-out to "Heroin" (which contains the phrase "Heroin, be the death of me").
- 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 stairsEverybody's pinned you, but nobody cares
- Word Salad Lyrics: "Black Angel's Death Song", deliberately by Reed.
- You Are Better Than You Think You Are: "I'll Be Your Mirror".I find it hard to believe you don't knowThe beauty that you areBut if you don't, let me be your eyesA hand in your darkness, so you won't be afraid