Should we care about an album released 45 years ago? Specifically, should we care about The Velvet Underground and Nico, especially enough to buy a six-CD set commemorating the 45th anniversary of its release? Well the people at Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) feel the album warrants special attention, as they are releasing The Velvet Underground and Nico [Super Deluxe Edition]. Are they justified in their belief this album deserves this kind of treatment?
In 1967 the The Velvet Underground – Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker – joined forces with husky voiced Nico for this, their debut album. With the infamous peel away plastic banana cover artwork – you could actually peel the yellow skin away to reveal a naked flesh coloured banana – by their mentor Andy Warhol and their association with his studio/workshop/performance space The Factory, the band was assured a certain amount of hip cachet. However, hipness is fleeting and doesn't necessarily signify the creation of something enduring, nor is it any guarantee of artistic merit.
As the saying goes, "the proof is in the pudding", or in this case, in the listening. One only has to listen to the album once to understand not only how different it was from everything else being recorded at the time, but how good it is. I say is, because even listening to it now one can't help but be impressed by its inventiveness and originality. From the lyrics to the music it still sets a standard which very few albums, no matter when they were recorded, can measure up to.
Musically The Velvet Underground and Nico was a mixture of pop and experimental/avant garde. In fact this rather strange mixture of the familiar and the jarring is very much the musical equivalent of what Warhol was doing with his "Pop Art". Taking familiar cultural images and then reproducing them in either oversized, life like detail – think his infamous rendering of a Campbell's Soup can – or distorting them with colour and repetition – think of his pictures of cultural icons like Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. In the case of the album, this came across in both the music and the lyrics.
Familiar popular music motifs were played just differently enough to make them sound unsettling, while in other cases the band left pop music far behind and entered into the realm of the experimental. Listen to the opening track on the album, "Sunday Morning". While it sounds like your typical pop song of the day, there are some very noticeable differences right from the start.