The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground And Nico (1967)

The Velvet Underground & Nico is the debut album by American rock band the Velvet Underground and German singer Nico, released in March 1967 by Verve Records. It was recorded in 1966 while the band were featured on Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable tour. The album features experimental performance sensibilities and controversial lyrical topics, including drug abuse, prostitution, sadomasochism and sexual deviancy. It sold poorly and was mostly ignored by contemporary critics, but later became regarded as one of the most influential albums in the history of popular music.

Many subgenres of rock music and forms of alternative music were informed by the album, including art rock, punk, garage, shoegazing, goth, and indie. In 1982, musician Brian Eno stated that while the album initially sold approximately only 30,000 copies, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” In 2003, it ranked 13th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”, and in 2006, it was inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.

Track Listing:

All songs written by Lou Reed, except where noted.

Side 1
No. Title Length
1. “Sunday Morning” (Reed, John Cale) 2:53
2. “I’m Waiting for the Man” 4:37
3. “Femme Fatale” 2:35
4. “Venus in Furs” 5:07
5. “Run Run Run” 4:18
6. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” 5:55
Side 2
No. Title Length
1. “Heroin” 7:05
2. “There She Goes Again” 2:30
3. “I’ll Be Your Mirror” 2:01
4. “The Black Angel’s Death Song” (Reed, Cale) 3:10
5. “European Son” (Reed, Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker) 7:40
Total length: 47:51

AllMusic Review: One would be hard-pressed to name a rock album whose influence has been as broad and pervasive as The Velvet Underground & Nico. While it reportedly took over a decade for the album’s sales to crack six figures, glam, punk, new wave, goth, noise, and nearly every other left-of-center rock movement owes an audible debt to this set. While The Velvet Underground had as distinctive a sound as any band, what’s most surprising about this album is its diversity. Here, the Velvets dipped their toes into dreamy pop (“Sunday Morning”), tough garage rock (“Waiting for the Man”), stripped-down R&B (“There She Goes Again”), and understated love songs (“I’ll Be Your Mirror”) when they weren’t busy creating sounds without pop precedent. Lou Reed’s lyrical exploration of drugs and kinky sex (then risky stuff in film and literature, let alone “teen music”) always received the most press attention, but the music Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Maureen Tucker played was as radical as the words they accompanied. The bracing discord of “European Son,” the troubling beauty of “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” and the expressive dynamics of “Heroin” all remain as compelling as the day they were recorded. While the significance of Nico’s contributions have been debated over the years, she meshes with the band’s outlook in that she hardly sounds like a typical rock vocalist, and if Andy Warhol’s presence as producer was primarily a matter of signing the checks, his notoriety allowed The Velvet Underground to record their material without compromise, which would have been impossible under most other circumstances. Few rock albums are as important as The Velvet Underground & Nico, and fewer still have lost so little of their power to surprise and intrigue more 50 years after first hitting the racks. — Mark Deming

Schill Score: 8/10

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Nico – Chelsea Girl (1967)

Chelsea Girl is the debut solo album and second studio album by Nico. It was released in October 1967 by Verve Records and was recorded following Nico’s collaboration with the Velvet Underground on their 1967 debut. It was produced by Tom Wilson, who added string and flute arrangements against the wishes of Nico. The title is a reference to Andy Warhol’s 1966 film Chelsea Girls, in which Nico starred.

Much of the album features instrumental work and songwriting credits from Velvet Underground members Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, and John Cale. The song “I’ll Keep It with Mine” was written by Bob Dylan, while three songs are by Jackson Browne, who contributes guitar.

Track Listing:

Side A
“The Fairest of the Seasons” (Jackson Browne, Gregory Copeland) – 4:06
“These Days” (Jackson Browne) – 3:30
“Little Sister” (John Cale, Lou Reed) – 4:22
“Winter Song” (John Cale) – 3:17
“It Was a Pleasure Then” (Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico) – 8:02

Side B
“Chelsea Girls” (Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison) – 7:22
“I’ll Keep It with Mine” (Bob Dylan) – 3:17
“Somewhere There’s a Feather” (Jackson Browne) – 2:16
“Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” (Lou Reed) – 5:07
“Eulogy to Lenny Bruce” (Tim Hardin) – 3:45

AllMusic Review: Although Chelsea Girl (1967) was the first long-player from the German-born Christa Päffgen, it was not her debut solo effort. Prior to becoming involved with the Velvet Underground and while under the direction of Andrew Loog Oldham, Nico issued an obscure 7″ on the mod pop Immediate label. The song selection on that 1965 single — which featured a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “I’m Not Sayin'” and an Oldham co-composition with Jimmy Page called “Last Mile” — foreshadowed the eclectic nature of this LP. Although the dissolution between the vocalist and core instrumental quartet was not without its share of acrimony, the non-percussive contingent of the Velvet Underground is heavily featured on Chelsea Girl: along with then-unknown singer/songwriter Jackson Browne (guitar) — the vocalist’s concurrent love interest — there is Lou Reed (guitar), Sterling Morrison (guitar/bass), and John Cale (piano/bass/viola), who contrast what they had been doing with the larger combo. These sides are decidedly “unplugged,” providing a folky and Baroque setting for Nico’s dark and brooding vocal inflections. There is an introspective foresight in Browne’s “Fairest of the Seasons,” “These Days,” and “Somewhere There’s a Feather.” The minimalist string section features a quaint, yet effective arrangement giving the material a distinctly European feel. These orchestrated folk leanings are similar to the sound emanating from other burgeoning groups such as the Incredible String Band, Pentangle, and the Fairport Convention spin-off Fotheringay.The same can be said of her almost unrecognizable reworking of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine.” The noir black-widow charm ultimately saves the performance, as does Cale’s remarkable classical intonations. With Reed’s “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” — a track which actually predates the Velvet Underground — there is a sense of history that Nico brings to her interpretation, as if the melody were, in fact, a traditional German folk tune. There is a palpable distinction between those lighter cuts and the menacing Velvet Underground-conceived material. At the center of the project are the extended “It Was a Pleasure Then” and the stunning semi-autobiographical Reed/Morrison title track. The juxtaposition of such honest and at times harrowing imagery to Nico’s inherently bleak delivery is nothing short of an inspired artistic statement which has since long outlasted its initial socially relevant context — similar to the more modern contributions of Laurie Anderson, Ann Magnuson, and Patti Smith. An unqualified masterpiece. — Lindsay Planer

Schill Score: 6.75/10

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