From the Queen of Soul to the very earliest days of punk, new wave or alternative music, whichever label may appeal to you, today we explore “The Velvet Underground & Nico”, one of the earliest offerings from Lou Reed and company. When released, this album was essentially ignored, but has subsequently evolved in consideration, and is now viewed as one of the most significant albums of any era, and is rated #23 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
I can certainly understand the influential significance, and had to give it multiple listens to fully wrap my head around this album. I have no idea if this was the case, but I feel like the album was designed in the following manner. It is as if the band decided to start with the easiest songs to digest, and gradually stretched and expanded further into realms of experimentation. The album kicks off with the relatively benign but surreal song “Sunday Morning”, and then steps it up with a full-on Lou Reed display on “I’m Waiting For The Man”. This trend continues throughout the album. Along the way, the song themes and subjects cover many of the expected bases associated with this hidden world. Drug use, sexual experimentation, rejection of societal norms of any sort, wrapped in glam, goth and dismay. Female vocalist Nico leads us through “Femme Fatale”, which perfectly compliments the Andy Warhol vision of detached coolness that defines this album and the Velvet Underground. The emotion-less irony of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is followed by Reed’s blunt “Heroin”. The song races and slows, I assume to replicate the high and low of each new dose, ultimately crashing in a cacophony of intolerable noise, again I assume to replicate the hopeless rabbit hole that is heroin addiction. The album straightens out for “There She Goes Again” and “I’ll Be Your Mirror”, before really charting new territory in dark industrial noise with the last two tracks, “The Black Angel’s Death Song” and “European Son”. Modern contemporary music intended to match modern contemporary art, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder here.
I’m glad I invested the extra time to really dig in on this album. It was a challenging listen at times, but each run through it opened my eyes further to the emerging sound of almost every song, and it absolutely is the first of its kind, at least when compared to the more traditional genres of the time.