The Velvet Underground released their debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, on March 12th, 1967. The history of the band is bizarre, with pop-artist Andy Warhol originally serving as the catalyst that propelled the band into the public eye and as a guiding force for the direction of the band, more-or-less viewing them as another of his art projects. Warhol brought on Nico, then a German pop singer, to round out The Velvet Underground, joining the already-established roster with John Cale, Lou Reed, Moe Tucker, and Sterling Morrison.
Warhol brought the band on to play various events, eventually asking the band to perform at a gala for New York’s Society of Clinical Psychology at the beginning of 1966. The Velvet Underground’s sound was unlike anything at the time, and the attendees of the gala were less than pleased with their sound, which was only compounded by the fact that a filmmaker, Barbara Rudin, accompanying them started hurling insults at the crowd. However, this event was pivotal for the band, as Warhol and The Velvet Underground began playing a series of similarly avant-garde shows titled Exploding Plastic Inevitable, one of which can be seen below.
Warhol was heavily influential for Reed and his songwriting for the Velvet Underground, frequently feeding Reed specific lyrics to incorporate into songs or a subject to write about. Warhol then helped the band get a record deal with Verve Records and stepped in to produce their first album. However, producing more or less meant giving the Velvet Underground space to record their music, leaving the band alone to record and taking the heat when others criticized their less-than-mainstream sound. When The Velvet Underground & Nico came out, the reception was dull, with a legal issue causing the record to be pulled off the shelves and solidifying that it was not meant to be a commercial success at the time. Despite the album’s initial stalling, The Velvet Underground kept on, releasing their second album without Nico to similarly little acclaim.
Over the next few years, the founding members would all go on to leave the band, making the Velvet Underground a relatively short musical project. However, the members of the band did find more than fifteen minutes of fame, as did many of the musicians they inspired during this short time. Thus, The Velvet Underground became a hit after the fact, with their music blowing up decades later as fans of the individual musicians explored their earlier works and as other now-famous artists cited the Velvet Underground as an important musical influence. And important musical influence The Velvet Underground is, with their pioneering sound paving the way for all of alternative rock music to some degree.
It’s crazy to think that a band that’s so integral to rock music could fly under the radar for so long. Now, 53 years after the release of The Velvet Underground & Nico, the band is solidly placed in history as a pillar of rock music. Listen to The Velvet Underground & Nico below:
The Velvet Underground & Nico – Full Album
[Originally published 3/12/17]