“The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)”

The band The Velvet Underground was a project produced by the pop artist Andy Warhol in 1967 (Howard, 2004). The “Velvets” had a pessimistic psychedelic rock sound that contrasted with the San Francisco scene’s more upbeat tone (Scaruffi, 1999). Songs such as “Heroin” and “Waiting for My Man” discussed drug use in a non-judgmental, non-glamorous manner, and “Venus in Furs,” which is based on a 19th century novel containing sadism and masochism (“The Velvet Underground & Nico,” n.d.).

The two prominent songwriters of The Velvet Underground were John Cale and Lou Reed. Cale’s background was from the avant-garde world, and he was a masterful violinist (Howard, 2004). In contrast, Reed penned throwaway songs for Pickwick Records (Howard, 2004). Cale was interested with Reed’s lyrics and song concepts, while Reed was fascinated with Cale’s music abilities (Howard, 2004).

As mentioned earlier, Andy Warhol supported and produced the “Velvets.” He was already a prominent pop artist in his own right, and he added Nico, a German model with an aloof attitude and deadpan mannerisms, to the lineup (Howard, 2004). The album cover of their debut album featured Warhol’s artwork of a banana. Warhol’s history and talent is worthy of a separate blog entry altogether.

Other than the dark and brooding lyrics, The Velvet Underground & Nico was significantly different from other albums of its day. Cale’s droning textures, using viola or violin, Maureen Tucker’s “stone age percussion,” and the feedback of the guitarists added to the sonic painting that was the “Velvets” (Howard, 2004). And while the album may not have been a success in sales upon its release, the sheer raw power of the constituent elements made it a significantly influential album (Howard, 2004).

Prior to Music History II, I had been influenced by The Velvet Underground & Nico, Andy Warhol’s, and Lou Reed’s work. While the current trend in modern music is to over produce an album, I like the raw and unglamorous approach to music production. Lou Reed and Nico prove they can record successful songs before the days of Auto-Tune. The lyrics are extremely “real” and not “feel good fantasies.” I can only hope one of my productions will be a fraction of as influential as the “Velvets” are.

Shannon McDowell


Howard, D. E. (2004). Sonic alchemy. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corporation.

Scaruffi, P. (1999). Velvet underground. Retrieved on September 8, 2012, from http://www.scaruffi.com/vol2/velvet.html

The velvet underground & nico. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 8, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Velvet_Underground_%26_Nico

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