Visit any college campus in America, and you are bound to see a poster of Andy Warhol’s rotten banana print. Owing to Warhol’s household name, many people fail to recognize famous painting is actually the cover art for The Velvet Underground’s self-titled debut album. This is one of my favorite albums of all time, based purely on the flawless nature of the recordings. Few albums manage to both provide perfect songs but organize them in such a way that the listener can put on the album and have it flow effortlessly into the next song.
Although Lou Reed, John Cale, and the rest of the musicians featured in the first lineup of the band are in my opinion musical geniuses whose talents should not be understated, but Warhol struck gold when he decided to pair his hardly known artist Nico with the original lineup. Singing lead on three of the album’s tracks, “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” and “Femme Fatale,” Nico adds a unique flavor to the mix with her ghoulish, deep voice. These tracks are accentuated by the immensely experimental, fine-tuned sounds that Cale provides, which pervades the entire album. The instrumentation is superb, I might say, and to anyone desiring to hear the album for the first time, I suggest placing yourself in a cool environment with the lights turned off.
While the album definitely has a feeling of cohesion, one would be hard-pressed to attribute a overbearing musical theme, although drugs are a prevailing topic, evident in probably the most two popular songs from the album, the self-explanatory “Heroin,” and the coded “I’m Waiting For My Man,” where Reed sings about the trials of waiting for his dealer. Other songs, despite their brilliance, are left up for interpretation, such as “Venus in Furs,” one of my favorite songs (and believe me, it is hard to narrow it down to a couple of favorites) from the album.
For anyone wanting to start their Velvet Underground journey, this is the place to start. Although their following albums and various solo albums are worth checking out, this is the album where all the band members brought their A-game for one studio album, to showcase themselves as much more than Warhol’s proteges.