1967 was the height of the psychedelia movement in music, and while I suspect that come June we’ll be hearing ad nauseam about the 50th anniversary of some album by some other band with which you may be familiar, we would be remiss if we failed to note the same anniversary for what is arguably, a culturally more important work of art, The Velvet Underground & Nico.
After multiple delays (some due to Andy Warhol’s cover design involving a peelable banana sticker), the album came out in March of 1967 and was an immediate commercial failure. The Velvet Underground & Nico sounds like nothing else of its era — it’s about as far from the Summer of Love as you can get. The dark themes (drug use, sadomasochism, prostitution to name but a few) made it an immediate no-go for radio play, while the narcotic viola drone and feedback laden guitars conjured up little of the “peace and love” we associate with the era.
But the album’s influence is undeniable. As Brian Eno famously said, not a lot of people bought The Velvet Underground & Nico, but seemingly everyone who did started a band. You can trace a direct line from the album to David Bowie and glam rock, to Iggy and the Stooges, to the Modern Lovers and the New York Dolls, to Patti Smith and the Ramones, to the Sex Pistols, to REM and Pavement, to Nirvana and on to anything that calls itself “alternative” or “punk” these days. While I have a special fondness for “I’ll Be Your Mirror” (especially this Rainy Day cover from 1984), something a little darker seemed more appropriate to represent the album. There’s very little video of the band available online, despite Warhol’s omnipresent movie camera, but the clip below seems pieced together from his 1966 Symphony of Sound footage.
And if you’re looking for a good read on the subject, Up-Tight: The Velvet Underground Story is worth your time.