The Velvet Underground's 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, wasn't popular at all when it was released. In fact, barely anyone heard it way back 45 years ago. Only later was the album praised as one of the greatest of all time. Much like Love's Forever Changes, released in the same year, barely anyone took notice of this album. Still, this is one of the greatest rock records of all time. It was so advanced in 1967 that it took the world years to catch up with it. The Velvet Underground's music is timeless.
The first track, Sunday Morning, is a perfect opener. It's short, and it's achingly beautiful. The celesta is the song is unique and nice, and Nico's vocals, while not perfect, are pretty good. The melody is simple, the chorus is straightforward, and the whole song has a very light, uplifting feel to it. It's one of the highlights of the album, and a great opening track.
The next song, I'm Waiting For The Man, is a fantastic follow-up to Sunday Morning. It's pretty much the opposite of the song, and the change is very sudden and fresh. Lou Reed's vocals are brilliant. He's not a tremendous singer, but his delivery is great and Dylanesque. It's a real rocker, driven by a pulsing guitar rhythm and very good lyrics. It's very beautiful, but in a much different way than Sunday Morning. It's upbeat, fast, and just a great tune. It's my second favorite track on the album.
"I'm waiting for my man
26 dollars in my hand
Up to Lexington, 125
Feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive
I'm waiting for my man"
Then, again, comes a change in the mood of the album. Femme Fatale, the third track on the album, is a Sunday Morning-like tune. It's quiet, and features Nico's vocals. It's a simple tune, and the chorus is great. Not much to say about the song.
Ah, Venus In Furs. This is an odd one. It's definitely not normal. John Cale's screeching viola throughout the song is a highlight. They're so...irritating, but so alluring. They give the song a dissonant feel that is just so great. The song is a bit dark, and the lyrics are a bit dumb, but it's still a very good song.
Run, Run, Run, the fifth track, is one of my least favorite on the album. It reminds me of I'm Waiting For The Man, but a little more indecipherable, and a little more nonsense-y. It gets very repetitive. The first time you hear it, it's a fun song, but it doesn't hold up after multiple listens. It actually gets kind of annoying. The first skippable track on The Velvet Underground and Nico.
"You gotta run, run, run, run, run
Take a drag or two
Run, run, run, run, run
Gypsy Death and you
Tell you whatcha do"
Someone said in a review I read (not on Sputnikmusic,) "What would it have been like to hear All Tomorrow's Parties in 1967?" It was so different from anything else in the '60s. This is another Nico song. It's slower than Run, Run, Run, and it features a great piano riff-thing. I guess it is a bit long, and could be cut a little shorter, but nevertheless it's a great song. It sounds like it could have been written sometime in the 2000's. It's futuristic. It really is.
Enter the best Velvet Underground song ever. Heroin, the longest song on the album, clocking in at 7:13, begins with just a quiet guitar and a simple drum beat. The song seems like nothing special. It's just a simple guitar melody. Then the drums change into a more complex rhythm, and the guitar melody changes a bit. You can hear a quiet viola. Then Lou Reed begins to sing.
"I don't know just where I'm going
But I'm gonna try for the kingdom, if I can
'Cause it makes me feel like I'm a man"
At this point, the song begins to speed up considerably and becomes rather fast-paced. It slows down again to it's original temp with the line "And I guess that I just don't know." This happens four more times, each verse ending with "And I guess that I just don't know, and I guess that I just don't know." Still, when I describe the song, it seems like nothing special, but there's something about it that's so superb. Maybe it's the lyrics, its overt depiction of heroin abuse, or maybe it's that it's a simple melody, but it's so much more than that. And I'm rambling. So let's just say this: Heroin is a downright brilliant song, the best on the album.
Possibly the most poppy and catchy song on the album comes next. There She Goes Again is such a fun song, even though it has fairly dark lyrics ("You better hit her"). The syncopated riff is almost plagiarized from Marvin Gaye's Hitch Hike, the closest The Velvets come to a cover. It's much different from the other songs on The Velvet Underground & Nico, because it's not pretty (Sunday Morning, I'll Be Your Mirror) or a great rock tune (I'm Waiting For The Man, Run, Run, Run), and it's not even that innovative. It's just a great, catchy, tune and one of the best on the album.
Sunday Morning Part II With More Uplifting Lyrics, or I'll Be Your Mirror, is simple and short. The really standout thing about the track are the soft, complimenting lyrics. The melody and lyrics are nice, even if the lyrics are just the tiniest bit cheesy.
"I find it hard to believe you don't know
The beauty you are, but if you don't
Let me be your eyes, a hand in your darkness
So you won't be afraid
When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you"
The next track, The Black Angel's Death Song, might just be the most crazy and radical Velvet Underground song on their debut album. The chord progression isn't a simple I-IV-V punk rock chord progression, it's much...weirder. Also, Cale's screeching viola is the most prominent on this track. Lou Reed half talk, half sings the lyrics. I can't say I like this song, but I don't hate it. It's not exactly enjoyable, but it isn't terrible. I really don't know what to think about this song.
The final track, European Son, is also the longest on the album. There's not much of Lou Reed's lyrics, since about one minute in it goes into this free-for-all jam that lasts for the remainder of the track. It's very cool. I would have liked it more, though, as an instrumental, because Lou Reed's lyrics and singing are nothing special on European Son. Nevertheless, it's a good closer.
The Velvet Underground's first album is definitely innovative. You can hear the beginnings of punk in Run, Run, Run. It wasn't the big seller, like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but at least now it is recognized as the masterpiece it is. There are only a couple of weak tracks, but almost all of them are five star. I would put maybe 8 out of the 11 tracks on a "Best of" record, since almost all of the songs are five star. If you haven't heard it before, you should really check it out, because it's one of the greatest albums of all time.