“Peel slowly and you’ll see,” reads the tiny text pointing to the tip of a striking yellow and black banana peel. Beneath the label, at least on the original copies, is a fleshy pink fruit. These phallic imagery and wry humor—a signature of Andy Warhol’s trademark aesthetic—make up an iconic cover that has earned it the nickname “Banana Album,” but for those who have spent time justifying their pretentious musical taste and idolizing the scene artistry of the 1960s in New York City, is better known as The velvet subway and Nico. It’s the kind of album cover that has become ubiquitous in the music world that you recognize without ever hearing the band.
Released in 1967, The velvet subway and Nico it served as the self-titled debut album by American rock band Velvet Underground and German singer Nico. Despite being produced and supported by the highly successful Warhol, the album was a commercial failure and would remain out of the mainstream for years. As a promo poster stated, the album read: “So far underground, you’ve got the curves!”
This is perhaps due to the music’s experimental sound and taboo subjects: droning strings and avant-garde instruments, Nico’s accented androgynous voice, sexual sadomasochism and a seven-minute shot-up ode aptly titled “Heroin”. While everyone else during the Summer of Love sported long hair, flowery clothing, and spent their time taking hallucinogenic drugs and fighting war and for free love, the Velvet Underground wore all-black leather, dealt with IV addiction, and explored the intense connection. between love and pain Although that resistance to pop culture prevented them from being a commercial success, it may be the exact reason so many resonate with The velvet subway and Nico for this day.
Unlike other contemporary titans of the music industry, the Velvet Underground stubbornly avoided following the style of popular music, but that decision has kept them from sounding dated today. The album opens with “Sunday Morning” and follows the dream drive of the morning after a Saturday night. Paranoia and perhaps regret seem to seep into Lou Reed as he sings, “Watch out, the worlds behind you / There’s always someone around you who’ll call out to you / It’s nothing at all.”
The album quickly transitions into the more upbeat “I’m Waiting for the Man,” also sung by Reed, in which he not-so-subtly describes going to Harlem to meet his drug dealer. The background music of this song hardly changes. from the strumming of the guitar and the sound of the piano keys as Reed tells his story. Nico’s first appearance on the album is “Femme Fatale”. Set to soft, subdued instrumentals, the star of this song is Nico’s voice as he sings: ‘Cause everybody knows / The things she does to please / She’s just a little joke / Look at the way she walks / Listen to the way she walks. speaks. ”Cale and Reed sing backing vocals for her, creating a more masculine presence behind her words.
Based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novel of the same name, “Venus in Furs” is where the Velvet Underground’s penchant for issues unacceptable in mainstream society comes to light. With lyrics like, “Taste the whip on love given lightly/Taste the whip, now it bleeds for me,” the song beautifully speaks to a man’s desire to be completely enslaved and punished by his mistress. If the first four songs on this album weren’t exciting enough to captivate its underground audience, the track list only delves into deeper, more troubled waters with songs like “Run, Run, Run,” “The Black Angel’s Death Song “, and, of course, “Heroin”. The experience of listening to these songs, whether for the first time or the hundredth time, always takes one on a journey through the seedy underbelly of the world.
The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh it currently hosts an exhibit dedicated to the band’s 1966 sessions at Scepter Studio. Most of these recently discovered recordings would constitute The velvet subway and Nico album a year later. The museum also hosted author Richie Unterberger, whose lecture helped break down the album’s unique songwriting and legacy.
In a small, dark room, the exhibit plays snippets of music while displaying images and photographs of the band. They define great; elegantly dressed and always with a pair of sunglasses. Nico, with her platinum blonde hair and sharp features of hers, is the epitome of the ’60s it girl. Lou Reed; Guitarist, singer and, in his eyes, bandleader, she still has all of his hair. Juan Cale; violist, bassist, pianist, and in his eyes the leader of the band, along with Sterling Morrison on guitar and bass and Moe Tucker on drums, make up the rest of the team.
Perhaps the most interesting piece in this exhibit is its record collection: original copies of the album featuring the peel-off banana sticker are displayed on one entire wall. Some of the stickers have come off completely, others only partially; but each tear reveals the vibrant pink fruit. Other owners were kind enough to leave the album unchanged, while one person took the liberty of adding their own stickers. It’s a simple but effective look at how each owner made the album their own. Looking at the wall lined with about a hundred copies of the same album cover, one can begin to understand how it resonated with each individual in a unique way.
Although its purely experimental nature left it largely unknown upon its release, The velvet subway and Nico it has since developed cult classic status. As British musician Brian Eno once said about the album that reportedly only sold 30,000 copies, “Everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” The Velvet Underground, and Lou Reed especially, served as inspiration for the likes of Bono, Joy Division and The Strokes. The group’s influence stretches far and wide, and they have earned a dedicated fan base of fellow artists and music lovers.
That fanbase extends to Locust Walk. As a guest of music critic and Penn professor Anthony DeCurtis, Lou Reed himself visited the Kelly Writers House in 2012. In bio Lou Reed: A LifeDeCurtis writes of the experience: “When we walked out I could feel the tense energy from the audience. Lou, of course, seemed waterproof. That kind of tension was the emotional sea he swam in, the air he breathed. The room was small and crowded. Several people had traveled great distances to be there. Everyone knew Lou was at the house, but the fact that he didn’t show up for the reception gave the meeting a head start. This was Lou Reed, after all. He maybe he would leave. As we sat down in the two chairs at the front of the room, we adjusted our microphones and thanked Reed for coming. “Anything for you,” he said.
the magic of The velvet subway and Nico lies in its ability to attract only a very specific audience. Even today, as mainstream the album has become, you still find something outside of popular culture. The experience of playing the song list is intimate, not just because of its emotional theme, but because the listener feels like they are discovering something new. it is underground. It’s great. It’s exciting and more than a little intimidating. The velvet subway and Nico It is the anthem of the rebels of each new generation.