Friday, May 26, 2006

The Velvet Underground & Nico Revisited

Jonathan Migneault

The blogosphere has always had a tendency toward constant forward motion, only rarely ever looking back (and toward insular navel-gazing, of which I intend to commit herein). This is a direct side-effect of our easy-access to cheap or free music via current technology, and the vastly overpopulated blogosphere and competition that implies. As with most aspects of technology there is both good and bad associated with this.

On the positive side, the average person can be exposed to much more new music than ever before. An entire world of new and amazing artists is literally at our fingertips. The distribution and promotional side of things has also been democratized. Bands can now promote themselves through MySpace, personal websites, blogs and countless other means. The success stories of bands like Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah and Beirut are testaments to blogs' influential clout.

On the negative side, our listening habits have been relegated to a fastfood-like mentality. iTunes' success, for example, has shown that the average consumer is content with a larger quantity of low fidelity music. Let's face it, an MP3 file does not sound nearly as good as a high quality vinyl or CD recording. The days when people took the time to listen to their vinyl records on high fidelity systems have past for most, and even CD consumption will likely soon dwindle to inconsequential numbers. Only audiophiles will continue this practice while the average consumer will settle for the convenience of digital files. This convenience also makes musical longevity much more difficult. People are often far too happy to move on to the next big thing while they leave yesterday's hot act behind.

My Old Kentucky Blog's recent string of cover-related posts gave me the idea to return to a nostalgic time (long before I was born, mind you) when the idea of the album prospered. I decided to go back in time to what I believe was the most important year in the history of rock n' roll. The year was 1967, the summer of love. It was a time that boldly redefined America's cultural and musical landscape. Among the notable albums released that year were the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Doors' debut self-titled album, Jimi Hendrix's Are You Exprienced and Cream's Disraeli Gears. One album, however, challenged people's conceptions of popular music more than any other. That album was The Velvet Underground & Nico.

Sometimes called the "banana album", due to Andy Warhol's quirky cover art, the album had an enormous influence despite its poor sales. It seemed that the few people who listened to the album all started their own bands (there's truth in every cliche). Of course, the Velvet Underground gained the recognition it deserved in the 1980's and their debut is now firmly entrenched as a cult masterpiece.

Lou Reed's dreamlike lyrics, Nico's transcendent vocals and the numerous exotic influences incorporated into the album made for a psychedelic experience that was way ahead of its time. Every alternative strand of rock music, from punk to post-rock, can be traced back to The Velvet Underground & Nico. Nirvana, Bjork, and every artist in between has been, at the very least, indirectly influenced by The Velvet Underground.

To post the original album in its entirety would be an exercise in futility (not to mention ethically questionable) as I'm sure most people reading this have listened to the album ad nauseam. Instead, I've decided to post my own covers mix of The Velvet Underground & Nico, featuring all the songs from the original album in the same order. The artists in this mix are as diverse as the band itself. All the bands bring their own sensibilities to the classic songs yet, for the most part, remain true to The Velvet Underground's sound.

I can think of no better way to illustrate The Velvet Underground's resounding influence on music today.

1. Belle and Sebastian - Sunday Morning (Live)
2. David Bowie & Lou Reed - I'm Waiting for the Man (Live)
3. R.E.M. - Femme Fatale
4. Jim O'Rourke - Venus in Furs
5. Echo and the Bunnymen - Run Run Run (Live)
6. Iron and Wine with Calexico - All Tomorrow's Parties (Live)
7. Billy Idol - Heroin
8. R.E.M. - There She Goes Again
9. Swarm's Arm - I'll be Your Mirror
10. Smile Kick - The Black Angel's Death Song
11. The Olivia Tremor Control - European Son

The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico

Comments on "The Velvet Underground & Nico Revisited"


Blogger Chris said ... (26/5/06 10:40 pm) : 

Very well thought out column. The Velvet Underground maintain their status as one of the most influential rock bands in history, and I think the banana album is the most diverse in terms of style. I think that could be the reason so many to-be bands related to this album; each song was entirely unique, but it all synchronized together beautifully into one album. Awesome post, and I'll check out those covers for sure, especially the "Venus In Furs" cover.



Anonymous Dave Lartigue said ... (26/5/06 10:42 pm) : 

I'm waiting for a mash-up called "The Velvet Underground and Meco"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (27/5/06 6:29 am) : 

Can I point out Dave Navarro's (Janes Addiction guitarist) version of Venus in Furs - man it sucked the fat one.


Blogger Jonathan Migneault said ... (27/5/06 1:19 pm) : 

Good thing I didn't include Navarro's cover then. I've lost all respect for that man. Not that I had much to begin with...


Blogger Calum Marsh said ... (28/5/06 12:14 pm) : 

Don't say that if Geoff's around!


Blogger Geoff Trainor said ... (28/5/06 2:01 pm) : 

Huh? I'm not a Jane's Addiction fan.


Blogger Dodge said ... (29/5/06 12:19 am) : 



Blogger marathonpacks said ... (30/5/06 9:31 am) : 

How about this! Very nice.


Blogger Jonathan Migneault said ... (30/5/06 1:30 pm) : 

Thanks! I really love both your sites. It means a lot to get some props by people who's work you respect.

- Jonathan


Blogger Ombra/luce said ... (5/7/08 2:14 am) : 



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