Your Andy Warhol Specialists

The Velvet Underground: Lost, then Found

By Reagan Carraway:

Andy Warhol posing with the Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground and Nico with Andy Warhol, 1966. Photo by Steve Shapiro.

The Andy Warhol Museum has just found something you didn’t know you needed: The Velvet Underground’s original reel-to-reel monophonic 1/4”master tapes of their very first album. According to the museum’s report, the 9 tracks that compose their debut have been digitized and are set to grace the public in an exhibition beginning in 2023. The Warhol’s manager of archives Matt Gray said in a press release, “You’re hearing the album as the band originally intended.”

1965, Greenwich Village. Filmmaker and friend Barbara Rubin tows one Andy Warhol to a kitschy, gothic-grunge coffeehouse known as Café Bizarre to see a band that had a proclivity for Rated-R lyrics and “droning” tones. This was the fateful night Warhol would first meet The Velvet Underground (est. 1964) and little did all know how this meeting would change the course of music as we know it. At the time, Warhol was dead set on expanding his artistic horizons into multimedia immersive endeavors and the unorthodox group was the missing puzzle piece. Warhol quickly took on a managerial role to the band and added model and singer-siren Nico as lead singer and magnetic visual presence to accompany pre-existing members Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Mo Tucker.

With Warhol’s soft management hand and funding and no binding contracts yet to speak of, the band had free creative reign. Lou Reed, leading man and edgy songster of The Velvet Underground, noted Warhol’s influence on their creative flow:

“The advantage of having Andy Warhol as a producer was that because he was Andy Warhol, they left everything in its pure state…. But the only real reason we had that freedom was because Andy as the ‘producer’ was saying ‘oh, that’s great’. He was a protector.”

In 1966, in a matter of two days, the band recorded their first album of 9 tracks at the Scepter Studio in New York. This short turnaround spoke of Warhol’s “no nonsense” mentality while allowing the band to configure the sound exactly as they saw fit without the authoritarian commercial influence of a label. It was all about the art and experimentation. The band’s bare-boned melancholic sound became more publicized when added as a musical component to Warhol’s traveling discotheques “Andy Warhol Uptight” and “The Exploding Plastic Inevitable.” Verve Records signed the group in 1966, remixing their master(piece) track with 1967 bringing the release of the debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico. The album, packaged like an erotic gag gift, was designed by Warhol himself and boasted of a peelable and banana sticker.

Later that year, a falling out would force Warhol and Nico to separate their association with the band unit, though they would reunite later. The album did not see overwhelming commercial success in its time, but over the years, the avant-garde band’s lyrical genius would pave the way for many rock/alternative styles to come. And now, thanks to this incredible revelation, we will be able to hear The Velvet Underground and Nico in their most true form.

John Cale (Left) and Lou Reed (Right) playing at Cafe Bizarre. Photo by Adam Ritchie, 1965.
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