For a band whose record sales were so unremarkable while active, The Velvet Underground’s influence has been anything but since. At the time of its release, their 1967 debut The Velvet Underground and Nico might have proved too avant-garde for a music community just coming to terms with its own need to evolve. Down-tuned guitars, dissonant refrains, cryptic lyrics and one Warhol Superstar probably seemed less like a band than a swirling rhythm of moral turpitude and aural corruption. But there’s a reason they’ve been so influential. Like the album’s famous, Andy Warhol-designed cover suggests, you must peel slowly and see, because this band has layers.
The tracks below offer a glimpse at what the Velvet Underground were doing as storytellers and conveyors of message. And it isn’t just their murky lyrics, but their foreboding instrumental, as well, that is spinning the yarn.
The Black Angel’s Death Song is as close to epitomizing the band as anything could (if anything could). An electric viola screeches out the underpinning of a tale about the dead coping with their death from beyond. Heroin spirals out of control like a smack addict tip-toeing on the brink. Wait for the overdose around minute 5. I’ll Be Your Mirror uses said superstar Nico’s even voice as the soft, soothing muse bringing the hopeless hope. You might say this song is the light to Black Angel’s dark. And Venus in Furs, well, that’s just a song that I dig, and you’ll dig. But if you want to get down to the nitty-gritty, it’s something about a plea for a dominatrix (less patent leather, more emotional stranglehold) to whip a heart back to shape.
But, as with any of their amorphous songs, the story is whatever the listener interprets. So, with that, peel slowly … and see.
MP3: The Velvet Underground :: The Black Angel’s Death Song
MP3: The Velvet Underground :: Heroin
MP3: The Velvet Underground :: I’ll Be Your Mirror
MP3: The Velvet Underground :: Venus in Furs
By the by, this is the first in a series of guest posts by me, Joe. You can call me Youngling #2 if you’re comfortable with that. I am. At any rate, while the Drunkard is away, taking in Nawlins grub, booze, black magic and blues, I’ll be delivering my take on old tunes, new tunes and live tunes. Hope you enjoy the licks.