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Music to Die For: The Velvet Underground and Nico

Welcome to our new monthly feature: Music to Die For! It may not surprise you that we are huge music fans. In an effort to expand our musical horizons, we thought it would be fun to pick a random record from Robert Dimery’s book, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, listen to it, and share our thoughts. We try to pick records we're not overly familiar with while preferring those we’ve never heard. We listen to each record for a week without discussing it and then we get together and record our thoughts.

Our inaugural selection is 1967’s self-titled The Velvet Underground and Nico! If you’ve never listened to this album, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the striking banana artwork by Andy Warhol. Dive on in below for what happened after our week with Lou Reed and company.

What did you know about this album before you gave it a whirl?

Annie: I knew the banana, and I know that almost every record store always has this album for sale. So, either it's that awesome, that bad, or that over-produced. I also knew who Lou Reed was, but completely forgot this was his band.

Fred: Other than knowing the band and the album cover, really nothing. I might have heard one or two of these songs from movie soundtracks, but I didn't know much. Also, I remember hearing about a documentary about Nico that came out a few years back. After listening to this album, the documentary might be worth checking out.

How did you feel after the first song?

Annie: The album's first song is Sunday Morning, a lo-fi song.

Fred: It reminded me of a Radiohead song - those chimes.

Annie: I loved my first impression of the album. I instantly knew that if the rest of it sounded like this, I was going to be happy.

Fred: It starts off very light-sounding and I wasn't sure if the rest of the album would sound like this or be different. I wasn't crazy about the vocals at first, but they grew on me by the end of the song. She's an interesting and distinct singer. She may not have the best vocal range, but her unique vocals set her apart from the forgettable legions of American Idol winners.

What was your overall impression of the whole record?

Fred: As the record goes on, the subject matter gets a lot darker. There seems to be a lot of different musical styles on the record, from early punk to blues to dream-pop. I can see why this album is considered to be influential.

Annie: The album was incredibly varied, and despite it having a distinct 1960's sound, it felt experimental for the time. Or, what I would guess is experimental for the time. Without knowing much about the band, it seems like they were either attempting a concept album or trying to find their groove. I heard a lot of Bob Dylan and the origins of surf rock in it.

Fred: I agree. I noticed the Bob Dylan sound as well. Both singers had a similar style--it keeps a thread going through the record.

Annie: Did you get the impression that the album was something of a drug-sex journey? The last song is European Son, basically a seven-minute aggressive guitar riff. It felt very Mediterranean, like it was leaving me in someplace warm and exotic, but also like I had traveled while listening to the album.

Fred: If it's any kind of journey, it's a journey to a dark place. There's a theme of drug abuse that goes through the entire record. I do hear some middle-Eastern, psychedelic, and blues influences. I'd be interested in learning more about the behind-the-scenes story of how this album came together.

What was your favorite song on the album?

Fred: I'm Waiting for the Man. A song no doubt inspired by real life.

Annie: I'll Be Your Mirror. It's a sing-along.

Does the album still hold up today?

Fred: Even though it sounds like it was made in the 60s, it doesn't sound dated. As far as it holding up, you can hear the influence in tons of other bands, from Sonic Youth to Pavement to Beach House.

Annie: If you handed this to me today (remastered) and said this was a new band, I'd probably assume it was a new band trying to sound old, but taking on the influences of everything that had come before. You know, something like the Lemon Twigs. I would have assumed this "new band" loved La Luz, Dylan, The Kinks, and Nirvana.

What do you think about the album art?

Annie: It's a Warhol banana! What's not to like? I could have spotted that album from a mile away. Now, granted, I never listened to it until now, so there's that, but I definitely recognized it.

Fred: I love it. It stands out, it's iconic. I read that originally, you could peel the banana off the album cover and underneath was a flesh-colored banana.

Annie: Whoa. Do you think that's a metaphor?

Fred: No idea.

Annie: [giggles]

Will you return to the album after this blog post?

Fred: Absolutely. I will be looking for a copy of this on vinyl the next time I go to the record store.

Annie: What Fred said.

What do you think of our new feature? Do you know this album? What did you think of it? Engage in our questions! Tell us what you think of this iconic album, and if everyone should listen to it before their death day! Sound off in the comments below!

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