Landmark 60s album still has the power to impress.
By Barry Lord
The news John Cale, a founding members of ’60s group the Velvet Underground, is due to mark the 50th anniversary of their 1967 album, with a one-off live performance of tracks has sent the world of rock music into raptures.
The show, compiled from music from album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, will be performed next year in Liverpool, with tickets expected to sell fast.
It’s also helped bring the band and their work into the public consciousness again and prompted fans to dig the album out for another spin.
But does it still hold up after all these years and what can young music lovers in 2016, weaned on the kind of factory line music endorsed by Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh, expect from a piece of work once hailed in the Independent as one of the most influential albums of all time?
Should they choose to give it a hearing, they will get an album every bit as fresh, dark and subversive as it was when it was released 49 years ago.
When the group – comprised of Welshman Cale, American’s Lou Reed (who would later enjoy huge solo success), Sterling Morrison and Mo Tucker, and German chanteuse Nico – gate-crashed the music scene of 1967, the pop charts were a very peculiar place.
The Beatles were in their final phase of world domination, Engelbert Humperdinck was selling millions and mothers and grannies swooned to Vince Hill’s Edelweiss.
But the times they were a-changing. A shake-up was due and this motley crew of art students and rebels were happy to oblige.
Recorded in Manhattan by Andy Warhol, who received credit as the album’s producer as well providing the iconic sleeve cover image of a banana, they produced 49 minutes of music that would, in time, change the landscape forever.
They sang about the inhabitants of New York’s seedy underbelly; a world populated by hustlers, drug dealers and addicts. Territory hitherto never explored by mainstream pop music at that time.
Listening to the album in the modern era, it’s lost none of its accessibility. It still has the power to hypnotise, to draw the listener in, to surprise and to unnerve. From the dreamy, post-hangover haziness of the opening track, Sunday Morning, to the jangling guitars of the closer, European Son, it’s a brilliant fusion of experimental sounds, memorable riffs and razor sharp lyrics.
But while the world of popular music may have been ripe for change, it seemed the public were initially slow to embrace the band because the album was a commercial flop.
The sounds created by followers of the Flower Power movement had made an indelible impression on the masses, and so the Velvets, with their songs of drug-fuelled parties and grimy east coast ‘sidewalks’ could not find a market in the “make love not war” America of the late ’60s.
However, it’s a testament to the album’s durability that it still has the power to impress each new generation of listeners. It’s an album that can either bring the listener to his or her feet, with the pulsating beat of tracks like ‘Waiting For the Man’ or simply invite them to sit and absorb the mellow strains of ‘All Tomorrow’s parties.’
For myself, I discover something new in it with every listen. A sure sign of a classic.