The Velvet Underground and Nico Turns 50!

The Velvet Underground and Nico is my favorite album of the 1960’s, which puts it on a short list for my favorite albums of all time. I’m sure some of you feel the same way. It’s a monumentally great record, the perfect intersection of art and pop. Nico is widely-regarded as the first “alternative rock” record, the sort of work that spawned genres in its wake. It’s one of those albums that every rock musician can cite as an influence. In other words, Nico’s importance cannot be overstated. Believe me, if it was going to happen, it would have happened in the 80’s. Every song on this record can be directly linked to one movement or another; it’s often cited as one of the direct precursors to punk rock, or glam rock, or really anything in rock music that appears on the fringes. This is the counterculture link to the pop charts.

So, what else can possibly be said about The Velvet Underground and Nico?

Only this: It is conceivable that in the near future, classic rock music will be taught in collegiate courses the same way the work of Bach and Mozart is taught now. I recently witnessed a fabulous Chicago Philharmonic performance that included selections from Radiohead’s “Creep.” This scholarly assessment of popular music is already underway. The lines have been blurring for some time now. One day, the history of rock music will be told by professors for college credit. These lectures will contain all the notable beats of rock music -Elvis on Ed Sullivan, Beatles on Ed Sullivan, Doors ruining Ed Sullivan–and will inevitably circle back to the druggy, hazy group operating on the edge of society at that moment in time. I’m not going to bore you with a track-by-track breakdown, because the VU’s music has been deconstructed countless times before. All I can do is listen to The Velvet Underground and Nico 50 years later. I hear the urgent stomp of “I’m Waiting For The Man.” My heart beats along with the pulse of “Heroin.” The drone of “All Tommorow’s Parties” sets the tone for the next half-century of music. It doesn’t sound old. It sounds jagged, and dissonant, and haunting. Amazingly, there are still things to discover from this record. The VU’s debut album is 50, but it’s a lean, vibrant, George Clooney-esque 50. We should all age so well.

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