October 16

Happy birthday to Christa Paffgen, the German singer composer and fashion model/actress better known as Nico! (also R.I.P)

Here’s what I know about Nico and the Velvet Underground:

Yep that’s about it, pretty much nothing! I’d heard people singing the praises of this band, I’d heard the stories of the Andy Warhol New York factory art scene and I knew they had an album with a banana on the cover:

However, I first heard many of these songs covered by bands like REM on their Dead Letter Office album and by the Cowboy Junkies on their Trinity Sessions record. I thought those covered songs were great and had always planned to check out the original.

So, when my copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico debut album came to me in a box of yard sale records this spring I was excited to give it a listen.

What struck me most on first spin was how bizarre it was (to my pop music sensibilities anyhow). And to think that this thing was released at the same time as Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a little mind blowing… experimental, avant garde, roaring like a fire on some tracks while soft as a cloud on others. Sergeant Pepper’s was experimental too, insofar as it pushed the mainstream of pop toward the psychedelic… but this record was on a whole different level. Overt references to hard drugs, sexual deviancy and more here on full display.

This record was definitely ahead of its time and was a look into future musical experimentation to come later from the New York punk scene. Brian Eno said, even though the Velvet Underground & Nico only sold 30000 copies initially, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band“, and I bet that’s not too much of a stretch.

Reading some wiki-info on the band and the record, as well as some professional reviews from the era and after, I’m not giving up. It’s not really my style after first blush, but perhaps it will be.

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