This really is the way to do super deluxe reissues. Eschewing silly gimmicks, it's basically a coffee-table book, beautifully produced, with 6 CDs in slots at the back and, of course, a peelable banana on the front. The essay by Richie Unterberger is well-informed - as far as is possible because there seems to be quite a lot of uncertainty about exact dates etc. - and well written, though a little bland; I particularly like the opening list of negative and random factors that should have prevented the album from ever having been made, and the informed speculation about why it took nearly a year for the album to be issued. Much of the book consists of photographs, most of which I've never seen before, both of the Velvets and associates (often in live performance) and of different versions of the original album cover, gig handbills etc.
The mastering is superb throughout, the amount of detail they've got out of the original tapes is extremely impressive and both the stereo and mono versions of the released album sound magnificent, and better than ever before, as does Nico's Chelsea Girls album, included here in its entirety. Notably it is mastered quite a bit quieter than the previous 2 CD deluxe edition - it sounds quite noticeably different overall as well. As I predicted in my review of the grey-market Unripened - Sweden, the contents of the legendary Scepter Studios/Norman Dolph acetate featuring an early/demo version of the album get an official release as part of a box set. However, the scratches, noise and occasional jumps of Unripened are largely a thing of the past: one of the 2 session reels has survived and the mono mixes of the tracks it contributed to the acetate (European Son, Black Angel's Death Song, All Tomorrow's Parties and Heroin) have been recreated (evidently the mixdown tape from which the acetate was cut is long lost, though this isn't mentioned) and the full length European Son and alternate Heroin have also been given new and excellent stereo mixes (there aren't 3 different takes of any track, though it does rather look that way from the track listing). Those tracks which HAVE been taken from the acetate (I'll Be Your Mirror, Femme Fatale, Venus In Furs, Waiting For The Man and Run Run Run) have apparently been taken from a different copy that was in the possession of Maureen Tucker. A little noise is present, especially on Femme Fatale, and there are muffled pops in places, but overall they sound way better than Unripened and there are no jumps. I guess the most unexpected inclusion is an instrumental mix of All Tomorrow's Parties, which allows clearer examination of John Cale's extraordinary piano part.
I've not heard bootlegs of the January 1966 rehearsal tape; it's interesting, and a very good recording, though likely to be the least listened-to part of the set as songs stop and start, apart from a very good version of Heroin. The section with Lou singing (or much of the time, reciting) the lyrics of Venus In Furs over Bo Diddley's Crackin' Up is a gas, as is the version of There She Goes Again featuring Nico - you can hear why Lou sang it on the album, it's just not in her key. If Maureen Tucker is present on this session, she only plays a little tambourine, which is a shame, but there's a lot of nice guitar playing from Lou and Sterling.
Finally, spread over 2 CDs, we get the entire Valleydale Ballroom performance from 4 November 1966. There are far worse-sounding bootlegs out there, and it sounds a little better than a version I downloaded not that long ago, but it's fair to say that the sound is seriously flawed, and in places pretty rough. To my ears, this is less down to the recording, which must originally have been pretty clear and well balanced - you can hear all the instruments well enough - than it is to the state of that tape at the point it was copied to another one prior to finding its way onto the bootleg market. It suffers wobbles, distortion and dropouts in places but the overall sound balance, otherwise unheard material (the long jams that open and close the performance) and excellent performances of material from the album make it essential, and it's far from unlistenable; it certainly has no rivals from this period of the Velvets. It's also worth noting that, without losing any of the music, it runs quite a bit shorter than the available bootlegs, so clearly quite a bit of between song tuning etc. has been edited out. Since it's spread over 2 discs, this was for cosmetic reasons not space.
Really there's only one thing wrong with this set - a minor quibble but a shame nonetheless - and that is the absence of the record that started it all, The Ostrich, which Lou Reed recorded when he worked at Pickwick Records. The Ostrich, and even more so its B-side, Sneaky Pete, point the way to the Velvet Underground and have never been officially reissued or cleaned up. It's even more bizarre given how much Richie Unterberger's essay dwells on how attempts to promote it with a live band resulted in Lou Reed meeting John Cale; I had not previously realised that it was a producer at Pickwick, not Lou Reed, who had met Cale at a party, felt he looked the part and, discovering he actually was a musician, recruited him to be a member of The Primitives and introduced him to Lou; none of these recordings would exist otherwise.
Clearly this is not aimed at those unfamiliar with the original album, which is why I've not reviewed it. It's a 5 star album and then some. But for those for whom it's an old friend, this is essential, and that friend has got a whole heap of new stuff to tell you! Let's hope they do similar for White Light/White Heat and the 3rd album (and VU/Another View material).
Had this one for a while and have given the CDs a good listen.
CD1 contains the stereo mix of the original album with 5 alternative track versions, all worth having as European Son being possibly better than the original. This must be as good as this album is going to sound in my opinion. Much better having the original album to start with not "sandwiched" as it is on Peel Slowly And See.
CD2 has the mono version + some singles and surprisingly does not have the impact of the stereo version.
CD3 is Nico's album which I must admit I have never owned before unlike VU's album where I still have my original '67 vinyl. As this album had Reed, Cale & Morrison playing on it (along with Jackson Browne), it is a logical inclusion, and a worthy one.
CD4 has the studio sessions and rehearsals which for any fan of the band is such interesting listening, (although the early recordings on Peel Slowly on CD1 are essential as well), and again are a really worthy addition.
CDs5&6 contain a live concert from 4/11/66 and are bootleg quality. Anyone that has ever heard bootlegs of rock concerts as early as 66 may know how bad the quality can be!
However, for a band and an album of this historical importance, I'm am so happy that they were included. They should carry a caveat emptor though as they are rough!!
The package comes housed in a large format book far more suited to your book library than your CD library, however it is beautiful in my opinion with many photos of the band and memorabilia, lyrics and 6 slots at the back to house the CDs.
Many cite this as a landmark and influential album, but I remember it selling in minute quantities when first released. Me hearing the original album for the first time 45 years ago though is still one of those moments that is burnt into my brain, such was the impact, and there is very few that have ever done that. The content of many of the songs might not be everyone's cup of coffee, but this is one of the true monumental rock albums of all time and as such this deluxe volume is well deserved. I do not considered VU ever equalled the impact, urgency, macabre beauty of this album again.
Few albums are really worthy of the term classic but this one is not only a classic, but it is a 24C solid gold classic, and this set is a most welcome addition to my library. This had to have five stars due to the iconic status of this album and the overall package.
on 6 November 2012
This is by far the best reissue of the year, perhaps of all time. Truly glorious packaging: a weighty coffee-table-sized book, magnificently illustrated and penned by Velvet Underground authority, Richie Unterberger (although there are more photographs than words). Obviously made for profit, but also a labor of love.
Disc One: An incredibly-clear remastering, better than any that have gone before, the equal of the long out-of-print MFSL version. Finishes with bonus tracks: the familiar single-voice All Tomorrow's Parties and a previously unheard instrumental backing-track of the same. Also has alternate versions of European Son and Herion, and a great alternate mix of I'll Be Your Mirror with Nico's laughter at the end.
Disc Two: As with disc one, the best-sounding mono version yet with the two mono singles as bonuses. This is the way the album was originally recorded, so this is the definitive version. Thunderous.
Disc Three: Chelsea Girl, put here because on Nico's firt solo album, she was backed by Reed, Cale, Morrison and Jackson Browne. They wrote the majority of the songs too. Kind of like a gentle version of VU&N, but unfortunately, originally ruined with spurious and later added bogus strings and a flute, which could not be removed here because they could not find the original master, but yet again, the best sounding version yet.
Disc Four: The Scepter Studio version. Never mind the bootlegs; here the sound improvement is very dramatic, now elevated to nearly the same sound quality as the official mono version. Please note there a couple of seconds of pop and click during Run Run Run. Maureen Tucker's one of only two existing acetate records served as the main source for these. This is followed by Factory rehearsals, again, previously bootlegged, but now sounding almost as if they were professionally recorded. My only complaint is the Factory tapes are only half (the January 3, 1966 session) of what is on the bootlegs. The omissions would have fit on shortest disc, disc three, but I suppose they were trying to keep each one a themed whole.
Discs Five & Six: Once again, never mind the bootlegs. This is (albeit still in mono), the very best version ever committed to disc. They did a spectacular job of perfecting the sound. Think of the Melody Laughter edit from Peel Slowly And See. That's what this sounds like, only now, it is the complete concert. Yea! At times, it sounds professionally recorded (even though sourced from an audience tape), but be aware there are a few short passages which are not entirely clean. The Black Angel's Death Song suffers from some moderate distortion as does the middle section of the concert, which could not be repaired. Otherwise, sound-quality throughout is a point-blank miracle compared to all that has went before.
This set is absolutely essential for Velvet Underground collectors. Together for the first time is nearly every relevant Velvet Underground and Nico recording, and they ALL sound better than they ever have before. Yes! Buy it again! It will never be done better than this. Will there be a Super Deluxe 45th Anniversary edition of White Light / White Heat coming in December of 2013? One can only hope such will be the case.
on 6 December 2002
While many people believe this album to be the most influential album ever (it is by the way), they rarely concentrate their praise on anything else.
Granted, while it is hard to imagine Smashing Pumpkins, Jesus & Mary Chain, Pixies, Sonic Youth, Radiohead, Godspeed You Black Emporor!, My Bloody Valentine, (countless others) making the extraordinary albums they did without this album existing, it is also worth noting that this album is still ahead of the times.
35 years on, it still astonishes for its audacity, its experimentation with sound and its originality. Sunday Morning's hushed druggie fall out ambience, Waiting For The Man's pure rock 'n' roll innovation and stark imagery, Venus In Fur's hypnotic and off-kilter swirl of detuned guitars and viola, Heroin's distressing seven minute caustic attack on addiction, the nausea inducing musical headf**k of the closing European Son. It all adds up to an amazing listening experience. You hear the history of almost all alternative music in the 48 minutes and six seconds this album contains.
This deserves to be considered the starting point for anyone interested in alternative music, and anyone considering should stop considering and start purchasing!
on 29 October 2012
I'll not discuss CD1 as the album is superb and doesn't really need any introduction, it invented "alternative" music pretty much. There are a few alternate versions on the end of CD1 but whether they differ from the acetate ones on CD2 other than having a bit of talking at the beginning or end is debatable, there is a completely different instrumental take of All Tomorrow's Parties though.
CD2 is where things get interesting, it has the Scepter Studios versions of 9 tracks from VU & Nico which became famous when an old scratched acetate disc of them turned up a few years ago at a second hand record store and sold for a fortune at auction.
Four of the nine tracks are sourced from tape, five from acetate, and herein lies the problem. The songs sourced from tape sound great but the songs from the acetate, though I'm sure they've been put through something to get rid of some of the surface noise and scratches on the disc, still sound quite ropey.
If all the songs were available on tape then they should have used the tape source, maybe some weren't - the notes in the booklet don't mention whether that was the case or not.
Anyway some of the songs are totally different takes, some are extended, some have different backing vocals, some are difficult to tell from the usual version on CD1 apart from the surface noise.
The main thing is that they're worth having, if you've got the Unripened semi-official CD of the acetate then they do sound better on this release.
As well as those recordings there are "The Factory Rehearsals" which are interesting at least.
I didn't buy the all-singing 6cd set because I already have this album twice as I have the mono "Rarities Edition" and the "Peel Slowly & See" boxset which has a stereo version and I didn't think I really needed to get the mono album yet again.
The 6cd one also contains Nico's "Chelsea Girl" album and a double live CD which includes Nico but I wasn't going to pay five times as much just to get a live CD I might not listen to very often and a Nico album that is available quite cheaply on its own.
To anyone who doesn't already own this album I'd recommend buying the single CD "Rarities" version as I think the mono mix on that is the definitive version.
To someone who has the "Peel Slowly & See" boxset but not the acetate I'd recommend buying this 2CD version and the "Rarities" version as the acetate versions on this and the mono mix on the "Rarities" version are well worth having if you love it as much as I do.
And if you're truly a completist and have money burning a hole in your pocket then you'll have bought the 6cd version already so why are you reading a review of the 2CD set?!
Edit: I've since heard the live double CD from the 6CD set and whilst interesting it's not something I'd listen to enough to justify the price tag. I think they'd have been better off including a speed-corrected Le Bataclan '72 CD where Nico, Reed, and Cale performed stripped down arrangements of several songs off the debut album. Maybe the 50th anniversary edition will have a DVD of that show ;-)
on 6 April 2015
The original release is indeed one of the most important in rock, ever. We have heard about other vinyl records resulting in nearly everyone starting a band, and this here is the real deal in that department. And you know what - it does not sound outdated at all! In fact, the rock circus has gone full circle a few times in the department of how a rock album should be, and have always returned here, like it was a fountain of youth. And it's a good point: it's every bit as important as The Beatles' "Rubber Soul", say, or early releases by The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Led Zep, and a sea full of other great bands/artists. While very few bought this on its first release, it has been stated that everyone who got one wanted to start a band - and many did. Now, I for one am still looking for that first vinyl issue with a pristine peelable banana for a dime (the one I nearly bought had cost a mere $200), but here is something to hold on to and cherish while you are hunting. You get remastered stereo and mono versions, straight from the original source, and it sounds clearer to my ears than the previous releases on cd - which they should, of course. You get additional versions of the songs, from rehearsals and a live disc, and then you get - for free! - Nico's "Chelsea Girl", too! Now having had it for a while, like with a few other remastered items, I find that cd's aren't that fun really, and would have wanted the vinyl version of the collection. But there you go - you can't sell your car just to get the best rock album in the world - or can you?
on 9 March 2016
As always Amazon mixes reviews of different versions. I have a previous "deluxe" double version with some Nico tracks and some singles plus the mono and stereo mixes. The new 45 year anniversary double "deluxe" version which I just bought has the stereo version, some rehearsals, and some versions of an early acetate. Interesting to hear once maybe but the rehearsals are bootleg quality part formed songs and the acetate tracks are scratchy. So you'll not listen twice.
Stick to the earlier version, it even has a peelable banana and the new version's sleeve splits when you try get the booklet out.
The main album itself is, it goes without saying, fabulous on all versions.
Heroin, sadomasochism, paranoia, seductive ladies and a big banana on the cover. The Velvet Underground was unique in 1967 (even if it never made big sales), and remains unique to this day, no matter how many bands are influenced by them. (Not bad for an arty band!)
Lou Reed tears through a variety of songs, like the slashing, exotic S/M "Venus in Furs," desperate hard-rocking "Run, Run, Run," the surreal junkie ballad "Heroin," and the eerie, soft "Sunday Morning." However, German ex-model Nico leads in the seductive, singsong "Femme Fatale," steady and slow "All Tomorrow's Parties," and the lovely ballad "I'll Be Your Mirror."
The music isn't complex, but it is strangely compelling (such as the wiggling guitar at the beginning of "Black Angel's Death Song," or the tambourines in Nico's songs). Nowhere else could musical compositions like "Sunday Morning" (the tune originally reminded me of a music box) seem so haunting as they do here.
The vocals are excellent, although listeners will probably like one or the other. Lou Reed's high thin voice is a sharp contrast to Nico's accented, husky croon. (Nico left the band after this album) The writing is outstanding, especially since the frank references to kinky sex and drugs are nowhere near as shocking now as they were when the album was first put out.
The sparse, slithering music and excellent singing add solidarity to the reputation of the Velvet Underground as a classic. Dark and brooding, "Velvet Underground and Nico" is an exceptional album.
on 18 January 2004
i'm not going to go on about how wonderful the velvet underground were/are, influential, blah, blah, blah...every good word you hear is true, but it gets really boring after the first 100 reviews saying so. the purpose of this is to help you decide whether not you want to buy the cd, and the best way to do that is to describe the material featured on it, not give you a lecture. so:
1.'sunday morning' is a very dreamy, lazy pop song. ethereal. heavenly. soft, sweet and slow. the twinkling bells just top it all off gorgeously.
2.'waiting for the man' is a bit of a shock! very upbeat rock with relentless, pounding piano notes, twangy guitar lines and lou reed drawling monotonously. this tale of drug dealing gives us the first hint that we are in for something slightly off-center.
3.the first song featuring (pretentiously-titled german 'chanteuse') nico, 'femme fatale' is a soothing, gently poppy mid-tempo song.
4.screaming viola, heartbeat-style drums and scary lyrics make the 5-minute s&m national anthem 'venus in furs' a claustrophobic, haunting masterpiece.
5.lou reed clearly shows his bob dylan influences in the bluesy 60s rocker 'run run run'. this track has some great slightly-distorted, out of tune guitar solos. does sound a bit dated.
6.'all tomorrows parties' is a very slow dirge with a thudding beat. nico repeats lyrics of a vain, lonely girl in her bored, accented monotone. jangly keyboards and more twangy guitar.
7.when i was reading reviews of this cd, i got so sick of seeing people write half a page on how great 'heroin' is. so here's my 5-word verdict: classic. buy just for this.
8.'there she goes again' is a poppy, uptempo song with a great guitar riff. the song goes very wild at the end!
9.last nico song 'i'll be your mirror' is a tender, slow poppy song, similar to 'femme fatale'.
10.the velvets have completely lost their patience with being entertaining for these last 2 numbers. 'the black angel's death song' has some wild, fast and screeching viola with lou reed reciting his nonsensical, beat-poetry lyrics. let it grow.
11.'european son' starts off by decieving you into thinking that this will be another upbeat blues/rock/pop song, which, for the first minute, it is. we then hear the sound of a chair being dragged along the floor and a glass shatters. this signals the breakneck instrumental battle and wall of feedback that engulfs the listener for the next 6 minutes.
so there you have it. the best description i can muster. no cliche line like 'if you're a velvet underground fan...' 'if you're a newcomer...' if the album described above sounds like your type of thing, you go and buy now and experience some of the most amazing, influential and ahead-of-it's-time music ever made. if it doesn't, you leave well alone and go back to your cuddly, fluffy little cotton wool world and your safe, bland, boring top 40 cds.
i will say one thing as a closer, tho'- 'the velvet underground and nico' has nothing on the next album 'white light/white heat'...........
on 24 October 2012
I'm a bit lost for adequate words to describe this album. Produced by Andy Warhol, it features the tall, elegant German chanteuse Nico, with her breathy, deep voice perfectly complementing and indeed typifying the Velvet Underground sound.
There are songs that are gentle and melodic, such as 'I'll Be Your Mirror', defiant, driving rock like 'Run Run Run', the cacophonic John Cale violin-dominated strangeness of 'Black Angel's Death Song' and the category-defying 'Venus in Furs' based on the eponymous sado-masochistic novel.
Some of it has a decidedly punky feel.
It's part of my youth, and I hope that subsequent generations can appreciate it too. In a decade dominated by numerous indistinguishable artists and bands, this kind of originality should still inspire.
Added later - and how could I have forgotten to mention that other vocals are by Lou Reed? Shame on me - get the whip out...!