I have previously discussed my collection of Velvet Underground & Nico albums and this time I thought I’d celebrate the fact that this album was officially released 50 years and two months ago.
This historic album was, of course, initially recorded as a ten-track acetate in Norman Dolph’s Scepter Studios in New York on 25th April 1966. Two acetates were pressed and one was given to Andy Warhol offered it to Columbia Records, Atlantic Records and Elektra who all turned it down. Warhol then took the band to Los Angeles and with Ted Wilson re-recorded most of the songs and Verve Records agreed to release it. Warhol’s acetate disappeared but the other copy surfaced in a New York street sale in 2006 and was bought by record collector Warren Hill for 75 cents. Hill put the record up for auction on eBay, and eventually sold it for $25,200. It was resold in 2014.
A bootleg of the acetate recording called “Unripened” appeared in 2007, pressed first on green and later on black vinyl with a pastiche of Warhol’s original cover for the Velvet’s album. The green banana was not peelable and instead of “Peel slowly and see” beside the banana’s neck this version said “Unripened listen slowly and hear.”
The album received its first official release on CD together with the 45th Anniversary 6 CD set in 2012 and a limited edition of 5000 numbered copies was released on vinyl for Record Store Day that April.
There was a later unnumbered vinyl release. There is yet another version released in 2014 in a different cover.
The historic value of the acetate recording is indisputable, but musically it is inferior to the re-recorded full album. In its first year “The Velvet Underground & Nico” appeared in several versions. There were at least two promotional copies, both mono, released in the original “torso” covers. One with a yellow label and the other with a white label. The identical slick could be used for mono or stereo copies,– the mono slick was pasted with the stem of the banana almost at the cover’s top edge.
Both mono and stereo versions were originally released with the “torso” cover, which was soon withdrawn when Eric Emerson demanded payment to allow his picture to be used on the cover. Verve recalled many albums and stuck a large black sticker over the offending “torso” photograph. Later printings replaced the “torso” cover with an version with Emerson’s picture airbrushed out. These were still gatefold covers.
The original U.K. release was housed in a single cover with the an unpeelable banana. In Germany an unusual reissue was produced in 1976. This cover is unique; coloured blue and with an image of the peeled banana.
The first CD version of the album appeared in 1986. There was a limited edition of 3000 copies German release in a slipcase with a peelable banana that was hand numbered the following year.
.In 1991 a further reissue appeared in the U.S.A. and Australia that had a single cover and the album’s title on the front cover as shown on the 1986 CD. Mobile Fidelity released a gold CD version of the album in 1997.
There have been many reissues since the late nineteen eighties both on CD and since 2000 on vinyl. I mentioned the picture disc varieties in my previous post. The latest vinyl reissues have been pressed on 180 g virgin vinyl and have restored the original cover including a peelable banana and a restored “torso” rear cover released as a 45th anniversary issue in 2012. And there have been numerous reissues pressed on coloured vinyl. I have seen yellow and red vinyl issues as well as Newbury Comics limited (1000 copies) pressed on yellow/black split vinyl which also has a peelable banana and “torso” rear cover.
There are at least three complete cover albums of Velvet Underground & Nico album. The first appeared in 1990 in Italy where a series of punk bands played the songs from the Velvet Underground & Nico album.
The second cover album was another various artists compilation of the VU & Nico album tracks recorded on the Castle Face Record label in 2012. The banana on the cover was by David Shrigley, who drew a portrait of Andy Warhol on the back cover.
A third cover album called “The Velvet Underground & Nico and Ben Benderbe” was recorded by Bud Benderbe and released as a limited edition LP with a very strange large sliced banana sticker.
There are also numerous records that use variations on Warhol’s banana image that have no other relationship to the Velvet’s music. These include the split single by Eat All You Can and Hickey called “Banana Split”.
Another is a rare jazz LP by the Instant Composers Pool Group, recorded in Holland in 1970.
The classical quartet’s, the Fauré Quartet, first recording “Popsongs”, released on the Deutsche Grammophon label had an apple sticker on the cover which, when peeled revealed a raspberry.
A very recent variation on the design is a 2017 release by John Nemeth called “Feelin’ Freaky”. On this cover, though, the banana was replaced by a red gherkin.
Often called the album that launched a thousand bands, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” has proved itself to be one of rock music’s most influential albums and the number of reissues on both CD and vinyl confirm its importance. Andy Warhol’s cover art was a major work of pop art and has had almost as great an influence on cover design as the music has had on the development of rock music.