The Velvet Underground: Sound vs Success

After reading Joe Harvard’s piece on The Velvet Underground and Nico I wasn’t sure to expect from the music. What had been described was a plethora of different sounds that didn’t seem to me to mesh well together at all, but in retrospect make for quite a unique sound. With inspirations as wide ranging as the poppy sound of the Beatles, all the way to the down to the earth folk goodness of Simon and Garfunkel,  Velvet Underground mixes and matches sounds with surprising success.  This is in line with what Harvard described in his piece, as the constant struggle between creative control and off-beat sound make for a fascinating one.

 

One such element that is clearly the centerpiece of Harvard’s analysis is the involvement of Andy Warhol with the band. This interesting history is wonderfully retold by Harvard, as he moves from the inception of the band, all the way to their first real collaboration in a recording studio. “The band soon became part of the multimedia “happenings” that Warhol had been planning, but which had yet to materialize.” (Harvard 136) Here, Harvard describes how the bands unique mixture of sounds meshed with the celebrity status of Warhol, as well as describing just how much was going on in a particular venue when the band played. One aspect of the bands indie factor was the aforementioned celebrity status of Warhol, who used it to shield the band from any intervention on the part of corporate big wigs.

 

Celebrity or Bond villain? You decide.

While Warhol did provide the band with such protection, Harvard is also quick to point out his lack of experience as a producer. “Warhol recognized that he could only offer the band limited aid in the specialized world of record companies, lawyers, and publishers.” (Harvard 138) However, this didn’t mean that Warhol wasn’t able to surround the band with the technical talent to allow their first album to become a reality. “Fair is fair; with Warhol in and out of the studio, only Dolph and Licata were present in the control room for the entire time the album was being made.” (Harvard 142) Ultimately, by surrounding them with the necessary tools for success, Warhol provided The Velvet Underground and Nico with the means to make their music. “Overall, any evaluation of Warhol’s managerial tenure has to acknowledge the dual role he played. His administrative shortcomings were certainly counterbalanced by the creative stimulus he provided the band. It was in that role that he was of inestimable value to them, and to their first album.” (Harvard 139)

 

Getting back to the band’s sound, it is undeniably unique in its own right. By mixing and matching the sounds of their particular era in music, The Velvet Underground is able to etch out its own unique vibe. I can only describe it as something akin to if The Beatles, The Doors, and The Blue Oyster Cult met up in a bar and decided to record an album. It’s something else for sure.

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One thought on “The Velvet Underground: Sound vs Success

  1. Nice post! I definitely agree with the fact that Warhol was a sort of protection against major company influence with his status and “underground” art. The band’s indie mix of genre and ‘crudeness’ got to shine because of his encouragement. But Harvard mentions that the Velvet Underground “had their sound together before meeting Warhol”. Do you think the band could have succeeded through any other means, if Warhol hadn’t fallen in love with their music in the beginning?

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