While the world went Technicolor in 1967, The Velvet Underground released an album recorded nearly a year earlier which no record label would touch and spooked the one they landed. Barely recognised in their four-year lifetime, the album sent shockwaves that have resonated ever since. The year saw many albums that defined the countercultural mood, including the innovative retro of Sgt Pepper’s and monumental sets from Hendrix, The Doors, Pink Floyd, Cream, Traffic, Love and more that captured the magical era. And yet, as Brian Eno declared, those few that were thrilled by TVU&N shaped rock’n’roll’s future (including early champion, David Bowie). Shunned at the time, TVU&N (like electronic punks Suicide’s debut 10 years later) was a blast from the city’s subterranean underbelly that, reflecting their charged-up idiosyncratic creators, painted vivid pictures that took years to hit home. No wonder the NYC mid-70s punk generation recognised them as sonic forebears.
TVU&N (and 1968’s equally astonishing White Light White Heat) hasn’t lost its unique power or lyrical mystique. It catches this disparate ensemble in their first flush as Tin Pan Alley songwriter Lou Reed joined avant-classical electric viola-player John Cale to thrust minimalist punk attitude into rock’n’roll, bolstered by skin-tight guitarist Sterling Morrison and androgynous sticks-woman Maureen Tucker pounding her upturned bass drum with mallets, the band’s scabrous gutter groove bathed in the surreal, speed-driven excess of Warhol’s multi-media Exploding Plastic Inevitable onslaughts. Recorded in NYC’s decrepit Scepter Studios, then TTG in LA, with Dylan producer Tom Wilson, Warhol’s “production”, such as it was, was limited to insisting the band retain “dirty” words as they hammered junk-generation parables such as Heroin, I’m Waiting For The Man, Run Run Run, The Black Angel’s Death Song and European Son, all offset by Nico’s luminescent ballads I’ll Be Your Mirror, Femme Fatale and the booming All Tomorrow’s Parties. Worlds apart from the hippie culture they despised, TVU&N was wilder and more dangerous than anything in California or London. And Warhol’s banana sleeve helped the US first pressing become one of the world’s most desirable collectables. KN
Runners-up: The Beatles Sgt Pepper’s, The Who The Who Sell Out, Pink Floyd Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, The Doors The Doors, Love Forever Changes, Cream Disraeli Gears.