As noted in the unboxing and subsequent blog post of my 1967 pressing of The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, it’s hard to truly come up with something new about an album that’s not just 50 years old, but was also groundbreaking in the sense that it is deemed an influence for countless artists that followed. The same holds true — if not to a substantial level up — with the self-titled album by The Velvet Underground & Nico, often mistaken as Andy Warhol given Warhol’s name printed on the sleeve.
I mean, can you really say anything new about such an album? Where do you even begin?
How about this: let’s look at how I landed a 1968 copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico (get a 180g repress on Amazon here) with an unpeeled banana sticker on the cover, and then dive into some of the specifics and differentiating points of early pressings.
More Crate Digging Gold
You don’t see early pressings like this with a fully in-tact banana peel. Many, at least.
I found my copy at Lost in the Groove, a little shop in Mount Vernon, Washington that was my go-to hook up for rare early psychedelic and garage rock cuts and pretty awesome prices. In fact, I name dropped the place in my recent Unboxing Video and coverage of The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators.
I recall walking into the shop one day, which was pretty much a standard weekly occurrence in pre-pandemic times when I lived in Washington, and seeing it on the back wall displayed high on the shelf. This was always the first place I’d look.
The ledge wrapped around the back of the shop up from the back wall up behind the checkout counter to the left. It was up high, so anyone (like myself) under about 6-foot-2 would need a step stool to pull anything down.
I immediately gravitated toward it, front and center amidst long forgotten stuff that didn’t catch my interest. I mean, next to The Velvet Underground & Nico, what would? I snapped it up for a cool $90, if I recall, which is a pretty solid deal for a cover I’d list as VG+, even if the record scored a VG grade.
Early Vinyl Pressings of The Velvet Underground & Nico
There are a few variations of those early pressings, predominantly dealing with differences in the rear sleeve: Torso vs Airbrush.
In the original torso pressing, there are clearly defined arms that hang down on either side of the band whereas the airbrush rendition has the arms and face airbrushed out. This gives the airbrush version a vignette effect to the image of the band performing.
Here’s the back of my copy, obviously the airbrush version:
Why the difference? RecordArt.net goes quite in depth into specifics detailing the release of the album, including the difficulties in producing the banana sticker and other elements pertaining to the earliest pressings of The Velvet Underground & Nico. Pertaining to the the torso and airbrush variations, RecordArt.net states:
The rear cover photograph showed actor Eric Emerson the lights projected behind the band with his inverted face superimposed on the picture of Lou Reed‘s head. This is commonly called the “Torso” version”. Emerson was in need of money as he had been charged with drug offenses and sued Verve Records to pay him for the use of his photograph. Verve refused to pay and recalled as many copies as it could and stuck a large black sticker over the offending photograph. On subsequent printings of the album sleeve the photograph was airbrushed to obscure Emerson’s portrait before the album could be reissued in June 1967.RecordArt.net The Velvet Underground & Nico Album Cover
As the article points out, those that could be recalled were affixed a large black sticker over Emerson’s torso, covering almost the entire top half of the record sleeve. RecordArt.net also highlights, “There have been several variations on the cover design and recent re-issues have once again reverted to the original torso rear cover photo.”
One current pressing is available on 180 Gram Vinyl.
Here’s my “unboxing” video of the album:
The Influence on Future Generations
The Velvet Underground & Nico influenced countless bands. In fact, Brian Eno is quoted to have said that anyone who purchased the original Torso version of the album went on to start a band! While that’s an exaggeration, it’s not far from the truth given the impact this album has had on music over the years. Its impact has been documented in quite a few books.
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk is one I have on my bookshelf, and it goes deep into the earliest moments of Punk. Most notably, moments of origination, which highlights the Andy Warhol scene in New York during the 60s.
What copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico is in YOUR collection? What’s one of your greatest crate digging finds? Let me know in the comments below!