The Velvet Underground & Nico

ISBN: 0826415504
ISBN 13: 9780826415509
By: Joe Harvard

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About this book

The Velvet Underground and Nico has influenced the sound of more bands than any other album. And remarkably, it still sounds as fresh and challenging today as it did upon its release in 1967. In this book, Joe Harvard covers everything from Lou Reed's lyrical genius to John Cale's groundbreaking instrumentation, and from the creative input of Andy Warhol to the fine details of the recording process. With input from co-producer Norman Dolph and Velvets fan Jonathan Richman, Harvard documents the creation of a record which - in the eyes of many - has never been matched. EXCERPTIn 1966, some studios, like Abbey Road, had technicians in white lab coats, and even the less formal studios usually had actual engineering graduates behind the consoles. Studios were still more about science than art. Clients who dared make technical suggestions were treated with bemusement, derision, or hostility. The Velvets were a young band under constant critical attack, and the pressure to conform in order to gain acceptance must have been tremendous. Most bands of that era compromised with their record companies, through wholesale revamping of their image from wardrobe to musical style, changing or omitting lyrics, creating drastically edited versions for radio airplay, or eliminating songs entirely from their sets and records. With Andy Warhol in the band's corner, such threats were minimized.

Reader's Thoughts


A so-so book on one of the great albums. I am proud to say that I discovered this particular album not by myself or via a friend at school or even through the rock media of the time. It was through my Dad who had a copy of the album in his collection. In fact it took me awhile to get to even listen to this album. Maybe a year??? Nevertheless it is one of those great recordings where sounds equals great songwriting equals great performance. It's magic. It really is. This book on the other hand is not magic. But still worth reading for the die hard fans of this album.

Andrew Kubasek

A really fun book! Granted, it contains a lot of references to demos and alternate takes that, without access to them, make it hard to fully comprehend. But the background material - especially regarding Andy Warhol's relationship to the band as "producer" and how Nico came to join the group - is especially engrossing. I also liked the mini-essays about each song from the final cut of the record.I highly recommend that anyone reading this book be very familiar with the album before even trying to tackle it.

Simon Sonnak

From memory pretty useful. This is an area where I want the facts more than the interpretation. How, when, who and this book is not bad in that regard.

Thom Foolery

I most appreciated two things about this book. One was that it got me to listen to this again (repeatedly) and confirm that it is indeed one of my favorite albums of all time. The other is that Joe Harvard explained the role of album producers in some detail, and in so doing made a convincing case that Andy Warhol, by virtue of his being hands-off and basically a shield against challenges to UV's artistic vision, was quite successful. Before reading this I'd just seen him as producer qua "the guy writing the checks."

David Macpherson

This was fine for what it was. It was a tiny book with some decent reporting by Joe Harvard. He did talk well about the inconsistencies of the record. Maybe I was asking too much, but it was kind of dry, but what am I expecting from rock journalism about a 45 year old album. Love that album though

B. Mason

Compared to other 33 1/3 books this one does not stand out. Unless you are a big VU fan it's hard to wade through the dry unimaginative writing.


I do like The Velvet Underground. But this is the first book I've read about them and I thought it a nice place to start. I'm fairly familiar with the band's history and thought this book did a good job talking about the historical context of the album and all those popular stories surrounding the band and this album, while also giving some good thoughts, insights, and analysis that made the band and the album seem that much more interesting.This was an easy, quick read that I breezed through in a day. Entertaining stuff that also helped me understand The Velvets and this disc better than I did before. For people who haven't read widely about The Velvet Underground, this might be a nice place to start learning some things, even though it focuses on VU's first (and perhaps best) album.I also like Joe Harvard's enthusiasm for the album. You can tell he likes it, maybe even worships it, but his reasons for doing so seem fair and good. Harvard's enthusiasm feels more like that of a musician than a critic and that can be really cool to read. Sometimes our reasons for liking the music we do has less to do with our enlightened, critical ear, and more to do with our emotional gut reaction to what we're listening to. A combination of both the critical and the emotional seems healthy, and Harvard seems to have managed to capture that balance pretty well in this book. He made me excited to listen to the album again (which I did), and for me that's a good enough sign that this book was a worthwhile read.

Erin Tuzuner

Detracts, more than enhances, the mythology of this seminal record.


So hey, this book was really good. It has thus far been my opinion that the books in this series that stay away from straightforward writing about the album they're dealing with are more memorable and enjoyable, but this book turns that opinion on its head. And by the way, that's not to say that I haven't enjoyed the more straightforward installments that I've read--in fact, I thought Andrew Hultkrans's take on Love's "Forever Changes" was damned good. But Harvard's "Velvet Underground And Nico" is the first time I've read one of these books and felt like I've really learned something. Maybe it's because a lot of the writing about The Velvet Underground is more focused on mythology than actual history, or maybe it's because Joe Harvard focused on Lou Reed's literary influences (Raymond Chandler! Hubert Selby Jr!), which no other Velvet Underground-focused account that I've read ever has, but I felt like there was a lot of new information here. It really enriched my enjoyment of this album, and it probably helps that I agree with Mr. Harvard that this is the VU's true masterpiece and the only place where they fully got it right. I have friends who feel like Nico drags the whole thing down, and other friends who don't get the drone-noise chaos of "European Son" or "Black Angel's Death Song", and I don't know if said friends would turn up their nose at this book, since it doesn't fit with their own analysis of this album. But since it fits with mine, I didn't have any trouble with that part of the book. And since Harvard did a great job of collecting a lot of stray bits of information from dozens of accounts and personally conducted interviews into an account that probably contained a good bit more factual information than has been present in any previous Velvet Underground discussion, I feel that his book is an important addition to the canon of VU-centric discussion, regardless of whether you're someone who agrees with the author and myself that "Velvet Underground and Nico" is their best album.And by the way, if you don't, you need to listen to it again. And again and again and again. Maybe you should do that anyway--you know, just in case.

Zeina V.

"I want to sound like Baaaahb Deelaahhhhhn!"

Patrick Gibbs

Nice conversational piece on the VU's first album, the making of, and context for the environment in which it landed. Not exactly a behind the scenes look, but more of a pulling together of the many tales relating to the making of the album. Bonus points for going to Jonathan Richman as a source.

Lydia Gurevich

Amazing, informative book about the greatest band of all time.

Elliot Chalom

The back cover states "In this book, Joe Harvard covers everything from Lou Reed's lyrical genius to John Cale's groundbreaking instrumentation, and from the creative input of Andy Warhol to the fine details of the recording process." That's a perfectly apt description of what this solid if unspectacular entry in the 33-1/3 canon does. Harvard gives a detailed and comprehensive "making of" the album in a short but rich 145 pages. However, despite the fact that he admittedly finds it to be one of the greatest albums ever made, one which stands the test of time, he approaches the material unemotionally. The book is devoid of the passion you'd expect from a music enthusiast. I appreciate his objectivity and his reporter-like way of writing, but while I may in be in the minority I'd like to see a little less respect and a little more pure joy/love. Nevertheless, I'm glad I read the book and I appreciate each member of the Velvets more for having read it.


A scam. You can get this stuff and much more from a million other sources.

Patrick McCoy

The Velvet Underground and Nico edition of Continuum’s 33 1/3 series of books on record albums by Joe Harvard has some good information about the album, it seems pieced together from several other sources and doesn’t have the authority of some of the other selections I have read. It has been suggested that booklet that came with the Peel Slowly 5 disc VU Box set has as much information and while that is not true, it is not as comprehensive as Frank Bruno’s impressive book on Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces. I think it would have benefited from direct quotes from Lou Reed. However, it is significant to note how ahead of their time the Velvets were. They were writing about stuff that nobody had written about before; masochism, heroin, etc… I can remember when my high school friend who influenced my musical tastes with his extensive record collection threw on “Venus In Furs” and “Heroin” at the end of a tape he had recorded for me and it blew me away in 1986. I had never heard anything quite like it, but found it oddly compelling. I got further reinforcement from REM who covered “Pale Blue Eyes”, “Femme Fatale”, and “There She Goes Again” on their Dead Letter Office. Then I heard Jane’s Addiction’s cover of “Rock-N-Roll," but I was sold when I got this Velvets album. It was interesting to learn that Nico was essentially brought in to replace Lou Reed and as singer. Harvard rightly points out that Reed has influenced so many modern rock singers and perhaps the whole punk movement by showing that you don’t have to have a conventionally good voice to make good music.

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