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


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.

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.

Jason Mock

An interesting analysis of the creation/impact of the influential album.Part of the 33 1/3 Series...

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.

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.


My first 33 1/3. It was good and had a lot of stuff I didn't know, which is always great. It also had (I thought) a pretty good approach to the often dodgy rock non-fiction genre. Making sense of (often verbal) legends and rumors isn't easy and Joe Harvard did a good job of putting things in perspective.

Zeina V.

"I want to sound like Baaaahb Deelaahhhhhn!"

Erin Tuzuner

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

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.


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

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.


"If I hadn't heard rock 'n' roll on the radio, I would have had no idea there was life on this planet.""All great art looks like it was made this morning." - Norman Dolph

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.


Joe Harvard:The miniscule tattoo I got in 1979 caused a family furor, with dark rumblings about bikers and convicts; when my niece recently acquired skin art that would impress most Yakuza and bring a smile to the lips of a Maori headhunter, nary a peep was uttered. American culture moves so fast it's more a verb than a noun.Well, that's good stuff and this cute li'l book makes a pretty good job of accounting for one of the great albums of our time, released in the year of the summer of love and how appropriate - these tales of junkies, masochists and all the rest of Lou Reed's charm school graduates are a pleasing corrective to the chanting god-botherers in the people's parks. I only found out about this record because critics, derided aesthetes though they may be, insisted that this was one of the all time great records. So I picked a copy up for a quid and I didn't like it. Very harsh, very nasty, and that Lou Reed, he can't sing worth shit. I can sing better than this fool. So after a year I liked two tracks and after a year another two and now I understand how great this album is. Critics are routinely derided and spat upon (as if we can't figure this stuff out ourselves - be off with you!) but often they have showed me the way through the maze. Lou Reed loved rock and roll and he loved James Joyce and he didn't see why you couldn't have both together at the same time. He didn't quite manage that feat but he came close.

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