Watch Footage of the Velvet Underground Composing “Sunday Morning,” the First Track on Their Seminal Debut Album The Velvet Underground & Nico (1966)

Before its many lay­ers of well-deserved hagiog­ra­phy, the Vel­vet Underground’s first album emerged in 1967 on its own terms, in near obscu­ri­ty, intro­duc­ing some­thing so mys­te­ri­ous­ly cool and haunt­ing­ly grim and beau­ti­ful. Goth and punk and post-punk and New Wave and cham­ber pop and shoegaze and indie folk and Brit­pop and noise and drone and No Wave… all came decades lat­er. But first there was The Vel­vet Under­ground & Nico. Of its unlike­ly cre­ation, Tyler Wilcox writes, “tal­ent, vision, fear­less­ness, a touch of genius: they’re all nec­es­sary ingre­di­ents for the cre­ation of a clas­sic album. But you’re also going to need a lot of luck.”

Wilcox describes in his his­to­ry how all of those qualities—luck, and Andy Warhol, included—brought the five orig­i­nal VU mem­bers togeth­er in 1965; how the band debuted with Nico at the Del­moni­co Hotel 1966, occa­sion­ing the New York Her­ald Tri­bune’s head­line, “Shock Treat­ment for Psy­chi­a­trists”; and how their lo-fi drone and Medieval folk meets deca­dent, lit­er­ary 60s pop derived from influ­ences like Book­er T. & The MG’s and avant-garde min­i­mal­ist La Monte Young. It’s one thing to read about this total re-imag­ing of rock and roll, and anoth­er thing entire­ly to see it. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, lit­tle film of the band exists from that time—some of it very frag­men­tary or very rare.

Just above, you can see one of the best pieces of footage: Lou Reed, John Cale, and Ster­ling Mor­ri­son com­pos­ing the album’s first track, the del­i­cate “Sun­day Morn­ing,” whose hand­ful of wist­ful, ambigu­ous lyrics intro­duce Reed’s “spir­i­tu­al seek­ing” as a the­mat­ic thread that weaves through songs of sado­masochism, hero­in, and death. The silent film was shot in 1966 by film­mak­er Ros­alind Steven­son while the band rehearsed in her apart­ment. This debut broad­cast, with the stu­dio record­ing over­laid, comes from a 1994 BBC pro­gram called Peel Slow­ly and See (after the instruc­tion telling buy­ers of the vinyl LP to peel the banana stick­er and dis­cov­er this).

Had the band only record­ed their first album, it’s hard to imag­ine their impor­tance in rock his­to­ry would be much less­ened, but it’s also hard to imag­ine rock his­to­ry with­out fol­low-ups White Light/White Heat, The Vel­vet Under­ground, and Loaded. Yet these were all prod­ucts of delib­er­ate focus, and a dimin­ish­ing num­ber of key singers/songwriters. The first Vel­vet Under­ground album is mag­i­cal for its serendip­i­ty and almost schizoid col­lec­tion of ful­ly-formed per­son­al­i­ties, each so dis­tinc­tive that “each track” on The Vel­vet Under­ground & Nico “has launched an entire genre.”

So notes WBEZ’s Sound Opin­ions. Just above you can hear the show’s Jim DeRo­gatis and Greg Kot dis­cuss the influ­ences and sig­nif­i­cance, with many son­ic exam­ples, of the album that launched a few thou­sand bands. Watch the cre­ation of “Sun­day Morn­ing” and think about the num­ber of times you’ve heard it haunt­ing bands like Belle and Sebas­t­ian, the Decem­brists, or Beach House. And if you’ve some­how missed all the oth­er gen­res to which this first record gave birth, DeRo­gatis and Kot should get you caught up on why “no album has had a greater influ­ence on rock in that last half-cen­tu­ry than the Vel­vet Underground’s debut.”

Find more ear­ly VU footage in the Relat­eds right below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Vel­vet Under­ground & Andy Warhol Stage Pro­to-Punk Per­for­mance Art: Dis­cov­er the Explod­ing Plas­tic Inevitable (1966)

A Sym­pho­ny of Sound (1966): Vel­vet Under­ground Impro­vis­es, Warhol Films It, Until the Cops Turn Up

An Ani­ma­tion of The Vel­vet Underground’s “Sun­day Morn­ing” … for Your Sun­day Morn­ing

Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico Reunite, Play Acoustic Vel­vet Under­ground Songs on French TV, 1972

The Vel­vet Underground’s John Cale Plays Erik Satie’s Vex­a­tions on I’ve Got a Secret (1963)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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