I bought my first copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico way back in the 1970s, when it was a relatively young thing of around a decade in age. Sadly, though it had the benefits of a gatefold sleeve, it lacked the peelable banana. Since then of course, the already considerable mystique of the Velvet Underground has grown and grown. During the transition from vinyl to CD, I did step up to the 5 CD Peel Slowly and See set, featuring the four ‘real’ Velvet Underground albums plus a variety of out-takes and demos (most notably the CD of the Ludlow Street demos).
So, having not fallen for the 2 CD Deluxe Edition released in 2002, you might think I’d not be that interested in this latest outing for this venerable and influential album. Well, of course I was interested! What were the attractions for me? Mostly the mono version of the album; the Sceptre Studios demos and Factory rehearsal tapes; and of course 2 CDs of the live show recorded in 1966 at the Valleydale Ballroom.
CD1 – The album in stereo mix, followed by five alternate takes. Frankly not much needs to be said about this, it’s one of the finest albums in my collection. In general, I’d note that the best choice was made on which song versions made the final selection for the album.
CD2 – The album in mono mix (this is apparently considered to be the version closest to the sound the band were aiming at), followed by both sides of each of the two singles.
CD 3 – Nico’s first solo album Chelsea Girl. A bit of an odd choice for inclusion, despite featuring most of the VU on most of the tracks. But, hey, I didn’t have this already and despite Nico’s unhappiness with the final product, I quite like it – though I prefer other Nico albums.
CD 4 – Possibly the main selling point of the set, this CD has the Sceptre Studios sessions, some from tape, some from the Norman Dolph acetate (which famously turned up in a New York flea market). Also on CD 4 are recordings from rehearsals at the Factory. All pretty much of interest in the evolution of the album.
CD 5 and 6 comprise the whole of the only ‘proper’ recording of the Velvet Underground and Nico live. This was at the Valleydale Ballroom, Columbus, Ohio (which still seems to exist 45 years on!). At least parts of this set have circulated in bootleg form over the years. I have rather murky sounding CD of this set (with the two long free-from tracks omitted) entitled Down For You Is Up. I always said that the boot is quite good if you know what the song is before you listen to it! The recordings on these two CDs are definitely not high fidelity, but are definitely better than on the bootleg version.
The six CDs are housed in slots in cardboard pages bound at the rear of the lavishly presented hardback book.
This is packaging. Fine packaging. Very fine packaging. While I’d seen many of the photos before, many are new to me. The text is not what you’d call lengthy, but it really does set the music and lyrics in the set in their appropriate context.
So basically, this is one of the truly great and influential albums from the 1960s. But I guess an expansive (and expensive) set such as this really is for the completist. I cannot believe that someone who doesn’t already have a copy of VU&N would even consider this a reasonable purchase!