Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
If ever a band defined New York City bohemian cool, it was The Velvet Underground. And if ever a debut album took its sweet ol’ time to earn widespread critical applause, it is The Velvet Underground & Nico.
Considering its broad influence on various strains of contemporary rock music, it’s tough to fathom that the album fell on relatively deaf ears upon its release in March 1967. This ambivalence occurred even despite the band’s shepherding by the multimedia Svengali Andy Warhol and the intriguing—though ultimately, ephemeral—contributions from the enigmatic songwriter-model-actress Nico, whose impassive vocal tones meshed seamlessly with Lou Reed’s stoic ruminations.
As evidenced by the other classic albums that surfaced in the first few months of 1967 (The Doors and Grateful Dead’s eponymous debuts, Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, The Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday), rock albums of the time were beginning to delve much deeper into the realm of the mystical, psychedelic and hallucinogenic. But The Velvet Underground & Nico upped the ante in its heightened experimentalism, both thematically and sonically, and its acutely avant-garde aesthetics simply proved too far leftfield for the listening public’s appetites back in the late ‘60s.
For the discerning listener, however, the LP’s eleven songs represent an irresistibly enchanting and immersive experience, a whole new world to get lost in. Whether it be the more accessible, come-down inspired opener “Sunday Morning,” the insistent next-hit anticipation of “I’m Waiting for the Man,” the shapeshifting cacophony of “Heroin,” or the dissonant S&M anthem “Venus in Furs,” the Velvets’ debut may not be an easy listen, but it’s ultimately an eternally gratifying one.