That banana, it's the single image appearing on the cover of The Velvet Underground and Nico, one of the most influential albums of all time, accompanied only by the teasing phrase peel slowly and see at the top and artist Andy Warhol's name at the bottom. On the original album sleeve for vinyl, the peel wasn't just a tease, and could in fact be removed to expose a curiously pink-colored fruit underneath. A visually phallic symbol hiding a traditionally feminine color-symbol underneath. An example of pop art appearing on the cover of an album of ostensibly pop music. The signature of an artist giving credibility to the debut of a rock and roll band. A banana. For any of the handful of people who actually bought the album when it came out in 1967, the banana was the first association they made with the Velvet Underground's official body of work. What was the significance? Was there any significance? Perhaps an exploration of the culture of the times could provide insight to these dumbfounding questions.
[...] The smashed guitar at the end of the song, and therefore the album, is The Velvet Underground and Nico's final statement. Throughout the course of an album, the Velvet Underground rejects the dominant cultures of their time; most interestingly, however, is that they use the dominant cultural structure—rock and roll—in order to make this rejection. When the guitar is completely destroyed, it is not only evident that they have established this rejection, but also the rejection of the structure of rock and roll itself, and along with it, all other aspects of modern life attributed only to their particular time. [...]
[...] Unlike albums like those of the Beatles or the Beach Boys, The Velvet Underground and Nico took very little time to record and was more of a necessity to preserve their songs rather than the result of sonic experimentation and exploring technical possibilities. The Velvet Underground had previously been known as a Warhol-affiliated live band, revered by some and notorious to the rest; recording an album was the next logical step in the presentation of the band. The opening track to the resulting album is “Sunday Morning,” the closest to contemporary-sounding pop music that Lou Reed gets on the album. [...]
[...] The world of The Velvet Underground and Nico could not have been further away from that of the mainstream, or even the West Coast-based counterculture that was breaking through to it. Based in New York City, it was more than geographical boundaries and distances that separated the Velvet Underground from their contemporaries. Essentially, the band and its debut album stood in direct opposition not only to the social optimism and political activism of the time, but to the progressive spirit of post- World War II America, embroiled with the obsession of winning the Cold War and striving for peace (whether through war or the protest of it). [...]
[...] In The Velvet Underground and Nico, there is no place for a strong female character, because as a return to the primitive, the domination of men has returned, and will physically assert itself later in the album in case the point hasn't been made. Following the soft and feminine soundscape of “Femme Fatale” is “Venus in a towering song in which prominent use of the bass drum and bizarre viola accents over the top of an ascending guitar part and persistent tambourine creates a slow, droning sound unlike any of the Velvet Underground's contemporaries. [...]
[...] Acts of violence, particularly gender-specific acts of violence against women in a weaker position, are definitely not encouraged today and certainly were not in the 1960's, either; in the context of the rest of The Velvet Underground and Nico, however, misogyny is just another part of their primitive reality. The misogynistic tone of “There She Goes Again” is followed by Nico's third and final appearance on the album, “I'll Be Your Mirror.” The song is lyrically the closest to traditional love song territory that songwriter Lou Reed treads, and actually sounds much like a song that would have come out of the hippie subculture, with its sparse tambourine serving as the only percussion and a simple guitar melody showcasing Nico's vocal delivery. [...]
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