This is a year of musical anniversaries. One could say 1967 was the year popular music became ART – in capital letters. Seminal albums by The Velvet Underground, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, The Who, The Doors, Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, The Jefferson Airplane and Traffic to name just a few of my favourites were released that year, but none had the advanced expectations of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. The album, released on June 1st 1967 had been preceded in February, by the double A-sided single “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever” and the Beatles, despite rumours of drug-taking, could seemingly do no wrong.
May had been a musically exciting month. I had been to The Saville Theatre on the 7th to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience (they played eight songs and I wrote the playlist into my programme). Five days I went to the Pink Floyd’s “Games For May” concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall–the first time I smelled the sweet smell of hash being smoked. I still have the ticked stub from that concert; unfortunately my Hendrix programme was sold to help finance my move to a flat.
I used to take time off from my studies and visit One Stop Records in South Moulton Street, where they sold records imported from America. An imported LP would set med back £3/15/0d–an enormous sum for a student. The guys behind the tiny counter suggested albums I might like and, at the end of May, put a copy of The Doors first album into my trembling hands and sent me to the listening booth to hear it. Even the cover design fascinated me. I was totally floored by the album and bought it on the spot.
The BBC had announced that the whole “Sgt. Pepper “album would be played at midnight and many sat glued to their trannies to hear it. I listened together with my flatmates. I don’t remember exactly when I bought “Sgt. Pepper”; probably in Moorlands record shop across the road from our canteen, but it would have been within a few days of its release. I was careful to buy a stereo copy as my parents had bought me a stereo gramophone for my 21st birthday, the previous year.
The album had an interesting side effect. It introduced me to pop art. I had seen articles on poster design from San Francisco and had started to design my own posters for college dances and lectures. These were heavily influenced by the psychedlic art used my artists such as Wes Wilson, Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse and Rick Griffin. I started going to art galleries and exhibitions–and buying records with great cover art.
So, I suppose I could say that “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was the start of my addiction to record cover art. I am thrilled to own a copy autographed, not by The Beatles, but by both Sir Peter Blake and his co-designer Jann Haworth.
Back in March I published a post about winners of the Tate Museum’s Turner Prize. A surprising number of these artists are involved in music projects, either as musicians themselves or as contributors of record cover art. Another post dealt with Turner Prize winner Susan Philipsz’ records. Wolfgang Tillmans won the Turner Prize in 2000. He was the first non-British winner. Besides being an internationally famous photographer and conceptual artist, Tillmans has also released three extended play 12″ vinyl records and provided their cover art.
Today I went to see the Tillmans exhibition at the Tate Modern.
The exhibition was vast. Unfortunately there was no audio guide to help visitors understand what the exhibition was about. I found it extremely difficult to appreciate more than a minority of the photographs on show and didn’t spend much time going through the many rooms. My feeling was that, as most photographs in true Tillmans style, were of everyday objects and often unidentified people I didn’t get much from looking at them. I obviously need a guide to looking at Tillmans art.
BUT, following Banksy’s advice, I exited through the gift shop and there were Tillmans’ three vinyl EPs on sale. As a Tate member I even got a members’ discount.
First there was the 2016-1986 EP:
Second: the Device Control EP:
And third: the “Thats Desire” EP:
Each EP comes with a mp3 download.
I couldn’t resist putting the covers of the 2016-1986 and “Device Control” EPs side by side as the pictures seemed to be from a single image photographed in different lighting conditions and with altered coloured hangings. Are they the same images but manipulated, or what?
I have previously discussed my collection of Velvet Underground & Nico albums and this time I thought I’d celebrate the fact that this album was officially released 50 years and two months ago.
This historic album was, of course, initially recorded as a ten-track acetate in Norman Dolph’s Scepter Studios in New York on 25th April 1966. Two acetates were pressed and one was given to Andy Warhol offered it to Columbia Records, Atlantic Records and Elektra who all turned it down. Warhol then took the band to Los Angeles and with Ted Wilson re-recorded most of the songs and Verve Records agreed to release it. Warhol’s acetate disappeared but the other copy surfaced in a New York street sale in 2006 and was bought by record collector Warren Hill for 75 cents. Hill put the record up for auction on eBay, and eventually sold it for $25,200. It was resold in 2014.
A bootleg of the acetate recording called “Unripened” appeared in 2007, pressed first on green and later on black vinyl with a pastiche of Warhol’s original cover for the Velvet’s album. The green banana was not peelable and instead of “Peel slowly and see” beside the banana’s neck this version said “Unripened listen slowly and hear.”
The album received its first official release on CD together with the 45th Anniversary 6 CD set in 2012 and a limited edition of 5000 numbered copies was released on vinyl for Record Store Day that April.
There was a later unnumbered vinyl release. There is yet another version released in 2014 in a different cover.
The historic value of the acetate recording is indisputable, but musically it is inferior to the re-recorded full album. In its first year “The Velvet Underground & Nico” appeared in several versions. There were at least two promotional copies, both mono, released in the original “torso” covers. One with a yellow label and the other with a white label. The identical slick could be used for mono or stereo copies,– the mono slick was pasted with the stem of the banana almost at the cover’s top edge.
The MONO version.
The STEREO version.
Both mono and stereo versions were originally released with the “torso” cover, which was soon withdrawn when Eric Emerson demanded payment to allow his picture to be used on the cover. Verve recalled many albums and stuck a large black sticker over the offending “torso” photograph. Later printings replaced the “torso” cover with an version with Emerson’s picture airbrushed out. These were still gatefold covers.
The original U.K. release was housed in a single cover with the an unpeelable banana. In Germany an unusual reissue was produced in 1976. This cover is unique; coloured blue and with an image of the peeled banana.
The first CD version of the album appeared in 1986. There was a limited edition of 3000 copies German release in a slipcase with a peelable banana that was hand numbered the following year.
The standard 1986 CD.
The limited edition slipcase from 1987. CD.
.In 1991 a further reissue appeared in the U.S.A. and Australia that had a single cover and the album’s title on the front cover as shown on the 1986 CD. Mobile Fidelity released a gold CD version of the album in 1997.
There have been many reissues since the late nineteen eighties both on CD and since 2000 on vinyl. I mentioned the picture disc varieties in my previous post. The latest vinyl reissues have been pressed on 180 g virgin vinyl and have restored the original cover including a peelable banana and a restored “torso” rear cover released as a 45th anniversary issue in 2012. And there have been numerous reissues pressed on coloured vinyl. I have seen yellow and red vinyl issues as well as Newbury Comics limited (1000 copies) pressed on yellow/black split vinyl which also has a peelable banana and “torso” rear cover.
There are at least three complete cover albums of Velvet Underground & Nico album. The first appeared in 1990 in Italy where a series of punk bands played the songs from the Velvet Underground & Nico album.
The second cover album was another various artists compilation of the VU & Nico album tracks recorded on the Castle Face Record label in 2012. The banana on the cover was by David Shrigley, who drew a portrait of Andy Warhol on the back cover.
Castle Face & Friends play the Velvet Underground & Nico album with David Shrigley’s cover art.
The rear cover with Shrigleys portrait of Warhol.
A third cover album called “The Velvet Underground & Nico and Ben Benderbe” was recorded by Bud Benderbe and released as a limited edition LP with a very strange large sliced banana sticker.
There are also numerous records that use variations on Warhol’s banana image that have no other relationship to the Velvet’s music. These include the split single by Eat All You Can and Hickey called “Banana Split”.
Another is a rare jazz LP by the Instant Composers Pool Group, recorded in Holland in 1970.
The classical quartet’s, the Fauré Quartet, first recording “Popsongs”, released on the Deutsche Grammophon label had an apple sticker on the cover which, when peeled revealed a raspberry.
A very recent variation on the design is a 2017 release by John Nemeth called “Feelin’ Freaky”. On this cover, though, the banana was replaced by a red gherkin.
Often called the album that launched a thousand bands, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” has proved itself to be one of rock music’s most influential albums and the number of reissues on both CD and vinyl confirm its importance. Andy Warhol’s cover art was a major work of pop art and has had almost as great an influence on cover design as the music has had on the development of rock music.