Thursday, 1 March 2018

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO: the early US reviews


On Thursday, December 1st 1966, the Philadelphia Inquirer's New York correspondent, Leonard Lyons, reported that 'Andy Warhol just made his first Velvet Underground recording for MGM' (adding the odd statement 'He used his banana theme for the label's decor'). In fact, most of the album had been recorded that April and May, with Sunday Morning being added in November.

The widely accepted / repeated release date for the album is March 12th 1967, but it's obviously wrong, not least because it was a Sunday. In fact, the LP was evidently released in January; on the 14th of that month, the weekly trade magazine Cash Box covered MGM's 'gala convention and product presentation' in Acapulco, where 'distributors were treated to tropical sun and swimming, and were also shown the new line of album products for the first quarter of 1967'. According to the piece, 'the second album from the Mothers Of Invention and a new Andy Warhol / Velvet Underground & Nico LP were received well'.

The album was included in the 'New Release Inventory Checklist' in Billboard of January 28th (on sale the previous week), and advertised in Cash Box the same day. It was advertised elsewhere with the dumb tagline 'SO FAR "UNDERGROUND," YOU GET THE BENDS!' I think it's safe to assume that the band didn't have any input there.

The first review I've seen appeared in the Tampa Bay Times (of all places) on Monday, February 27th. Its unrigorous author was named Chick Ober:


Next up was the Honolulu Advertiser, on Wednesday, March 1st. Its author, Wayne Harada, was one of the most consistently perceptive and open-minded pop critics of the time:


Also in Hawaii was this skimpy piece in the Honoloulu Star-Bulletin of Saturday, March 4th, by Dave Donelly (who covered the first West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band LP the same day):


On March 4th, Cash Box had this to say; as ever, their remarks were aimed at dealers and not consumers:


The same applies to Billboard, whose 'review' also appeared on March 4th:


It was back to Florida for this snide item, penned by the less-than hip Vance Johnston, which ran in the the Tampa Tribune of Sunday, March 5th: 


On Friday, 10th March, this snippet appeared in the Oil City Derrick in Pennsylvania. It was part of a syndicated column by Jeanne Harrison entitled 'Platter Patter' (so might have appeared elsewhere earlier), and lazily lumps the LP together with new releases by Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Mathis:


A couple of weeks later, on Saturday 18th, and rather closer to the band's stamping ground, came this vapid dismissal by Don Lass of New Jersey's Asbury Park Evening Press. As well as insulting their music, he confesses to having peeled the banana, like 99% of people who acquired the LP at the time:


The following day came an anonymous pundit's glib thoughts in the Pensacola News-Journal, back in Florida:


The April issue of the San Francisco underground rag Electric Frog offered this unsigned nonsense:


April 13th brought the opinion of New York's influential Village Voice, which was surprisingly equivocal, and presumably upset the band:


In the May 1967 issue of High Fidelity (on sale in April), Morgan Ames was typically conservative and reactionary:


The same month, an unnamed writer in the American Record Guide (which, I believe, was sent out to public libraries and other institutions) was much more thoughtful, delivering the most sensitive review the album received at the time:


The June 1967 issue of Jazz magazine (later Jazz & Pop) ran this:


Timothy Jacobs had this to say in the July edition of the Boston underground magazine Vibrations:


And then, on Saturday, July 15th, Fred Hulett of the Courier-Post in Camden, New Jersey, weighed in. His remarks typify the response of many critics at the time; already suspicious of Andy Warhol, they were only too happy to assume the VU was nothing more than his latest hype:


The September issue of the superb teeny magazine Hullabaloo (on sale two months earlier, as per its schedule) offered this assessment:


On September 28th, Bob Watkins covered the LP in the WSC Acorn (published out of Worcester State College in Massachusetts):


Finally, in the October issue of Crawdaddy! (by then being published out of New York), Sandy Pearlman reflected thus:


I hope this post will debunk the ubiquitous myth that the album was barely reviewed at the time of release. If you have other early US reviews, please send them along, and I'll gladly add them.

14 comments:

  1. Very nice work Richard! We should print these out and glue them into the Clinton Heylin book ("almost all of the published writings contemporary with the band's existence" oops), those of us who forked out for it (actually I got mine as a gift). :^)

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