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vinyl sunday tribute to velvets' wonderful collection

A report this week suggested that MP3 delivery systems lose as much as 90pc of the sound they're meant to carry, so while the young people today have access to an amount of music that was unthinkable in the 70s and 80s, most of them are listening to it on some of the worst devices possible. In such circumstances it comes as little surprise that we have events such as Classic Vinyl Sunday, a monthly event that takes place in the Twisted Pepper in Abbey Street tomorrow at 5pm.

While a significant part of me finds the very notion of sitting down in a room with a bunch of people and staring intently at some big speakers while an album plays out utterly wrong (we didn't fight and die in the Punk Wars so people could go all serious and listen to Pink Floyd's The Wall without even being off their bins), at least there is a due reverence being paid to one of the best formats for recorded music ever devised.

Oddly enough, the album that will be featured tomorrow is 1967's The Velvet Underground & Nico, a fabulous collection that is very many things but is also, arguably, one of the worst-produced 'classic' albums of all time. Recorded in three days in 1966 and mixed in one, the album credits Andy Warhol as 'producer', even though this was more in the movie industry sense as he put up the money, designed the legendary 'banana' sleeve and hardly set foot in the studio.

But what a set of songs. Lou Reed wrote the vast majority of the material and introduced subject matter into music that hadn't been done previously. Drugs and strange sexual practices were common in literature but hadn't yet made it into song lyrics, at least not overtly, but Reed changed all that with the likes of Heroin, Venus in Furs and I'm Waiting For the Man. Alongside Reed was his foil/rival John Cale, a Welsh avant-garde musician, and, featuring on three songs, Warhol's latest protege, German model/vocalist Nico whose stern delivery was quite bizarre for the time.

If the Velvets looked odd - Reed and Cale's wraparound shades and black clothes setting a template for Indie bands which is utilised to this day - they sounded even stranger. Reed could knock out lovely pop songs - Sunday Morning, Femme Fatale, All Tomorrow's Parties and I'll Be Your Mirror are beauties - but when the Velvets wanted to create a racket they didn't hold back. Its release delayed for over a year, The Velvet Underground & Nico hardly sold at all but its influence was far-reaching and it remains a truly wonderful, ground-breaking collection.

>>>George Byrne


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