A delicate celesta opens The Velvet Underground & Nico with dreamy lullaby Sunday Morning, surely one of the greatest track ones of all time. I’m Waiting For The Man follows with a little guitar riff playing over a repeated drum-piano beat. The words describe waiting for a drug dealer, the subject matter being typical of the dark, seedy lyrical themes of the album.
Femme Fatale is the first song on which Nico sings lead. Her gentle voice is used for record’s most beautiful tracks. Mispronouncing words like frown and clown, her German accent give the songs an unusual extra dimension. Venus In Furs, with its surreal lyrics (‘different colours made of tears’) and eastern instruments is a psychedelic masterpiece.
All Tomorrow’s Parties brings together many of the elements that make this record a classic. Tribal drumming, like that of Venus In Furs, and a jingle-jangle rhythm provide a driving momentum, a key feature of Run, Run, Run. Nico sings hauntingly about a woman in the Warhol clique, a theme also explored in Femme Fatale. An improvisational guitar, also used on experimental tracks like European Son, dances around between the lines.
The climax of the record is seven-minute long Heroin. Starting slowly, fading in and out, the guitar finds that perfect chord and plays a beautiful little intro. A single note begins like a distant siren, warning of danger ahead. ‘I don’t know just where I’m going. But I’m gonna try for the kingdom if I can because it makes me feel like I’m a man.’ Each verse begins slowly but speeds up, raising the tension and reflecting the rush of the drug. ‘I have made a big decision’ sings Reed profoundly. That decision is to choose heroin over life. A big decision indeed, but he remains unsure (‘I guess but I just don’t know’). That single note continues to play, getting ever so slightly louder, like a train heading towards him in slow motion. By the final verse Reed has let go and succumbed to his addiction (‘Heroin be the death of me. It’s my wife, and it’s my life’). A little chuckle conveys this care-free feeling (‘When the smack begins to flow, I really don’t care any more’). The siren that has been building throughout the song, explodes into a painful screech and the drums beat faster and faster, louder and louder. ‘And thank God that I’m good as dead.’
The record ends with European Son. Following a small bassey verse, there is a roar, the shattering crash of a window, an increase in tempo and over six and a half minutes of improvisation. A fitting end to a wonderful avant-garde record.