The Velvet Underground & Nico 45th Anniversary CD Review [Super Deluxe Edition] ~ BrooklynRocks: NYC Music Blog

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Velvet Underground & Nico 45th Anniversary CD Review [Super Deluxe Edition]

The Velvet Underground & Nico 45th Anniversary CD Review [Super Deluxe]
I'll be glad when this wave of $100 'super deluxe edition' / 'experience edition' box sets passes. Most of these releases seem like overkill and are either targeted to the 'newbie' who wants a multi-disc, greatest hits collection (plus the inevitable 'bonus tracks' exclusive to the box set) or completists who think having '50 takes' of the same song is a cool concept. The problem I have with the "super deluxe edition" of Velvet Underground & Nico is that this box seems to be targeting both the completists and the 'newbies' and, while there is some great stuff within this box, $14/disc is a steep price point.

Taking the box apart disc-by-disc, here is what you have:

Disc 1: Velvet Underground & Nico - Stereo Edition
Tracks 1 - 11 are the standard 11 studio tracks; tracks 12 - 16 are alternate takes, mixes and backing tracks. While there are some minor differences in these alternate versions, there isn't anything shocking here. These last five tracks are:
- "All Tomorrow's Parties" (Alternate Single Voice Version)
- "European Son" (Alternate Version)
- "Heroin" (Alternate Version)
- "All Tomorrow's Parties (Alternate Instrumental Mix)
- "I'll Be Your Mirror" (Alternate Mix)

Disc 2: Velvet Underground & Nico - Stereo Edition
This disc has the same 15 tracks that came out as Disc 2 of the 2002 "Deluxe Edition" of Velvet Underground and Nico (This "deluxe edition" sells for $18.05 new from Amazon 3rd party sellers or $8.99 used) and was later broken out of this set as a single disc "rarities" edition ($6.22 new from Amazon 3rd party sellers).

Disc 3: Nico - Chelsea Girl
I don't know what the record company's fascination with this release is as tracks from this disc were tacked on to the 'stereo disc' with the 2002 "deluxe edition". The issue I have is that Nico's solo material is an acquired taste - this is like getting a Yoko Ono solo CD in a John Lennon box; it really doesn't matter (except to completists) that Lennon (or in this case, various members of the Velvet Underground) played on the disc.

Given that the record company cleaned up a 2CD mono bootleg for this release, it would have been pretty cool if they had replaced this disc with a cleaned up version of Lou Reed & Nico's post-Velvet's "Bedroom Tape" or even a rehash of the Le Bataclan '72 show (with Reed, Nico and Cale).

Nico's Chelsea Girl is selling for $2.68 new from Amazon 3rd party sellers. Take a listen to the title track and see for yourself...

Disc 4: Velvet Underground - Scepter Studios Sessions & Rehearsals at the Factory, Jan. 3, 1966
This disc has both its good and bad points...the Scepter Studios Sessions are the rejected first mix of the band's VU & Nico album. It is a great raw take on these songs and "European Son" works up a head of dirgy, pre-Swans noise, "Heroin" is raw and primitive and someone sings falsetto backing vocals on "Femme Fatale" (I can't imagine either Reed or Cale taking this part but, it is unlikely it was Sterling Morrison).

The Factory rehearsals are both brilliant and disappointing. This was predominately a jam session and was allegedly recorded a week after Nico arrived in America. You can hear Reed trying to teach Nico the lyrics to "Venus In Furs" and both she and Reed take run-throughs of "There She Goes Again". What is disappointing is that these five tracks are from the same recording as an eleven-track bootleg that has been floating around since the mid-90's. For anyone curious, the bootleg has the tracks:
- Walk Alone (3:28)
- Buddy Holly jam (1:15)
- Venus in Furs/Crackin' Up (3:50)
- Blues jam (5:15)
- R & B jam (2:22)
- Run Run Run intro into Miss Joanie Lee (11:48)
- Day Tripper into Boom Boom Boom Boom (6:18)
- Heroin (6:10)
- Green Onions (5:57)
- There She Goes Again (Lou Reed vocal) (3:29)
- There She Goes Again (Nico vocal) (4:18)

Discs 5&6: Velvet Underground - Valleydale Ballroom, Columbus, Ohio, November 4, 1966
The show has been bootlegged (in its entirety) for 'forever' (vinyl bootlegs like the 1966 LP (the show's first and last song) and The Warlocks/The Falling Spikes (the rest of the songs) have been around since the 80's and the entire show was also on the more recent CD bootleg Caught Between The Twisted Stars) but this is the first time the show sounds halfway decent. The power and ferocity of the set - starting and ending with 30 minute noise pieces ("Melody Laughter" and "The Nothing Song") must have both scared the college audience and inspired many of the noise bands that followed in the 70's and 80's.

The show was recorded on a mono deck and has gone from a (bootleg grade) of VG/- to VG. It is very listenable but this isn't the sort of thing that you would play for an audio purist.

Coming back full-circle - there are essentially three discs of new material in this set. The Scepter Studios/Factory Rehearsal disc is available as part of the 2CD version of The VU & Nico 45th Anniversary Edition, along with the stereo mix of the album which includes the five bonus tracks mentioned above ($16.72 new from Amazon).

The real question is what is the value to the listener of having a cleaned-up copy of the Valleydale Ballroom show. Given that all of the other discs in this set are available outside of this set for a cheaper price, that makes the price of this box set extremely prohibitive.

Velvet Underground