Fifty years ago today, The Velvet Underground released their debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico. The art rock record didn't take America by storm. When it was first released, it only sold around 30,000 copies. But it has since become one of the most influential recordings of the 20th century. “[E]veryone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band,” according to a quote often attributed to rock musician and producer Brian Eno.
In honor of its 50th anniversary, here are 11 things you probably didn't know about The Velvet Underground's debut album. Why top 11? So that we can serve up one factoid for each track, including lots of covers. Enjoy!
1. Sunday Morning
The first song on The Velvet Underground's debut album might sound light and cheery thanks to John Cale's work on the celesta. But it's actually as dark as the other songs, according to the band's frontman Lou Reed. The singer-songwriter later said he wrote 'Sunday Morning' about paranoia, at the suggestion of producer/pop-art impresario Andy Warhol. And you can see that theme become prominent in the refrain.
Watch out the world's behind you.
There's always someone around you
Who will call
It's nothing at all.
2. I'm Waiting for the Man
One of The Velvet Underground's earliest and biggest fans was the late David Bowie. Before the glam rock icon became famous as a solo act, he recorded a cover of 'I'm Waiting for the Man' with the rock group Riot Squad.
You can definitely hear a bit of 'Queen Bitch' - a later Bowie hit - in the cover.
3. Femme Fatale
The most covered Velvet Underground song is probably 'Femme Fatale' -- Lou Reed's musical tribute to Andy Warhol's muse Edie Sedgwick. Dozens of bands have taken a crack at the track over the years, including Duran Duran and Elvis Costello. But one of the very best has to be R.E.M.'s tender tribute from the rarities compilation album Dead Letter Office.
4. Venus in Furs
The droning psychedelic track 'Venus in Furs' was featured in a 1993 commercial for Dunlop Tyres -- a subsidiary of Goodyear. But this wasn't a case of the band selling out. The commercial directed by Tony Kaye - who would later give us American History X - is perhaps the most avant-garde tire ad ever made.
And the commercial's surreal, sometimes nightmarish imagery doubles as a great PSA against high driving.
5. Run, Run, Run
Julian Casablancas - frontman of The Strokes - recorded a rendition of 'Run, Run, Run' for the short-lived HBO series Vinyl, which was co-created by Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger and others. The New York native was the perfect choice to cover Brooklynite Lou Reed's tale of junkies running around the Big Apple in pursuit of a fix.
6. All Tomorrow's Parties
According to Lou Reed, 'All Tomorrow's Parties' is a portrait of life at Andy Warhol's Factory -- the pop artist's notorious New York workspace. "I would hear people say the most astonishing things, the craziest things, the funniest things, the saddest things," Reed once said.
You would probably expect a biopic about The Doors to contain nothing but music by the California rock band. But director Oliver Stone couldn't help but include an homage to The Velvet Underground in the scene where Jim Morrison (played by Val Kilmer) meets Andy Warhol (played by Crispin Glover) at The Factory.
The song also appeared on the film's official soundtrack.
8. There She Goes Again
The eighth track from The Velvet Underground's debut album is a collage of homages. The beginning of 'There She Goes Again' borrows from the intro to The Rolling Stones' Hitch Hike, which is a cover of a Marvin Gaye song of the same name.
9. I'll Be Your Mirror
German singer Nico had a meltdown during the recording of 'I'll Be Your Mirror' because her bandmates weren't happy with her voice.
"She kept singing 'I'll Be Your Mirror' in her strident voice," Velvets guitarist Sterling Morrison later said. "Dissatisfied, we kept making her do it over and over again until she broke down and burst into tears. At that point we said, 'Oh, try it just one more time and then fuck it — if it doesn't work this time, we're not going to do the song.' Nico sat down and did it exactly right."
10. The Black Angel's Death Song
Back in 2009, Morrissey -- the former frontman of The Smiths -- was asked to pick which tunes he would want to have on-hand if he was ever stranded on a desert island, one of his top picks was 'The Black Angel's Death Song'. When discussing the song, Morrissey called Lou Reed "the W.H. Auden of the modern world...not existing not existing in print poetry but recorded noise."