Music Monday: Andy Warhol’s album art for The Velvet Underground & Nico
There are few places a yellow banana seems to naturally belong: on the Mario Kart racetrack and the album cover for the 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico.
The innovative members of The Velvet Underground included Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker—all of whom were involved in both business and pleasure with pop artist Andy Warhol. In the band’s early stages, Lou Reed was an awkward performer and felt uncomfortable on stage. It was Paul Morrissey who entertained the idea of introducing the band to the German native, Nico, who dabbled in modeling and singing.
Acting as a friend, mentor and manager, Warhol directed the distinctive musical act in the 1966 Exploding Plastic Inevitable— a series of multimedia projects including, live music, film and art. Completed and shown by Warhol, the project was introduced to the public as displayed in the video above. Warhol made it feasible for the band to meet recognition and wealth by using his own. The artist sincerely believed that every individual has a right to recognition, and that the best way to achieve it is to stand by your own ideals.
The band’s name was nowhere to be found on the LP cover upon release. Instead, Andy Warhol’s name adorned the bottom of the cover and only one short phrase was found in the top right corner, “Peel slowly and see.” Warhol was never known for subtlety but his zest for using obscure and upfront elements simultaneously made for some talented work.
So long as the album was heavily connected to Andy Warhol and his fame, the band name wasn’t necessary. If records weren’t sold because of the musical talent, it was certainly because Warhol was involved. For all anyone knew, it could have been audio recordings for a recipe book, including 365 ways to use bananas or the latest multimedia project.
The album saw a delayed release due to a demand of special machines needed in order to create peel-able cover art. When the yellow banana was peeled back, a flesh-colored banana took its place. Re-issues do not incorporate that fascinating feature and the originals that do are considered a rare collector’s item.
The Velvet Underground ended up severing ties with both Warhol and Nico but it was Warhol’s extreme fame during the ’50s and ’60s that made the yellow banana one of the most easily distinguishable prints. The ’70s were a quiet time for Warhol as he focused on more entrepreneurial moves. He re-emerged in the ’80s and shared success with new friends including street artist Jean-Michael Basquiat, David Salle, Julian Schnabel and other Neo-expressionists.
Although The Velvet Underground & Nico faced quick failure and it took longer than a decade to break six figures, the cult American rock album is now locked in at number 13, between the Beatles’ Abbey Road and Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” list and has established ample gratitude in the years following its release.