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Story behind the record cover: The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) - The Velvet Underground

It’s difficult to imagine the world without the cover of The Velvet Underground & Nico, especially  for a record collector. The cover was designed by pop artist Andy Warhol. The first pressing, with peelable banana peel, is the holy grail among record collectors. In case the genital-like shape wasn't provocative enough, Warhol added the invitation: ‘Peel slowly and see’. A pink, flesh-colored fruit appeared under the sticker. Nowadays, a reasonably good copy is worth at least EUR 1,000.

For Verve Records, however, the banana was a production nightmare. A special machine was needed to make the covers, which is one of the reasons for the delayed release of the album. Someone must have sat there with stacks of albums and hand-glued the yellow banana peel stickers over the pink fruit. Quite a job. That is why there are only a limited number of copies of this cover in circulation. It was soon replaced by a standard cover, without peelable banana peel.

Warhol's banana – sexually provocative and at the same time rotten, judging by the brown spots – perfectly sums up the decadent beauty of this album. Under Warhol's watchful eye, The Velvet Underground created a 20th-century classic. It is one of the most celebrated and ambitious albums of all time. The Velvet Underground & Nico addressed highly controversial topics: sexual masochism, prostitution, drug abuse and the enjoyment of heroin. Critics hated the album and saw it as an elaborate joke from Warhol. Because of said references to drugs and sex, the album was banned from the radio as well as in many record stores.

Poor recording techniques did not help sales either. Andy Warhol spent more time on the cover than on the production of the record. The album was recorded in New York in one eight-hour session. The strong lyrics of guitarist and singer Lou Reed made the music stifling. Venus in Furs, for example, is a sensual tribute to sado-masochism, with John Cale's monotonous viola stroking and whipping in turn. Yet the Velvets could also make enchantingly beautiful music; just listen to the music box tinkling in Sunday Morning.

In the beginning, hardly anyone bought the album, but, as keyboardist and producer Brian Eno once remarked, those who did, immediately formed their own band. Bands like Talking Heads and Joy Division owe a lot to the raw minimalism of The Velvet Underground.

The collaboration between Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground started when a friend of Andy Warhol's, Gerald Malanga, took him to a concert. Malanga convinced Warhol that he should explore rock management. Warhol accepted the band, introduced them to top model and singer Nico from Germany. He paid for their equipment and they got to rehearse at Andy Warhol's Factory. They became the central attraction in Warhol's "Exploding Plastic Inevitable" multimedia shows at The Factory.
‘The banana took on a life of its own,’ Velvet’s singer Lou Reed once said. The banana painting has adorned many walls of student caves, including mine. Pop Art flourished during my college days. Art that could be seen in a museum and was only affordable for people with a lot of money, symbolizing freedom and politically sensitive themes such as the futility of waging war.

The album cover also became the subject of a lawsuit. In 2012, the band members filed a lawsuit alleging that the banana has become ‘a symbol’ of the defunct band and that the Andy Warhol Foundation has no copyright on the banana design. They demanded that the Warhol Foundation stop using the image on products such as iPod covers, and wanted money from earlier licenses.

The band members eventually lost the lawsuit. The banana is still standing proudly, including brown spots.