Metal My Movie: The Velvet Underground

Let me start off with my first experience while listening to The Velvet Underground’s debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico, (a collaboration between The Velvet Underground and German singer Nico) which I discovered during my college days after listening to Lou Reed’s Transformer. The album has the rockabilly aspect for sure and it’s nothing too jarring at first. Skip forward to the song “Heroin” - starts off fine but closes with the most chaotic jarring sounds of Lou Reed’s electric guitar and John Cale’s electric viola. This is the sound that separated The Velvet Underground from other bands that were the clear definition of accessible rockabilly, as they tapped into a new form of alternative and experimental rockabilly. The Velvet Underground are the subject of the new eponymous documentary from director Todd Haynes. We explore the music and the counterculture in the documentary film for this instalment of Metal My Movie. 
The Velvet Underground was a band that was made up of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Moe Tucker as the replacement for original drummer Angus MacLise. They were managed by Andy Warhol, who helped them produce their debut album and urged the band to work with Nico on it. Rather than being the standard of having a sound that caters to the rockabilly formula that everyone accepted, the band experimented with underground, alternative and experimental music and sounds, which earned them the avant-garde label. Part of this was having drones in their music, an influence from La Monte Young, or even John Cale’s electric viola. Reed would even tune his electric guitar to make it sound more like a drone.  There was even a harshness rather than a sweetness to the voice of Nico on “Femme Fatale”, “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, and “I’ll Be Your Mirror”.
The songs that the band would tap into would be different to most other bands around this decade taking on themes that were not normally discussed in music, as they were seen as provocative subject matter. The band name itself is a direct reference to mass market paperback The Velvet Underground by Michael Leigh about the secret sexual subculture of the early 1960s.  The themes that Lou Reed would write into his songs often revolved around nihilistic outlooks in life, while themes discussed in their debut album included drug abuse, prostitution, and sexual deviancy. More examples are “Heroin” or the themes of sexuality that Reed taps into with “I’m Waiting for the Man”. 
Todd Haynes captures the group both on a musical and cultural level showing how both of those two elements came together for the band in the documentary currently streaming on Apple TV+.  There are great interviews with the surviving members of the band. The Velvet Underground may not have had their commercial success that they always wanted to achieve while they were a band, but they paved the way to the punk movement and even the metal movement of today.
Next week Metal My Movie takes a look at the unconventional musical Annette from director Leos Carax. Got a movie you feel should get the Metal My Movie treatment? E-mail us @ to let us know. Remi hosts At The Movies alongside regular co-host Danny every Tuesday morning from 8-9 AM only on CJLO 1690AM.