THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO (1967)
Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Maureen Tucker, along with occasional frontwoman Nico, recorded the tracks for their debut album in 1966, then waited around for over a year while their label promoted Frank Zappa’s album ahead of theirs. This kicked off the lifelong hatred Reed had for Zappa’s West Coast hippie music. When the album finally appeared, with Andy Warhol’s iconic banana cover, it didn’t sell very well. It was truly music that was ahead of its time. But as Brian Eno famously observed – the album may have only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought one went on to form his own band.
Reed expanded the universe of what a pop song could be. He wrote about addiction (“Heroin”) and sexual perversion (“Venus in Furs”). He wrote about things that no one really understood (“European Son”), though they knew something was going on here. This was Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” come to life in song. Add Cale’s revolutionary sense of instrumentation and you had a collection of songs that was unlike anything heard before.
And then there was Nico – the Teutonic model who could barely sing but had attitude oozing out of every pore. Reed didn’t want her. She was Warhol’s invention. Reed often sang her songs when they performed live. But on the album, her cold, deadpan delivery is perfect for “Femme Fatale.” She also adds a bizarre vibe to rough up the softness of the romantic “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” And no one else could have possibly done the epic “All Tomorrow’s Parties” other than Nico. In short order, Reed would get rid of Nico and Warhol, and even Cale. The band still cranked out some amazing music, but nothing as perfect as that debut.
CREDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL: GREEN RIVER (1969)
1969 was a pretty good year for CCR. Green River was the second of three albums the band released that year. The first – Bayou Country – was excellent. The third – Willie and the Poor Boys – was even better. And Green River was the best of them all. It had some of the band’s best-loved numbers, like “Bad Moon Rising,” “Lodi,” and the title track. But that only scratches the surface.
The pounding swamp rock of “Commotion,” the voodoo blues of “Tombstone Shadow,” and the poignantly acoustic “Wrote a Song for Everyone,” fill out side one. The second side just gets swampier and bluesier. Early in 1970, they would release Cosmo’s Factory, capping off a year-and-a-half that is only matched by Elton John’s run of albums beginning right around the time CCR was backing up a bit.