THIS IS A BOX OF ESSENTIAL ROCK & ROLL HISTORY: The first three studio albums by the Velvet Underground; a definitive edition of the recordings for the band’s fourth, unfinished LP for MGM and the sublime, first solo album by Nico, released after the charismatic singer’s brief spell in the group but made with the vital empathic aid of its leading men.

This is also a box of magic, the sight and sound of revolution as it arrived, at bold and perilous speed. No group embodied challenge and transgression in the mid- and late Sixties like the Velvet Underground. Few bands of any time have altered rock’s future so decisively, at such a high price. Born in New York, into a true underground of art, film and social deviance, the Velvets were ignored, misunderstood, even savaged in their time. None of the four official releases in this set made it into Billboard’s Top 100.

But, as Reed pointed out years later, “Rock does this thing to you—you get directly to somebody, unfiltered.” The most important thing, he insisted, “was the records going out, going to people.” This is how it happened, on long-playing vinyl, with striking, unprecedented cover art, between 1967 and 1969. —DAVID FRICKE

Eric Schou, Sundazed art director

One of the most important aspects of The Velvet Underground and Nico (besides the music of course!) is the "peelable" banana sticker on the cover. The sticker cemented the cover as one of the most, if not the most, iconic of all time.

The release of The Velvet Underground and Nico was famously delayed back in 1967 in order to make special equipment for precisely-applying an 11" tall sticker on this unorthodox and ambitious album jacket. Now in 2012 we have left the banana "peeled" to give you the option of putting the skin back on or leaving it off. . . just don't smoke it!

It was a thrill and an honor to faithfully recreate this historic release and I hope you have fun with it.

Before you ask...

Before you ask… the reason there are Verve labels on all of these albums is that Universal Music could not extend us the rights to use the MGM / "Lion Head" logo on any of these releases.

"It's a big box of cool that sounds as great as it looks!"
—Sal Mercuri, VU fan and historian
(Over the years Sal has provided us with many of the images we have used in our VU releases.)

"Like a blasphemous version of the “loaves and fishes” parable, the relative handful of albums that the Velvet Underground sold during their initial tenure continues to feed and nourish multitudes of musicians all over the world. Without VU, alternative, punk, indie and musical subgenres yet-to-be-invented would exist in very different forms, if at all. Their vision, at turns brutal and benevolent, keeps exploding, inevitably, in the minds of anyone seeking salvation from a mundane, mainstream existence."
— Tim Hibbs, writer and historian

Jon Hunt, desinger 1969 LP jacket and box set cover

"I've always loved not just the sound but the *look* of the Velvet Underground's Verve/MGM albums — the black and white artwork and the gorgeous typography on White Light, White Heat and the self-titled LP became absolutely iconic in the world of rock, influencing hundreds of like-minded musicians and designers over the years. So when the time came to pay tribute to the Verve/MGM house designers by designing a cover for 1969 that could have existed back in the day, I jumped at it — who wouldn't want to add their stamp to the legacy of one of the greatest band "brands" in the history of rock? My driving motivation was simply "what would the house designers have done?" I researched dozens of Verve LPs from the same year to get a sense of the flavor of their evolving typography and sense of color."

"For the box lid, I wanted to create not just a simple cover, but an artefact that looked like it could have existed for many years. I thought to myself "what would have housed these albums back in the 60s?" I turned to the look of the classic "platter-pak" record cases, creating a fictitious Velvets-branded one that could have come out as a record company promo in a fictitious world where the Velvets were in every teenager's bedroom, as it should have been. This project was an absolute dream — I've idolized the Velvets since I started listening to rock back in high school, and I am honored to have worked with Sundazed Music on this iconic box set. "

Tim Warren of Crypt Records talks with Bob Irwin about the VU master tapes

Tim Warren (owner of Crypt Records): So, Bob: do those (first album) master-tapes really exist????

Bob Irwin: They absolutely exist. Two sets of reels, I believe. Here's the deal: first of all, there are several, several anomalies on the tapes themselves - noisy punches, noisy board moves, etc., etc.. Definitely (lovingly) lo-fi. That's before you take into account substandard later pressings of the album or CD issues - god only knows WHAT they were made from. And - unlike the comparatively beautiful WL/WH tape boxes and reels, there's nothing really sexy about the first album's boxes or ledgers... Which is why we (and I suspect others) never really pictured them or posted them. But - rest assured - there is tape, and we as faithfully as [possible recreated the sound of the first pressings of the album. Here's another interesting bit: if you compare the A-side of an original mono pressing to the B-side, there is a mucho NOTICEABLE difference in the sonic characteristics. This can only really be attributed to one thing, as far as I can imagine - the A-side was cut by one engineer (with a particular vision for the sound) and the B-side was cut by either ANOTHER engineer, or a lacquer-cutter/engineer that thought differently at that moment. More work was put into the A-side, for sure. The B-side (brighter) was for all intent and purposes a flat cut from the mono tape. All early pressings sound this way. Later pressings (there are later mono pressings) are comparatively harsh on BOTH sides, showing that less thought and work was put into the cuttings themselves.

Tim Warren: thankee for the lowdown, Bob! can't wait to hear 5008 & WLWH from the hands of THEE master!

Bob Irwin: Thanks, pal. I should also add that - after unbelievable deliberation (honestly - you wouldn't believe it), I decided to go with the sound of the absolute earliest pressing I could find, and let the A-side and B-side sort of live different lives, a/p the original. It was probably what the band approved (IF they were even given the opportunity to approve anything), and I decided not to second-guess that. Ours sounds as close to an original as possible - there will ALWAYS be minute, super-tweaky-headed differences in sound, if only by virtue of the playback equip, the cutter equip, etc... This is as close as can possibly be!
Explore the Velvet Underground's New York

Review by Hi-Fi World

The Velvet Underground were a challenge to the convention. They were children of the underground, pushing their rock music further than anything available in the commercial sphere while their lyrics intruded upon a host of taboos. There was certain propriety within American society, a decency and decorum that the members of Velvet Underground felt was ripe for attack. White Light/White Heat was just that, a completely unrestrained assault on a conservative, aesthetic politeness that the band felt was suffocating art in general.

The album was raw, featuring Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker that saw the band at their most harsh and coarse. Those taboos? Well they are tackled from the off with the title track. Drugs are talked about with great relish – amphetamines, specifically. 'Sister Ray' is an unholy noise fest that crams in seventeen minutes of sex, more drugs and violence. In between, you get the splintered guitar streaks of Lou Reed within 'I Heard Her Call My Name' and distorted R&B in the name of 'The Gift' plus other inaccessible maulings that lift the overall album to one of frenzy and turmoil.

As John Cale stated in a recent interview, "Distortion was something we were very interested in. In that day it was tube distortion and you had a variety of things you could do. We had far more opportunities with the Velvets to use that stuff. It was really a musical attempt to take those words and make them more novelistic. There were a few overdubs. Backing vocals. That's what [producer] Tom Wilson managed to bring to it: we isolated the voices.

We didn't really know what he was doing. Everything just sounded so much better and we were very excited. White Light/White Heat was done at Atlantic. Gary Kellgren was the engineer. He and Tom had to deal with a fairly disorganized unit at that point – we were all at each other's throats. We didn't have time and we didn't care, we hadn't rehearsed anything. He still managed to get some good things, like the backup harmonies on 'I Heard Her Call My Name'. I remember those, when he played them back. He nodded sagely and said, 'Yes, you sound very commercial'. We were 'Woah'. The first album was a year of slog, every weekend and the second one was just kind of slapdash".

This superb album is one of five that is featured within a new box set that has just been released via the American audiophile record label, Sundazed. Undoubtedly, it is a fine achievement from the company that serves the Velvet Underground and general music fans in many ways.

Firstly, most people will never have even seen, never mind played, an original Velvet Underground album. Most will have only have heard Velvet Underground's music on download or CD or via a host of dubious vinyl reissues. With The Velvet Underground: The Verve/MGM Albums, you not only get the rare mono version of all three of the band's commercial albums, you also get the mono version – surely the best version too – of 'Nico: Chelsea Girl'. That, in itself, is more than enough reason to buy this box set. But, that's not all. You also get Sundazed's idea of what the band's unfinished 'lost' fourth album, 1969, should sound like, sourced from the original Verve/MGM analogue masters (as are they all, for that matter) and engineered by Sundazed supremo, Bob Irwin.

Incidentally, for Velvet Underground virgins, Nico was supermodel, friend and lover to a host of important creative and cultural figures, band collaborator and occasional lead singer for The Velvet Underground. She also had a distinctive and inventive solo career. Chelsea Girl featured both John Cale and Lou Reed alongside singer/songwriter, Jackson Browne. Complete with the original LP artwork along with two bonus poster inserts and a sticker, this box set is the must-have collection for any fan of The Velvet Underground.

In terms of sound, there is far more going on in the midrange than has ever been revealed before. Frankly, they leave any CD issue standing and they blow an older 4 Men With Beards vinyl release to the four winds. In addition, the new pressings are quiet, which helps to enhance the midrange detail. The principle factors are air and space over the entire soundstage combined with a definite punch. Undoubtedly, the Sundazed version is the best offering on the market today, no matter what format you might care to name. PR, Hi-Fi World, April 2013:

5-LP Deluxe Box Set