The influence of Andy Warhol on pop culture is undoubted. The post-modern artist found fame for his sweeping declarations on consumerism in the ever-modernising via the medium of pop art. But, what some people may forget is that Warhol is also widely regarded as having an influential hand in pop music too. The Factory may well have been the space in which Warhol and his affiliates created contemporary art but it was also where the artist cultivated a band by the name of the Velvet Underground.
If we are to believe Brian Eno when he said, “The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.” It can be assumed Warhol’s influence as a pop music creator can still be felt on the radio airwaves to this day. There’s no denying the Velvet Underground’s impact; with their subversive pop nuances and unusual musical sensibilities, the band triumphed artistically, if not commercially. But what is their unanointed leader, Andy Warhol’s, favourite song?
Across their full-length albums, the Velvet Underground displayed a sense of unique danger that not only sparked the creative flames of artists such as Iggy Pop and David Bowie (the latter famously taking direct inspiration from the band for his persona Ziggy Stardust) but delivered songs that would ring out for decades to come. Though not commercially adored then as they are today, a good tune is hard to ignore and will usually find its way to the top of the pile. One such track happens to be Warhol’s favourite.
‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ is a legendary Velvet Underground song that few could argue against as one of their archetypal numbers, and it just so happens to be Warhol’s favourite too. Richard Witts, the writer of The Velvet Underground book, is an undoubted expert on the subject of all things VU, and he claimed the song to be not only a signifier of their skill and separation from the rest of the rock and roll set, but also the artist’s favourite: “That [All Tomorrow’s Parties] coincidentally was Andy Warhol’s favourite song,” Witts told ABC. “It kind of has the same epic quality as ‘Venus In Furs’. That is the influence of John Cale and Maureen Tucker.”
Witts also posits that there’s a reason behind Warhol’s affection for the track — Nico. The German model became a focal point for the band during their early years and helped to gain them the little commercial success they achieved. Lou Reed was still the band’s main songwriter, but Nico added a flash of flair that Reed could never manage.
The decision to include Nico was all Warhol’s and did not go down well with Reed, as Witts explains: “Lou Reed was very annoyed by the imposition of a singer. He was the singer of the band. You can imagine his concern about this, he’s the singer, and he’s being told by these people who want to get them a record deal that everything’s fine except you.”
But Reed had his eyes on the prize and welcomed Nico into the group, despite his grumblings. She would transform the band’s sound and, on ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, she is perhaps at her peak. As Witts explains: “If you can imagine it sung by Lou Reed, and then you hear the Nico version, you can see immediately the different quality that is provided by the song.”
Nico took the lead vocal and transformed ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ into a classic Velvet Underground number. Whether Warhol claimed the song as his favourite because of his affection for Nico or, like the rest of us, he heard it as the arresting track it is, will never be known. What we do know is just how important the song remains to fans of the Velvet Underground and music as a whole.