(Credit: Matt Biddulph)

How The Velvet Underground changed Beck's life

Beck is a rare breed. As an outsider that operates firmly in the mainstream, his creative approaches has been one that has traversed genre with prolific efficiency. However, he has never bent his ethos or credibility in order to crave commercial success and, instead, critical acclaimed arrived as a natural progression of his exploration. One act that operated similarly to Beck but never achieved the attention they deserved during their initial time together is Velvet Underground — which, it turns out, played a pivotal role in him falling in love with music from the very start.

The impact that the New Yorkers had on Beck’s life won’t come as a surprise to devoted fans of Mr Hansen. After all, he’s even recorded a cover version of The Velvet Underground & Nico. Rather than simply reimagining one track from the record, Beck took it into his own hands to recreate the whole new album, which denotes just how vast the place in his soul The Velvet Underground proudly sits.

Beck is a textured writer who connects with listeners in a rare manner, although he floats between genres and keeps moving in a sonic sense, the charm that exists within his songwriting has never wavered. Hansen admits that he wouldn’t be the artist he is today if he never stumbled upon The Velvet Underground & Nico, a similar tale for an array of artists spanning generations.

Everything about the album is iconic. The provocative cover dreamt up by Andy Warhol would become symbiotic with the group even some 50 years later. Early copies of the album even invited the owner to ‘peel slowly and see’ and, when peeling back the banana skin, revealed a flesh-coloured banana underneath which didn’t leave much to the imagination.

Famously, The Velvet Underground & Nico didn’t fly off the shelves. The cataclysmic manner in which it sensationally flopped led to tensions growing between the band — a problem from which they would never quite recover. Frustrated by the album’s year-long delay and unsuccessful release, Lou Reed’s relationship with Andy Warhol worsened, and the singer then spectacularly fired Warhol. 

However, its legacy today has earned the album the reputation that it duly deserves. When Beck spoke with Entertainment Weekly in 2014 about the album that changed his life, there was one record that stood out from the rest of the pack, and his existence has never been the same since. “I can say Computer World or Purple Rain or Psychocandy or Pink Moon or Hank Williams’ greatest hits, and any of those would be right. But for some reason I remember The Velvet Underground & Nico really striking me,” he told the publication.

“I had seen La Dolce Vita, so I put it together that Nico was in this Fellini film, and it was a kind of awakening to this idea that there was a place where art and music meet. It felt very much like they got together and somebody just happened to record it, which is probably pretty close to true. I think that’s the quality that made them a band that launched a thousand bands.”

The first time hearing Velvet Underground is an affirming moment for many of us, and after that first spin of their debut record, suddenly everything in life starts to make more sense. Beck is living proof of the true influence of Velvet Underground and how record sales aren’t what defines a legacy.

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